Jaleel McLaughlin was one of several bright spots during last season’s roller coaster for the Denver Broncos. With a year under his belt, McLaughlin hasn’t taken his opportunity for granted as he competes to maintain his spot on the roster at a loaded running back room.

Denver Broncos RB Jaleel McLaughlin’s work ethic hasn’t changed

Last season, during the Denver Broncos’ OTAs and offseason program, Jaleel McLaughlin was a player who stood out like a sore thumb. Consistently, he looked like the fastest player on the field and quickly became a player we all had our eyes on for the start of training camp.

The second-year undrafted player isn’t just naturally gifted or talented; a lot of it is polished and molded through hard work and consistency. Sean Payton told all of us last year that McLaughlin was always the first player in the building, sometimes as early as 5:00 a.m.

That trend has continued during this year’s offseason program, where McLaughlin has been in the building every single day at 5:15 a.m.

“I think his continued growth,” Payton said regarding McLaughlin carving out a larger role for himself. “You see him protecting the football and he is very disciplined as a change of pace route runner. I know he wants to continue to work on his role in the passing game. He’ll come up and wear me out asking for cut ups and looking at certain routes. So, it’s one-to-two. But he’s here at 5:15 [a.m.], even in the offseason, [and is the] first one here running in the weight room. By the time he’s at breakfast and most people are arriving, he’s put in a good hour and a half’s worth of work. It’s just the way he’s wired, and it’s impressive.”

That work ethic paid off last season and has a chance to pay off yet again. This time around, the running back room features fresh and exciting competition.

Javonte Williams is the anticipated starter, returning to the offseason fully healthy with some time off since his major knee injury two years ago. Samaje Perine is the longest-tenured veteran in the room, returning as the team’s most productive pass-catching back from last year.

McLaughlin was the team’s third back last season on the 53-man roster, and each of the three rushers had moments where they had a big impact on the team’s offensive production at various points of the season.

Tyler Badie is back in the mix after being on the team’s practice squad last season. New faces in the room feature undrafted rookie free agent Blake Watson, who has a lot of similarities to McLaughlin’s game, and Audric Estime, who the team drafted in the fifth round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Realistically speaking, McLaughlin’s impact and flash ability last year is something that can provide sustainable value to the Broncos offense if the team can find a way to establish the run better than they did last year. His knowledge of the playbook and work ethic will make it very hard for Denver to look for somebody else to play his role.