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Broncos Mailbag: What will it take to get WR Jerry Jeudy and RB Jaleel McLaughlin untracked?

Who deserves a Pro Bowl nod from Denver? And what’s led to the Broncos’ turnaround?

Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) during warmups before playing the Loa Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California Sunday December 10, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) during warmups before playing the Loa Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California Sunday December 10, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Parker Gabriel - Staff portraits in The Denver Post studio on October 6, 2022. (Photo by Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post)

Denver Post Broncos writer Parker Gabriel posts his Broncos Mailbag weekly during the season and periodically during the offseason. Click here to submit a question.

I have been reasonably content and without questions for several weeks but the current state of Jerry Jeudy’s play and discontent forces me to ask: What the heck? Is he really so upset at his perceived neglect at being targeted? When he is thrown the ball, his performance is often, quite lacking! That’s about as kind as I can be. How does it look from your professional perspective?

— A Referee, Greeley

The airing of grievances has re-commenced, eh, Ref? Kidding, kidding, thanks for writing in as always.

It’s turned into a bit of a funk with Jeudy, hasn’t it? Two of his three lowest production games by yards and targets have come in the past three weeks and in the other game — 51 yards against Houston — there were chances for so much more.

It’s not fair to put all of it on Jeudy. Against Houston in particular — as we detailed pretty extensively in a story Sunday — a bunch of different stuff all conspired against more big plays being made. Some of that is on him, some’s on Russell Wilson, some’s on the defense making good plays, pass protection and more. And, to Jeudy’s credit, he was able to see that and willing to acknowledge that during the week when I talked to him about it.

Against the Chargers, though, it did look like frustration set in. Either of the two deep balls could have been completed. Just one man’s opinion, but the first one didn’t look like a great throw from my seat and the second one was a tough chance, but I thought it got through the defensive back and on to Jeudy’s hands. The throw in the back corner of the end zone is the one you’ve got to have. It’s a four-point difference between getting a second foot down and not. Plain and simple.

Wilson last week insisted he has, “all the trust in the world in (Jeudy).” Quarterbacks tend to default to the guys they have that trust in when things go awry. Wilson always speaks highly of Jeudy in that regard but it’s also no secret that, this year, Wilson’s made the most hay getting the ball to Courtland Sutton in those situations and in the red zone. Sometimes it’s just the way the ball rolls, too. Sutton’s long touchdown against the Chargers was a play originally designed to go to Jeudy. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.

Jeudy’s really talented. His production hasn’t matched that talent. Even on a team that’s not putting up big passing numbers, he should be producing more. The simplest way I know how to say it is it’s on Wilson to get him the ball when he gets open and it’s on Jeudy to be able to stay the course mentally when that doesn’t happen.

It appears when Jaleel McLaughlin enters the game, the defense already knows he’s going to get the ball, since his ability to block is questioned. Any thoughts about using him in the slot or in the backfield with Javonte Williams and/or Samaje Perine?

— Curtis Hanlen, Bosque Farms, N.M.

Hey Curtis, it’s a good point and something we’ve mentioned previously. There was a stretch where the ball was going to McLaughlin — either a carry or a target in the passing game — more than 70% of the snaps he was on the field. That rate has come down but is still high – most recently 7 carries/targets in 13 snaps against the Chargers.

It’s kind of where they’re at offensively at this point. Williams is the go-to guy on early downs and Perine is the trusted pass-protector and pass-catcher on third down (and, when healthy, provides nice punch in the run game). That leaves McLaughlin to handle a handful of snaps a game, usually in situations where they can avoid leaving him in pass protection.

The conundrum: In order to use McLaughlin less, the Broncos would have to play him more. One of the many quirks that makes football great.

Hello Parker, this may not be a popular opinion, but Russell Wilson should be benched if the Broncos hope to make the playoffs. He is a liability on a team with little margin for error. Would it be the same if this were another player making so many mistakes, e.g., running into sacks, missing wide open receivers, not seeing open receivers? Why is he still on the field? Is Sean Payton making a case for waiving him next year? Because the evidence is piling up. Thanks!

— Joe C., Aurora

Hey Joe, Wilson isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s not happening. And not just because he makes a lot of money and all that. There’s just no reason to think anything other than he gives the Broncos the best chance to win at this point.

It’s interesting: Wilson at this stage of his career misses on stuff that most quarterbacks don’t miss on. But he also still makes a handful of plays per game that most other quarterbacks don’t make. It sometimes leads to performances that aren’t the cleanest or the prettiest to watch, but recently it’s also led to a whole bunch of wins.

We’ve written extensively about the way his contract works, the decisions ahead, the imperfections in his game and all of that. But the caveat has always been and will continue to be that if you win, that stuff matters less. Right now, they’re winning. So you plow ahead trying to make the postseason and worrying less about what it looks like en route. If they falter down the stretch here and fall out of playoff contention, maybe Jarrett Stidham gets a game at the end of the year. But that situation or injury is the only way it’s happening over the next four weeks.

Parker, our win over the Chargers was easily the most dominant I’ve seen our team since Sean Payton became coach. What’s changed since our slow start? We were on the cusp of the season fading into a top-three pick, but now we’re a game away from the AFC West lead.

— Ryan, Castle Rock

Yo Ryan, thanks for the note. It’s a lot of things, but let’s put it as simply as possible:

1. The defense went from one of the worst starts in NFL history to being one of the stingiest groups in the league. Obviously a combination of things at play, but they’ve made a bunch of personnel moves that have paid off – jettisoning Randy Gregory and Frank Clark, giving Ja’Quan McMillian the nickel spot, starting Fabian Moreau, getting P.J. Locke and Baron Browning healthy, etc. — and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has adjusted on the fly.

2. The offense settled into, for the most part, leaning on what it does best. Run the ball, play-action off of it and protect the football. You see what happens when they get away from that, but also how it’s a recipe for success. Then when the game’s on the line, they’ve found ways to get the job done more often than not.

Agree with you that Sunday was pretty convincing. They missed on a few chances and let the Chargers hang around for a while, but overall it felt like they were in control pretty much from the time the defense got that early red zone stand after Wilson’s first-play interception.

Hey Parker, last month I asked you who’s making the Pro Bowl on how we’ve played so far. Who do you have going now? I’m changing my answers to Courtland Sutton (he’s second in the league with 10 touchdown catches), Ja’Quan McMillian (he just makes plays) and Quinn Meinerz (he’s having a breakout year).

— Nick Winters, Colorado Springs

Yeah Nick, the Broncos certainly have more candidates than last time we did this exercise. I agree with your three and would think cornerback Pat Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons would also be good bets.

Good on you for coming around to my suggestion from a month ago about Meinerz. He’s really played well.

And it’s hard to say enough good things about McMillian, who could go from practice squad rookie to Pro Bowler. He’s already set the Broncos’ single-season record for tackles for loss by a cornerback (though nickel and corner aren’t exactly the same thing) with seven.

According to the Broncos, he’s also one of just two players in the NFL this year with multiple sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. That’ll work.

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