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Denver Broncos Early August Scouting Report
Charles Rives
8/2/2019

No one is expecting much from the Broncos. Their schedule does no favors for an offense learning a new playbook with a first-time NFL play caller. They have the second-hardest schedule in the NFL with an opponent win percentage from 2018 of . They have made some solid moves, but are they difference makers? Does QB Joe Flacco have enough gas left in the tank? Is HC Vic Fangio the head coach Denver’s been searching for? Can line coach Mike Munchak take the offensive line to the next level? Can the young players take the next step?

The Broncos are ‘underdogs’ this season, but don’t sleep on them: 1) best talent they have had in the defensive backfield since the 2015; 2) The Broncos’ pass rush’s overall mix of guys could be the best they have had since the 2015; 3) have so much young talent at the skill positions; 4) The Broncos’ O-line is ‘chock full’ of potential; 5) RB Royce Freeman, RB Phillip Lindsay, WR DeaSean Hamilton and WR Courtland Sutton piled up 2,817 yards from scrimmage (most by rookie foursome in league history.

 

Denver played in the Hall of Fame game August 1st and will hold joint practices with San Francisco before their August 19 game.

 

Training Camp

The Broncos have five extra practices because of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. Training camp will focus on assignments, technique, endurance and situation football. Fangio wants "a team that obviously plays hard; plays smart; plays intelligent; plays good in crunch time; knows how to play in situational football". The Broncos will need Sutton, Hamilton, Chubb, Isaac Yiadom, Freeman, Josey Jewell and Patrick to come up big for the team to be successful. OC Rich Scangarello will call games from the coaches’ box, but Fangio will be on the field which is unusual for him.

 

Day One: The pace was brisk, with only 20 to 30 seconds between snaps during the team and seven-on-seven periods. RB Phillip Lindsay’s (wrist) burst and cutback ability were evident. WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) looked great in individual drills, but did no team work. RBs Devontae Jackson and Khalfani Muhammad had success on cutbacks. TE Noah Fant saw some in-line work with the No. 1 offense. TE Jake Butt, saw work in the seven-on-seven period. RG Ron Leary played half of the team-period snaps with the No. 1 offense before getting some rest. WR Brendan Langley caught a deep touchdown pass from rookie QB Drew Lock. WR DaeSean Hamilton saw extensive first-team work, with solid receptions with Sanders out. Fangio cares more about fundamentals than scheme, and he spent plenty of time in individual drills working on fundamentals.

 

Day Two: ILB Josey Jewell has a more prominent role with first up to replace Todd Davis, and rookie Justin Hollins (bruising, run stuffer), getting the nod in the nickel. Juwann Winfree continued his strong work showing an impressive catch radius and ability to get open against the first team defense. Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, and Devontae Booker rotated in with the first-team offense. Tight end, Noah Fant got substantial work with the first and second offense, lining up and going in motion everywhere. RB Dave Williams worked with the second, third, and fourth offenses. Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt worked with the top offense throughout the day. Courtland Sutton bounced back and was consistently good on offense. RB Khalfani Muhammad had a good all-around day (he is fast!). TE Austin Fort is catching almost everything. QBs Drew Lock and Brett Rypien were better than Kevin Hogan. CB De’Vante Bausby continues to make plays as a ball hawk. S Su’a Cravens had a very strong outing and may be turning the corner. LB Justin Hollins is capable of covering running backs and tight ends.

