2016 NFL Offseason: Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos (Last Year: 12-4)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Mark Sanchez, TE Garrett Graham, OT Russell Okung, OT Donald Stephenson, DE/DT Garrett Graham.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Paxton Lynch, DE/DT Adam Gotsis, S Justin Simmons, RB Devontae Booker, G Connor McGovern. Broncos Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Peyton Manning, QB Brock Osweiler, RB Ronnie Hillman, TE Vernon Davis, TE Owen Daniels, OT Ryan Clady, OT Ryan Harris, G Evan Mathis, G Louis Vasquez, DE/DT Malik Jackson, ILB Danny Trevathan, S David Bruton.

2016 Denver Broncos Offense:
The media is in love with Peyton Manning and will always say that he led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory in 2015, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Denver actually won in spite of Manning. The future Hall of Famer is one of the best to ever play the position, but he endured a horrific season, throwing just nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions. Statistically, he was worse than Mark Sanchez in all regards, which is saying a lot because Sanchez was awful in relief of Nick Foles in Philadelphia. Manning sustained an injury in the middle of the season, but then went on to take the field in the playoffs, where he put together the worst performance by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in league history.

If the Broncos could win with Manning weighing them down, can they find success with Sanchez, who, as mentioned, compiled superior numbers in 2015? Well, that has little to do with Sanchez and more to do with the rest of the roster, which is definitely not as talented as the 2015 version of this team. The downgrades begin with the offensive line, which lost three starters this offseason. Evan Mathis is the big name. He struggled early in the year because of an injury, but was dominant down the stretch. Mathis is 34, but he’s still one of the best guards in the NFL, so he’ll be missed. Louis Vasquez, the other guard, is gone as well. He wasn’t very good, but was far from a liability. Replacing them will be 2015 fourth-rounder Max Garcia, who was just about as good as Vasquez last year, and fifth-round rookie Connor McGovern, an athletic blocker who was projected to be selected earlier.

Ryan Clady is the other starter who won’t be back, but considering that he didn’t even play in 2015 because of an injury, his absence won’t be felt. The Broncos managed to acquire Russell Okung in free agency, which could be a positive acquisition. Okung is a talented blocker, but the issue is that he has missed 13 games in the past three seasons and was banged up for many others. The Seahawks are a smart organization, and they even deemed him to be too unreliable.

If the Broncos don’t get much out of Okung, they could be in trouble, considering the state of the rest of the offensive line. Right tackle Donald Stephenson has resembled a human turnstile in his time in the NFL, and 2015 second-rounder Ty Sambrailo was atrocious in relief last year. Meanwhile, center Matt Paradis isn’t awful, but doesn’t happen to be much of a strength either.

The rest of the offense remains intact for the most part. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis are gone, but they can easily be replaced by 2015 third-rounder Jeff Heuerman. The Ohio State product won’t be a top-two option in the passing game anyway, considering Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still on the roster. Both receivers have proven that they can be productive no matter who is throwing the ball to them.

Meanwhile, C.J. Anderson was retained after signing an offer sheet with the Dolphins as a restricted free agent. Anderson has finished strong the past two seasons, but has gotten off to slow starts. Perhaps fourth-round rookie Devontae Booker, considered an absolute steal, can pick up the slack in the first couple of months. Ronnie Hillman will also be in the mix, but the Broncos will want to feature Anderson and Booker more often.

The running game will have to be strong considering the quarterbacking situation. Sanchez can have good stretches, but he’s a ticking time bomb. Sanchez has shown that he can implode at any moment, leading to several consecutive miserable games as a result. It’ll be interesting to see if the Broncos opt to start rookie Paxton Lynch this year. Lynch has immense talent, but is probably too raw to play right now.

