Denver Broncos: Winners and Losers from Their First Preseason Game
The Denver Broncos team that lost by 35 points in the Super Bowl did not show up on Thursday night.
The Broncos were playing the same team that demolished and embarrassed them when the whole country was watching. But they didn't look the same. This time, the Broncos won fairly convincingly.
Sure, it was just a preseason game. But Denver's 21-16 win boosted its confidence significantly, and it also benefited many players trying to find their place on the roster.
However, it didn't benefit everyone.
Who gained the most from this game, and who lost ground in roster battles?
Note: All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
Winner: Jordan Norwood
Sure, Jordan Norwood didn't have the most catches or the most receiving yards against the Seattle Seahawks.
Demaryius Thomas came in first in both categories. However, Thomas, the team leader in receiving yards in in each of the last three seasons had nothing to prove.
But now Norwood is looking like he belongs in the NFL. He caught three passes on three targets, and he accumulated 51 receiving yards.
He even hauled in the game-winning touchdown on a 34-yard touchdown strike from Brock Osweiler.
In addition, he had a 20-yard return that should help him greatly in the competition to win the punt return role. Norwood, who was listed as a second-team wide receiver and punt returner on the team's first depth chart (according to the team's official website), was arguably the most impressive return man and receiver.
Now, the veteran with 36 career catches is in prime position to make the roster. Unless the Broncos want to use a regular receiver as a punt returner, they will need a sixth receiver to return punts.
And Norwood, who has shown pass-catching ability as well, is now the clear favorite to win that job.
Loser: Isaiah Burse
Norwood's gain on Thursday was receiver Isaiah Burse's loss.
Burse received the first opportunity to return a punt, but he picked up just four yards. He returned a kickoff to the 22-yard line, but his decision to take it from nine yards deep in the end zone might not help him when roster spots are finalized.
In addition, he lost three yards on another kickoff return. It didn't help that the ball had been deflected before it reached Burse, but his decision to dance around after securing it cost him yards.
In the NFL, going from side to side without gaining yardage doesn't work. If Burse doesn't learn that, he won't make the team.
Burse didn't do anything noteworthy in any aspect of the game. He failed to show promise as a receiver, which he will need to do to make the team. His main competitor, Norwood, did what he needed to do.
The battle isn't over, but Burse is behind. He is running out of time to turn the tables.
Winner: Juwan Thompson
Two Broncos running backs scored touchdowns, and Juwan Thompson wasn't one of them.
But even though the undrafted free agent didn't cross the goal line, he made his presence felt. Thompson ran for 59 yards on just six carries, racking up yardage easily. He had three runs of 15 yards or more.
Thompson cemented his place there as the fourth running back on the depth chart. He was much more impressive than Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay, his undrafted counterparts, who combined for just 20 yards on seven carries.
To be fair, Bibbs had a touchdown and averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry. But he was nothing like Thompson, who showed toughness, which was expected, and speed getting around the edge, which was a bit of a surprise.
Look for Thompson to continue to see time as the third running back (with Montee Ball's appendectomy sidelining him).
And if he picks up where he left off on Thursday, he could do more than just make the 53-man roster.
Loser: The 2014 Draft Class
Rookie receiver Cody Latimer was the talk of Broncos camp heading into Denver's first game.
However, he failed to make an impact against the Seahawks. He dropped a pass and was held without a reception.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, he wasn't the only rookie who left a bit to be desired.
Two rookie offensive linemen, Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield, didn't play an offensive snap. Two rookie linebackers, Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, graded out poorly and struggled in coverage. First-round cornerback Bradley Roby made an impact play by forcing a fumble, but he also gave up four catches for 37 yards on four targets, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Schofield, a third-round pick, was bypassed for a 2012 college free agent who has never played in a regular-season game (Paul Cornick). That's very concerning for Schofield, especially when you consider that fellow rookies John Brown and Dri Archer, who were both picked within five selections of Schofield, performed phenomenally in their NFL debuts.
None of the team's draft picks made much of an impact. There's obviously time for these players to make their move, but most lost ground in their position battles by underperforming in their first ever preseason game.
Winners: Quanterus Smith and Kenny Anunike
Yes, DeMarcus Ware had a sack and neither Quanterus Smith nor Kenny Anunike did. And yes, Ware looked absolutely dominant in his limited playing time.
However, Ware is a proven veteran who has a roster spot under control. Sure, there might be some doubt about his ability to play at a high level given his elbow issues last year, but he doesn't have anything to prove to the coaching staff.
Smith and Anunike did have something to prove, and they both made their points. Smith had four quarterback hurries in just 21 pass rushes, wreaking havoc on Seattle QBs Terrelle Pryor and Tarvaris Jackson.
As for Anunike, he racked up five quarterback hurries in a mere 11 pass-rush attempts. He didn't register a sack, though he got after Seattle's mobile quarterbacks and made his presence felt.
Smith has his place cemented on Denver's roster as a backup defensive end, but Anunike, an undrafted free agent, had lots more to prove. However, the Broncos kept nine defensive linemen in 2012 and 10 in 2011 under current coach John Fox, so Anunike certainly could make the team.
Because if he keeps playing like he did against Seattle, it would be nearly impossible for Denver to cut him.
Loser: Duke Ihenacho
Safety Duke Ihenacho was a camp sensation last season. This season has been different.
Ihenacho posted seven tackles in the team’s first preseason game last year. He also forced a fumble and had a tackle for loss. This year, he posted a -1.3 grade, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and gave up a 20-yard completion.
His spot on the Broncos roster seems to be up for grabs now. His main competitor for the team's final safety spot, John Boyett, posted a 0.2 grade and helped force an interception. He displayed his physicality, and Ihenacho didn't.
Because the Broncos have four safeties (Rahim Moore, T.J. Ward, Quinton Carter and David Bruton) seemingly entrenched on the roster, Ihenacho and Boyett will battle for the final spot.
Boyett outperformed Ihenacho on Thursday. If he keeps doing so, Ihenacho might find himself out of work when the roster is trimmed.