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Mile High Morning: Broncos' 'really good rookie class' flashes potential in first season in Denver

The Lead

Despite not holding a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Broncos found multiple immediate contributors in their class of draft selections and undrafted free agents. From producing a NFL Rookie of the Week finalist on offense in running back Jaleel McLaughlin to boasting a Pro Bowl selection on special teams in wide receiver and returner Marvin Mims Jr., Denver's rookies helped spur significant team-wide improvement in 2023.

"I think it was a really good rookie class," General Manager George Paton said on Jan. 9.

Here's a look at how the Broncos' rookies made their presence felt on game days and the Centura Health Training Center fields in the 2023 season.

WR Marvin Mims Jr.

Breakdown: The Broncos' top pick lived up to his billing, bringing an explosiveness and penchant for big plays to Denver's receiving corps and return units. Mims earned Pro Bowl honors for his work as a punt and kick returner, averaging 16.4 yards per punt return and 26.5 yards per kick return. He was also named a second-team All-Pro kick returner. Offensively, the Oklahoma product recorded three receptions of more than 45 yards and was one of four players in the NFL to score on a kick return.

They Said It: "[The Pro Bowl] is a great honor. [It is] a huge testament to my teammates and the special-teams unit. They gave me great looks all season. … Just to be able to be recognized as a Pro Bowler for this conference and then represent our special-teams unit is a great honor." - Mims

Highlight Play: 99-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Miami Dolphins, Week 3

ILB Drew Sanders

Breakdown: Sanders brought depth and versatility to the Broncos' group of linebackers. The 67th-overall pick registered 24 total tackles and one tackle for a loss, while recording at least 10 snaps on defense in the Broncos' final seven games. He also played at least 45 percent of Denver's defensive snaps in three contests. Sanders found a role on special teams and recovered a Kansas City muffed punt in Week 8 that allowed the Broncos to knock off the Chiefs for the first time since 2015.

They Said It: "[He has] big upside. He played inside, and he played outside. He started to come on late in year, and he was really good on special teams." — Paton

Highlight Play: Fumble recovery against the Kansas City Chiefs, Week 8

RB Jaleel McLaughlin

Breakdown: McLaughlin was one of four undrafted free agents to make the Broncos' initial 53-man roster, and the burst that made him a top storyline during training camp and the preseason translated to the regular season. The speedy McLaughlin ranked second on the Broncos in rushing yards (410), first in yards per carry (5.4) and fifth in receptions (31), and he exceeded 60 yards from scrimmage in four games.

They Said It: "Our vision continues to grow a little bit, because he continues to earn additional touches. … Periodically, he'll come up and he wants to expand his role as a receiver in that, if you will, 'Joker' category. He's certainly eager. There's a … unique, hard-to-hit trait he has. You don't see him take hard hits. He's very sudden, and he's earned those touches." — Head Coach Sean Payton on Jan. 1.

Highlight Play: 18-yard touchdown reception against the Chicago Bears, Week 4

The Best of the Rest

The rest of the Broncos' rookies didn't play as often on game days but showed promise in their first seasons on the pro level. Paton highlighted cornerback Riley Moss as "one of our best special teams players, if not the best" and said he believes Moss has the potential to start at cornerback. Moss, the second of the Broncos' 2023 third-round selections, overcame injuries during training camp to appear in 14 of Denver's 17 games and become a regular special teams contributor.

The Broncos' late-round picks, safety JL Skinner and center Alex Forsyth, have demonstrated their development on the practice field. Paton said Skinner was a multiple-time winner of Denver's scout team player of the week, while calling Forsyth a "starter in this league at center." Tight end Nate Adkins, an undrafted free agent, emerged as an immediate contributor on Sundays and accumulated 60 offensive snaps and 97 special-teams snaps in 10 games.

The Unclassifieds

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