ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the Mile High City, “The Joker” refers to the greatest basketball player on the planet, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

But as the NBA Finals begin on Thursday night with Jokic leading the Denver Nuggets against the Miami Heat, another “joker” is emerging in Denver.

“He’s got a unique skillset. He’s got traits,” Sean Payton said after Thursday’s OTA practice, talking about tight end Greg Dulcich. “In the passing game, we use the term joker where we can get matchups. The trick sometimes is to predict what you’ll get defensively. If you’re going to get a nickel package or a base package, but man he can run. He’s got ball skills.”

After the Broncos drafted Dulcich in the third round last year, Nathaniel Hackett gushed, not only about his ability in the passing game, but about his long flowing hair. The Broncos’ new head coach appears to just be sticking to Dulcich’s ability on the field, but, like Hackett, is impressed with the second-year tight end’s abilities.

“I think his menu is going to be lengthly in the passing game and there’s enough that we can do in the run game [with him],” Payton added, speaking about Dulcich in length for the first time since he became the head coach. “I’ve been lucky enough to been—I’ve had [Jeremy] Shockey, [Jason] Witten, Jimmy Graham, and I’m probably leaving out a few guys, but—and I’m not saying this young player [is them], but he’s got traits that are exciting.”

Those three tight ends, which Payton spent significant time around coaching, have 20 combined Pro Bowls. While Dulcich certainly isn’t at their level, at least as of yet, Payton clearly knows tight-end talent when he sees it.

But the 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end’s talent and versatility goes beyond just his position. And while Payton isn’t saying Dulcich is the next great, he once again included him in the conversation with other elite dynamic players.

“The joker player for us is not a receiver, it’s either a running back or a tight end with exceptional ball skills and then you can work matchups,” Payton explained. “We’ve had that at the running back [position]—Reggie Bush was the joker, Darren Sproles, Alvin Kamara—those were all unique players, not just in the running game, but they had passing game skillsets that allowed you to do multiple things. I think Greg does too.”

Bush, Sproles and Kamara were three of the most dynamic players in the NFL during their time with Payton and the Saints.

During Thursday’s OTA practice, which was open to the media and DNVR attended, Dulcich was arguably the most dynamic player on the field.

“He’s had a good day,” Payton admitted after practice about Dulcich. “He had one of his better practices today. So then you begin to build on that.”

Dulcich hauled in multiple passes on Thursday, highlighted by a deep catch in 7-on-7s.

“Today was one of those days where you begin to have a vision,” Payton stated.

The vision for Dulcich is beginning to come clear for Sean Payton and the Broncos’ offense. Instead of his flowing hair, it’ll be his joker-esque versatility—and potentially smile—that separates him on the field.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.