ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Samaje Perine was excited to hear that the Broncos drafted Marvin Mims Jr.
Perine, 28, and Mims, 21, both played college ball at Oklahoma, but their careers didn’t overlap. Perine doesn’t watch OU football despite being the Sooners’ all-time leading rusher. He doesn’t watch sports, period. He lived with a sports-loving grandfather as a child in Alabama but was never interested in watching other people play. When he was in third grade, he saw a flyer advertising a youth football program, decided it looked like fun, and his mother allowed to him to sign up. Two decades later, now an NFL running back, he likes watching sports even less than he did as a child. He just loves to play.
So how would Perine know that he wanted to be on the same team as Mims?
“We all hung out with our pastor,” Perine told DNVR.
Victory Family Church is a popular spot for Oklahoma players thanks in part to its proximity to the team’s facilities. That’s where Mims got to know Perine and his family.
“A couple of weeks before the draft we were with our pastor and his family, and they’re joking about how crazy it would be if he got drafted to the Broncos,” Perine said.
With the 63rd pick in the draft, the Broncos chose Mims.
“That was one of the first things I thought about when I got drafted,” Mims told DNVR.
Mims says having Perine as a bridge has been helpful. But Perine is far from the only connection to his college days. Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto played with Mims for two seasons at Oklahoma. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, whose locker is right next to Mims’, also overlapped with Mims for two seasons at Oklahoma.
Earlier this week, the Broncos signed edge rusher Ronnie Perkins from the Patriots’ practice squad. His last year in Norman was Mims’ first.
“It actually made this transition a whole lot easier,” Perkins told DNVR.
Not only is Perkins reunited with Bonitto, his position group partner in college, they’re both playing for first-year pass rush specialist Jamar Cain, who coached them at Oklahoma. Bonitto, who Perkins says is much more physical than when they last played together, is coming off his best game as a pro with five pressures, two quarterback hits and a sack. Perkins, a third-round pick in 2021, hopes reuniting with Cain can take his game to the next level.
“He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve had throughout my football career,” Perkins said. “Getting the chance to work with him again is really good.”
Throw in guard Ben Powers—whose first season at Oklahoma was Perine’s final season, and whose final season was Perkins’ first—and there are six Sooners on the Broncos’ 53-man roster. No other college has more than three alums with the Broncos. Denver might as well be renamed Norman Northwest.
“I guess (general manager) George (Paton) is trying to make it a little thing,” Bonitto told DNVR.
Former Texas Longhorn and current Broncos safety PJ Locke isn’t a fan.
“We had a lot of Longhorn guys before, but they all dispersed,” he told DNVR. “I guess they’re trying to move them Sooners into here. I don’t think I’m liking that.”
While having a handful of connections in the locker room is beneficial, Mims has spent most of his free time in Denver with his fellow rookies. For about three months, the Broncos’ rookies lived in a team hotel. They each had their own room, but they spent plenty of time together.
“Going places to eat together, all that stuff,” Mims said. “We basically lived the same life for about two, three months.”
After four months of meetings, practices, and a little rehab, Mims proved himself in the first two games of the season. His 232 all-purpose yards are the most of any Bronco through two games since Rick Upchurch was a rookie in 1975.
On Sunday, against the Commanders, he caught two passes: a 53-yarder and a 60-yard touchdown. He also returned a punt for 43 yards.
“It was cool to get it out of the way,” Mims said. “Just experience it, put it on tape, kind of feel it—you know?—go out there and do it.”
Mims’ calling card is his speed. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats track the top speed of the ball carrier on every play. In Week 2, Mims took home the No. 2 and No. 5 spot on the league’s top speeds list, peaking at 21.38 miles per hour on his 53-yard catch and 20.99 miles per hour on his punt return.
But on Sunday, when the Broncos take on the Dolphins in Miami, Mims won’t be the speediest receiver on the field. Miami’s Tyreek Hill has the top speed in the NFL this season at 21.66 miles per hour, and he’ll be a thorn in the side of the Broncos’ secondary.
Denver cornerback Pat Surtain II, who will be tasked with defending Hill, has a couple of ideas about how Mims can take the next step toward becoming a Tyreek Hill.
“Running the whole route tree, I think,” Surtain said. “Taking a five-yard slant to the house. I know he’s got it in him, it just takes time.”
Surtain has been impressed with Mims, particularly for his understanding of coverages and other nuanced aspects of the game. To Surtain, Mims is reminiscent of DeSean Jackson. Surtain has no doubt he’ll take the next step.
“He’s a playmaker,” Surtain said. “He’s a rising star in this offense. He’s been making plays left and right.”
Surtain fielded some punts during the offseason after volunteering to try his hand. He was unlikely to take the starting job given the injury risk, but after Mims’ strong early showing, the door might be closed.
Is Surtain upset?
“Oh no, man. It’s all good,” he said. “I gotta take my abilities elsewhere.”
Those abilities will be needed against the Dolphins’ electric wide receivers on Sunday. The Oklahoma crew will need to help out, too. Turner-Yell is likely to start in place of an injured Justin Simmons at safety. Bonitto will need to replicate his performance from Week 2. He says he’s ready.
“Seeing the stuff I was able to do during camp, just seeing it in the games, it’s like, ‘Okay, I can really do this,’” Bonitto said.
Offensively, Powers will be up front blocking for Perine. And Mims will have his chance to provide a spark like he did in Week 2. He’s played 33 offensive snaps so far this season and there’s a good chance he’ll match that mark in Week 3.
“Just keep building,” Mims said. “That’s my main goal.”