 

Day Three: A good day for the defense; a frustrating day for the offense. Close to game conditions and with pads. S Justin Simmons had two picks and S Will Parks and ILB Josey Jewell had one each. S Su'a Cravens recovered a fumble. Most of the interceptions by the defense the first three days happened because of pressure from the edge and by the interior defensive linemen. DE DeMarcus Walker had four quarterback pressures. OLB Malik Reed also had a pair of pressures. Denver's edge rushers (Chubb and Holland) did well staying home and not getting out of position. Fangio understands that the only way you can find out if a can make an impact is to throw them to the wolves. Undrafted rookie ILB Josh Watson got his shot in the base defense, with ILB Joe Jones getting third-down and long-yardage reps. TE Austin Fort worked with all three offensive units. Undrafted rookie WR Trinity Benson (an athletic freak), got some first-team reps and caught a pair of passes from Flacco. TE Noah Fant caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone from QB Kevin Hogan. Former head coach Mike Shanahan attended practice. Fangio: "Peer pressure is better than coaching pressure. … coaches are off to the side. I don’t want them screaming and hollering instructions to the players. In the game, they’re out there on their own. We can’t help them in the game, so don’t be helping them in practice. Your leaders have to come from those 11 guys that are on the field… for you". It’s one of Fangio’s practice idiosyncrasies, along with wearing game jerseys and not playing music. WR Juwann Winfree continues to make plays against the top defense. RB Devontae Jackson has performed well through the first three days of training camp.

 

Day Four: Fangio: "Brett {Rypien}, I think, maybe, he's got a future; … To me, one-on-one's a teaching drill. It's really not football. … "Both sides {offense and defense} had [penalties] early. That's something that we just must eliminate". QB Kevin Hogan had some flashes. In the secondary, Ss Parks, Simmons and Trey Marshall are having good camps. The quarterbacks can trust Winfree (catch after catch) and the cornerbacks have a difficult matchup. TE Austin Fort continued to see first-team repetitions. WR Trinity Benson continued to rotate through the lineup. TE Noah Fant is an under rated run blocker in Denver’s zone system. Third-year offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson has been the biggest surprise (a great scheme fit). TE Jake Butt had a day off as he works back from a torn ACL. LB Justin Hollins spent portions of practice working with trainers (hamstring). TE Troy Fumagalli (hip) remains day to day, but did some work early in practice. WR Emmanuel Sanders, continued to work before 7-on-7 and team periods. WR River Cracraft (muscle) and ILB Todd Davis (calf) missed practice.

 

Day Five: Long practices-two and one-half hours-game length. The passing game saw a lot of drops. The defense also batted down passes on the line. WR Trinity Benson is making the most of his chances. The running game was better with Lindsay, Freeman, Booker, Khalfani Muhammad and Devontae Jackson all with good runs based on quick cuts and acceleration. Fant continued to shine-catching and blocking. The offense is still false starting! DB Kareem Jackson made an interception, CB Bryce Callahan broke up passes, and DL Dre'Mont Jones penetrated in a goal line play that would have been a safety in a game. WR Juwann Winfree missed practice with a leg injury. TE Jake Butt (knee/no major concern) missed practice, for the second consecutive day. The Broncos will have their first off day tomorrow.

 

Day Six: A pair of brief scuffles—Fangio, "I don't like it," he said. "There's no need for it. We need to refrain from that, and we've talked about it." The punters (Wadman and Vogel) were close in gross average and hang-time average (more than 4.0 seconds). WR Emmanuel Sanders’ first seven-on-seven (4-6 plays) period netted two receptions. Sanders said. "Hopefully in two or three weeks here, I’ll be full speed and full go all the way around." WR DaeSean Hamilton "tweaked his hamstring". WR Tim Patrick saw first-team reps. TE Noah Fant continued to turn short passes into long gains. QB Drew Lock was decisive, completed all of his passes except for one drop, and got the ball out in 2.1 seconds or better. The run defense was solid. S Justin Simmons continued to be a ballhawk. QB Brett Rypien completed four passes, with one touchdown (McKnight) against the number one defense in a red zone period. DL DeMarcus Walker continue his impressive play making in a goal-to-go period. TE Jake Butt (knee) missed his third consecutive practice and WR Juwann Winfree (leg), missed his second consecutive practice. WR River Cracraft (muscle) and ILB Todd Davis (calf) were held out of practice.

