As they prepare to embark upon their second NFL season, we asked a few of the standout players from the Broncos' 2018 rookie class to take us through their first season together and to tell us how it prepared them for what they hope is an even better sophomore effort.
I. Entering the NFL
On April 26, 2018, the Broncos began building their rookie class by selecting edge rusher Bradley Chubb with the fifth-overall pick in the NFL Draft. Over the next few days, they added a number of experienced and talented players to their draft class and then signed their college free agents — including, most notably, Phillip Lindsay.
Bradley Chubb: "I remember as I was leaving [Denver] we drafted Courtland. As I was at the airport, we drafted Courtland. Then I was on the plane and had the notification on my phone for Royce [Freeman], then [Isaac] 'Ike' [Yiadom] and the next day we got DaeSean [Hamilton] and [Troy] 'Fum' [Fumagalli] and Josey [Jewell] and Dave [Williams] and Sam [Jones] and Keishawn [Bierria]. … I'm texting them, Congratulations, I can't wait to get up here with you guys. … It was just one of those things where we all came in and we were all so close.
"We would be with each other from 7 [a.m.] to 6 [p.m.] every day pretty much, having rookie meetings, having extra special teams meetings, having extra position meetings. And then we would see each other all the time. I feel like that's what really got us all close. We were all just joking around with each other, always. We all have good personalities and all want to win, too — we had the same mindset and happened to get close."
Phillip Lindsay: "I didn't get drafted or anything like that, so for me it was … I mean, I had to make the team. So my mentality was, Be fearless and just go out there and makes plays. For everybody else, I think we just jelled together because we all had that mentality that we wanted to come in and prove ourselves. We didn't just think that we were all that and we were ready to play. We wanted to learn from the vets; we listened to them and we just tried to contribute with them and make plays for each other."
Courtland Sutton: "Man, rookie minicamp, [Lindsay] came out and was flying around. And then OTAs, I think that was a really big time that I really started to realize, This dude No. 2 is out here working his butt off. And then we got to training camp, and it just kept going. He didn't slow down at all. And I think that's when I started to realize, like, Man, Phil's gonna be able to be something and do something special."
BC: "He was just zooming past everybody. Nobody could touch him, nobody could do this, nobody could do that. Everybody was like, Who is No. 2? We figured it out."
PL: "They were making plays [too]. That's what camp's about. It's about standing out. That's how you make the team. That's how you get on the field, and that's how you showcase that you deserve to be on the field all the time."
CS: "Just knowing the expectations we [had] not only for our class, but as a team and as an organization, we knew that we wanted to get back to that winning tradition and do the things that this organization is known for, and we knew that we had the ability to be big parts in that, and we wanted to make sure that we brought that to work every single day."
II. Hot and cold
The Broncos got off to a hot start with thrilling wins over the Seahawks and Raiders, and the rookies played no small part in it. Lindsay scored his first touchdown and Chubb had a half-sack in the season opener, and Sutton added a spark as the third wide receiver behind Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. But just as it seemed the Broncos had things figured out, they stumbled into a four-game skid.
BC: "We started off 2-0, so I didn't really know what to expect when it came to the NFL about like, [going] week by week and [having] momentum and winning games and doing this and that. … When we started off 2-0, I'm thinking in my head, Might as well make it 16-0! I had that momentum in the beginning, had that half a sack and was feeling good about myself in the first couple games.
"And then we played the Ravens. After the Ravens game, we lost, and it was, All right, [let's] bounce back. We played the Jets [two weeks] after that, lost bad and it was just one of those things where everybody just wasn't on the same page.
"I feel like that was pretty tough for me because growing up, I was never a part of a losing season. I never had a losing team. This was my first losing season and I didn't really know how to handle it. I'm talking to my dad like, Yo, I've never been a part of something like this. It was definitely frustrating. But starting off hot, I felt like if we had just kept that going, it could have been so much different."
CS: "It was just showing up and going to work every day. It's a long season, and if you shut down after three or four games of things not going your way — because a lot of those games, if you go back and watch them, there were only a few games the entire season that we were really completely out of. The rest of the games came down to a series here, a series there. The ball could have went one way or the other; it just didn't go our way."
