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Surprise standouts: Offensive players who made unexpected impacts early in 2019

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos enjoy their bye week, DenverBroncos.com will examine where this year’s team has been and where it is going.

First up, we’ll take a look at a few players on offense who have made a surprising impact through the team’s first nine games.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather a glance at some of the Broncos who have created memorable moments early in the year — and who provide hope for the future.

WR COURTLAND SUTTON

Sutton isn’t a new addition to the Broncos’ roster, but his jump in production earns him a spot on this list.

When Sutton was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, he arrived at a team that featured one of the league’s most productive duos in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Things change quickly in the NFL, though. Thomas was traded to the Texans in 2018, and Sanders headed to the 49ers ahead of this year’s trade deadline. The move made Sutton the Broncos’ unquestioned top receiver, but he played like he deserved top billing long before the team traded Sanders to San Francisco. Sutton led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns before Sanders left, and he’s only added to his totals over the previous two games.

The Broncos expected Sutton to take a step in 2019, but it would’ve been hard to predict this type of production. Sutton has already tied his touchdown total, passed his reception total and is 12 yards from tying his yardage total from his rookie campaign. Sutton is on pace for 1,230 yards this season, which would be the highest total for a Broncos receiver since Thomas recorded 1,304 yards in 2015 with Peyton Manning at quarterback.

A better sign for Broncos fans: Sutton is proving he can handle the attention of being the top target. In 2018, when Sanders missed the last four games because of injury, Sutton posted more than 50 receiving yards just once and scored just one touchdown. In two games without Sanders this season, Sutton has recorded eight catches, 128 total yards and a touchdown.

Through nine games, Sutton is tied for first in the AFC in receiving yards and has made the third-most big-play receptions in the league.

QB BRANDON ALLEN

Allen has appeared in just one game this season, but his performance was good enough to ensure he ranks among the Broncos’ most surprising players.

The Arkansas product completed 12-of-20 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and a 125.6 quarterback rating as he took his first career NFL snaps. The quarterback rating ranks third best for quarterbacks making their Broncos debut, behind just Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. 

Allen also avoided turning the ball over as he led Denver to a 24-19 win over the Browns.

He is just the fifth quarterback since 1970 to post two touchdowns, no interceptions and at least a 125.0 quarterback rating in his starting debut.

The former sixth-round pick is the fifth Broncos quarterback drafted in the sixth round or later (since 1967) to earn a win in his first start.

Allen, who received the game ball, appears poised to start Denver’s game against the Vikings, as well.

G DALTON RISNER

The hometown kid is quickly becoming a fan favorite — and it’s not hard to see why.

The Wiggins native has started every game for the Broncos at left guard and is a key piece on an offensive line that ranks sixth in run blocking, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Risner is the only Broncos rookie that has started every game this season, and the team’s coaching staff views him as a pillar of their roster as the team moves forward.

“I think Dalton’s done extremely well,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said in early October. “He’s fit right in with that O-line. He’s adjusted to playing NFL football. He’s doing very well and really glad we have him. I think he’ll be a cornerstone for this franchise for a long time.”

Despite playing nearly every offensive snap this season, Risner has been whistled for just two penalties for a combined 10 yards.

As a young player, Risner is likely to improve as the season continues. His start, though, is hard to ignore.

WR/PR/KR DIONTAE SPENCER

Spencer, whom the Broncos claimed off waivers in early September, didn’t arrive in Denver until a few days before the start of the regular season.

He still found a way to make an immediate impact.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound former Canadian Football League player has averaged 8.2 yards per punt return in his nine games in Denver and averaged 29 yards on four kick returns.

Spencer has earned at least 10 yards on a punt return on seven occasions, and he has a long of 42 yards on a punt return and 60 yards on a kick return.

Most importantly, Spencer has been sure-handed; he has yet to fumble a punt return this season.

Spencer may be the brightest spot of the Broncos’ special teams unit that ranks 13th in punt return average and fifth in kickoff return average.

“I would say the biggest thing I think that’s pretty steady right now is Spence,” Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon said in early November. “He’s really settled in that returner spot for us. We needed that, in my opinion, in the last year and a half.”

Spencer has also started to make an impact on offense in recent weeks. He had three touches in a Week 8 game against the Colts for a combined 23 yards. Spencer was then targeted three times against the Browns, though he did lose a fumble.

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