 

Day Seven: The offense had better rhythm, was resilient, eliminated some drops, reduced mental errors and improved in the red zone. However, pre-snap penalties and errant snaps in the shotgun continued to be a problem. RG Ron Leary’s workload continued to increase. QB Brett Rypien saw some work with the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense for the second time. DL Zach Kerr batted down a pass (Rypien) at the line of scrimmage. CB Horace Richardson intercepted Hogan in the end zone. CB Trey Johnson intercepted a Drew Lock pass. TE Bug Howard suffered an ankle injury (carted off). tackle Jake Rodgers suffered a calf injury and left practice. WR DaeSean Hamilton (hamstring) missed practice. TE Jake Butt missed his fourth consecutive practice. ILB Todd Davis and WR River Cracraft remained out. WR Juwann Winfree returned to practice.

 

Day Eight: Undrafted rookie Kelvin McKnight is working mostly out of the slot. In the goal-line period. The first-team offense faced the No. 2 defense and scored on two of four snaps. The #1 defense dominated the second-team offense. There were outstanding plays by the safeties, including plays by Will Parks and Su’a Cravens. Shotgun snaps remained a problem. TEs Noah Fant and Austin Fort each caught a touchdown pass a during a red-zone period. WR Courtland Sutton had a 50-yard reception down the right seam. There were some solid runs throughout the day with the first-team line doing a good job creating space for the running backs. Punting, punt coverage and punt returns were emphasized with Colby Wadman and Justin Vogel working on precision punting. During a punt-return drill, Wadman had seven punts and Vogel six. Wadman had the better gross average (49.4 yards) and hang time (4.42 seconds). Eight different players fielded punts. ROT Ja'Wuan James and LB Dekoda Watson were among the nine players who did not practice.

 

Day Nine: Von Miller (funeral) did not practice and LB Dekoda Watson was held out of team-period work. Penalties continued to be a problem---eight on offense, and four on defense. So did drops---seven were dropped or went through the receivers hands. OLB Jeff Holland saw his most extensive first-team action. OLB Malik Reed moved up the depth chart with Miller and Watson out. WR Kelvin McKnight continued his strong camp. RB Khalfani Muhammad saw some first-team reps. CB Isaac Yiadom worked with the first team throughout the practice after Bryce Callahan left (foot). "He [Lock] had some good periods here today. I think he did his best work in the seven-on-seven [period], which isn’t football, but it’s progress," Fangio said.

 

Day Ten: Fangio is "concerned" about Butt's health. LB Joe Jones had an interception of Lock during seven-on-seven s. OLB Malik Reed had multiple pressures off the edge. WR Courtland Sutton made a one-handed catch of a Flacco pass that was behind him on a crossing route. S Justin Simmons continued his interceptions (Rypien). RB Phillip Lindsay returned to practice after sitting out Saturday's practice.

 

Day Eleven: Practice was geared toward game preparation. Offenses and defenses gave each other scout-team-type looks and the speed of practice was slowed don a bit. Lock led the offense on a 54 yard drive into scoring range without using a timeout. Passes to running backs and tight ends were emphasized. Fangio is satisfied with LOT Garett Bolles. CB Isaac Yiadom (intercepted Lock) is replacing an injured Bryce Callahan. CB Chris Harris Jr. had a leaping interception of Lock. DE DeMarcus Walker continued his solid camp, batting down a pass. Lock showed good touch passing over OLB Von Miller to WR Brendan Langley. LB Justin Hollins used his speed to break up a long pass intended for TE Noah Fant.

 

Transactions

Re-signed RB David Williams (big back with good footwork/pass catcher and protector/good up the middle), waived OL Nathan Jacobson. FA WR Steven Dunbar Jr. (49ers), a big-bodied possession receiver who knows the offensive system signed with Denver, but is a long-shot to make the final roster. WR Jamarius Way (South Alabama) 6’4, 220, signed with the Broncos; a big-bodied possession receiver who knows how to use his frame to keep defenders away from the ball, is a practice squad candidate. Placed WR Romell Guerrier on the reserve/retired list. Waived K Taylor Bertolet. Signed P Justin Vogel. Signed WR/kick and punt returner Nick Williams. Waived DL Deyon Sizer. Signed TE Moral Stephens,6-4, 247. Waived P Justin Vogel. Signed elusive, veteran pass catching back Theo Riddick.