2016 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. MVP Cam Newton was absolutely blindsided, both literally and figuratively, as the Panthers didn’t seem to quite know how to block Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Miller and Ware will reprise their roles as Denver’s primary pass-rushers. Both have put immense pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but there’s a good chance Ware will regress this season. Ware turns 34 in July, so he’s bound to decline at some point in the near future. If so, last year’s first-rounder, Shane Ray, could step in. Ray did not play well as a rookie, and it’s fair to question his fit in the 3-4, but if there’s anyone who can get the most out of him in this particular scheme, it’s Wade Phillips. If Phillips can’t, perhaps Shaquil Barrett will receive more playing time. Barrett, an undrafted free agent in the 2014 class, was solid in relief last year.

Denver’s secondary is excellent, so it should be able to aid Ray and Barrett if they have to play more often this year. The group remains mostly intact, losing only David Bruton, who was just the third safety on the roster. Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward will return as the starters at the position, which is definitely a positive because both were stellar in 2015. Ward missed some time with an ankle injury, so he could be even better in 2016.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib will continue to lock down opposing receivers. Harris, in particular, enjoyed an amazing season. Talib is a bit of a hot head who could miss time due to the new infraction rules, so it’s a good thing that 2014 first-rounder Bradley Roby is around to step in as a full-time starter. Roby isn’t a great tackler by any means, but he has shown off some excellent coverage skills.

Everything sounds great for the Broncos thus far, but their defense won’t be the same in 2016. They lost a couple of talented players on this side of the ball. The first was Malik Jackson, who signed a $90 million deal with the Jaguars. Jackson was a terrific player in every aspect, so he’ll be missed. Derek Wolfe, a dynamic defensive end, is still on the roster, but that’s about it for Denver’s front. The candidates to start at the other defensive end spot are the mediocre Vance Walker, Texans reject Jared Crick, and second-round rookie Adam Gotsis, who was considered a major reach. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams struggled immensely last year.

The other loss was inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who signed with the Bears. Trevathan and Brandon Marshall were a dynamic tandem last year, but now the Broncos will have to find someone who can emulate Trevathan’s production level. The favorite to start in his place is Corey Nelson, a 2014 seventh-rounder who barely played in 2015. Todd Davis and Dekoda Watson are the other options, but they are even less appealing.

2016 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 homefield 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 under Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch.

Brandon McManus proved to be a solid kicker for the Broncos in 2015, hitting 30 of 35 tries. He was 5-of-7 from 50-plus, though three of those connections came at home, where it’s easier to hit on longer kicks.

Punter Britton Colquitt was outstanding in 2012, maintaining a 42.1 net average, ranking third in the league. However, he dropped to 24th in 2013 with a 38.8 average and was even worse in 2014 (28th, 37.6). He was only slightly better in 2015 (21st, 39.7).

The Broncos had to improve their special teams; the opposition outgained them both in punt and kickoff returns in 2014. Well, they did a good job of that, as they managed to turn the tables last season. They scored once and surrendered no touchdowns.

Denver has a taxing early start to its schedule, battling the Panthers, Colts and Bengals. An 0-3 stretch is possible. The Broncos have to go to Tampa Bay and battle the improved Texans and Chargers twice after that, so it doesn’t get that much easier. In fact, there are only three easy games on the entire slate: Falcons (home), Jaguars (road) and Titans (road).

2016 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.

2016 Denver Broncos Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos were able to overcome Peyton Manning’s horrific quarterbacking last year, thanks to the rest of their roster being extremely talented. They won’t be able to do the same with Mark Sanchez or Paxton Lynch because they lost a few key members of their roster. They’ll still be extremely competitive, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they end up missing the playoffs this season.

