Broncos hidden gem rookie to make long-awaited debut vs. Raiders

Aug 11, 2022; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Johnson (89) during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2022; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Johnson (89) during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

There will be a lot of change happening to the Denver Broncos offense as the team prepares for its Week 11 battle against the Las Vegas Raiders. First and foremost, news broke very early on Sunday morning that Nathaniel Hackett was giving up his offensive play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. That was a shocker given Hackett and the Broncos kept it under wraps all week long.

It will be fascinating to see how the talking heads (like us) respond and react to whatever happens with the Broncos on Sunday afternoon, and although the overall outcome of the game is much more important, the team is going to get the chance in Week 11 to see the long-awaited debut of rookie wide receiver Brandon Johnson, a training camp and preseason star who suffered a high-ankle sprain in the preseason finale.

Brandon Johnson to make long-awaited Denver Broncos debut vs. Raiders

Even after coming in as one of the more underrated rookies in the Broncos’ 2022 class, Brandon Johnson wasted absolutely no time getting into the good graces of Russell Wilson and the offensive coaching staff. He was routinely working with the top offense during training camp and frankly, his playing in the preseason finale seemed surprising given the team had already lost Tim Patrick to injury earlier in camp.

Johnson was supposed to be part of the solution after losing Tim Patrick, especially given the lingering injury issues for KJ Hamler heading into the season (which have once again derailed his third NFL season).

Johnson showed big-play ability, some advanced route-running techniques, and some strong hands. Not only that, but the guy was playing on the core special teams unit. The Broncos really liked Johnson and he was on track to make the final 53-man roster before the ankle injury he suffered in the preseason finale. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that led us to this point in the first place, because obviously, Johnson did not make the team’s final roster.

The Broncos had to place Johnson on the waived/injured list before adding him to injured reserve. They later signed him to the practice squad, and have now promoted him to the active roster for his first NFL action against the Raiders. It’s not something teams normally can do. Typically, you have to carry a player onto your active roster initially in order to see them play at any point in the season, but this is a rare circumstance where a guy is going to not make the final roster due to injury and still play during the season.

The writing on the wall for the Broncos wanting to get Johnson (and fellow rookie Jalen Virgil) more involved in the offense sooner rather than later was when Trinity Benson decided to sign with the Detroit Lions off the Broncos’ practice squad. When Benson realized that the Broncos were more inclined to promote other guys on the team, he likely decided he had a better shot taking his chances in Detroit again.

Johnson is almost undoubtedly going to get some significant offensive snaps against the Raiders and could be a spark for this Broncos offense. They desperately need one. The receiver room has been one major injury after another over the last handful of years. Zach Azzanni’s group has been constantly shuffling but he has a history with Johnson dating back to their time together as Tennessee Volunteers. Azzanni recruited Johnson to play college ball and the two were reunited in the NFL.

That connection has paid off for Brandon Johnson, whose debut against the Raiders is a small bright spot for an offense that has been dismal, to say the least, this season. Seeing him play with Klint Kubiak calling plays out there? Who knows? Something crazy (good) might just happen.