ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the NBA world fixates on Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, the Broncos may have found their own Joker.
Throughout Head Coach Sean Payton's career, he's leaned on certain players to give his offense an edge. Those "Joker" players, as Payton calls them, can provide a matchup advantage for the offense.
And tight end Greg Dulcich, a 2022 third-round pick, could fulfill that special role for Denver as he enters his second season.
The UCLA product showed flashes as a rookie, as he returned from injury for a Week 6 debut against the Chargers. Dulcich turned his second career catch into a 39-yard touchdown, and he posted at least four catches in five of the 10 games in which he appeared.
Dulcich's most productive game came in a four-catch, 87-yard performance against the Jaguars in London, and he caught another six passes for 85 yards vs. Baltimore. In his final game, Dulcich caught a late touchdown against the Rams for his second score of the season.
In Year 2, the Broncos will hope to see even more from Dulcich, who finished with the second-most yards among rookie tight ends despite playing at least five fewer games than the other rookies in the top five. Tennessee's Chigoziem Okonkwo posted just 39 more receiving yards than Dulcich despite playing in all 17 games.
Dulcich showed signs of his progression on Thursday, as he was heavily involved in Denver's OTA practice.
"He had a good day," Payton said after practice. "He's got a unique skill set, and he's got traits in the passing game."
That unique ability could pay dividends for the Broncos' offense, according to Payton.
"We use the term 'Joker' where we can get matchups," Payton said. "The trick sometimes is trying to predict what you're going to get defensively, if you're either going to get a nickel package or a base package. But man, he can run, he's got good ball skills, and he had one of his better practices today. Then you begin to build on that. Right now, there's an install that's taking place and the players, they go play those spots. When you get into the season, you really get more specific to who's running what route. I think his menu is going to be lengthy in the passing game, and there's enough stuff that we can do in the run game."
Payton mentioned Jeremy Shockey, Jason Witten and Jimmy Graham among the tight ends he's coached who have fulfilled a similar role. The three tight ends combined for six Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro appearances during their seasons with Payton.
"I'm not saying this young player [will be just like them], but he's got traits that are exciting and today was one of those days where you begin to have a vision," Payton said.
In his career, Payton has also featured running backs — including Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Alvin Kamara — as players who fit the same Joker mold.
"Those were all unique players, not just in the running game, but they had passing game skill sets that allowed you to do multiple things," Payton said, "and I think Greg does too."