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Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
Charles Rives
2/12/2019

The problem for the Denver Broncos in 2018 was finishing games. They also needed more success in their play calling. OLB Bradley Chubb; RB Phillip Lindsay (wrist surgery/3-4 month rehab process) and WR Courtland Sutton are good for the future, while the jury is still out on WR DeaSean Hamilton, ILB Jersey Jewell, RB Royce Freeman, CB Isaac Yiadom, G Sam Jones and the rest of the rookies. CB Bradley Roby did not handle his transition to starter as well as expected. Blocking, tackling, and execution of assignments were all missing from the Broncos in 2018. The good news is that Pat Bowlen and CB Champ Bailey were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Coaching Staff

With HC Vic Fangio, the Broncos go with experience and toughness. One of the chief selling points for Fangio is the kind of coaching staff he can attract. The Broncos have a young roster -- 13 rookies were on the 53-man roster for the regular-season finale -- that is likely to get only younger as the makeover continues. Fangio will receive a four-year contract that includes a team option for a fifth year. Fangio is an old school coach with a no-nonsense attitude. His arrival should help get the Denver defense (which has some key pieces) back on track to elite status. Everyone on Fangio’s defenses play together which was a novelty for the 2018 Broncos defense. The 2019 addition will attack the football collectively, play fast and play disciplined. Don’t expect Fangio to lean on his coordinators too much. He is confident in his own coaching abilities.

Elway thinks Fangio will be able to help spur offensive innovation, because he's so well-versed on defense and knows what makes defenses uncomfortable which helps an offense. He is going to bring the discipline that has been lacking in the Broncos. NT Shelby Harris: "That 'death by inches' thing is literally, I feel like, our season. Little things, little things, little things add up," Harris said. "Little things lose you one game, and the 'death by inches' thing is as simple as you can be 6-10 or 10-6. A couple of little things can change all that. And I feel like attention to detail about all that stuff will help bring us back to who we really are." Fangio said: "Here's what 'death by inches' means: If you're running a meeting, whether it be a team meeting, offense or defense meeting, a position coach meeting and a player walks in, say 30 seconds late, 45 seconds late -- that act in of itself really has no impact on whether you're going to win or lose that week. But if you let it slide, the next day there's two or three guys late or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems. That's 'death by inches.' Cliff Harris Jr.: "Then it's like, 'All right, well, then, that could easily translate to you being lazy on the field, so I'm going to pull [a receiver and commit] a P.I. [pass-interference penalty], and it's third-and-25, and you get a 10-yard P.I. It's just stuff like that where it starts. It starts early. Being late. Not paying attention to detail. That's the attention-to-detail thing -- pulling somebody when you're not supposed to."

The lost inches reveal themselves in penalties. In 2018, Denver had the second-most penalties in the league, averaging 7.8 per game. Discipline at the smallest details, even in off season workouts, is how Denver can recover in 2019. Fangio: "I'm a fundamentals coach. I think the game of the NFL -- everybody thinks has changed and it's a high-scoring league, etc., but fundamentals is still what wins in this league," he said. "I'm going to stress those, we're not going to cut any corners, there will be no death by inches. We're going to stress fundamentals." "At the end of the day," Harris said, "everything that he's (Fangio) been saying is exactly what we need."