Injuries Starting ILB Todd Davis suffered a partial calf tear and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. TE Troy Fumagalli is considered day-to-day because of a hip injury. WR River Cracraft is expected to miss at least a week because of an oblique injury; unlikely to make the final roster.

 

Offense

The Broncos are a run-heavy offense, throwing out of run-based looks, with emphasis on play-action and designed quarterback movement. It would make sense for Denver to have a scrambling quarterback given the play-action emphasis, but Flacco will suffice. Flacco is known for throwing 20+ yards downfield and his overall air yards. It’s a plausible approach behind Denver’s (slightly) upgraded offensive line, but C Conner McGovern is a concern after being a liability at the position in 2018. Despite their poor pass-protection last year, Denver’s line was respectable in the run game with 4.9 average yards/attempt. Elijah Wilkinson is the front runner for swing tackle and his versatility makes him invaluable on game day. The backup guard and center spots are wide open. Veteran Don Barclay could be the top backup interior player on Denver’s depth chart, but it’s there for Sam Jones to take. Versatile Austin Schlottmann could develop at the center position. If Ryan Crozier can stay healthy, he was a good CFA pickup.

QB Drew Lock is the heir-apparent in Denver. Lock is a hard worker with a big arm but his footwork, release point and pass placement need work. Kevin Hogan is a serviceable backup quarterback for a game or two and will have to be beaten out for a spot on the roster. Brett Rypien has a potential future as a backup quarterback in the NFL. OC Rich Scangarello employs a fullback more than most offensive coordinators, including using the fullback all over the field, replacing an extra tight end. FB Andy Janovich is the favorite to win the job due to his blocking ability, special teams play, and his intangibles. FB George Aston is a quality football player and a physical specimen who is probably a better blocker than Janovich. If Denver chooses to roster both fullbacks, it will have ramification for the running backs and/or the tight ends. RB Phillip Lindsay’s 2019 outlook is concerning as his 5’8", 190-pound frame has already led to a wrist injury that sidelined him in 2018. Lindsay’s workload may be reduced one or two carries per game and with RB Royce Freeman being so good, Lindsay isn't going to have 300 carries. Lindsay is the more established pass catcher, but Freeman is improving catching the ball. If Lindsay and Freeman stay healthy and equally split the running back overall touches, the Broncos will have balance and effectiveness.

Flacco isn’t afraid to throw 50/50-balls, which makes WR Courtland Sutton his favorite down-field target (better short-to-intermediate?), even with a 2018 50% catch rate and the second most drops in the league. WR DeaSean Hamilton could replace WR Emmanuel Sanders (32/Achilles’ tear) in two-wide and outside in three-wide sets. The door is open for WR Tim Patrick (big catch radius) to work on the outside with Denver’s first-string during training camp. WR Juwann Winfree is likely to be the Broncos’ No. 5 receiver due to his explosive play making ability, but he needs to hone his skill as a route-runner. The wide receiver’s weakness is that they lack speed. The Broncos are not likely to carry six receivers, but probably should.

Scangarello’s offense will regularly feature two-TE sets. TE Jeff Heuerman led the team in targets inside the 10 (7) last year, but it will be TE Noah Fant this year. Heuerman and Fant will compete for the starting job. The Broncos have invested significantly in each of their top four tight ends, including Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli and should keep them all in some form of committee. Flacco has thrown a lot to his tight end (middle of pack) over the years and what Fant can't do, Butt can. If the offense isn’t ready after the third preseason game, there will be concerns for the season. WR Nick Williams is familiar with the offense and experienced slot receiver and could make the final roster. WR Kelvin McKnight has a chance to make the final roster.

