Saturday, June 15, 2024

Denver Broncos Season Preview

The NFL Media are a weird bunch, they barely cover the Denver Broncos despite the historic success of the team. Denver has been quietly been rebuilding their franchise to such a point where I would consider them legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2019. For those of you that know my work writing, as per usual, this is going to be a feature-length piece, so expect a lot of details.

With that said, I think it would be appropriate to review last season initially and then work forward into the off-season.

Three years after clinching the Super Bowl and losing Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos finds themselves in an identical position that they need pre-Manning. Finishing up at home with a 23-9 Loss to division rivals the LA Chargers before being beaten by the NFL’s worst franchise, the Oakland Raiders. The season ultimately finished 6-10 and thus giving Denver their first back to back losing seasons since 1967.

A little over 12 months ago Elway’s Denver Broncos missed out on Kirk Cousins and instead settled with the league’s 2nd option, Case Keenum. Interestingly Case didn’t throw any interceptions through the entirety of training camp in 2018, thus giving Bronco fans a droplet of hope amongst a sea of scepticism. Unfortunately, the scepticism was well-founded as Case failed to impress on almost every chance he had, the fans started to turn and by the time the Rams came to town, Bronco fans were happy to give anyone but Case a chance. It was their reaction to Chad Kelly coming on to end the half vs L.A with a knee which recorded the largest crowd eruption of the season at Mile High.

When it was all said and done Case racked up 3,890 yards for 18TDs and 15INTs (the 2nd most in the NFL), earning himself a PFF pass grade of 66.9. To put that into perspective it’s a marginally better rating than rookies Nick Mullen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen.

Rookie running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman controlled the Denver Broncos backfield, combining for 1,558 yards and giving the Broncos their most potent ground attack since Portis rushed for 1,591 yards in 2003. They seemed to have struck gold with Lindsay signing him as an undrafted free agent this past May. He became only the third undrafted rookie to eclipse 1,000-yards rushing and was the first-ever undrafted offensive rookie selected to the Pro Bowl. Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker were role players for the Broncos’ backfield, with Freeman being the main power back. Freeman will be looking to see more playing time next season.

EDIT: With the addition and subsequent loss of Theo Riddick I believe Booker will keep his place after being of the impression he would be cut. 

Moving on from Demaryius Thomas, this past season and dealing with an ageing Emmanuel Sanders recovering from a torn Achilles this offseason. The Broncos selected two potential building block receivers this last years draft in Courtland Sutton in the 1st, and DaeSean Hamilton the 4th. Courtland Sutton displayed flashes, once they traded away longtime receiver Demaryius Thomas to Houston, but he wasn’t able to continue to produce the way he had once Thomas was gone. There’s still plenty of reason to believe Sutton could develop into a strong No. 2 wideout, with the potential to fill the wide receiver 1 spot, should Sanders be moved on at the end of the 2019 season.

DaeSean Hamilton didn’t do much of note for a good portion of the year, however, once Thomas and Sanders were out of the picture, Hamilton began to bloom. Posting over 5 receptions in three of the last four games, and at least forty yards in each of those games. Can both of these young players build on their solid rookie campaigns? Stats aside, Hamilton’s route running is what made the Denver Broncos pick him up, oddly Case didn’t target him much despite him constantly being open all season long.

Denver Broncos defense still one of the best

Defensively, Denver are still one of the best teams man for man in the NFL, they had issues replacing Talib and Bradley Roby regressed horribly. The likes of Bradley Chubb, Von Miller, Chris Harris JR and Bryce Callahan are arguably the top players in their position full stop. Then there’s a lot of above-average talent in Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis, Derek Wolfe, Todd Davies, Will Parks and Justin Simmons.

John Elway has been learning along the way as well, it since emerged that Vance Joseph was hired by Joe Ellis and not John Elway. May people slate Elway because of his record with drafting quarterbacks but when you look at the work across free agency and latter round drafting, he’s typically got it right way more often than not. You’ve only got to look at his free agent signings to know that Elway can spot real talent a mile off.

Speaking of real talent, let’s take a look at some of the coaching hires and whether or not they add something to the Broncos.

Vic Fangio: Much like everyone else in the NFL, I love Vic Fangio. Players like Von Miller and Chris Harris are drawing constructive criticism and being told they can improve, I’m not even sure the great Wade Phillips would be citing improvement in our defensive stars as heavily as Fangio did. He’s a brutally honest old school head coach who literally IS defensive football, not to mention he’s scrubbing up as one hell of a leader, coaching from the sideline with a kidney stone tells you a lot about the kind of old school badass the Denver Broncos has at the top of the helm in 2019.

