2024 NFL Season Preview: Denver Broncos

Bo Nix

Denver Broncos (Last Year: 8-9)

Season Summary:
The Broncos looked like they had a chance at a playoff run at one point during the season, but Russell Wilson had a terrible performance against the Patriots during a national TV appearance.

2024 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Josh Reynolds, OT Matt Peart, G Calvin Throckmorton, C Sean Mustipher, DT John Franklin-Myers, DT Malcolm Roach, LB Cody Barton, S Brandon Jones.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Bo Nix, DE Jonah Elliss, WR Troy Franklin, CB Kris Abrams-Driane, RB Audric Estime. Broncos Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Russell Wilson, WR Jerry Jeudy, OT Cameron Fleming, C Lloyd Cushenberry, LB Josey Jewell, S Justin Simmons, S Kareem Jackson.

2024 Denver Broncos Offense:
The Buccaneers and Rams won consecutive Super Bowls after adding great quarterbacks, so the Broncos had aspirations of doing the same following their trade for Russell Wilson. Instead, Wilson’s tenure in Denver was a total disaster. Wilson’s first season was blamed on Nathaniel Hackett’s incompetence, but he wasn’t much better under Sean Payton. Wilson was ultimately benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham.

Denver traded for Zach Wilson this offseason, but still felt the need to select a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft. The sixth quarterback off the board was Bo Nix at No. 12 overall. Nix is a 24-year-old with second-round talent, so it’s unlikely that he will end up being a quality starter under Payton. In fact, the 2025 NFL Mock Draft on this Web site projects another quarterback to Denver.

It won’t help Nix that he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast. Jerry Jeudy is gone, leaving Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick as the returning veterans. Sutton was a touchdown machine last year, catching 10 scores, but his other numbers (59 catches, 772 yards) were rather pedestrian for a No. 1 wideout. Patrick, meanwhile, hasn’t played a game since 2021 because of multiple injuries. The Broncos also have Marvin Mims, who was chosen in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Mims caught only 33 balls as a rookie, but Payton said that Jeudy was blocking him from playing more. Mims is an explosive downfield threat who could have a solid second season. There’s also Josh Reynolds, who was an inconsistent deep threat for the Lions.

There are some concerns on the offensive line as well. The Broncos lost their starting center, Lloyd Cushenberry, to free agency. Cushenberry was a quality center, so he could be difficult to replace in the short term. Luke Wattenberg, a fifth-round pick from 2022, will get the first crack at the job, but he hasn’t shown much promise yet. If Wattenberg struggles, Denver will have just one decent starter in the interior of the offensive line. That would be Quinn Meinerz, who has shown great improvement in each of his three NFL seasons. The other starter is Ben Powers, who struggled last year.

Fortunately for Nix, it’s not completely bleak on the offensive line. Garett Bolles and Mike McGlinchey are a very talented pair of tackles. However, Bolles has been known to be extremely inconsistent throughout his career. McGlinchey, meanwhile, hasn’t had the best luck staying healthy.

The Broncos will have to rely on their rushing attack with there being so many problems with the passing game. Javonte Williams wasn’t able to shoulder a full workload last year because he was coming off a torn ACL. Williams hasn’t shown much burst in OTAs thus far. If he gets hurt again, or if he continues to struggle, the Broncos at least have some capable backups in Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin, and fifth-round rookie Audric Estime.

2024 Denver Broncos Defense:
The Broncos have cycled through some miserable quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired, but they’ve always been able to rely on their defense. Since Manning hung up his cleats, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 of net yards allowed on four occasions.

Denver’s defense, however, suffered a major decline last year, finishing 29th in net yards. Things could get worse in 2024 because Denver lost three quality defensive starters. The best of the bunch was Justin Simmons, who has been one of the better safeties in the NFL. He and Kareem Jackson, the other starter at the position, are both gone. Their replacements will be Cade Sterns and Brandon Jones. Sterns has shown potential in the past, but missed all but one snap in 2023 because of a knee injury. As for Jones is concerned, the former Dolphin was often burned in coverage when he played for Miami.

The other key departed starter is Josey Jewell, who was a fantastic linebacker for Denver. The Broncos often struggled when Jewell was out of the lineup, so they’ll have to permanently survive without him. Cody Barton and Alex Singleton project to be the starting linebackers, which is not good news. Singleton can handle the run well, but is totally lost when it comes to coverage. Barton is a pedestrian player who should be a reserve.

It’s not all bleak for Denver on this side of the ball. While the safeties figure to struggle, there’s at least one cornerback who will thrive. That’s Patrick Surtain II, who has established himself as one of the top corners in the NFL. It’s unclear, however, if the Broncos will get quality play from their other corners. Levi Wallace is the favorite to start across from Surtain, which is bad news because he has been torched frequently in recent seasons. There’s also 2023 third-rounder Riley Moss, who didn’t see much action as a rookie. In the slot, Ja’Quan McMillan had an uneven 2023 campaign.

Aside from Surtain, the best aspect of Denver’s defense is the pass rush. Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto combined for 16.5 sacks last year. There was also Zach Allen, who chipped in with five sacks. Both Browning and Allen are complete players, as they also handle run support very well. Joining Allen on the defensive line will be John Franklin-Myers, who was acquired from the Jets this offseason. Franklin-Myers is a jack-of-all-trades player who will be a nice upgrade. Nose tackle D.J. Jones, however, is a big liability.

2024 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. Denver struggled as a host since Manning’s retirement, so we’ll see if it regains that with Sean Payton.