BC: "I feel like Week 6 is when it clicked for me. And I feel it kind of clicked for the team as well. … We stayed outside and practiced in the snow. It was coming down hard, too. So everybody's morale was up, too. … The Rams were all over TV and undefeated and the best thing since sliced bread. So it was one of those things where it was like we've just got to stop them. Unfortunately we still lost the game, but I felt like as a defense we still played fairly good. I feel like that's what kind of kick-started us. We knew we could be good. We just had to go out there and do it."
PL: "In the NFL, it's all about getting momentum. And we got some momentum with the practice. The practices start everything. You've got to be able to practice well. You've got to practice like a pro in order for you to go out there and execute at the professional level. Practice means everything."
III. Going streaking
After the loss to the Rams, the Broncos trounced the Cardinals and gave a couple of playoff teams some hard-fought battles. They sat at 3-6 at their bye week and needed to make some upsets happen to have any hope at even challenging for a postseason bid. They did just that, beating the Chargers on the road, the Steelers at home and running all over the Bengals in Cincinnati — a performance that earned Lindsay Rookie of the Week honors.
PL: "It felt good. It felt like we had some momentum and felt that we understood were all on the same page and we were in it together. You've got to help the defense out, and the defense helped us out. That's how it goes. And you just get on a roll. Sometimes you just get on a roll and get in a rhythm."
CS: "The individual success matching the team success because you know that the things that you and the rest of your teammates are doing that are positive are adding to the wins on the field — and being able to have those two things jell together and come together, it's awesome to see."
BC: "I feel like when we started having that success, it just jump-started the whole class, even though everybody was playing well from the jump. It was just another little kick to it."
PL: "We just kept rolling. … In this profession, you can't sit there and admire what you did. It already happened. It's in the past now. You've got to keep moving forward, because the next game, the next play, that's all that matters in this league."
IV. Growing pains
But just as things seemed to be looking up for the Broncos, injuries struck. Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders suffered season-ending injuries, and the Broncos lost each of the final four games of the season. As the team's depth thinned, success was harder to find for the rookies.
PL: "I mean, you guys saw how it was for the offense. … We're young, we're inexperienced. Emmanuel does go out, Demaryius is gone now — it puts [you] in a bind when there's eight [defenders] in the box all day. Your offensive line is banged up. You guys see it just like we do. Everybody was hurt."
CS: "It's just like life. Not everything is going to go your way, but it's all about how you respond to it. … You might not be able to control the event, but you can control your response and how you respond to everything. So the games might not have been going the way we wanted them to, but [we were] showing up and going back to work every week and putting ourselves in the best possible situation so that when we got ready to go into the next week."
BC: "Knowing we started off so bad and we still were in the playoff contention, for this year it just lets you know if we just do what we're supposed to do on both sides of the ball, if everybody just plays the calls that's called, nobody tries to do too much or too little, it could really be special. We could be in the playoffs. We could make a run for it. It was definitely one of those things where it was like, All right, now it's time. Unfortunately we lost to the 49ers, but we had that feeling of knowing how special it can be."
V. Looking ahead
With their rookie seasons and the ensuing accolades behind them, the 2018 rookies know even better things lie ahead of them as long as they work hard — and that's just what they intend on doing. There may be heavy expectations on their shoulders, but it's nothing they're shying away from.
BC: "You just can't dwell on what you did in the past. You've got to keep building it, keep wanting to have that same feeling, that same drive that you had when nobody knew your name."
CS: "You don't have to talk about it; it's just all about your work. What are you doing when you come to work? Are you preparing yourself in the meeting rooms, physically and mentally? … People always say actions speak louder than words, and you can talk about wanting to be a leader and all these different things, but are you putting in the work that matches what you're talking about?"
BC: "I feel like that's what's going to make this class special, because we've got a lot of guys that don't care about being in the headlines. … Everybody, I feel like, in our class is locked in and ready to go. We know we all want to win. We all want to bring another Lombardi Trophy back to Denver. There's no time to dwell on what we did or what we're going to do. We've just got to make it happen."
PL: "We're supposed to be the future. That's what we're going to have to do. We're just going to have to prove it this year."