QB Case Keenum, OT Jared Veldheer, DT Clinton McDonald, ILB Su'a Cravens, CB Tramaine Brock, P Marquette King.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Bradley Chubb, WR Courtland Sutton, RB Royce Freeman, CB Isaac Yiadom, LB Josey Jewell, WR DaeSean Hamilton, TE Troy Fumagalli. Broncos Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Trevor Siemian, RB C.J. Anderson, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Cody Latimer, TE Virgil Green, G Allen Barbre, CB Aqib Talib.
2018 Denver Broncos Offense:
The Broncos were very eager to sign Kirk Cousins this offseason, but it was clear that they weren't going to be in the mix when the Vikings offered the former Redskin quarterback a fully guaranteed contract. Minnesota greatly overpaid Cousins, so John Elway went the smarter route and signed former Viking quarterback Case Keenum.
Keenum isn't as gifted as a passer as Cousins, but he brings mobility to the table. This is a very underrated positive trait Keenum possesses, as he used it to buy lots of time for himself behind Minnesota's pedestrian offensive line last season. He'll surely do the same in Denver, though he may not need to buy as much time, given that Denver's blocking unit might be improved in 2018.
The effectiveness of Denver's offensive line hinges on the tackles. Left tackle Garett Bolles had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2017, but he has lots of potential as the No. 20 overall pick from his draft class. Bolles figures to improve in his sophomore campaign, but will need to be way more sound mentally, as he was often guilty of too many unnecessary penalties. On the other side, Jared Veldheer will be an improvement over incumbent Menelik Watson, but it remains to be seen how big of an upgrade this will be. Veldheer was once a tremendous left tackle, but has regressed recently. He discussed retirement prior to 2017, and his level of play reflected that. It seemed as though Veldheer was a lock to retire this offseason, but he has opted to continue his career. Perhaps a new-found passion for football will spark his blocking ability this upcoming season.
Denver's blocking interior is the strength of the offense. Left guard Ronald Leary is a stellar lineman, while center Matt Paradis is very solid. The area of concern here is at right guard. Connor McGovern, a 2016 fifth-round pick, is the favorite to start at the position. He struggled in five starts last year, but he's a young player, so there's room for improvement.
Speaking of areas that need to be better, the receiving corps was a disappointment last season. Emmanuel Sanders was constantly banged up, while Demaryius Thomas seemingly dropped everything in sight. Thomas is destroying his body with the same diet that derailed Arian Foster's career, so he could continue to regress. Elway did a good job of recognizing this, spending two early draft choices on receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Neither will start right away, but the Broncos will at least be in good hands should Thomas and Sanders continue to struggle or get hurt. Meanwhile, Jake Butt figures to be an upgrade at tight end. Butt got hurt prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, where he was slated to be a second-round prospect. He slipped as a consequence and missed all of this past season. Now healthy, Butt figures to be an effective intermediate weapon for Keenum.
Rounding out the offense, the running game appears to be a big question mark. The Broncos curiously jettisoned their best running back, C.J. Anderson, who gained 1,007 rushing yards in 2017. He'll be replaced by either third-round rookie Royce Freeman, or Devontae Booker, who mustered just 3.8 yards per carry last season. Unless Freeman impresses, the Broncos will struggle to run the ball this year.
2018 Denver Broncos Defense:
The primary reason the Broncos were able to prevail in Super Bowl 50 despite Manning's ghastly performance was the play of the defense. Resembling the 1985 Chicago Bears, Denver locked down the league's most explosive offense. The unit was great on every level, but the best aspect of the defense was the dual edge-rushing threats. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware devastated defenses. Ware departed shortly afterward, and the Broncos were hoping that former first-round pick Shane Ray would be able to adequately replace him. He did not, and this forced Denver's hand in the 2018 NFL Draft.