Defense

Fangio's scheme is the best of both worlds: reading and attacking, but the secondary has a lot of questions going into the 2019 season. Nevertheless, Denver’s strength will be the defense which will have to shoulder more than its fair share facing eight top ten opponents (Vegas’ projected wins). The Broncos expect their defensive-communication problems of 2018 to vanish this year due to the change in scheme and emphasis. The heart of the defense belongs to the ILBs-Joesy Jewell and Todd Davis- who must produce or else Fangio will not be able to do what he wants to with his scheme.

 

The defensive line will be manned by DEs Adam Gotsis, Derek Wolfe and NT Shelby Harris. Harris is a high impact defensive lineman and a perfect and versatile fit. CBs Chris Harris Jr. and Bryce Callahan will start on the outside. Callahan is best in the slot, but the Broncos are going to try him outside. CB Issac Yiadom can play on the outside, but he he will get some time in the slot. S Justin Simmons (final year of rookie contract) rounds out the starting defense. S/CB Kareem Jackson is going to play mostly at safety where there is a lack of depth. Trey Marshall (from practice squad), Jamal Carter (IR/ready for season), Dymonte Thomas (situational player), Shamarko Thomas (experience), Su’a Cravens (must make as safety), and Will Parks (hopefully has a strong year) will have a chance to win a roster spot. CB veteran De'Vante Bausby led AAF in interceptions before the league shut down after eight games.

 

Edge players Von Miller and Bradly Chubb are tailor made for Fangio’s scheme. Dekoda Watson can rush the passer, play off the ball, and then play on all special teams. Jeff Holland could be in line for a substantial role. Justin Hollins is a possible off-ball linebacker and match up player in coverage due to his pure speed. Aaron Wallace has exceptional athletic ability (4.57/40, 36"vertical) and strength (25 bench reps). Malik Reed can play DE/all Linebacker positions. Ahmad Gooden is being converted from college defensive end to a stand-up linebacker.

 

What makes the defensive backs unique is that they're ball hawks, but at the same time [they work on] the little things like knowing the receiver's timing, knowing when to look for the ball in press coverage or knowing when to jump a route in off-man [coverage]. The "little things" will determine who ends up as the No. 4 cornerback. Defensive depth: S Dymonte Thomas’ impact on games is with his speed, quickness, and ball skills; LB Joe Jones with his speed, range, and ability to take the right angles on ball carriers; DL Zach Kerr with his great strength, quickness, and playing all over the line (NT starter?); DL Billy Winn is a rotational DE/DT recovering from a knee injury suffered in 2017. One of Dre’Mont Jones (potential to rush from the inside), Billy Winn (what’s left in the tank), Marcus Walker (needs to strive to be a starter) and Zach Kerr (versatility) could be on the bubble if the Broncos only keep six defensive linemen. DeShawn Williams (inconsistent stud rusher), and Mike Purcell (traditional nose tackle) round out the line. ILB Alexander Johnson, 6’2" 255, has a chance to win the team’s primary backup job.

 

Special Teams

The kicking game has a nice blend of youth and experience with long snapper Casey Kreiter, punter Colby Wadman and the kicker Brandon McManus, but does not have a top 10 punter or kicker. The production on kickoff and punt returns has not been up to par. Last year, the Broncos were 27th in kickoff returns (20.1 yard average) and last (4.4-yard) punt return average. Rookie punter Colby Wadman brought some stability with his punting, but must become more consistent in year two. The Broncos top kickoff returner was RB Devontae Booker (30th/23.4-yard average). Denver went into training camp with a wide-open competition and will take a long look at wide receivers: Brendan Langley, slot man River Cracraft, sixth-round pick Juwann Winfree and undrafted rookies Trinity Benson and Kelvin McKnight, along with running backs: Devontae Booker, Khalfani Muhammad and Devontae Jackson (has NFL potential as a returner). Returners have to catch the football every time and they need speed for an explosive return. For nearly all of the players in the return mix, their most reliable path to the roster is to win a return or gunner job. LS Casey Kreiter made the Pro Bowl last season because of his pinpoint accuracy. He signed a one-year deal for this year and will earn up to $1 million.

