The past two seasons in the Mile High City have been atrocious. Over this span, the team has gone a combined 14-18, finishing third and fourth in the division, respectively. After finishing in the bottom ten in both points scored and points allowed in 2017, Denver is attempting to create a new narrative.
A major issue plaguing the team over the past two seasons is their quarterback play. After winning the job outright heading into 2016, now former Bronco and 7th-round selection Trevor Siemian struggled mightily to gain any traction. It happened again last season, as a mix of Siemian and former first-round pick, Paxton Lynch doomed the offense to purgatory once again.
A viable quarterback in the Mile High City
The offseason has been a fresh attempt at starting over once again. An air of exuberance exists for Broncos fans as they hope to see the team bounce back in a big way in 2018. First, the addition of former Minnesota Vikings signal caller Case Keenum should bring an offensive boon to the squad. Keenum, broke out massively for the Vikings last season, amassing 3,547 yards passing with 22 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions.
Keenum saw an uptick in almost every category last season, leading the Vikings after taking over to an 11-3 record and an NFC Championship appearance. Displaying his leadership abilities, Denver was quick to jump all over Keenum once he hit the open market.
For the Broncos, Keenum is a significant upgrade in every regard from Siemian. For example, last season Keenum posted a much respectable 7.03 ANY/A versus Siemian’s disastrous 4.38. Keenum also found himself intercepted at an insanely low 1.5%, while Siemian’s rate was over double that rate at 4%. Regarding every advanced passing statistic, Keenum was well above-average while Siemian was well below-average.
Bounce-back for the pass-catchers?
The addition of Case Keenum will significantly improve the Broncos receiving corps. For the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, it will be a necessary change. Last season, both Thomas and Sanders saw a significant decrease in their production. Thomas, fresh off his fifth straight 1,000-yard season the year before, failed to reach that plateau. Sanders, meanwhile, posted a near career low in receiving yards, barely surpassing the 500-yard threshold.
Needless to say, expectations are high for both Thomas and Sanders in 2018. While it may be a stretch to expect both to reach 1,000 yards, it is realistic to see at least one reaching that point. Thomas should see his usual 130 targets while Sanders should, once again, see at least 100 targets himself.
The development of second-year wideout Carlos Henderson, as well as rookie Courtland Sutton, will also be an important process, as they could very well be the next crop of receivers to take over for Thomas and Sanders. Sutton possesses 97th-percentile agility as well as a 90th-percentile catch radius and is best compared to Alshon Jeffery, according to PlayerProfiler.
Henderson also possesses above-average athleticism and could prove to be the Broncos answer in the return game, after Isaiah McKenzie has failed to produce in the role. If Henderson can stay out of trouble, he should see some touches with a special designation toward special teams. Keep your eye on these two pass-catchers.
Getting to know the tight ends
The tight end situation for the Broncos is also an exciting prospect. Since Julius Thomas dominated in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014 for Denver, they have not had a viable replacement at the position. However, that could change in 2018.
As a previous piece touched directly on, the Broncos are chalk full with franchise-level prospects at the position. Jake Butt may be the most exciting, as long as his health can stay in check.
The Broncos selected Butt in the in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Butt, a former standout at Michigan, tore his ACL the December before in the Orange Bowl, causing him to fall. Thankfully, the Broncos saw his potential leading to his selection. Butt, according to his scouting report, does a great job gaining separation from defenders as well as shows good awareness of coverage. Butt also possesses a large catch radius, which will be a positive.
The 2018 draft also saw Denver select a tight end in the fifth round. Troy Fumagalli became the choice, and should also battle for the chance to start this season. Fumagalli, a Wisconsin product, finished his junior year as the top tight end in the Big 10, according to Pro Football Focus. Fumagalli likely will not start, however providing depth at the position is essential. For the Broncos, they can never have too many tight ends.
Exciting improvement in the run game
The likelihood that third-year back Devontae Booker will start is pretty high. That being said, with second-year back De’Angelo Henderson and rookie Royce Freeman waiting in the wing, it could change quickly.
For the purpose of finding a pure-back, Freeman makes the most sense for Denver to start. According to PlayerProfiler, Freeman possesses 86th-percentile speed and 83rd-percentile agility, both of which bode well as we all know in the NFL. He is best compared to Steven Jackson, who had himself a solid career at the professional level.
Freeman is also built significantly better as a pure-rusher than either Booker or Henderson and shows patience behind his blocks, letting plays develop, before taking off. His size and speed mixed with his athleticism give him an advantage at this size to get off the line quickly. It also gives him the benefit as a keen runner, allowing for more yards after contact. Freeman could be the most exciting back the Broncos have had in many years.