Mike Munchak: What a hire this one was, originally Munchak was interviewed for the head coach position, to be able to get him in a lateral role for him was a stroke of both good fortune and genius. He has long been considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, a tough-minded, even-keeled motivator whose former players have consistently praised. The season prior to his arrival in Pittsburg, Munchak’s soon to be offensive line ranked 25th (pass pro: 12th, run block: 21st, Penalties 14th). His season rankings since are as follows:

  • 2014 – 15th Overall (pass pro: 3rd, run block: 11th, penalties: 17th)
  • 2015- 8th Overall (pass pro: 7th, run block: 23rd, Penalties: 28th)
  • 2016 – 14th Overall (pass pro: 4th, run block: 7th, Penalties: 19th)
  • 2017 – 7th Overall (pass pro: 7th, run block: 12th, Penalties: 18th)
  • 2018 – 15th Overall (pass pro: 4th, run block: 5th, Penalties: 14th)

Ed Donatell: Donatell reunites with Vic Fangio, who was the Bears’ defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2018. The two also worked together in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014 on Jim Harbaugh’s staff, with each coach assuming the same roles they filled in Chicago. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears defence ranked first overall in DVOA (defence-adjusted value over average) and first in pass defence. Chicago defensive backs also combined for 21 interceptions, which alone would have tied them for the NFL’s best mark. As a team, the Bears amassed 27 picks.

Rich Scangarello: Scangarello is coming from the Shanahan tree where the West Coast offence and traditional zone blocking, vintage Denver Broncos offence has evolved. There will be familiar concepts, but even though the 49ers haven’t won a lot of games over the last two years, Shanahan’s offensive concepts have been just fine and he’s done what he can with all of the injuries that team has suffered. Scangarello seems to favour an aggressive offensive attack that fits the players he’s coaching. His expertise with the quarterback position is also a huge plus for the Broncos considering they are looking to bring in a young quarterback through the 2019 NFL Draft.

Bill Kolar: Kollar has 35 years of coaching experience, including the last 29 seasons instructing defensive linemen at the NFL level. Before coming to Denver in 2015, he coached the defensive line for Houston (2009-14), Buffalo (2006-08), St. Louis (2001-05) and Atlanta (1990-2000).In 2017, the Broncos improved from 28th in run defence to fifth despite a large turnover along the defensive line and mainstay Derek Wolfe being limited to just 11 games due to injury. Defensive ends Gotsis (41 tackles) and Harris (5.5 sacks) had breakthrough seasons for the Broncos while free-agent defensive lineman Zach Kerr became a regular in the rotation.

Speaking of Zack Kerr, he was one of many offseason moves taking place in Denver this year, lets dive into the others.

Joe Flacco: I’ve covered Joe Flacco extensively, you can read about it all here. My opinion on him as changed slightly the more I watch him, the more I’m coming to the opinion that a genuine playoff push is in his hands. A solid, not great season will get Denver deep into the playoffs with the defence they’ve rebuilt. 

Ja’Wuan James: I’m a big James fan, It’s been an awful long time since the Broncos had an RT they could genuinely depend on as a first name on the team sheet kind of guy. The insane athletic ability for a tackle of his size in a zone scheme is already a match made of heaven without adding Munchak into the mix.

Jake Brendel: I’m not going to pretend I know anything of note about him but going off of PFF he’s been fairly consistent throughout his career to date drawing a 77.4 in pass pro through 176 snaps.  – to put this into perspective Matt Paradis graded out at a 78.6 in pass pro last season in Denver, taking that into account Brendel is not a bad back up option. 

DeShawn Williams: this poor fella has been with 3 teams in the 12 months that have passed since I last saw him in Orange. Taking that short-lived spell into consideration he moved to Miami, Indianapolis and then ultimately back to Denver. He’s a bubble player I expect to see get cut once again but ultimately if he makes the 53 it will be via the special team’s roster. 

Kareem Jackson: When I read we had signed Jackson my initial thought was a concern, he has a habit for getting beat with the deep ball which isn’t good when you’re guaranteed to fix up against Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown and Keenan Allen 6 times per year. Then I discovered he’s playing safety and has been an interception machine all throughout camp and that concern turned to excitement, 5-8 interceptions coming your way Kareem. 

