2019 NFL Offseason: Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos (Last Year: 6-10)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Joe Flacco, OT Ja’Wuan James, CB Kareem Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan.
Early Draft Picks:
TE Noah Fant, C/OT/G Dalton Risner, QB Drew Lock, DT Dre’Mont Jones, DE/OLB Justin Hollins. Broncos Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Case Keenum, OT Jared Veldheer, C Matt Paradis, NT Domata Peko, DE/OLB Shaq Barrett, DE/OLB Shane Ray, LB Brandon Marshall, CB Bradley Roby, S Darian Stewart.

2019 Denver Broncos Offense:
The Case Keenum experiment lasted just one year. Keenum was a failure in Denver, so team president John Elway was expected to find an upgrade this offseason. Elway did so by trading a fourth-round pick to the Ravens for Joe Flacco. There’s little doubt that Flacco will be an upgrade over Keenum, but only if he’s not injured. Flacco’s health has been a problem for him in the past several seasons. He has missed 12 games in the previous four years, and he wasn’t completely healthy for many of the starts he made otherwise. Flacco isn’t hurt at the moment, but there’s a decent chance he won’t make it through the entire 2019 campaign. If so, second-round rookie Drew Lock will have to play earlier than expected. Lock has great talent, but he’s raw, and his pocket awareness is poor. He needs one or two years of development, so it wouldn’t be ideal for him to play right away.

It’s essential for the Broncos to protect Flacco well, which would explain why they obtained two new offensive linemen this offseason. They signed Ja’Wuan James in free agency to fill a huge void at right tackle. James will be a big upgrade, so the question concerning the outside protection is whether or not Garett Bolles finally lives up to expectations. Bolles, a former first-round pick, has struggled thus far in his career. His protection ability hasn’t been poor, but he has a penchant for committing too many holding penalties. The Broncos have seen too many drives end because Bolles’ infractions, so that will need to change.

Denver’s other offensive line adjustment was the second-round pick used on Dalton Risner. The Kansas State product can play every position up front. It seems as though the plan for him is to start at guard, with Ronald Leary and Connor McGovern stationed at the other guard spot and center, respectively. McGovern is horrible in pass protection, so he figures to be a massive downgrade from Matt Paradis, who signed with the Panthers this offseason. Leary, meanwhile, is rock solid when healthy. However, that has not been very frequent. Leary has played in just 17 of 32 possible games for the Broncos since signing with the team, and he’s coming off a torn Achilles, so he may not be 100 percent.

Speaking of players coming off injuries, Emmanuel Sanders also tore his Achilles. This injury occurred in December, so it seems unlikely that he’ll be ready for the season opener. If he has to begin the year on the PUP list, it’ll be up to Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton to step up. The two receivers had some nice moments as rookies last year, so they should be able to continue to develop. Meanwhile, Flacco figures to have a couple of solid tight ends at his disposal. Jake Butt, who was once considered a second-round prospect, slipped to the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but now appears to be completely healthy for the first time in his career. The other is the highly athletic Noah Fant, who was selected with the 20th-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Broncos also will use a pair of young players at running back. Royce Freeman was chosen in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so it was a surprise when undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay handled more touches than him. This was justified, however, as Lindsay proved to be very explosive. He can’t handle a full workload because of his stature, but Lindsay is a dynamic threat capable of going the distance whenever he touches the ball.

2019 Denver Broncos Defense:
Peyton Manning was atrocious in his final year in Denver. Despite this, the Broncos prevailed in Super Bowl 50 because of 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 was predictably prolific as a rookie, logging 12 sacks. He and Miller could be considered the best edge-rushing tandem in the NFL, and Chubb will only improve as he gains more experience.

The Broncos needed Miller and Chubb to place tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, especially when top cornerback Chris Harris missed action at the end of the season with a broken leg. Harris figures to be 100 percent by the season opener, and he’ll be part of a much-improved cornerback group in 2019. The Broncos didn’t have much else at the position last season, but Elway made sure that wasn’t the case this spring. He added two talented cornerbacks in free agency, signing Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan. Jackson is 31, but he’s a late bloomer coming off an exceptional year. Callahan, meanwhile, is one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league.

