Jaleel McLaughlin should be the Broncos starting running back

Aug 21, 2023, 4:00 AM | Updated: 6:06 am

Jaleel McLaughlin...

(Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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This article is brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Loveland

Does the preseason matter? Well, in the words of former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, “We’re fixin’ to find out.”

Because if it does, Denver will have a new starting running back. If the games mean anything at all, the bulk of Week 1 carries will go to an undrafted rookie.

Jaleel McLaughlin has been the best back on the Broncos roster in training camp. And it’s carried over to the games.

He’s the team’s leading rusher, with 65 yards on 11 carries; that’s a whopping 5.9-yard average. He also has three receptions for 20 yards.

The Broncos have scored four touchdowns through two preseason games. McLaughlin has three of them.

At Arizona, his yards and score came in garbage time. Against San Francisco, McLaughlin was getting reps in the first half.

Clearly, the Broncos are trying to see if his success is based on the level of competition or will translate to real thing. It’s eerily familiar to the 1995 preseason.

That year, it was a sixth-round draft pick that caught the eye of the coaches. Terrell Davis went from trying to catch an early flight home from Tokyo prior to the exhibition opener to becoming the Broncos starter.

No one is suggesting that McLaughlin is going to be one Davis. TD is a Hall of Fame running back. But the same decision-making process should be in the place.

Twenty-eight years ago, Mike Shanahan had an open mind. After seeing Davis make a special teams tackle in Tokyo, he gave the kid a chance. As the Broncos progressed through their five preseason games, his workload increased; his opportunity grew. And TD seized it.

Sean Payton seems to be doing the same thing with McLaughlin. But will he be as bold as Shanahan?

The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach was willing to roll with the rookie. It didn’t matter that Rod Bernstine was the veteran. Or that Glyn Milburn was a former second-round pick. Shanahan trusted his gut.

Payton should do the same. McLaughlin is the Broncos most-dynamic running back.

Yes, Javonte Williams is an inspiring story. His 10-month recovery from major knee surgery is amazing. But he’s not better than the rookie, at least not right now.

Sure, Samaje Perine was a big free-agent signing. But the veteran isn’t as electric as McLaughlin.

In Shanahan’s first season as the Broncos head coach, he sent a message. The best players will play. Contracts didn’t matter. Draft position didn’t either. It was a merit-based equation.

This approach led to two Lombardi Trophies within Shanahan’s first four seasons. It discovered one of the best players in franchise history.

Payton needs to take the same approach. It’s plain as day.

Be bold. Do the right thing. Trust what has been evident.

Jaleel McLaughlin is the Broncos best running back. Make him the starter.


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