The Broncos received an unexpected bye in Week 5 after their game against the Patriots was postponed to Week 6. With the players receiving a few well-deserved days away from the practice field before returning to UCHealth Training Center to prepare — again — for the Patriots, we're looking back at the first quarter of the season. In today's installment, we're evaluating some of the Broncos' top performers through the team's first four games of the year.
TE Noah Fant
Many expected the Broncos' 2019 first-round pick to take a jump in Year 2, and he has delivered early in 2020. Through four weeks, Fant ranked tied for fifth in receiving yards among tight ends as he's posted 19 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He was dominant in the first half of the Broncos' game against the Titans, catching five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. A week later, he caught four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. In that game in Pittsburgh, a late over-the-shoulder catch gave Denver a shot to pull off an upset win, though the Broncos could not complete the comeback. Fant's 59 catches and 781 yards in his young career rank first in team history among tight ends through their first 20 games, and the Broncos are hopeful he'll be able to return to the field soon after suffering an ankle injury in the second half of Denver's Week 4 game against the Jets.
RB Melvin Gordon III
Entering Week 5, the Broncos' big-name free-agent addition ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing yards and has proven why Denver signed their former division rival. Largely playing without an injured Phillip Lindsay, Gordon has tallied 281 rushing yards and three touchdowns and added another 45 receiving yards and another score. In Week 4, Gordon carried the ball 23 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-sealing 43-yard touchdown run. Gordon posted his 10th career 100-yard rushing game against New York and also became just the eighth active running back to reach 50 total touchdowns. It's not a stretch to say Gordon has been the Broncos' most productive veteran addition in 2020.
WR Tim Patrick
Patrick gets a nod here because of his Week 4 performance, in which he caught six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. He caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brett Rypien to help give the Broncos a lead, but it was his 31-yard catch on third-and-7 in the fourth quarter that was even more impressive. The Broncos would kick the go-ahead field goal on the drive and secure their first win of the season. Two of Patrick's three career touchdown catches have come in 2020, and he posted his first-career 100-yard game against the Jets in Week 4. The Broncos expected to replace Courtland Sutton by committee, but Patrick has done more than his share to chip in.
WR Jerry Jeudy
Jeudy was pressed into a major role even earlier than expected after Sutton's season-ending injury, and he's shown he's up to the task. Through four weeks, Jeudy's 234 receiving yards ranked third among rookie pass-catchers. His acrobatic touchdown catch against the Jets dominated highlight reels in Week 4, and he ranks third in franchise history for the most receiving yards by a rookie through four games. He even got a shoutout from LeBron James after his catch against the Jets.
"I thought Jeudy's touchdown was a tremendous play on his part," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after a win against the Jets, "and I think we're going to see him grow more and more as this season goes on."
With 50 yards against New England, he'd become just the fourth player in NFL history with at least 50 receiving yards in each of his first five games.
T Garett Bolles
After facing plenty of criticism this offseason, Bolles has responded in a big way through the season's first four weeks. He is the Broncos' top-rated player according to Pro Football Focus, and he has allowed just three total pressures. Despite battling a couple of different injuries, Bolles has mauled defenders in the run game and done his part in pass protection. And, perhaps most importantly, he has avoided the penalties that have been the story of his career. Through four games, just one holding penalty has been enforced against Bolles.
"I think Garett's played well this season," Fangio said on Oct. 2. "I think he's been called for only two penalties, and one of them was a bad call that shouldn't have been called. I think he's played well, and he's played dinged up too. He's got an elbow that's bugging him and something else that's bugging him and he's fighting through it. I felt good about Garett coming into this season, I remained in constant contact with him throughout the offseason and knew he was in a good spot mentally and emotionally. He was working out good and it was true when we finally got together in training camp that he was primed to play his best at this point in his career, and I think he's done that up to this point."
LB Josey Jewell
Alexander Johnson has been as expected with 29 tackles, a sack, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits, but Jewell deserves recognition because of how he has responded to an unexpected opportunity. The Broncos released starting linebacker Todd Davis late in training campand Jewell regained a starting job that he lost after an injury early in 2019. He leads the teams in tackles through four games and also has a pass defensed, two sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. Against the Jets, Jewell became just the third Bronco since 1994 to post a 10-tackle, two-sack game.
DL Shelby Harris
Harris returned to Denver on a one-year deal eager to bet on himself, and it has paid off so far in 2020. In Week 1, Harris blocked a Titans field-goal attempt. In Week 2, he recorded a tackle for a loss and forced a fumble against the Steelers. In Week 3, he posted two sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a pass breakup against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. He added another half sack and pair of quarterback hits in Week 4. Quite simply, Harris has been among the Broncos' most-consistent play makers.
"He's in the best condition he's been in, definitely in the short time I've been here," Fangio said of Harris ahead of Week 4. "Admittedly, he says the same thing in the last couple years. His weight is down a little bit, which is allowing him to move better and utilize his quickness and strength more often than he was able to in the past because he's not as fatigued. I think it's a tribute to all the hard work he put in in the offseason and he's been able to sustain it here during the season."
OLB Bradley Chubb
After an offseason of rehab, Chubb deserves to be recognized for a Week 4 game against the Jets that signified the fifth-overall pick is as good as ever. Chubb tallied 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits against New York, including a fourth-quarter fourth-down sack of Sam Darnold that essentially sealed the Broncos' win. His performance against the Jets was his fourth career multi-sack game of his career, and only Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have more multi-sack games through the first 24 games of their careers. Speaking of Miller: Chubb's performance is more impressive given that the Broncos have had to rush the passer without Miller opposite Chubb.
"It was a good game, but I feel like I could have done a lot more," Chubb said of his performance against the Jets. "I feel like I could have made a lot more tackles and a lot more plays. At the end of the day, I've got to appreciate that I was able to go out there and do that, but I'm still hungry for more."
S Justin Simmons
Simmons continues to be one of the Broncos' most-reliable players, as he hasn't missed a defensive snap since the beginning of the 2018 season. He has played all 291 defensive snaps in 2020 and posted 27 tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception and two passes defensed. His best game likely came in Week 2, as he helped swing momentum in the Broncos' favor with an interception. He also added a tackle for loss and two passes defensed in that game. According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons ranks fourth among all NFL safeties this season who have played at least 200 snaps.
"I kept saying, 'It doesn't matter, we found a way to win,'" Simmons said of the team's win over the Jets. "We were minus-three in the turnover battle, which is a huge factor. We talk about it all the time. Takeaways are huge part of winning football games. Setting your offense up with shorter fields and momentum swings. We lost that battle, but we found a way to win the game which is a huge confidence boost for our team — knowing our offense can put up the points to win a football game like that and knowing defensively that we weren't playing at our best. We didn't get any takeaways and we still found a way to close out the game when it mattered. That's a lot of momentum going into the rest of the season, and we have to make sure we're capitalizing on things like that."
K Brandon McManus
In Week 1, Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed three field goals and an extra point, which almost helped the Broncos steal a win. Denver hasn't had to worry about such issues, as McManus has turned in one of the best starts of his career. Through four weeks, McManus has connected on all eight of his extra points and six of his seven field-goal attempts. His lone miss came from 58 yards in Pittsburgh, but he redeemed himself in Weeks 3 and 4. He made a 56-yarder against Tampa Bay and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after making field goals of 40, 53 and 54 yards against the Jets. McManus' game against the Jets tied him for the second-most games in NFL history with multiple 50-plus yard field goals.