Despite Jackson’s solid play in 2018, he could make the move to safety this upcoming season. New head coach Vic Fangio said that Jackson will spend time at both corner and safety. This is understandable, given Denver’s safety problems. Will Parks is a fine player, but Justin Simmons, while solid in run support, struggled too much in coverage last year.

While safety is a problem, the non-coverage linebacking corps has been the weak part of the defense ever since Danny Trevathan left for Chicago several offseasons ago. Todd Davis and Josey Jewell are the favorites to start at the position, which is far from ideal. Neither player is good in coverage, so the Broncos will continue to struggle to defend the middle of the field.

Denver will, at least, be fine as far as defending the run is concerned. Davis and Jewell do well in that regard, while defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris both are stout in their support versus the rush. The Broncos didn’t really have a dynamic pass-rusher on the front, so perhaps third-round rookie Dre’Mont Jones will be able to help in that regard.

2019 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 just 12-12 the past three years.

Brandon McManus hit 20-of-25 field goals last year. All of his misses came from beyond 50 yards (2-of-7), and that includes his extra-point tries.

The Broncos had to release Marquette King because of an injury last October. Replacement Colby Wadman finished dead last in net average in 2018.

Denver once again had a poor special-teams unit last year, scoring no touchdowns and surrendering one to the opposition. The team was outgained on both punts and kickoffs.

The schedule seems to be difficult for the Broncos. Six of their first nine opponents are all expected to make a serious push for the playoffs (Bears, Packers, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Browns). Things get a bit easier after the bye, but Denver could be out of the postseason mix by then.

2019 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.

2019 Denver Broncos Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos are great in some regards. They have a prolific pass rush, and their cornerbacks are excellent. They also have a running back who can go the distance whenever he touches the ball. However, Denver has way too many flaws to reach the playoffs. The team’s offensive line and receiving corps are big question marks, and Denver will continue to struggle to defend the middle of the field. Most importantly, Joe Flacco’s injury history is quite dubious, so there’s a good chance he’ll go down at some point in 2019.

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

2018 Projection: 8-8. 2018 Actual Result: 6-10.
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 5-11.
2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

2018 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2018 NFL Season Previews

NFL Draft Team Grade: A+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Broncos could choose a quarterback early, but they’re better off waiting for the superior 2020 NFL Draft class to address the position. Instead, Denver should focus on addressing the many pressing needs on its roster, particularly linebacker, the secondary, the offensive line and the receiving corps.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Broncos did a good job of finding a trade partner when the players they coveted weren’t available at No. 10 overall. Some reported that they desired Devin Bush, but this was not true. T.J. Hockenson was the final player they wished to land at No. 10 overall, which is why they moved down when the Lions took him with the eighth pick.

Trading down was nice, but the Broncos would ultimately have to draft good prospects with their extra selections. They began with Noah Fant, which was a fine decision at No. 20. I criticized the Lions’ selection of T.J. Hockenson, but that was with a top-eight choice. It was much more reasonable to take his teammate with the 20th-overall selection. Meanwhile, the Broncos fared better in the second round. Dalton Risner is a high-character player who can start at every position up front. It’s likely that he’ll replace the departed Matt Paradis at center. He’ll block for Joe Flacco in the present and then eventually Drew Lock, who was a steal at No. 42. It would’ve been a mistake for the Broncos to use a first-round pick on Lock, but getting him in the second frame, with the choice acquired from the Steelers, was a nice move.

Amazingly, Denver’s first five picks all graded “A” or higher. Only one selection was lower than that, and that was a mere sixth-round pick. I absolutely loved the Broncos’ draft class, as they accumulated great-value prospects and extra resources throughout the weekend, all while filling needs. Very well done.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

20. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa A Grade
The Broncos did a good job of picking up two extra second-round picks by trading down from No. 10 to 20. They wanted to move down as soon as T.J. Hockenson was taken off the board. There was speculation that they liked Devin Bush, but that wasn’t legitimate. Hockenson was their man all along, but they also liked Noah Fant and correctly recognized they could trade down and still obtain him. Unlike the Raiders, Giants and Falcons, they didn’t reach. They filled a huge need with good value, so it’s hard not to grade this as an “A.”