Projection: 7-9 (Tied 3rd in AFC West)

2016 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2016 NFL Season Previews

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Broncos don’t have a quarterback, so finding one is obviously the top priority. The problem is that Paxton Lynch might be long gone by No. 31. If so, Denver will have to find a solution on Day 2, such as Dak Prescott or Connor Cook. The Broncos also need to address the guard, defensive end and linebacker positions – the three non-quarterback areas that were hit the hardest by free-agency departures.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this by now, but I’m usually not a fan of teams trading up, as relinquishing resources is seldom worth the move. However, this case is different. The Broncos’ starting quarterback prior to the draft was Mark Sanchez. Something absolutely had to be done about that, and it’s not like Denver could’ve waited on Paxton Lynch. With the Browns and Cowboys also trying to trade up, and the Chiefs being a threat to take him, the Broncos had to pull the trigger. All they gave up was a late third-round pick, and obtaining a potential franchise quarterback is well worth that.

The rest of Denver’s haul was mostly great. In fact, the Broncos earned three grades in the “A” range. This includes an A+ for Devontae Booker, who was a ridiculous steal at No. 136. Justin Simmons and Connor McGovern were outstanding selections as well.

The one blemish for the Broncos was taking Adam Gotsis at the end of the second frame. One team we spoke to was going to consider him in the fourth or fifth round, and we hadn’t heard from any other franchise that had him ranked highly. Gotsis was a mega reach, though he will fill a need if he happens to pan out.

Overall, John Elway did a great job. He addressed three of the four glaring needs, including quarterback. He had numerous great picks as well. The one blemish hurts, but I’m still willing to give the Broncos an A-.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

26. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis B Grade
I’m not sure about Paxton Lynch. He’s very raw, and I don’t think he’s ready for the NFL. That said, I not only completely understand this pick; I’m in favor of it. The Broncos were very desperate for a quarterback. Mark Sanchez was the projected starter, for crying out loud. Denver absolutely had to make a move, and I’d rather spend the 27th pick in the draft than trade for either Colin Kaepernick or Sam Bradford. I think the Broncos need to bring Lynch along slowly, even if it means sacrificing the 2016 campaign, but he could eventually pan out. I should also note that while I’m usually not in favor of teams moving up, I get why the Broncos did it, given that the Chiefs were a serious landing spot for Lynch. The Browns were also a candidate to trade up.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Look up the definition of “reach” in the dictionary, and you might just… well, you won’t find this pick because that wouldn’t make any sense, but you probably should. This is a huge reach for sure. I can tell you for certain that one team whose information we highly trust told us that they were targeting Adam Gotsis in the Round 4-5 range. I hadn’t heard of anyone ranking Gotsis this highly, so I think this deserves a Millen, despite the fact that it fills a need.

98. Justin Simmons, S, Boston College A- Grade
This definitely makes up for the Adam Gotsis pick. In fact, I think it would’ve made more sense if the Broncos flipped their picks, and took Justin Simmons in the second round and vice-versa. The Broncos will have a starting safety (Darian Stewart) hitting free agency in 2017, so Simmons could step in as the starter right after that. He easily could’ve been chosen a round earlier, as he’s a highly athletic prospect who had plenty of starting experience at Boston College.

136. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah A+ Grade
This is certainly one of the top picks of the third day of the 2016 NFL Draft. Devontae Booker easily could’ve been chosen in the second round. Multiple talented runners have dropped for some reason, but it’s still a huge surprise. The Broncos won’t complain, as they needed someone better than Ronnie Hillman to be a change-of-pace runner behind C.J. Anderson. Booker should be able to be a starter some day.

144. Connor McGovern, G, Missouri A- Grade
The Broncos are getting solid value with Connor McGovern, who could’ve been chosen at the end of Round 3 without any protest. It’s not a surprise to see them select a player like this, as they needed a guard in the wake of losing Evan Mathis to Arizona. The McGovna is a very powerful blocker who should be able to help open some running lanes for C.J. Anderson and now Devontae Booker. McGovern will play guard, but has some potential at right tackle.

176. Andy Janovich, FB, Nebraska C Grade
I have no issues with a team drafting a fullback, or anything, but there were better players at the position available for the Broncos. They probably could’ve drafted Janovich in the seventh frame (or taken a superior fullback.)