The Broncos added OL Coach Mike Munchak to the coaching staff and "The Kyle Shanahan Offense" comes to Denver in the form of OC Rich Scangarello. Scangarello is all in on the offense and will call the plays for Denver. He's unproven as a play caller but he is good news for both RB Phillip Lindsay and RB Royce Freeman as the Broncos should have a run-first/run-heavy offense. A good OL coach with talent up front can really make things happen. Munchak is a great coach. Now Elway must add the talent. Offensive football is about the trenches with the line being at least 45 percent of a team’s personnel on every play. Elway needs to get it right. Hopefully, Munchak will get what he needs. The Broncos named Ed Donatell, who is no stranger to Denver, as their defensive coordinator. Donatell has worked very closely with Fangio for a number of years and has a strong understanding of the entire defense from the front end to the back end. Donatell, like Fangio, believes in fundamentals and he specializes in DBs. He will help manage the defensive staff while Fangio calls the defensive plays. Former Bronco safety, Renaldo Hill, will serve as the team’s defensive backs coach. Wade Harman is the new tight ends coach. Both Harman and Scangarello worked for Shanahan. Historically, tight ends have had a large role in Shanahan’s offense. Harman will be tasked with getting production out of young tight ends Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli, who are both coming off injuries. April 1: Off season workouts can officially begin for the new head coach.

Offense

Kyle Shanahan’s zone scheme is constantly being added to and adapted based on the teams faced, the division played in, and the personnel available on the roster. OC Rich Scangarello will adapt his version of the offense around the players the Broncos have on their roster. Until he has a quarterback, he will be pretty unpredictable at first as he tries to get the best out of the offensive players he has available. He won’t be so locked into the system that he won’t be willing to adapt. Scangarello will use a one cut zone blocking scheme for running, unless he has better options. The offensive linemen will have to make reads and play in space, using their brains and agility rather than size and strength. All the lineman will have to be able to pull. Scangarello will use the running game, play action and boots. The outside zone will be about 70 per cent of the running game (it’s the best running play in modern football). In the passing game, slants will be used to open the rest of the field. He can run first or pass first as the West Coast offense uses a lot of quick throws and throws to the running backs. He will have to be careful to not over use the passing game like his mentor sometimes does.

Plays to watch for include: Outside Zone; Boot; Levels; Power O; RPO Slant; Four Verticals; Inside Zone; WR Screen; Crack Toss; TE Throwback; Deep Cross. If he gets a mobile QB that can make the correct read to run or pass, he will run the read option. Defenses nowadays are built to stop 11 personnel, often leaving their nickel on the field for a majority of the snaps. Scangarello learned from Shanahan to use 21 personnel (2 running backs and a tight end), forcing the defense to bring in a more seldom used linebacker to help out in the run game. He also learned to use shifts or motion to disguise the formation (bringing the tight end or fullback in from out wide). After the shift, he will often shuffle the fullback right or left to gain leverage for his outside zone schemes. He will also use that motion to seal up the backside on the inside zone rub and the Zone Bluff (FB bluffs blocking DE and gets the LB, QB reads DE) in goal line and short yardage situation. OL Sam Jones will probably start at one guard with Connor McGovern at center.

Defense

The Broncos defense took a significant step backwards in 2018. HC Vic Fangio’s scheme is a 3-4/4-3 (under) hybrid. He uses 3-4 personnel, but he deploys them in a 4-3 under scheme. The NT lines up off the center’s shoulder on the strong-side (same side as TE) and is only responsible for the gap in front of him. The NT in Fangio’s scheme needs to have the quickness to beat interior lineman off the snap and the strength to hold his ground against double-teams in the run game. In Fangio’s scheme one of the DEs moves inside to the 3-tech DT position. The 3-tech DT lines up between the guard and tackle on the weak side and is ideally the D-line’s best pass rusher. The 3-tech DT’s responsibility is to generate interior pressure on pass plays and get in the backfield to disrupt the running game.

The 3rd D-lineman in Fangio’s scheme is close to a standard 3-4 DE, but usually shades the strong-side tackle’s outside shoulder. The 5-tech DE’s role requires the ability to hold his ground against the run despite frequent double teams. The OLBs basically rotate between stand-up defensive ends and run-stoppers with occasional zone coverage The strong-side OLB (whatever side the TE lines up on) will jam the TE and then drop back into a short zone on pass plays to defend against slants, screens, etc, or maintain the edge on a run play. The weak-side OLB (opposite side of TE) will move up to the line of scrimmage to be a stand-up DE (4th D-lineman) and his role is to rush the QB. Fangio doesn’t ask his OLBs to cover anyone man-to-man which opens up the position to players who would be considered tweeners. His inside linebackers do have more coverage responsibility than in a standard 3-4 and are also asked to blitz occasionally.

