You may recall a little feature we did here at The Sports Post in the early stages of March. It was called “NFL 2017: Which 5 Teams Will be the Busiest in Free Agency?” In it, we attempted to predict which of the clubs would be the most active over the past six-plus weeks. Turns out we weren’t too far off, either, ranking them in the following order:
5. Denver Broncos.
4. Tennessee Titans.
3. Chicago Bears.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars.
1. San Francisco 49ers.
Now as the 2017 NFL Draft approaches, we thought we would do a complete handful of follow-up pieces to review their work as well as our predictions. First up, a club that failed to make the playoffs in 2016 after taking home the Lombardi Trophy the previous season: the Denver Broncos.
After winning the AFC West for five consecutive seasons, that streak primarily courtesy of quarterback Peyton Manning and a fearsome defense, the Denver Broncos fell on hard times. It would prove to be the final year on the job for Head Coach Gary Kubiak, who opted for retirement due, in part, to health issues.
All told, a 4-0 start was followed by seven losses in the team’s final 12 games. It added up to a 9-7 record, three games behind both the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Ultimately, the Broncos would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
The task facing General Manager John Elway was somewhat simple. To get this perennial contender back on track, the team needed to fix its running attack. And, upgrade the run defense. In 2016, Denver not only ranked 27th in the NFL in total offense but also finished 27th when it came to rushing yards per game. When it came to stopping the other team on the ground, only four teams in the league were more inept.
When it comes to the running game, it’s worth noting that new head coach Vance Joseph has former Chargers’ sideline boss Mike McCoy at his disposal. He returns to the Mile High City once again as the team’s Offensive Coordinator. Or, the same role he had before he bolted for the Bolts.
The Broncos have running backs C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and second-year pro Devontae Booker at their disposal. The latter wound up leading the team in rushing as a rookie, gaining 612 yards and four scores on 174 carries. Anderson would follow with 437 yards and four scores. But Denver averaged 92.8 yards per game rushing for the season.
One way to get better production from the ground attack is to bolster the offensive line. The Broncos added former Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary, which is arguably the club’s best acquisition of the offseason. They also signed tackle Menelik Watson away from the Oakland Raiders. That gives the Broncos a new combination on the right side of the offensive line as Donald Stephenson makes the move to left tackle. Elway opted not to pick up the option on Russell Okung, who then signed with the Los Angeles Chargers.
On the other side of the ball, it will be another year of change. Last offseason, standouts such as defensive tackle Malik Jackson, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and safety David Bruton Jr. moved on via free agency. This year, the Broncos allowed starting nose tackle Sylvester Williams (the team’s first-round pick in 2013) to test the market. He would eventually sign on with the Tennessee Titans.
But Denver did add some beef to a defensive unit that allowed a shocking 130.3 yards per game on the ground. During the team’s Super Bowl 50 campaign, their defense surrendered just 83.6 yards per contest on the ground. So to rectify those issues, the team used free agency to secure the services of defensive tackles Domata Peko (Cincinnati Bengals) and Zach Kerr (Indianapolis Colts). They will team up front with Derek Wolfe to give Joseph’s team more of a fighting chance. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Denver’s new Head Coach did come over from the Miami Dolphins. You know, a team that finished 30th in the NFL against the run in 2016. So stay tuned.
As we incorrectly stated, this was a team that was not overly busy in free agency. Along with the retirement of star outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and the departure of Williams, the team lost key defensive reserves in cornerback Kayvon Webster (who joins former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with the Los Angeles Rams) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (San Francisco 49ers). Elway did a good job of adding some experience on both the offensive and defensive lines.
And, let’s not forget that the cupboard is far from bare—most notably on defense. Former first-round pick Shane Ray will try and consistently fill the shoes of Ware. The linebacker corps is still led by Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller as well as the ever-consistent Brandon Marshall. Additionally, secondary is arguably the best in the NFL with defensive backs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., not to mention safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart.
On offense, some felt that the team was going to make a move when it came to the quarterback position. But the truth is: Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch were far more effective and less error-prone than the combination of Manning and Brock Osweiler in 2015. Of course, it was a well-rested Manning who took advantage of his experience and savvy to play his smartest football in the postseason.
In ’16, Siemian (18-10) and Lynch (2-1) combined for 20 TD passes and only 11 interceptions (Siemian also lost two fumbles). Now you know why Elway liked what he had at quarterback, why he wasn’t interested in swinging a trade for Dallas Cowboys veteran Tony Romo. Let’s also not forget: Lynch was the franchise’s first-round pick last April.
All told, it has been a rather conservative offseason for the Denver Broncos. So we kind of swung and missed on that front. Then again, the fun may be just beginning for Elway and the front office. The club has 10 picks in the upcoming draft, including a pair of selections in the third round.
We shall find out soon enough.