219. Will Parks, S, Arizona State C Grade
I’m not sure where this pick is coming from. Will Parks didn’t seem like he was an NFL prospect. He has absolutely no athleticism, and he hasn’t shown any signs that he can play in the NFL. He’ll probably be a special-teamer at best.

228. Riley Dixon, P, Syracuse B- Grade
I won’t be mean to the Broncos for taking a punter in the seventh round. That’s perfectly fine. Better options are available, of course, but it’s not a killer like taking a kicker during the second day.

Season Summary:
Peyton Manning’s final rodeo was comprised of the worst Super Bowl performance by a winning quarterback in NFL history. He was a liability, and the Broncos would be better without him if it weren’t for all of their free agents. Six very important starters are about to hit the market, including Manning’s projected successor, Brock Osweiler.

Offseason Moves:
  • Broncos sign TE Garrett Graham
  • Broncos re-sign RB Ronnie Hillman
  • Jets acquire OT Ryan Clady, 7th-rounder from Broncos for 5th-rounder
  • Broncos sign DE/DT Jared Crick
  • Broncos announce retirement of Tyler Polumbus
  • Broncos re-sign WR Jordan Norwood
  • Broncos sign OT Russell Okung
  • Broncos sign OT Donald Stephenson
  • Broncos re-sign RB C.J. Anderson
  • Broncos acquire QB Mark Sanchez from Eagles for conditional late-round draft pick
  • Broncos cut G Louis Vasquez
  • Broncos announce retirement of QB Peyton Manning
  • Broncos cut TE Owen Daniels

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Guards: Denver’s blocking unit was a mess last season, so outside of re-signing its own free agents, the team has to focus on improving the offensive line. Evan Mathis being a free agent doesn’t help matters, and the other guard spot was already a liability.

    2. Rush Linebacker: Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is the top free agent who needs to be retained, but he’s likely to be franchised and then extended, rendering this moot. Franchised Von Miller

    3. Inside Linebackers: Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are a pair of extremely talented inside linebackers, but their contracts are set to expire soon. Keeping both will be challenging, and even losing just one in the next couple of offseasons will be significant.

    4. Quarterback: It’s a great thing that Peyton Manning is gone, as the Broncos won in spite of him. However, Brock Osweiler, who showed some promise, will see his contract expire in March. Signed Mark Sanchez

    5. Defensive End: Malik Jackson is yet another key defender who won’t be around next year unless he’s re-signed. Considering the Broncos signed Derek Wolfe to a long-term deal, bringing Jackson back will be tough. Signed Jared Crick

    6. Tight End: The Broncos traded for Vernon Davis in the middle of the season, which turned out to be a disaster. Davis dropped countless passes and was ultimately benched. Denver could use a second-day selection on an upgrade.

    7. Center: Matt Paradis isn’t a huge liability, but he can definitely be improved upon with a second-day selection.

    8. Offensive Tackle: Ryan Clady’s return will help, but there will still be a massive hole at right tackle, where Michael Schofield struggled last season. John Elway may not want to give up on him, however, given that he was a third-round pick in 2014. Signed Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson

    9. Running Back Depth: It amazingly took Gary Kubiak until the Super Bowl to realize that C.J. Anderson should be the primary ball-carrier. Ronnie Hillman stinks, so Denver should look for someone better to spell Anderson. Re-signed C.J. Anderson

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Russell Okung, OT, Seahawks. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos

      Russell Okung is certainly one of the most physically gifted left tackles in the NFL, but he definitely has an extensive injury history that is weighing his ranking down.

    2. Jared Crick, DE/DT, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Broncos
    3. Donald Stephenson, OT, Chiefs. Age: 27. — Signed with Broncos
    4. Garrett Graham, TE, Texans. Age: 30. — Signed with Broncos

    Denver Broncos Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Von Miller, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Franchised by Broncos

      Probably the No. 1 overall free agent this spring, Von Miller made a predictable, easy transition into Wade Phillips’ 3-4, collecting 11 sacks. Miller is unquestionably one of the top linebackers in the NFL, and he’ll be just 27 in March.