When N.C. State edge rusher Bradley Chubb fell to the Broncos at No. 5 overall, John Elway shut down all trade consideration from teams wishing to move up for a quarterback. He knew he had to select Chubb, and it was a great decision on his part. Chubb, considered the top defensive prospect in the 2018 class by a wide margin, will form a prolific duo with Miller. The two will put great pressure on opposing passers, further enhancing a secondary that has been dubbed the "No Fly Zone."
The No Fly Zone took a hit this offseason when Aqib Talib was dealt to the Rams. This was a surprise to some, but the Broncos deemed the 32-year-old cornerback too expensive to keep at his $11 million cap figure. Besides, Denver still has two excellent cornerbacks in Chris Harris and Bradley Roby. The latter took a huge step last season, finally justifying the first-round choice Elway used to spend on him back in 2014. The Broncos will need a third corner to improve, however. Perhaps it'll be Tramaine Brock, who performed well in 2016 before barely playing last year because of a lingering thigh injury. Third-round rookie Isaac Yiadom will also be in the mix.
The weak part of the No Fly Zone last year was at one of the safety spots. There was some frustration after the Broncos let go of T.J. Ward, and it wasn't clear if young safety Justin Simmons would be able to effectively replace Ward next to Darian Stewart. However, it was Stewart who performed poorly, routinely getting torched in coverage. Perhaps it was because of a groin injury Stewart suffered in Week 1. Stewart has the potential to bounce back. Simmons, meanwhile, is only 24, so he figures to improve. He played at an above-average level in 2017, struggling a bit in coverage while being forceful in run support.
Assuming the secondary holds up, there appear to be two weak points in Denver's defense. The first is on the front line. Derek Wolfe is a talented five-technique, but hasn't played a full season since 2014. He's dealing with chronic neck injuries, which could force him into retirement if a recent surgery doesn't repair the issue. The other starter at the position, Adam Gotsis, was arrested on rape charges in March. If neither player can contribute in 2018, it'll be up to the likes of Shelby Harris and Zach Kerr to sandwich run-stuffing nose tackle Domata Peko, which doesn't sound very appealing.
The linebacking corps is also hurting. The Broncos have struggled in this area ever since Danny Trevathan defected for Chicago during the 2016 offseason. The Broncos have had just one viable player at the position since in Brandon Marshall, who is coming off an atrocious 2017 campaign that was mired with injuries. Marshall figures to once again start next to the pedestrian Todd Davis unless fourth-round rookie Josey Jewell can step up.
2018 Denver Broncos Schedule and Intangibles:
The thin Denver air creates a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why it had an NFL-best 77-18 home record from 1995 to 2005. The team tailed off after that, but has since reestablished its great home-field advantage. In the Peyton Manning era, the Broncos were 32-6 as hosts, including the playoffs. We'll see if Denver can stay dominant at home in the post-Manning era; it has been 9-7 the past two years.
Brandon McManus was considered a solid kicker prior to 2017, but struggled mightily, going 24-of-32. He was 3-of-6 from beyond 50. The silver lining is that he didn't miss an extra point.
Punter Riley Dixon did a poor job last year, prompting the Broncos to make a big upgrade with former Raider Marquette King.
The Broncos had a poor special-teams unit last year, scoring no touchdowns and surrendering two to the opposition.
Denver has gotten off to quick starts the past two seasons, and that could happen again, as four of the first six games are at home. The first three road games also seem winnable, as they are against the Ravens, Jets and Cardinals. However, there's a very difficult three-game stretch beginning in late October where the Broncos will travel to play the Chiefs and Chargers, with a home game against the Texans sandwiched in between.
2018 Denver Broncos Rookies:
Go here for the Broncos Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2018 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos will be much more competitive in 2018. They have some stability at quarterback for the first time since 2015; their offensive line and receiving corps will be improved; and they will once again have two extremely potent edge rushers collapsing the pocket. This all sounds great, yet the Broncos still appear to be behind the other three teams in a very grueling AFC West. It's a shame, as they would be the best or No. 2 team in most other divisions.