 

Hall of Fame Game Denver 14 vs Atlanta 10

QBs Drew Lock and Brett Rypien are going to make mistakes, but it is what happens after a mistake that is important. Fangio: "It’s OK to make a mistake or two. It’s not OK to repeat it, and it’s not OK to let it drag into the next play. These guys have been playing sports for a long time — at quarterback. They have to learn that." "Improvement, confidence, the ability to move on to the next play no matter what happened the previous play, be able to handle themselves in the huddle, be commanding out there and give the other 10 guys confidence that they know what they’re doing." "That’s done two ways. Eighty percent of it is performance, but 20 percent is how you carry yourself too." Penalties on both sides of the ball are something the team will focus on. The players have to get it through their heads that they need to cut down on penalties. Rookies to watch: LG Dalton Risner; TE Noah Fant; TE Austin Fort; WR Juwann Winfree; WR Kelvin McKnight; WR Trinity Benson; LB Justin Hollins; LB Josh Watson.

● Fangio didn’t love QB Drew Lock’s reads; thought his accuracy was not where it needed to be; and, wasn’t surprised (expected) but was ‘hoping for more’.

RB Khalfani Muhammad was the star of the Denver offense.

QB Kevin Hogan had a pretty solid outing. Fangio: "...I think he's capable of better."

● WR Juwann Winfree HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"scored HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"the game winning touchdown HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"(HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"two minute drillHYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20")HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20" with HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"a HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/NickGriffithTV/status/1157127562910478343?s=20"heads up play.

● Defensive players that stood out: OLB Malik Reed; DE Dre’Mont Jones; DE DeMarcus Walker: and CB Trey Johnson.

The Broncos will play the Seahawks on August 8.

 

Depth Chart: Denver had to release a depth chart this week because of the Hall of Fame Game, but it will change often until the final roster is set. There aren’t any surprises on the offensive line or at wide receiver but TE Jake Butt (injured) is listed as the fourth tight end. Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker are the top three backs. Kevin Hogan is the backup. DeMarcus Walker is listed as a top backup defensive end and Alexander Johnson is filling in for the injured Todd Davis. Kareem Jackson is the starting strong safety. Booker and WR River Cracraft are the top returners. Anyone other than the starters are battling for a spot on the final roster.

 

FANTASY OUTLOOK QB Joe Flacco is a risky backup at best. QB Drew Lock is worth a waiver flier if it looks like Denver is ready to sit Flacco. RB Phillip Lindsay is the number one running back, but it’s likely to be more of a balanced attack in 2019. Lindsay is the better big play threat and may have more receptions in the new offense. RB Royce Freeman is a RB3/flex option whose ADP value is better than Lindsay’s. Freeman is best suited for short yardage carries and carries to finish games. RB Theo Riddick (#3) will have trouble creating PPR value, even though getting a halfback on a linebacker is a focal point of Scangarello’s offense. WR Emmanuel Sanders’ upside is lower in 2019 because of the uncertainty about his return date and Achilles recovery. He does little in the red zone. WR DeaSean Hamilton (WR3) might out-target WR Courtland Sutton (WR3 upside), but Sutton’s more likely to score. WR Tim Patrick (WR4) is worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues. WR Juwann Winfree-deep dynasty. TE Noah Fant should provides upside as a low-end TE2. If he is an every down starer from the git-go, he could be a low-end TE1. K Brandon McManus is dependible inside the 50-yardline, but a fantasy backup at best. The DST has many questions to be answer between now and the start of the regular season. They could be anywhere from the middle of the pack to a top defense. Don’t over estimate the Vic Fangio (HC} "effect".

End.

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