    2. Derek Wolfe, DE/DT, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Broncos (4 years, $36 million)

      Derek Wolfe missed the first four weeks of the season because of a suspension. He bolstered the defense in his return; he’s an elite run-defender who generates solid pressure on the quarterback. At just 26, Wolfe has plenty of room for growth.

    3. Brandon Marshall (RFA), ILB, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Tendered by Broncos (2nd)

      Brandon Marshall thrived playing inside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ scheme, though he was great before that as well. Marshall could be better in coverage, but he’s terrific otherwise. He’s just 27 in early September, so he’s going to be great for a while.

    4. Malik Jackson, DE/DT, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jaguars (6 years, $90 million)

      It’s going to be very difficult for the Broncos to afford both Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. Whereas Wolfe is elite versus the run and very good when rushing the passer, Malik Jackson is the opposite. Like Wolfe, Jackson is just 26, so he has a bright future ahead of him.

    5. Evan Mathis, G, Broncos. Age: 34.
      Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $6 million)

      Evan Mathis got off to a slow start in 2015 because of an injury, but his play picked up as the year progressed, and he eventually reestablished himself as one of the top guards in the NFL, leaving Philadelphia fans wondering why Chip Kelly got rid of his Pro Bowl guard. Mathis’ age is a concern – he turns 35 in November – but he should still have a couple of strong seasons remaining.

    6. Danny Trevathan, ILB, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bears (4 years)

      Danny Trevathan didn’t play all three downs most of the time this season, but only because Brandon Marshall is so great. Trevathan could have easily done this, as he had a great season in Wade Phillips’ system.

    7. C.J. Anderson (RFA), RB, Broncos. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Broncos (4 years, $18 million)

      C.J. Anderson got off to a terrible start because his offensive line couldn’t block for him. He caught fire as the season progressed and finished with a 4.7 YPC – an impressive figure considering that the blocking wasn’t very good.

    8. Brock Osweiler, QB, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Signed with Texans (4 years, $72 million)

      Brock Osweiler finally got his shot when Peyton Manning went down with an injury this year. Osweiler flashed some serious potential, but it remains to be seen if he can be developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback.

    9. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos. Age: 24.
      Re-signed with Broncos (1 year, $2 million)

      C.J. Anderson out-played Ronnie Hillman this past season, but Hillman was still solid, averaging 4.2 YPC behind a pedestrian offensive line. Hillman also caught 24 passes.

    10. Louis Vasquez, G, Broncos. Age: 29.
      Louis Vasquez had always been a mediocre starting guard until this past season. He struggled mightily, prompting the Broncos to cut him. However, he was simply miscast in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme, so he could rebound elsewhere.

    11. Vernon Davis, TE, Broncos. Age: 32.
      Signed with Redskins

      John Elway traded for Vernon Davis, and all Davis did to repay him was drop countless passes. Davis still has athletic ability, but his head isn’t in the game for some reason.

    12. David Bruton, S, Broncos. Age: 29. — Signed with Redskins (3 years)
    13. Ryan Harris, OT, Broncos. Age: 31. — Signed with Steelers
    14. Owen Daniels, TE, Broncos. Age: 33.
    15. Josh Bush, S, Broncos. Age: 27.
    16. Tyler Polumbus, OT, Broncos. Age: 31. — Announced retirement
    17. Lerentee McCray (RFA), DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 26.
    18. Jordan Norwood, WR, Broncos. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Broncos
    19. Andre Caldwell, WR, Broncos. Age: 31. — Signed with Lions
    20. Omar Bolden, S, Broncos. Age: 27. — Signed with Bears
    21. Antonio Smith, DE/DT, Broncos. Age: 34.
    22. DeVier Posey, WR, Broncos. Age: 26.
    23. Cyrus Gray, RB, Broncos. Age: 26.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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