Projection: 8-8 (4th in AFC West)
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 5-11. 2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Broncos won a Super Bowl with a decrepit Peyton Manning, so John Elway must believe that he can do so with Case Keenum. For that to happen, he'll need to plug the holes on his offensive line, find a new running back and address some needs in his defense (inside linebacker, edge rusher, cornerback, safety.) Finding a quarterback of the future is another goal he may want to pursue.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Denver made some stellar picks. Bradley Chubb deserved an A+. He was the top defensive player in the class, and he'll form a terrific duo with Von Miller. It might make Denver fans recall the days of Miller being paired with DeMarcus Ware. Meanwhile, the Broncos were able to obtain Courtland Sutton in the second round. Sutton doesn't fill an immediate need, but he should be a starter in 2019 and beyond.
The Broncos' fourth-round choices were solid ones as well. Josey Jewell could've gone in the second frame, and he should emerge as a solid starter at some point in the near future. The same could be said of receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
While Denver added some great talent, the team faltered in failing to address its poor offensive line. The Broncos spent just one pick on a blocker, taking guard Sam Jones at the end of the sixth round. This was disappointing, as Case Keenum will not be protected very well.
Despite the Broncos not receiving an individual grade worse than a "B" for any of their picks prior to the seventh round, their inability to upgrade the front suppresses this grade a bit.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
5. Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State A+ Grade
I think Saquon Barkley is the best player in this class, but some people whose opinion I respect believe Bradley Chubb is the top prospect. Either way, he's the best defensive player. Considering that the Broncos were able to land him at No. 5, that's amazing value. I can't give this anything other than an A+. Chubb and Von Miller are going to create major havoc for quarterbacks in the AFC West.
40. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU A Grade
Maybe I'm just in a good mood, but I think this is another steal. Courtland Sutton could've easily been chosen in the late teens or 20s. It's debatable that he might have been the best receiver in the class. If you're wondering about need, there was talk about the Broncos moving on from Demaryius Thomas this offseason. Denver will keep Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but at least one of them could be gone after this upcoming year. Sutton should be a starter in 2019 and beyond.
71. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon B Grade
Royce Freeman thrived at the combine, surprising some with his athleticism. He moved into third-round consideration, so the range makes sense. He also fills a big need in the wake of C.J. Anderson's inexplicable release. This is a logical, albeit unexciting pick.
99. Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College B+ Grade
The Broncos coached Isaac Yiadom at the Senior Bowl, so they obviously liked what they saw. Yiadom is a tall cornerback who has the potential to start one day, as he could replace Aqib Talib. I thought he'd go in the Round 3-4 range, so this pick is a very logical one.
106. Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa A Grade
The Broncos wanted Haason Reddick last year, but missed out on him. They finally get their upgrade at linebacker. Josey Jewell, a three-time captain, could've gone earlier than this. He doesn't have great athleticism, but he's a smart, instinctive linebacker who should be able to help Denver's defense.
113. DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State B+ Grade
The Broncos have made two solid selections thus far on Day 3. A second receiver in this class might seem weird, but it seems as though Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are not long for Denver, so finding two potential starters for the future makes sense. DaeSean Hamilton is a solid receiver who excels in route-running, but has issues with drops. He could've been chosen in the third round, so I like the value.
156. Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin B Grade
The Broncos didn't get much production from their tight ends last year, but they have Jake Butt coming back from injury. Here's a tight end they can pair with Butt. Troy Fumagalli seemed like a fifth-round choice to me, so this pick makes sense.
183. Sam Jones, G, Arizona State B+ Grade
Sam Jones didn't allow a single sack in 2017. He's a sound technician, but he lacks strength right now. Perhaps being in an NFL strength-and-conditioning program will help him become an NFL starter, which could definitely happen.
217. Keishawn Bierria, LB, Washington B Grade
Keishawn Bierria has severe athleticism limitations, but he's a hard worker who will do whatever it takes to contribute to a team. He could be a solid special-teams player in the pros. He makes sense here at the end of the sixth round.
