ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After back-to-back draft classes filled with question marks and plenty of unfulfilled promise to this point -- four of the 2017 picks are no longer on the roster, and their 2016 first-round pick, Paxton Lynch, was released before this past season -- the Denver Broncos' Class of 2018 was a much-needed infusion of talent.
It wasn't enough to save Vance Joseph's job, but if the Broncos are to see a franchise rebound under new coach Vic Fangio, they found many of the players who will be at the root of it. Five rookies started the season finale, and 11 were in uniform for the game.
Grade: Near perfection.
Best rookie: The Broncos had plenty of candidates here, including Bradley Chubb (first round) and wide receiver Courtland Sutton (second round) -- they were 1-2 among Denver's rookies as each played more than 800 snaps this season -- but undrafted rookie running back Phillip Lindsay is the pick. Lindsay, who missed the finale after wrist surgery, finished ninth in the league in rushing (1,037 yards) and was second in the league in yards per carry (5.4). He was the most consistent player in the Broncos' offense.
Most improved rookie: Chubb was as consistently impactful in the Broncos' defense as Lindsay was in the offense, so the player who might have covered the most developmental ground from start to finish this season is wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Hamilton didn't have a catch in six of the first seven games, then missed two games with an ankle injury. But after the team traded Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders later suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, Hamilton became a reliable target. The fourth-rounder showed precise route-running and a willingness to make the tough catch.
Jury is still out on ...: Tight end Troy Fumagalli, a fifth-round pick last April, spent the season on injured reserve after sports hernia surgery in the preseason. He had 46 and 47 receptions in back-to-back seasons at Wisconsin and the Broncos had been hopeful he and Jake Butt would give them some much-needed production in the passing game in the middle of the field. Butt, too, spent much of the season on injured reserve, with a torn ACL. Fumagalli will be a player to watch in the team's offseason program because he plays a position that had just three receiving touchdowns overall this past season, and the Broncos need somebody to step forward.
Undrafted rookie evaluation: Lindsay, who wasn't invited to the league's scouting combine last February despite his record-setting career at the University of Colorado, was the league's best undrafted rookie. But the Broncos got significant production from punter Colby Wadman as well. Outside linebacker Jeff Holland got 43 combined snaps on defense over the final three games.