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Young Broncos who played major roles in 2019

Over the past two weeks, DenverBroncos.com has evaluated the 2019 seasons for several of the Broncos' key players. We've looked back at the performances of Drew Lock, Justin Simmons, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Alexander Johnson — and it's almost time to turn ahead to 2020. Before we do that, though, there are several more young players worth mentioning, as they could have bright futures with the Broncos.

G Dalton Risner

Risner, the 41st-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, started every game for the Broncos at left guard. The 6-foot-5, 312-pound mauler from Kansas State helped clear running lanes for Phillip Lindsay and protected Drew Lock late in the season en route to earning All-Rookie team honors from the Pro Football Writers of America. Risner was one of just 10 rookies to start all 16 games this season, and he played the fifth-most snaps by a Broncos rookie since 1970. He seems destined to be a cornerstone of the Broncos' offensive line for years to come.

DE Dre'Mont Jones

Jones, a third-round pick from Ohio State, turned his game on late in the season. He started just one contest in 2019, but he appeared in 14 and recorded all 3.5 of his sacks over his final six games. He earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a 2.5-sack performance against the Lions in Week 16, and he snagged an interception in a Week 13 win over the Chargers. He was one of three rookies to earn AFC DPOTW honors, and he's just the third Broncos defender to earn the award as a rookie. In 2020, Jones could assume a starting role in Head Coach Vic Fangio's defense.

DL Mike Purcell

As a 28-year-old, Purcell isn't as young as some other players on this list. It's also true that he has previous experience, as he played 25 games for the 49ers across three seasons from 2014-16. Purcell, though, hadn't appeared in an NFL game since 2016, and his 2019 season could be considered something of a breakout season. Purcell replaced Adam Gotsis in the Broncos' lineup for a Week 5 game against the Chargers, and he proved critical as Denver's run defense improved. After allowing Leonard Fournette to run for 229 yards in Week 4, Purcell and the new-look defense gave up 35 total rushing yards in their first win of the season. Purcell tallied just three tackles that week, but he clogged the middle of the field. He started seven games over the rest of the season and appeared in every contest after being inactive for three of the first four weeks. Fangio, who coached Purcell for a portion of his time in San Francisco, could count on Purcell again in 2020 if the Broncos choose to tender the restricted free agent.

CBs Duke Dawson Jr., De'Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris

When Bryce Callahan aggravated a foot injury during training camp, it opened an opportunity for a number of young cornerbacks. Yiadom, a 2018 third-round pick, bookended the year for the Broncos at the No. 2 corner spot. He started the first three games before being replaced against Green Bay in Week 3, but he returned to the starting lineup for the final five games of the season. Bausby, who joined the Broncos from the Alliance of American Football in April, replaced Yiadom in Green Bay and started in Week 4 and Week 5. He tallied three passes defensed and appeared to have a solid hold on the spot before suffering a season-ending neck injury in Week 5 against the Chargers. From there, Davontae Harris took his turn in the starting lineup. The 2018 fifth-round draft pick started six games in the middle of the season and held his own for a stretch. He struggled in coverage at times against Cleveland in Week 9, but he also combined with Kareem Jackson for a game-winning pass breakup on a fourth down. Harris, whom the Broncos claimed off waivers ahead of Week 1, played just four defensive snaps over the final five weeks of the season as Yiadom regained the starting spot. Duke Dawson Jr., a 2018 second-round pick of the Patriots, rounds out the group of young defensive backs. The Broncos traded for Dawson on the final weekend of the preseason, and Dawson played at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps in six of the Broncos' games. Dawson, who played largely at the nickel corner spot, should benefit from an offseason in Fangio's system. All four players, though, made claims at various points of the season for why they deserve a role in 2020.

KR/PR Diontae Spencer

Another of the Broncos' waiver claims before Week 1, Spencer brought a jolt to Denver's return units. Spencer was named a Pro Bowl alternate for his 2019 season, during which he averaged 8 yards per punt return and 29.1 yards per kickoff return. He ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per punt return last season. Though he didn't break a return for a score, he did return a punt for 42 yards in Week 6 against the Titans, and he had three kick returns of at least 40 yards. Spencer, who also had nine touches on offense during the year, used his speed to the Broncos' advantage.

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