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Broncos' 9 most pleasant surprise players heading into bye week

Inside linebacker Alexander Johnson heads the list followed by a Bengals castoff at cornerback and the new quarterback.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) and linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) celebrate a defensive stop during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Denver. The Broncos won 24-19. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Carrying a win and a promising new quarterback into the bye week changes everything.

The Broncos may still be just 3-6 overall, but there is no longer a feeling of dread about their next game.

In fact, after quarterback Brandon Allen’s impressive NFL debut Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, the bye week will only make Broncos Country anxious for the team’s next game Nov. 17 at Minnesota.

Enthusiasm and the positive vibe is contagious. Here are the Broncos most pleasant surprise players as they head into their week 10 bye:

1. Alexander Johnson 

Inside Linebacker 

He didn’t play one defensive snap through the Broncos’ first four games. Not one. He didn’t even dress in Game 3 at Green Bay.

But getting trampled by Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second half of Game 4 became a turning point for the Broncos because it forced head coach Vic Fangio to insert the big-bodied Johnson in game 5.

RELATED: Brandon Stokley is Broncos' 'Salute to Service Award' nominee

The Denver D has gone from 30th against the run through four games (149.3 yards per game) to 17th through nine games (107.6).

Johnson’s 41 tackles in just five games rank third overall on the team, behind fellow inside linebacker Todd Davis and safety Justin Simmons, who are tied for the team lead with 53 tackles.

2. Davontae Harris 


He went from getting waived as a second-year player with the Bengals – who are the league’s only winless team at 0-8 – to playing every snap for the Broncos at the cornerback position opposite Chris Harris Jr.

3. Brandon Allen 


It’s only one game but for after not playing a snap the first 3 ½ years of his career, Allen far exceeded expectations – since expectations were zero – by throwing for 193 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in his debut Sunday against the Browns.

He delivered one win for a team that only has three.

RELATED: Brandon Allen shines in debut as Broncos beat Browns, 24-19

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen (2) scrambles against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

4. Mike Purcell 

Defensive Tackle

The definition of a journeyman, Purcell joined Johnson as newcomers to the Broncos’ defensive starting lineup after the Fournette embarrassment.

Purcell’s beef and guile in the middle has allowed Shelby Harris to make a greater impact from the defensive end position.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell (98) reacts after a stop against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Denver.

5. Derek Wolfe 

Defensive End

It may be a stretch to say a player drawing $9.55 million this year is a surprise, especially one who has been a mainstay upfront for eight seasons.

But Wolfe had slumped to 3.5 sacks in 2017-18 combined and he now leads the team with 5.0 sacks through nine games this year. The Fangio defense has been good for him.

Having just turned 29, the free agent-to-be Wolfe may be headed for a nice third contract.

6. Duke Dawson Jr. 


Cast off by the New England Patriots even though he was a second-round draft pick last year, the Broncos acquired him in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick while getting Dawson and seventh-round pick in return.

Dawson didn’t really get going as a cornerback until the Chiefs’ game in week 7 and he’s played better than 80 percent of the defensive snaps in the past two games at Indy and against the Browns.

7. DeMarcus Walker 

Defensive Lineman

It took the 2017 second-round draft choice a while to get going as he was inactive in 19 of 32 games through his first two seasons.

He’s advanced to a rotational player in year 3, but he was tied for the team-lead with 4.0 sacks through the first eight games. He missed game 9 because of a shoulder injury but is expected to return after the bye and play against the Vikings.

8. Dalton Risner

Left Guard 

He has played well since the day after he was drafted in the second round, so his fine play hasn’t been a surprise since the season started.

Still, anytime a rookie plays well, there’s an element of surprise to it.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner points to the crowd during an NFL preseason football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

9. Malik Reed

Outside linebacker

Diontae Spencer 


Ron Leary

Right Guard

Reed is the Broncos' latest undrafted rookie contributor. He has 1.0 sack in relief of the injured Bradley Chubb but he's also a relentless pursuer. Spencer, a first-year NFL player after spending four seasons in the Canadian Football League, has been the Broncos’ best returner since Trindon Holliday.

The surprise about Leary is after his injury-plagued first two seasons, he’s played all 587 offensive snaps through the first nine games.