ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The preseason is the best opportunity for coaches to evaluate players and narrow down the roster ahead of Week 1. After Saturday's 17-7 victory over the Cowboys, narrowing the wide receiver pool just got a lot more difficult.
On a night when the starting wide receivers sat, multiple young players showed out in big ways. Kendall Hinton, Brandon Johnson, Seth Williams and Jalen Virgil are fighting for potentially just a couple of roster spots, and each made a strong case for why he should make the cut.
"Those young guys are doing everything they're supposed to do to give themselves a chance," quarterback Josh Johnson said. "That's the main thing that you don't see from a lot of young guys in this league. … Those guys, from top to bottom, have been putting in the work. Countless hours outside of what's scheduled for them. You see it in practice, now you've seen it in a game. It's really a credit to those guys. I'm really happy for that group."
Josh Johnson threw both of the Broncos' touchdowns into the left side of the end zone — and the first score came off a 50-50 ball to Williams, a six-foot-three receiver who can get vertical to win matchups. The second-year player does not shy away from jump balls — he relishes in the opportunity to beat a defender one on one.
"50-50 balls, I know it's not even a 50-50 ball," Williams said. "It's a 100 percent ball for me. I just feel like if you just give me a chance with a play, I can make it."
With a similar build to Tim Patrick, who suffered a torn ACL during training camp, Williams could be an option to step into his role.
"You can't replace Tim; he's a guy that does so much work that you don't see," Williams said. "You can't replace him, but just to be one of the names that [comes] up to replace him, it feels good."
The second touchdown of the day was a 24-yard pass to a diving Hinton, who secured the catch in tight coverage. A third-year receiver, Hinton appeared in 16 games for the Broncos in 2021, logging 15 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown. With his performance on Saturday night, he made a case for not only securing his roster spot but earning an even larger snap share.
"Josh gave me a great ball, [an] opportunity to go get it, and [I] just made a play," Hinton said of his touchdown. "Preseason, it's all about getting guys prepared. For a lot of guys it's their first time playing out here, so I think it was just amazing to see the success that our whole position room had. Guys stepped up and made plays, it was exciting to see."
The Johnson-to-Johnson connection was another highlight of the game, as the veteran quarterback found the rookie receiver for multiple big plays — the flashiest of which was a 40-yard bomb down the sideline that brought the Broncos to the 5-yard line and set up Williams' touchdown.
Despite playing under the bright lights of an NFL game for the first time, Johnson did not let the moment faze him.
"My whole approach was just to do my job," the receiver said. "Just focus on the things we were working on all week, and that we've been working on all camp, really. I really didn't approach it any differently just because the starters weren't playing. I just wanted to do my job and help the team the best way I could."
When quarterback Brett Rypien came in for the second half, a fourth young wide receiver got his moments in the spotlight. Rookie Jalen Virgil turned heads during training camp with a few long receptions, and he further cemented his potential to be a deep threat in Saturday's game.
Starting a third-quarter drive inside the 1-yard line, Rypien unleashed a 42-yard bomb downfield to Virgil, who secured the catch and held on while taking a powerful hit. With just three receptions, Virgil racked up 83 yards and quickly became the team's leader in receiving yards on the night.
As a player battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, Virgil understands how crucial it is to make the most of each snap he gets.
"It's very important," Virgil said. "I've always been big on just taking advantage of every opportunity that I'm given. We have a lot of talent in the receiver room, so for me it's just going out there every time and just trying to make a play every time I get a chance."
All of these young wide receivers showed that they have what it takes to make the final roster, and General Manager George Paton could face tough choices when he has to start making cuts.
The two remaining preseason games will be increasingly important for Hinton, Johnson, Williams and Virgil to showcase their skills. They may have all stood out in the first game, but the Broncos will likely look to see who can turn one moment of stardom into consistent, productive play every week.
For the four receivers who turned in impressive performances, it's all about what's next.
View exclusive photos of the Broncos' game by team photographers Gabriel Christus, Eric Lars Bakke and Ben Swanson