Wil Lutz followed Payton from New Orleans to Denver. Lutz did well in his first season with the Broncos, hitting 30-of-34 attempts, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus.

Riley Dixon ranked in the middle of the pack as far as net average is concerned. He did a fair job of pinning the opposition inside the 20.

The Broncos will have a tough time navigating through all of their difficult AFC opponents. They’ll at least have a reprieve with their NFC South foes.

2024 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.

2024 Denver Broncos Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2024 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos appear to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their passing attack looks horrible, while their defense isn’t close to what it used to be. Playing in the difficult AFC, the Broncos could end up with the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.

Projection: 2-15 (4th in AFC West)

2023 Projection: 8-9. 2023 Actual Result: 8-9.
2022 Projection: 12-5. 2022 Actual Result: 5-12.
2021 Projection: 9-8. 2021 Actual Result: 7-10.
2020 Projection: 8-8. 2020 Actual Result: 5-11.
2019 Projection: 7-9. 2019 Actual Result: 7-9.
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.

NFL Draft Team Grade:

C Grade

Goals Entering the 2024 NFL Draft: Of all the teams outside the top three in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Broncos are the most desperate for a quarterback. The only players at the position on their roster are Zach Wilson, Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci, and there’s no way the organization can sell their fans on that trio. However, it’s important for the Broncos to not reach for a quarterback. In fact, they would be wise to trade down because they have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL.

2024 NFL Draft Accomplishments: There was some speculation from the Denver media that the team could trade up for Bo Nix. This was before the Zach Wilson acquisition, which gave the Broncos some insurance. They remained at No. 12 to select Bo Nix, which still seems like an egregious error, but at least they didn’t move up for him. Still, the Broncos should have traded down, as no one else was going to select Nix in the 13-25 range. Nix was considered a second-round prospect, so selecting him at No. 12 was a colossal reach.

It’s a shame the Nix pick had to spoil Denver’s draft class because the rest of it was quite good. Troy Franklin was a steal in the fourth round, and he could play right away as a replacement for Jerry Jeudy. Kris Abrams-Draine and Audric Estime were third-day steals as well. Jonah Elliss didn’t provide amazing value, but he was a solid third-round choice to help improve a very weak pass rush.

Had the Broncos traded down for Nix, I would have graded this much more favorably. The overall grade would perhaps be a B+ or a “B,” depending on what Denver obtained. However, failing to acquire more capital and just drafting Nix at No. 12 was a huge blunder.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

12. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon – MILLEN Grade

This reminds me of the Vikings drafting Christian Ponder or the Jaguars drafting Blaine Gabbert. Both quarterbacks were second-round prospects who were pushed way up because of position and need. This is the case here, as Nix should be a second-round selection. The Broncos, however, were very desperate for a quarterback and were backed into a corner. They should have traded back and tried to get Nix.

76. Jonah Elliss, DE/OLB, Utah – B Grade

The Broncos had interest in Laiatu Latu, so they may have taken him had they not needed a quarterback. Thus, it’s not a surprise to see them address their weak edge rush with this pick. Jonah Elliss fits the range and fills a need, but he’s a bit undersized, so his snap count will be limited.

102. Troy Franklin, WR, Oregon – A+ Grade

What a steal! Troy Franklin easily could have gone in the second round. The Broncos are getting a steal, all while filling a need to replace Jerry Jeudy. Even better, Franklin gets to keep playing with his college quarterback. Definitely an A+ pick!

145. Kris Abrams-Draine, CB, Missouri – A Grade

The Broncos didn’t have much at cornerback aside from Patrick Surtain, so they had to address the position. Kris Abrams-Draine has a chance to become a starter in the future, as he was a potential third-round pick, so I like this value.

147. Audric Estime, RB, Notre Dame – A Grade

Here’s another value pick in the fifth round, as Audric Estime could have been selected toward the end of Day 2. Audric Estime is a powerful, downhill runner who should be able to complement Javonte Williams well. Williams has a recent ACL tear, so some insurance was needed.

235. Devaughn Vele, WR, Utah – B Grade

The Broncos have receiver depth issues, so addressing this position makes sense. Devaughn Vele is a huge receiver, but there are some separation question marks.

256. Nicholas Garguilo, C/G, South Carolina – A- Grade

The Broncos lost some linemen in free agency, so they had to find some depth. Why not draft a guy who can play every interior position? I thought Nicholas Garguilo would go a bit earlier than this, so I like the value.

Season Summary:
The Broncos looked like they had a chance at a playoff run at one point during the season, but Russell Wilson had a terrible performance against the Patriots during a national TV appearance.

Offseason Moves:
  • Broncos acquire WR Jerry Jeudy from Browns for draft picks

  • Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Sean Payton benched Russell Wilson late in the year, and he was right for doing so. Denver will need to find a new quarterback this offseason.

    2. Two Defensive Tackles: Denver surrendered more rushing yards than any other team last year. Defensive tackle upgrades must be found.

    3. Cornerback: Patrick Surtain is a top-tier cornerback, but the Broncos don’t have much else at the position.

    4. Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy has been a disappointment, so some wide receiver help should be obtained. Signed Josh Reynolds

    5. Center: Lloyd Cushenberry is Denver’s top offensive free agent, so he’ll need to be retained or replaced.

    6. Linebacker: Josey Jewell is the Broncos’ best defensive free agent. He’ll be missed if he leaves.

    7. Kicker: Wil Lutz is heading for free agency as well. Re-signed Wil Lutz

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2024 NFL Free Agent Signings:

    Denver Broncos Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.

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