41. Dalton Risner, C/OT/G, Kansas State A Grade
This is a terrific pick. The Broncos are not only getting a skilled offensive lineman who can play any position, but they’re also obtaining a super-high character person for their locker room. Risner is going to give his new team 110 percent all the time. I assume Risner will slide in at center to replace Matt Paradis. This was a huge hole for the Broncos, yet they plugged it with a nice prospect.

42. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri A- Grade
The Broncos used the second-round pick they acquired from the Steelers to trade up for Drew Lock. This is a great move, as Denver obviously needed a quarterback from the future to learn behind Joe Flacco. I wasn’t a fan of Lock as a first-round prospect because of his accuracy and field vision question marks, but he’s absolutely worth the gamble in the second round because of his arm and upside.

71. Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State A Grade
I love the value the Broncos are getting with Dre’Mont Jones. I highly doubt Jones will be able to be a three-down defensive tackle, but he’ll be a pass-rushing specialist on the front. Jones will get pushed around in the running game, but he’ll be able to generate a good deal of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jones could’ve gone a round earlier than this, so the value is definitely there.

156. Justin Hollins, DE/OLB, Oregon A Grade
It makes sense that the Broncos would select a solid backup to play behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Justin Hollins can also play inside linebacker, so the Broncos obviously like his versatility. Hollins’ upside is very apparent as well, given his great athleticism. Hollins needs to add some weight, but the potential is certainly there. Hollins has great character traits, so I believe he’ll give Denver his all and become a solid player for them. This is a terrific choice.

187. Juwann Winfree, WR, Colorado C Grade
Juwann Winfree is a huge unknown. Maryland recruited him, but he barely played for them. He endured suspensions and injuries, and he didn’t see much action in Colorado. However, the athletic potential is there, and perhaps Denver is hoping that Winfree will be the next Phillip Lindsay, but only a receiver. He should’ve been obtained as a UDFA.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Broncos had high hopes entering the season because they signed Case Keenum. It looked like they’d have a chance at making the playoffs, but consecutive losses to the 49ers and Browns derailed those aspirations. It’s apparent that Denver won’t go anywhere with Keenum, so the search for a successor for Peyton Manning continues.

Offseason Moves:
  • Broncos sign CB Bryce Callahan
  • Broncos sign OT Ja’Wuan James
  • Broncos sign CB Kareem Jackson
  • Redskins acquire QB Case Keenum from Broncos
  • Broncos acquire QB Joe Flacco from Ravens

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Case Keenum is not the answer. He’s too limited and makes too many mistakes. He’s a great backup, but he needs an elite supporting cast to reach the playoffs. The Broncos may use their first-round pick on a quarterback. Traded for Joe Flacco

    2. Right Tackle: While Keenum struggled, the Broncos may blame his poor protection. Right tackle was a big problem for them last year, so perhaps they’ll fix that early in the 2019 NFL Draft. Signed Ja’Wuan James

    3. Guard: Here’s another spot that needs to improve on the offensive line. Denver needs an upgrade at guard to go along with Ronald Leary.

    4. Inside Linebacker: The Broncos have needed a top inside linebacker ever since Danny Trevathan left for Chicago following the Super Bowl win. LSU’s Devin White would be in play in the opening round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

    5. Cornerback: Aqib Talib is another stud who hasn’t been replaced, though that’s more recent. A second cornerback is needed to go along with Chris Harris. Signed Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan

    6. Tight End: Jake Butt doesn’t look like he’ll be able to stay healthy. If the Broncos believe this, they will look for a new starting tight end, especially with Jeff Heuerman heading for free agency.

    7. Wide Receiver: Demaryius Thomas is gone, and Emmanuel Sanders won’t be around much longer either. The Broncos will need a receiver to join Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton.

    8. Nose Tackle: Denver’s top nose tackles, Domata Peko and Zach Kerr, are impending free agents. One must be re-signed.

    9. Punter: The Broncos had the worst punting game in the NFL last year as far as net average is concerned.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Dolphins. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos (4 years, $52 million; $32 million guaranteed)

      Ja’Wuan James is a stellar right tackle, but had a down 2018 season because he played through a knee injury. He’s still young (27 in June), so he should be able to rebound at 100-percent capacity to open the 2019 campaign.

