Heading into Sunday's season finale, one part of Head Coach Vance Joseph's plan was to get a better look at the younger players on the roster, and the Broncos certainly achieved that.
"It was good to see the young guys play some," Joseph said after the game. "That was the goal tonight, to win a game and see our young guys play."
Take a look at the top shots of the Broncos vs. Chiefs game to end the season, with a focus on orange. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)
As the Broncos prepare for the offseason, the ability to better gauge the talent they have is invaluable for the coaching staff and front office.
On Sunday, Joseph highlighted the play of running back De'Angelo Henderson and the group's youngest defensive backs, who played significantly more snaps than usual.
"Henderson, obviously, [stood out] with a touchdown on a screen play," Joseph said. "He is explosive. It’s what we saw in preseason."
And for Henderson, what he saw from the backfield was exactly what he saw in the preseason.
"It doesn't feel any different to me," Henderson said after the game. "I feel like every week I'm well prepared, regardless if I'm up or I'm down. I'm learning from C.J. [Anderson], [Devontae] 'Book' [Booker] and Jamaal [Charles]. So every week I'm prepared. When I do [scout] team, I'm going against the best defense in the league. So any other team I'm going against, there's no comparison to those guys."
Henderson played 15 of the offense's 65 plays, including the one screen play that went for 29 yards and a touchdown. But he averaged just 3 yards per carry on five rushes. Still, he said the ability to gain that kind of regular-season experience can provide a great foundation for future success.
"I think it lays down a solid one," Henderson said. "I've learned from some good guys this year and hopefully it can translate what I learned this year to next year, and I'm pretty sure it will. But what they laid down, the standard that they set for me, going forward, should be very exciting coming up."
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the football, the Broncos relied heavily upon their youngest defensive backs.
"It was our plan coming into the game to play our young guys in the back end, especially [CB Marcus] Rios, [S Dymonte] Thomas and [S Jamal] Carter to get them a bunch of game reps," Joseph said. "That was the plan coming in."
Thomas received a particularly heavy workload, playing 46 of the 70 total defensive snaps. He also recorded five total tackles, which was tied for the most on the team.
"[He showed] toughness, man," second-year safety Will Parks said. "He stuck his nose in there a lot. And him, for his size and for that type of attitude, he kind of looked like a little [Cardinals safety] Tyrann Mathieu, but he's probably a little bigger than him. I've seen a lot from him. He's got a good range, too, made a lot of good, solid tackles. … Obviously there's a lot of room for growth for everybody, but he did a pretty good job."
Joseph has also been impressed with Thomas, of whom he spoke highly during the week before the game.
"[Thomas is] a mature guy," Joseph said on Dec. 28. "He walked in and played like a veteran for us. He knows what he’s doing. That’s half the battle for young guys in the secondary. Can they make calls on the move? He can."
Being able to make those kinds of observations may have been accompanied by weaker points in the young players' skill sets, but the opportunity may pay dividends next year and beyond.