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'Those guys have answered the bell': Four undrafted rookies earn spots on Broncos' initial roster

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the course of the offseason, the Broncos revitalized their roster with high-profile free-agent signings like right tackle Mike McGlinchey and defensive end Zach Allen and promising draft picks such as wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. and inside linebacker Drew Sanders.

On Tuesday, several of the more under-the-radar acquisitions reached an impressive milestone: spots on the Broncos' initial regular-season roster. Four undrafted free agents — tight end Nate Adkins, outside linebacker Thomas Incoom, running back Jaleel McLaughlin and tackle Alex Palczewski — made Denver's roster as NFL teams downsized from 90 to 53 players.

Assistant General Manager Darren Mougey said the four players have performed at a high level and maximized both practice and game opportunities.

"We felt good about those guys coming out of the draft," Mougey said Tuesday. "But since they've been here, those guys' approach, just their makeup, them being a pro and those guys just progressing and getting better every week. Those guys have answered the bell.

"… They've had opportunities, and that's all you want to see. When these guys get opportunities in games or in practice, they make the plays, and these guys have done that and we feel good about them."

McLaughlin was a standout performer in training camp and the preseason, scoring four touchdowns and making an impact on special teams in the return game. After becoming the NCAA's all-time leading rusher at Youngstown State, McLaughlin has translated his game to the pro level and added to his highlight reel every week, though his coaches haven't been surprised.

Against the 49ers in Denver's second preseason game, McLaughlin found the end zone twice and broke off a 44-yard kick return. 

"In San Francisco, when the game ended, I knew he was on the track to be on our team or someone else's if we chose not to put him on our roster, so I think that was a big game for him," Head Coach Sean Payton said. "… It wasn't anything that surprised us, we had seen it. And to his credit, it was pretty consistent."

General Manager George Paton underscored McLaughlin's ability to acclimate to every challenge that came his way.

"He passed every test," Paton said. "From the minute he showed up at rookie minicamp, it wasn't too big. And then he's working out with the big boys on varsity, it wasn't too big. And then we get the pads on, he makes plays every day. We're really not surprised. We're all looking forward to the first game to see what he can do and make plays every game."

While McLaughlin's big-play ability caught the Broncos' attention, Adkins made an impression through the versatility he has brought to the Denver offense.

A 6-foot-3, 252-pound tight end from South Carolina, Adkins' contributions on offense and special teams made him an offseason target for the Broncos' front office. His consistency and football IQ helped him emerge as a difference-maker during Denver's three preseason games, and he had receptions in the Broncos' preseason matchups against the 49ers and Rams.

"He's a guy we had targeted throughout the process just like [RB] Jaleel [McLaughlin]," Paton said. "We almost drafted him. It just didn't fall. We didn't have a lot of picks. We were really fortunate to get him as an undrafted free agent. He's been everything we thought. ... He's a coach's dream because he can do so many different things."

Palczewski and Incoom provide the Broncos with depth at two key positions. Palczewski, a 6-foot-6, 314-pound right tackle from Illinois, appeared in all three preseason games and started against the Rams in the preseason finale. Incoom, a Central Michigan product, registered a sack against Los Angeles and has established himself as a reliable player at the "Will" linebacker position.

Payton acknowledged that the roster could change prior to Week 1 and expects more roster turnover across the league over the next week, but he said his priority has been to get the best players to the Broncos' roster. Across OTAs, training camp and Denver's preseason games, Denver's four undrafted free agent signings made their case for being among the best 53 and their potential to contribute to this year's Broncos team.

For Denver's front office, the process of identifying and signing undrafted free agents that overcome the odds and make the roster has been a gratifying experience.

"I think we're prideful about everyone we bring in here, from the 90th guy [to the top]," Mougey said. "But definitely it's nice when you have undrafted guys make it, especially [those] that we felt strong about coming out and it kind of comes to fruition."

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