Following the slate of Week 9 matchups, Touchdown Wire evaluated the highest-performing, least-appreciated players at each position through the midway point of the season. Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar compiled his midseason all-underrated offense, naming two Broncos standouts to the list.
Despite being responsible for big-play highlights week in and week out this season, rookie running back Javonte Williams and wide receiver Tim Patrick somehow continue to fly under the radar at their respective positions.
Williams has shined while splitting carries with veteran rusher Melvin Gordon III, including recording his first career 100-yard game vs. Dallas on Sunday. Williams has become known for his angry running style and big-play potential, including dragging a pile of Ravens defenders 31 yards in Week 4 and breaking several tackles to burst free for 30 yards against Dallas in Week 9.
"When it comes to the NFL's best and most effective power/speed runners — those rare backs who combine strength to and through the hole with the ability to explode for extra yards once they've broken free — the list starts with Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb, and then, it's everybody else," Farrar wrote. "But it's time to put Broncos rookie back Javonte Williams right up there."
That's high praise indeed for the Broncos rookie, as Henry and Chubb are among the league's best rushers. But the comparison is well-deserved — Williams shares the league-lead in forced missed tackles with Chubb, despite notching far fewer carries.
"If you watched Williams do his thing at North Carolina, you wouldn't be surprised that the second-round rookie has become a tackle-breaking monster at the NFL level," Farrar wrote. "Through the first nine weeks of the 2021 season, the guy I described as 'an unholy combination of Marshawn Lynch and Nick Chubb' is tied with Chubb for the most missed tackles forced with 35, and he's done it in just 95 carries, while Chubb has 120."
Williams is not the only Bronco to claim a spot on Touchdown Wire's most underrated list; Patrick hasn't received enough credit for his production this season either.
While that oversight is likely due partly to the name recognition of his teammates (WRs Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, and TE Noah Fant), Patrick has done more than enough this season to earn respect as a top-tier receiver.
"With all those guys in the fold, it makes sense that someone will be relatively ignored in the public eye," Farrar wrote, "and in this case, it's Tim Patrick — the 2018 undrafted free agent from Utah who has become a nightmare for opposing defensive backs both as a deep receiver, and as a receiver who can beat aggressive coverage."
Patrick has been a huge part of the Broncos offense this year, racking up 509 yards and four touchdowns on 34 receptions while averaging 15 yards per catch.
"While Sutton is the Broncos' primary deep receiver, Patrick has brought in four passes of 20 or more air yards on nine attempts for 126 yards, a touchdown, and a quarterback rating of 128.2," Farrar wrote.
Patrick has emerged as one of Denver's top deep threats, and has come up with big plays in big moments for the offense time after time. Against Dallas in Week 9, Patrick hauled in a score and converted four first downs for Denver. He also boasts a league-leading 156.3 passer rating when targeted in man coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps his best play through the first half of the season came on Sunday, as Patrick burned NFL interception leader and Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs for a 44-yard touchdown, cementing his status as a true problem for opposing defensive backs.
"If you doubt Patrick's ability to affect defenses over the top," Farrar wrote, "ask Cowboys star cornerback Trevon Diggs about all that."
Below the Fold
The Broncos defense is among the best in the league at the halfway mark of the season after containing the top-ranked Cowboys offense, according to Pro Football Focus.
Denver's defense held an explosive Dallas offense scoreless for more than three quarters of a dominant 30-16 Broncos victory in Week 9. The Broncos allowed only 122 net yards of offense by the Cowboys through the third quarter, before a pair of late fourth-quarter touchdowns in garbage time.
"The Broncos stymied the NFL’s No. 1 offense when it mattered in a 30-16 victory Sunday, ending the Cowboys’ six-game winning streak," the Associated Press' Schuyler Dixon wrote.
Following their Week 9 performance, Denver sits at third in the NFL in total touchdowns allowed (17), and fourth in the league in total points allowed (106), according to PFF.
The Broncos kept consistent pressure on Dallas QB Dak Prescott, who had one of his worst performances of the year vs. Denver and recorded a season-low completion percentage (48.7%).
"Prescott, the NFL leader in completion percentage at better than 73%, was 19 of 39 for 232 yards as his franchise-best, four-game run with at least three touchdown passes ended," Dixon wrote.
Denver's defensive rookies came up big for the Broncos, particularly vs. Prescott. Rookie OLB Jonathon Cooper recorded two sacks (including the first of his career) on the Cowboys QB, and was just shy of recording more, notching two additional QB hits instead. Rookie S Caden Sterns also intercepted a pass by Prescott in the fourth quarter.
"Jonathon Cooper and the Denver defense pestered Dak Prescott a lot more than the rookie's first two sacks in the NFL showed," Dixon wrote.
One of the Broncos' most commanding defensive performances of the season was made all the more impressive as it marked the first game since the departure of defensive leader OLB Von Miller.
"Beyond Cooper's pair of sacks, the Broncos made Prescott uncomfortable in their first game since trading star pass rusher Von Miller, and with new team sack leader Malik Reed inactive," Dixon wrote.
Denver stopped the Cowboys short at almost every turn, including preventing them from converting a single fourth down during the matchup and holding them to their worst offensive performance of the year.
"The Cowboys were 0 for 4 on fourth downs, including failures on their first two possessions," Dixon wrote. "Dallas finished with a season-low 290 yards — about half with the game decided."