Fangio’s scheme requires elite athleticism from both his ILBs, who can cover, stop the run, get to the QB and occasionally switch to OLB in certain alignments. Because of his preference for press coverage, Fangio looks for big physical corners who can play zone, contribute against the run, and obviously press cover. He uses the big corners to slow up receivers at the line but still have the ability to drop back into zone coverage. Fangio likes his safeties to be interchangeable. On early downs he likes to have the strong safety in the box, but he disguises it well and occasionally moves the free safety into the box instead. The scheme requires most defenders to play multiple positions on all three levels of the defense. The defense has the ability to change the scheme at any time and disguises what it is doing pre-snap. Without versatile players, the disguised alignments are transparent.

Fangio is great at confusing offenses with disguised coverages and adjusting his schemes on a play-to-play basis. It will take some creative moves by Elway to give Fangio players with the versatility and talent that he needs to implement Fangio’s scheme. The defense is predicated on brutally strong down linemen who can jar and occupy their opponent off the snap and combines man and zone concepts – often on the same play – to create pre-snap confusion and a distorted image of what the defense will actually do after the snap.

The OLBs play the most crucial role in Fangio’s scheme, not only from an athletic standpoint but also from a recognition standpoint. Because they’re playing closer to the line of scrimmage, their reaction time must be nearly instantaneous. First, they must recognize the type of block they’re getting, then engage the blocker while keeping eyes in the backfield. Fangio also shows some elements of a 4-3 scheme with pre-snap alignments (over and under fronts), with the difference being the end man on the line of scrimmage is in a two-point stance. Fangio is fond of mixing his coverages, playing both man and zone principles with his underneath and deep defenders. He doesn’t dial up many blitzes, but relies on his down linemen to occupy blockers so his edge rushers can win single-block opportunities. DC Ed Donatell wants the defense to focus on taking the football away. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb give the Broncos a dominant pair of edge defenders. OLB Jeff Holland should be the top reserve for the Broncos off the edge. Issac Yiadom is likely a starting corner and LB Josey Jewell may excel in Fangio’s defense.

Special Teams

STC Tom McMahon is the only retained coordinator from the 2018 coaching staff. His assistant,Chris Gould was also retained. LB Keishawn Bierria (depth) will continue to play a lot of special teams.

Transactions

The BrHYPERLINK "https://www.denverbroncos.com/news/broncos-sign-wr-aaron-burbridge-to-future-contract-waive-injured-wr-andre-holmes"oHYPERLINK "https://www.denverbroncos.com/news/broncos-sign-wr-aaron-burbridge-to-future-contract-waive-injured-wr-andre-holmes"ncos signHYPERLINK "https://www.denverbroncos.com/news/broncos-sign-wr-aaron-burbridge-to-future-contract-waive-injured-wr-andre-holmes"ed WR Aaron Burbridge to a futures contract and he is definitely at full strength and knows the team’s new offensive coordinator very well; waved/injured WR Andre Holmes; signed veteran offensive lineman Don Barclay to a future contract;

Needs

Everyone knows Denver needs a franchise quarterback. Everyone knows they don’t need a running back. My thoughts (in no particular order) are they need a LOT who can start immediately at ROT and allow Bolles to move to the right side of the offensive line down the road. They need a a quick, strong nose tackle and at least one ILB. They also need a corner back and a safety. A difference maker at TE would be nice, as would depth everywhere.

Free Agents

Cap Space $37,409,909 Total Rookie Pool: $9,082,697. Free agency begins March 13. If NFL teams do not use all of their salary cap space each year, they are allowed to roll it over into the next season. Denver has opted to roll over $8 million from unused 2018 salary cap space.

