Zach Gotlieb| July 19th, 2019
The Denver Broncos are coming off a second consecutive losing season, going 6-10, the first time that’s happened to the franchise since 1971-72. The key to their failures over the last two years: coaching. It has been atrocious at best. Bad schemes that consistently misuse players talent, as well as terrible game management, were the ultimate problems that sunk the Broncos last year. After missing the playoffs for the third straight year, under a brand-new coaching regime led by Vic Fangio, the Broncos are looking to right the ship and go back to being a perennial playoff team.
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First and foremost, the Broncos completely cleaned house with their coaching staff. Goodbye Vance Joseph, Joe Woods, and Bill Musgrave. In their wake, general manager John Elway hired ‘The Godfather’ Vic Fangio as the new head coach. With him came first-time offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and one of the best offensive line coaches in the league in Mike Munchak. They are expected to be the leaders of the Broncos resurgence and provide competent coaching for a developing team.
As for the personnel, John Elway made some big moves, both in the draft and free agency. They signed defensive backs Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan to fortify the secondary and tackle Ja’Wuan James to help the offensive line. They are all veteran players that can add a lot to the team right off the bat this year. In the draft, they picked up Noah Fant in the first round to add to a deep tight end group. Offensive lineman Dalton Risner to add some serious grit to the O-line. And what hopes to be the Broncos quarterback of the future, Drew Lock.
Next Year’s Offense
John Elway spent days trying to get an interview with then San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello. He clearly wouldn’t have spent that much time and effort if he didn’t think there was something potentially special about what he can do. He called plays at the college level, and all reports so far have said that his offense is going to be very different from recent years. It features a ton of different looks and schemes that include more pre-snap motions which are growing more and more prominent in the league.
After acquiring Joe Flacco via trade, the Broncos have their short-term answer at quarterback. The team believes they have a guy that fits what Scangarello is trying to do, given his big arm and the number of vertical threats the Broncos have. His weapons, feature second-year players Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay as well as veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, coming off a torn Achilles. If they can step up and be big-time, this offense can really resurrect itself for the first time since 2015 when Peyton Manning was still at the helm.
Next Year’s Defense
The expectation is for this defense to be revamped and reenergized this year. Vic Fangio has been highly regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the league. According to several of the players during offseason workouts, they love what he brings to the table. So far, he has players, such as Von Miller, playing in different roles than they are accustomed too. He also uses a lot more disguised coverage to keep them less predictable.
Denver’s defense the last two years has had struggles with tackling and finishing plays. Signing Kareem Jackson, one of the more sure tacklers in the league is a good step. Also having coach Fangio, whose teams have always been among the better tackling teams in the league is a step in the right direction. It would not be an unfair expectation to think they would be among the best five-to-seven defenses in the league next year assuming Fangio is as good as everyone says and the defense plays up to their skill level.
53-Man Roster Prediction
Flacco is the guy for Denver over the next year or maybe two. Drew Lock is undoubtedly the guy of the future. Where it gets tricky is between Kevin Hogan and undrafted rookie Brett Rypien. Hogan seems to have the edge right now even over Lock, according to Fangio, which means it’ll be particularly hard for Rypien to beat out Hogan. Expect Rypien to be on the practice squad.
The expectation this year is that Lindsay and Freeman will split carries while Booker is going to be in primarily on passing downs as a blocker. Booker may be a guy to watch as a potential preseason cut if he doesn’t perform well. Janovich is one of the rare standard fullbacks and good at it. This is the same backfield as last year.
Bringing back the same guys with the addition of Winfree means there should and will be big expectations for the group. Sutton needs to take the next step and become the number one guy this season with Sanders coming off an Achilles tear. The key with this group is health. Hamilton, Patrick, and Winfree all have pretty extensive injury histories.
Denver’s first-round pick in Fant should quickly move atop the depth chart here given his talent level and fit. Heuerman (when healthy) has shown to be a good receiver. Jake Butt has the edge over red-shirt rookie Troy Fumagalli simply because Butt has playing experience, which is what Fangio seems to prefer. Fumagalli will definitely be on the practice squad.
The big thing for the offensive line is that they have a lot of versatility. McGovern will likely start at center, but is a guard primarily. Risner has played everywhere on the line. Leary has played both guard spots. Wilkinson has been valued by the team for years because he can play guard and tackle. With the help of Mike Munchak, this group should be much improved from recent years.
There is some crazy athleticism on this line. A lot of speedy players that can get off the blocker and rush the quarterback. Gotsis is basically a professional at batting the ball at the line of scrimmage which is valuable. Kerr has some size and Harris is officially listed as a nose tackle, but the one worry is there’s a lot of athleticism but not a ton of size.
If you had to point to one spot as a potential major weakness, this is it. The team hasn’t had a legitimate coverage linebacker since Danny Trevathan in 2015, and they’ve been killed by tight ends since long before that. Jewel is a great run stopper, and Davis is good at a bit of everything but not really great at anything. Behind him, there’s a lot of unproven players which is cause for concern.
Miller and Chubb are looking to be the next best pass-rushing duo. Being what Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith were for Fangio last year which led the Chicago Bears to be one of the best defenses in the league. Their abilities should make them contenders to break the record for sacks by a duo. The question is the guys behind them.
The top three guys should make for a great trio, but there is concern about depth. There’s nothing after Yiadom and Bausby, but there are still concerns about those two. Yiadom, at times, looked lost last year but got much better by the end of the year. Bausby led the AAF in interceptions back in February. Hopefully, they can take the next step and provide the necessary depth.
The only question is the experience with this group. Simmons has been a full-time starter for the last two years and has taken drastic leaps forward. Parks has shown upside but isn’t proven. After that, we don’t really know. Cravens is at risk of being cut, but he can cover tight ends, which helps his value.
No real questions here. It would take an unbelievable meltdown in training camp or the preseason for there to be changes to these three spots.
The Denver Broncos are in a good place right now. Maybe not necessarily in terms of competing for the division title, given that they’d have to go through Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs as well as Phillip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. They may even be a team that could sneak into a playoff spot, but a lot of things have to go right for that to happen.
However, in terms of team growth, they are in a good spot. They finally have an answer at quarterback, both short and long term, an improved offensive line, and a revamped defense. Be on the lookout for Garrett Bolles to take the next step with the help of Mike Munchak and Courtland Sutton growing into the number one receiver role. If those two guys in particular, along with the entire tight end core can be productive, the offense should be vastly improved from the previous three years.
Season Prediction: 8-8 and miss the playoffs, but it will be close.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images