De’Angelo Henderson, meanwhile, definitely showed flashes last season. He did not receive more than a few touches during the regular season, however also possesses upper-percentile speed (73rd-percentile). Henderson does a good job moving between the tackles and is working to develop stronger pass-protection. As a sixth-round selection a couple years ago, Henderson definitely can grow into something impressive, given a chance. He could be a nice change of pace back from Freeman.
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Hopefully improved offensive line
Last season, the Broncos possessed a bottom ten offensive line, finishing as the 23rd ranked line in the NFL. However, it was still an improvement from the season before. Now, this season, they are looking for even more consistency.
During this offseason, the Broncos made a move for former Arizona Cardinals right tackle Jared Veldheer to shore up that side of the line. Last season, Veldheer ranked in below-average, however, does show solid pass-blocking and run-blocking ability.
Bolles will move back to his regular spot at left tackle, looking for more consistency and health himself. Among offensive lineman, Bolles was one of the most penalized in the NFL last season. He will need to continue to clean up his development, hopefully turning into the beast the Broncos expected him to be when they made him a first-round selection.
The rest of the line is relatively stable for the Broncos. Ronald Leary is an above-average guard, while Matt Paradis has been a staple at center. Connor McGovern will need to improve his play and show more consistency. However, there is a definite aura surrounding this offensive line in the second season of the Vance Joseph era.
New era of the ‘No Fly Zone’ is upon us
The Broncos unofficially “broke up” the ‘No Fly Zone’ this offseason after trading Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams for the pick which they used to select Troy Fumagalli. Despite the impressive Broncos career Talib had, it was time for the Broncos to move on. The team also possesses one of the best defenses in the league, despite the loss of Talib and downtick last season.
The Broncos used their top five selection in this year’s draft on North Carolina State super pass-rusher Bradley Chubb. Chubb will play opposite Von Miller, giving the Broncos two monster pass-rushers, inevitably set up to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
The cornerback situation does not change much as fifth-year Bradley Roby looks to make some noise taking over opposite Chris Harris Jr. As far as the Broncos are concerned, Roby is ready to make the jump. After an impressive 2016 season which saw Roby take two back to the house for touchdowns, his production dropped off last season, with only one interception. Roby will now be tasked with stepping into that starting role for the Broncos and can hopefully become the long-term option.
Linebackers look to fly
The linebackers are another group who look to make an impact. They will be led by Brandon Marshall, who has lost 25 pounds to become quicker and agiler. Marshall had an impressive season in 2017, combining for 106 tackles and 3 sacks. He also forced a fumble.
Todd Davis will also look to continue to develop his skill set. Davis combined for 82 tackles with a sack himself last season, and can hopefully build on that in 2018. The biggest name who needs to find himself, however, has to be Shane Ray inevitably. Ray, who was informed his 2019 option will not be picked up, can hopefully find his own consistency.
The final new addition, rookie Josey Jewell out of Iowa, can hope to provide a nice boon all around. The Broncos selected Jewell in the fourth round of the draft. Jewell, a four-year starter at Iowa, posted three straight seasons with 100+ tackles. In his senior season, Jewell finished with 132 combined tackles with 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. He will aim to provide a nice upgrade across the position.
The final move, recent in nature, was the trade the Broncos made for Su’a Cravens. Cravens, a former Redskin, has shown exceptional talent in the NFL. After suffering a concussion, and dealing with the possibility of retirement, the Broncos jumped all over Cravens who will undoubtedly fill a helpful role for Denver in 2018.
Depth-heavy defensive line
Of all the positions for the Broncos, the defensive line may be the deepest. They carry high expectations. Led by Derek Wolfe, the line posted a top-five season in run blocking efficiency. Shelby Harris, who bode as a pleasant surprise for the Broncos, led the line with 5.5 sacks.
The addition of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Clinton McDonald will also hope to provide an upgrade. He gives depth with more possibility to assist Denver in continuing to build on the defensive line production. McDonald posted a well below-average season last year and looked to bounce back in a big way.
There are so many moving parts on this Denver Broncos team heading into the new season. As we near the beginning of training camp, it will be fun to watch the young guys continue to develop as well as to follow the position battles which will inevitably happen.
Broncos fans have much higher expectations, and rightfully so. For the first time in a few years, this Broncos team should find strength and skill in almost all positions. The addition of a competent quarterback will drive the offense. Veterans Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, and Chris Harris will once again lead a stout defense, and by seasons end it will not surprise people if this team finds themselves in the postseason.
It’s time to ride, Broncos Country.