Bryce Callahan: It appears as if Callahan will take the opposite side to Chris Harris Jr. when he’s fit enough to do so… him being fit is my only worry with this deal and as much as I want it to work out I’m just not convinced it will, much as it has yet to work out with Ron Leary. IF he stays fit then the Denver Broncos has a major rivalry to the NO FLY ZONE, if they cannot then it falls to the young shoulders of the capable and arguably breakout star Isaac Yiadom. 

Theo Riddick: Interesting move Elway, I like him, in a way, it’s like the Broncos have stolen my madden saves given my frequent ability to trade for both Theo Riddick and Joe Flacco. I like Riddick, I can see his usage out of the slot and in split-back sets with Lindsay but I didn’t see him as a need really.

Is he better than Booker? In some aspects but not all. Booker is a better runner between the tackles and is a stronger blocker whereas Riddick has incredible hands, decent route running, a quicker change of pace and a better run game outside of the tackles. – The more I think about it, the more I believe this is probably the reason why he makes the team over Booker. 

NFL Draft

1.10 > 1.20: Noah Fant, TE – Iowa
2.41: Dalton Risner, G – Kansas State
2.42: Drew Lock, QB – Missouri
3.71: Dre’Mont Jones, DT – Ohio State
5.156: Justin Hollins, LB – Oregon
6.187: Juwann Winfree, WR – Colorado 

John Elway has had a career habit of doing well in the latter rounds of the draft and this year I think is just like all of those years. I believe Winfree could be a fantastic redzone target. Justin Hollins is going to be the next star in the Denver Broncos defence, he’ll line up both inside and outside at linebacker using his speed to cause havoc all over the field. I really like the pick of Dalton Risner, this guy could be fantastic under Mike Munchak.

I’m not sold on Noah Fant or Drew Lock, in my opinion, the two hardest positions in football to play so patience will be needed with the pair of them. However, both are boom or bust prospects and I cannot call one way or the other with either.

Dre’Mont Jones is somewhere in between, I really like him as a prospect but in a Fangio defence and being vastly undersized I’m just not sure how this works. Either way, he performed well at college and his hand speed is crazy good, whether that translates into the pros I’m sceptical of, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a name for himself.

Undrafted Free Agents

  • George Aston, FB – Pittsburgh 
  • Quinn Bailey, T – Arizona State
  • Trinity Benson, WR –  East Central
  • Ryan Crozier, C – UConn
  • Joe Dineen. LB –  Kansas
  • Austin Fort, TE – Wyoming 
  • Ahmad Gooden, LB – Samford
  • Alijah Holder, CB – Stanford
  • Devontae Jackson, RB – West Georgia
  • John Leglue, T – Tulane 
  • Kelvin McKnight, WR – Samford
  • Malik Reed, LB – Nevada
  • Brett Rypien, QB – Boise State
  • Deyon Dizer, DE –  Colorado State – Pueblo
  • Moral Stephens, TE – Florida
  • Josh Watson, LB – Colorado State

Some of these have already moved on, the only guys I would take note of from this list as having futures in the NFL, as starts potentially are George Aston, Trinity Benson, Austin Fort (injury permitting), Devontae Jackson, Kelvin McKnight, Malik Reed and Brett Rypien.

Malik Reed, McKnight, Jackson, Aston and Fort had impressed during Broncos camp incredibly well.

Notable Mentions

  • Khalfani Muhammad
  • Tim Patrick 
  • Elijah Wilkinson 
  • Jef Heuermann
  • Troy Fumagali 
  • Horace Richardson
  • De’Vante Bausby

Khalfani Muhammad I think will just miss out on the 53 unfortunately, prior to Riddick signing he would have been a certainty, in my opinion, I just don’t think Denver has the room for him.

Tim Patrick is going to be everything the Denver Broncos wanted to see from Courtland Sutton, mark my words this guy is going to be the ‘next’ Demaryius Thomas in Denver.

Elijah Wilkinson is only 24 years old and he’s had experience at both tackle and both guard positions. Under Munchak, he could really thrive into what Ronald Leary was for the Cowboys.

Heuermann and Fumagali have both impressed, Heuermann always fails to earn any slack from the fans or any attention from the media, he’s a solid option in both the blocking and passing game, he’s not a star but he could serve as your primary TE in a modern NFL offence. Fumagali is making A LOT of catches, he needs to improve his blocking game but I can imagine the TE seam plays Fangio could run if Fumagali is alongside Fant.

Cornerback is quietly exciting in Denver this year also, the number 1 and 2 spots are locked down but the rest of them are fair game. Yiadom seemingly leads the 3rd position but both Bausby and Richardson have been very impressive in camp so far, Bausby, in particular, is going to make the final 53 in Denver without a shadow of a doubt.

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