Free agents that could be affordable and of interest to the Broncos: CB Bryce Callahan ($7.5 mil/yr), FS Adrian Amos ($7 mil/yr), OG Ramon Foster, OLB/DE Aaron Lynch, TE Jesse James, NCB Darqueze Dennard S Anthony Harris, NCB Justin Coleman, CB Ronald Darby, CB Ronald Darby, CB Jason Verrett, TE Jared Cook Free agents that could be of interest to the Broncos, but may be too expensive: CB Bradley Roby, C Matt Paradis, CB Bashaud Breeland, RT Ja’Wuan James, S Landon Collins, ILB CJ Mosley ($11 mil/yr)

Draft: April 25-27

Denver is unlikely to get any compensatory picks. Total Draft Picks 9: R1, #10: R2, #41: R3, #71: R4, #107: R4, #119: R5, #139: R5, #148: R6, #172: R7, #217. Denver should look at any premium offensive and defensive linemen still on the board when they pick at number ten. A top corner back or inside middle linebacker could be an alternative. Most likely pick: QB Drew Lock. Lock's arm is legit. He has a rifle and is a good athlete. Lock is able to make every throw required for the NFL. His skill set and athleticism are similar to Jay Cutler and his personality is similar to Eli Manning. Lock is a quiet, confident guy and not a vocal leader. He is the type quarterback that Elway loves and (Elway) is reputed to be smitten with (Lock).

Trades

Elway could look to trade up or down in the draft but shouldn’t give up the 10th pick. If Lock falls to the late first round, he should trade up (for the fifth year option) to get him despite his accuracy issues. Some veterans could be on the trading block. WR Emmanuel Sanders would be worth a third-round pick, if not more, even coming off his injury.

Orangeman’s Take

Denver will be a better football team simply because of the coaching change. But they will be a better "real" team than a fantasy team. Keenum is a better QB than he showed in 2018, but he needs to be surrounded by better players to get his best. The Broncos have two solid running backs in Lindsay and Freeman. The second year wide receivers will be improved, especially if Sanders returns and is healthy. The tight ends are young with potential, but it remains to be seen if any of them will be a game changer. The offensive line must solidify and stay healthy whether or not they are able to upgrade their talent before the season begins. The defense will be the foundation of the team behind Miller, Chubb, Harris, Jr. and a number of second year players. Denver will look to up grade their roster for the 2019 campaign.

Fantasy Outlook

RB Phillip Lindsay will be the higher-ranked player and should be the focal point of the Bronco offense, but RB Royce Freeman will be the better value as he could see over 10 touches per game. RB Devontae Booker may contribute in the passing game but is not a one-cut runner. WR DaeSean Hamilton (good outlet) and WR Courtland Sutton (a special talent) will be in the mix as potential top targets in 2019. WR Emmanuel Sanders could be a cap casualty (due a $10.25 million option before March 13), and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. TE is a void until/if Jake Butt, Tony Fumagalli or someone else emerges. QB Case Keenum is a quarterback two at best, but does fit the WCO.

The expectations for the defense will likely be too high until/unless Fangio gets the type players he wants. The special teams were the best Denver has had for a long time, but McMahon wasn’t satisfied with the return game. He could use a return specialist, but that seems like a low priority for Elway. P Colby Wadman and K Brandon McManus need at least camp completion after their 2018 seasons. Both will be unrestricted free agents in 2021. It’s early, but at this point, I would not stake my fantasy season on Denver’s player production. I would be happy if I could get Lindsay or Freeman as my number three/flex back. They both have running back two upside although Lindsay’s YPC will regress and Freeman remains a good red zone back. Sanders is a good wide receiver three with upside, while I’d be comfortable with Sutton as my number four wide receiver with high upside. Hamilton is a waiver wire watch. I’d take Denver’s defense as the tenth or twelfth defense off the board where they should have some upside. McManus is a streamer when he has a good home match up.

End.

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