    2. Bryce Callahan, CB, Bears. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos (3 years, $21 million)

      Bryce Callahan is one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL. He was lost late in the year with a broken foot, but he should be 100 percent by the time training camp starts.

    3. Kareem Jackson, CB, Texans. Age: 31.
      Signed with Broncos (3 years)

      Kareem Jackson emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL this past season. He’s a late bloomer for certain. Unfortunately for Jackson, he’s turning 31 in April, so he doesn’t have much time left to play on a high level.

    Denver Broncos Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Matt Paradis, C, Broncos. Age: 29.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years, $27 million)

      Matt Paradis is an excellent center. He missed the final seven games of the year with a fractured fibula, but he hasn’t been out for any other contest in his career. Paradis turns 30 in October, but he should continue to play on a high level for several seasons.

    2. Shelby Harris (RFA), DE, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Tendered by Broncos (2nd round)

      Shelby Harris is coming off an excellent season for the Broncos as a defensive lineman who generated good pressure on the quarterback and stuffed the run well.

    3. Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Texans (1 year, $10 million)

      Bradley Roby has experienced an up-and-down career thus far. He played well in 2015, struggled the year after, bounced back at a high level in 2017, then performed poorly once again this past season. Roby dealt with some injuries in 2018, so that could explain his regression. The former first-round pick is young (27 in May) and talented enough to bounce back.

    4. Brandon Marshall, LB, Broncos. Age: 29.
      Signed with Raiders (1 year, $4.1 million)

      Brandon Marshall was once a stellar linebacker, but his play has fallen off a cliff in recent years because of injuries. However, Marshall isn’t 30 yet, so he still has time to get healthy and rebound.

    5. Domata Peko, NT, Broncos. Age: 34.
      Domata Peko looked worn down in Cincinnati, but he has been a new player in Denver. He clogs the run well, but he’ll turn 35 around Thanksgiving.

    6. Zach Kerr, NT, Broncos. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Broncos (2 years)

      Zach Kerr is a monstrous, 335-pound run-stuffer, but he offers nothing as far as the pass rush is concerned.

    7. Shaq Barrett, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Signed with Buccaneers (1 year, $5 million)

      Shaq Barrett is a solid situational pass-rusher who plays the run well, too. Barrett didn’t have a chance to compete for a starting job behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Perhaps he’ll get that chance elsewhere.

    8. Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 26.
      Signed with Ravens

      Shane Ray has been a huge disappointment with the Broncos, logging just two sacks in the past two years. However, Ray is a former first-round pick, and he’s still young, so perhaps he can turn his career around in a new home.

    9. Darian Stewart, S, Broncos. Age: 31.
      Darian Stewart was once a solid safety, but that has changed in recent years because of injuries. He’s now 31 (in August) and could continue to regress, but there’s also a chance that he could have a solid season or two remaining.

    10. Jeff Heuerman, TE, Broncos. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Broncos (2 years, $9 million)
    11. Elijah Wilkinson (RFA), OT, Broncos. Age: 24. — Re-signed with Broncos (1 year)
    12. Jared Veldheer, OT, Broncos. Age: 32. — Signed with Patriots (1 year, $3.5 million)
    13. Tramaine Brock, CB, Broncos. Age: 31.
    14. Billy Turner, G/OT, Broncos. Age: 27. — Signed with Packers (4 years, $28 million)
    15. Max Garcia, C, Broncos. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals
    16. Joe Jones (RFA), ILB, Broncos. Age: 25.
    17. Jamar Taylor, CB, Broncos. Age: 28. — Signed with Seahawks
    18. Gino Gradkowski, C, Broncos. Age: 30.
    19. Jerrol Garcia-Williams (RFA), ILB, Broncos. Age: 25.
    20. Deiontrez Mount, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 26.
    21. Craig Mager, CB, Broncos. Age: 27.
    22. Khalfani Muhammad (RFA), RB, Broncos. Age: 24.
    23. Kevin Hogan (RFA), QB, Broncos. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Broncos

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

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