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The three biggest takeaways from the Broncos-Cardinals game

(Photo by Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

The Broncos wrapped up the 2019 exhibition season with a 20-7 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night. It was an exhibition season that saw Denver go through some ups and downs on both sides of the ball.

The Broncos had some players get banged up along the way and they’ve already cut a few veteran players that weren’t going to make the 53-man roster. On Thursday night, it was all about finding out who was going to stand out in their last chance to impress the coaching staff and the front office.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from the Broncos preseason finale win:

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1. More Malik Reed, please

There is no doubt that undrafted rookie pass-rusher Malik Reed has made the 53-man roster. In fact, after the game Broncos head coach Vic Fangio told Reed that he had made the team. At his postgame press conference, Fangio said “Happy for him, happy for us.” when referencing Reed’s play this preseason.

Reed was incredibly productive in college at Nevada, especially during the last two seasons, when he had 25.5 tackles for a loss and 16.0 sacks. The Broncos were able to add him as a college free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft and he looks to be the next in a long line of UDFAs who make the final roster as a rookie.

The Broncos are good at finding gems from the ranks of the undrafted. Whether it’s a guy like Chris Harris Jr. (2011) or Phillip Lindsay (2018), Denver is good at identifying big-time talent that has been overlooked by other teams. I’m not saying Reed is going to be a Hall of Fame player (like Harris) or a Pro Bowler as a rookie (like Lindsay), but he could make some plays for this team as a rotational pass rusher.

The Broncos needed to find some talent behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. They let Shaq Barrett (Buccaneers) and Shane Ray (Ravens) move on in free agency, and that created a big void in the backup pass-rushing department. Reed should fill that void and could push for around 5.0 sacks as a rookie playing a part-time role.

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2. Hogan largely unimpressive

Broncos backup quarterback Kevin Hogan was trying hard to impress on Thursday night, but he fell short in his task. I’m not even going to bring up his two interceptions (although I guess I just did) because one was on a “Hail Mary” at the end of the half and the other was a tipped pass. Hogan looked bad on the passes that went to his own team, let alone the ones that were picked off.

Yes, he made a good touchdown throw, but there were at least two down the left sideline that would’ve been big plays. Instead, Hogan put too much air under those passes and guys like Khalfani Muhammad and Kelvin McKnight had no chance to reach them. This lack of touch and timing has plagued Hogan during training camp and preseason with the Broncos this year.

Hogan finished the game as a 52.2 percent passer, completing 12 of 23 passes for 138 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Even on the passes he did complete, outside of the nicely placed touchdown throw, Hogan generally made his receivers work too hard for the ball. His passes were either too high or too low and that didn’t allow his receivers to maximize the yards after the catch.

The Broncos need to find the best backup quarterback to Joe Flacco and that’s not Hogan. Rookie Drew Lock has a thumb injury and his timetable for return is unknown. It looks like this team should be looking at other team’s rosters to find that backup until the rookie comes back.

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3. Downtown Fred Brown

The player of the game on offense has to be wide receiver Fred Brown. Undrafted out of Mississippi State in 2017, Brown has bounced around from the Colts to the Rams practice squads and then to the Broncos when they signed him to a futures contract back in January. Brown has made some plays here and there in training camp and the preseason, but he saved his best performance for last.

Against the Cardinals on Thursday night, Brown led the team in catches and receiving yards. Brown finished the night with five targets, five catches, 66 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. He had the longest reception of the night, 25 yards, and generally looked like a reliable receiver for any quarterback that was throwing him the ball.

Brown had an interesting college career. He was supposed to be the next great Mississippi State wide receiver but ended up getting booted from the program for an academic violation. He’s been fighting to get his football career back on track ever since then, so fighting for a roster spot now with the Broncos is no new thing for Brown.

With the progress we’ve seen from Brown, and mostly consistent play in training camp, perhaps he could survive one more year on a practice squad – this time in Denver.

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