226. David Williams, RB, Arkansas C Grade
David Williams is a plodder who will run for two yards and fall down if he gets NFL carries. I didn't think he would be drafted. He offers no athleticism or upside.
The Broncos looked very strong heading into their Week 5 bye, owning a 3-1 record with impressive victories over Dallas and Oakland. They fell apart after that, however, losing their next eight games. John Elway needs to find a franchise quarterback to prevent another collapse in 2018.
Broncos cut RB C.J. Anderson
Broncos sign P Marquette King
Broncos acquire OT Jared Veldheer
Broncos sign DT Clinton McDonald
Vikings acquire QB Trevor Siemian from Broncos
Broncos sign CB Tramaine Brock
Broncos sign QB Case Keenum
Rams acquire CB Aqib Talib from Broncos
Quarterback: Duh. If the Broncos address one area this offseason, it's this position. The Broncos either need to draft a quarterback they believe in, or obtain a veteran like Kirk Cousins or Eli Manning. Signed Case Keenum
Offensive Tackle: The Broncos have to protect their new quarterback. Right tackle was a major hole this past season, so Denver will have to find a bookend to play across from Garett Bolles. A second-day draft choice should be used on this position if it can't be filled in free agency. Traded for Jared Veldheer
Inside Linebacker: Denver has a terrific defense, but its weakness the past couple of years has been its inability to defend tight ends and pass-catching running backs. A dominant inside linebacker to finally replace Danny Trevathan would change that. Re-signed Todd Davis
Defensive End: Adam Gotsis' legal situation makes it seem like the Broncos have to target a defensive lineman early in the draft.
Wide Receiver: At least one receiver needs to be obtained, and perhaps multiple if Demaryius Thomas is jettisoned. The Broncos didn't have anything behind Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders this season, so a third option has to be acquired.
Interior Offensive Line Depth: It'll be interesting to see if the Broncos start Connor McGovern as their left guard after he had some strong performances down the stretch. Even if that's the case, interior offensive line depth will need to be obtained in case McGovern struggles, or center Matt Paradis gets hurt again.
Running Back Depth: C.J. Anderson doesn't have the best health track record, so some depth should be obtained.
Kicker: Brandon McManus struggled this past season, so the Broncos may want to think about finding a new kicker.
Marquette King, P, Raiders. Age: 29. Signed with Broncos
Marquette King might be known most for his on-field dancing celebrations, but he's actually one of the top punters in the NFL; he ranked sixth in net average last year. He's also just 29.
Case Keenum, QB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (2 years, $36 million)
Case Keenum is difficult to rate. Is he just a 1-year wonder? Keenum was a journeyman prior to arriving to Minnesota, but he put together a dream season. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes with a 7.4 YPA, throwing 22 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He also did some nice work with his legs, picking up 160 rushing yards and another score. The Vikings have seen nothing from Keenum to make them believe that he can't be their quarterback going forward, but no one should be surprised if he regresses either.
Tramaine Brock, CB, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos (1 year, $4 million)
Tramaine Brock was once a solid cornerback for the 49ers, but they released him because of domestic violence charges. He was cleared of those, but played sparingly in 2017. He should start somewhere next year, but he'll turn 30 this summer.
Clinton McDonald, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 31. -- Signed with Broncos
Denver Broncos Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Matt Paradis (RFA), C, Broncos. Age: 28. Tendered by Broncos (2nd round)
Matt Paradis had a Pro Bowl-caliber 2016 campaign, but regressed this season, probably because he had a hip injury that he recovered from in the spring. Paradis should be able to rebound in 2018 and perform on a high level.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos. Age: 27. Signed with Panthers
It's unclear why the Broncos felt the need to trade or cut their best running back by a mile, but they did the latter with C.J. Anderson. The 27-year-old is coming off a 1,000-yard season in which he averaged 4.1 yards per carry, a solid number considering the state of his sub-par offensive line. Anderson should have plenty of suitors on the open market.