The Broncos' rookie class featured historic seasons by Phillip Lindsay and Bradley Chubb and an ascension to the No. 1 wide receiver position by Courtland Sutton. And while those accomplishments were certainly impressive, they're not what made this group one of the league's best. The Broncos' 2018 draft class was deep — 11 rookies played in the season finale — and should set the Broncos up for a bright future as its members continue their development.
In four years at Oregon, Royce Freeman missed only two games. So when he missed two games in the middle of his rookie season, it pained him to not be out there with his teammates. But it also gave him a different perspective on the game itself.
"Being out, you have such a competitive nature in you," Freeman said Dec. 28. "You want to be out there helping your teammates, you want to be out there going to battle week in and week out. It's a difficult thing to do. You've got to stay motivated and even find ways to help your teammates when you're out. That's something I learned: being a second pair of ears and eyes for them when they're out there."
When Freeman returned to action in Week 11, he didn't need long to make an impact, scoring a touchdown in an upset win over the Chargers. His five rushing touchdowns ranked fifth among all rookie running backs. And he capped his rookie year in strong fashion, recording 103 total yards, his first time crossing the century mark.
"I think you have to be honest with yourself," said Freeman of his plan in his first full NFL offseason. "Don't kid yourself about how you performed during the season. … You always want to work on everything [and] make sure you're on your P's and Q's. There are certain areas that you might need a little bit more work on and pay a little bit more attention to, and you go into the offseason with the drive and motivation to improve those areas."
The most memorable moment from Yiadom's rookie season came in Week 17 against one of the league's best quarterbacks. The third-round selection from Boston College ran stride-for-stride with Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams and picked off Philip Rivers, the eighth-leading passer in NFL history.
It was the result of taking advantage of months of hard work, even when he wasn't seeing the field often.
"He's been doing a great job here in practice, and I'm excited for him," Von Miller said Dec. 6. "He was a big-time corner in college, and he'll be a big-time corner in the league. So, I'm excited for him."
While Yiadom's first career interception is certainly a memory he'll cherish, he has a lot of work in front of him: The battle for the cornerback spot opposite Chris Harris Jr. could be wide open in 2019.
"It's a grind, but it's everything I expected and everything I dreamed of," Yiadom told the Worcester Telegram. "It's a lot of work, but on Sundays, it's obviously a great opportunity to go out there and play against a bunch of these players I watched growing up. So it's been exciting."
Due to injuries at his position, Hamilton found himself in a starting role alongside Sutton by the end of 2018. The fourth-round pick out of Penn State stepped in and immediately became a reliable target for Case Keenum, catching a team-high 25 passes over the last four games of the season.
"[His comfort level] has grown tremendously," Case Keenum said Dec. 20. "[It's] just his demeanor, just the way he's talking coming back to the huddle, like, 'Hey, I'm winning [my matchup].' And I like receivers that come back and tell me they want the ball. It's great on-the-field demeanor. The communication that's going on there, I really enjoyed it. He's been progressing, and I think he's just going to keep getting better."
Hamilton had five catches in the first 12 games of the season — partially due to a knee injury – but showed growth as he got more on-field opportunities. As he heads into his first offseason, Hamilton hopes to be able to build off those experiences.
"I'd say I've grown a lot," Hamilton said Dec. 26. "Obviously, just me being a rookie coming in and not really knowing much, [I was] just eager to play and eager to expand my role — really just maturing as the games go on and seeing the different things that happen in the NFL. … I see it really as the season has gone along. Obviously, my role has changed in different areas as well, but still at the same time just getting better and that's really the main focus."
With Sutton and a healthy Emmanuel Sanders possibly in the fold for 2019, Hamilton could be a prime candidate to see an expanded role once again.
Perhaps the thing Jewell is most excited about this offseason is not having to prepare for the NFL Combine. A first-team All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of Player of the Year as a senior at Iowa, Jewell prefers to let his in-game play do the talking.
"I was not a big fan of that kind of stuff," Jewell said of the Combine drills on Dec. 31. "I like that quick-area, moving-around-at-football-speed stuff. Anything that can help me with football-specific stuff, instead of just running a straight line and doing that stuff. I think a lot of the footwork drills and a lot actual linebacker drills will be able to help. And since we actually have a year under our belt now, most rookies, we can actually do some of the drills that [we did this year]."
Jewell finished his rookie season with 58 tackles, 18th-most among rookies and fifth-most on the Broncos' defense. He showed his ability to track down opposing ball-carriers as he got more comfortable, recording at least five combined tackles in six of the season's final seven games.
"I think I was just understanding my job, understanding my run fits," Jewell said Dec. 31. "My coverage definitely needs to get better. That's one of the things that I need to work on the offseason. That needs to get a lot better, but I think I got a lot better with the run fits, understanding the defense [and] understanding my leverage."