Denver Broncos March Scouting Report
The Broncos have "mutually" parted ways with Director of Football Analytics Mitch Tanney. Tanney directly influenced the product on the field was on gamedays. If the Broncos faced a crucial fourth-down or two-point conversion decision, head coach Vic Fangio would radio up to Tanney, who would extract the odds of success based on the exact down and distance. And Fangio would take that information and make a split-second decision. For what it's worth, Fangio succeeded far more often than he failed in such circumstances last year. Only time will tell how Tanney's departure could affect the Broncos. Denver had an immediate replacement for the jettisoned Sullivan (Rich Hurtado). But if the team chooses to fill Tanney's spot, it sounds like it'll be Scott Flaska, Tanney's top assistant.
The Broncos started their fifth, sixth and seventh quarterbacks in four years since Peyton Manning's retirement. It produced their third straight losing campaign, their first such streak since 1970-72. There was reason for hope in a 4-1 finish under rookie starter Drew Lock, though the second-rounder mostly impressed for what he didn't do (throw a million interceptions). If Lock was the late-season story line, Courtland Sutton dominated the whole year, emerging as a true No. 1 receiver, one capable of harvesting souls down the field. 61-year-old rookie head coach Vic Fangio kept the team playing hard. It was a thoroughly 7-9 campaign for a winning franchise anxious to break a rare losing cycle. The road to the playoffs, is going to be a challenge for the Broncos so long as Mahomes sticks in Kansas City. He raises the Chiefs' ceiling immensely. Denver can be aggressive to try and close the gap on the Chiefs but they can't be short-sighted in doing so. The Broncos should be building a better team within the scope of the entire league, rather than just one that can defeat the Chiefs. It's about taking steps forward rather than trying to completely jump Kansas City in one fell swoop.
Denver's defensive line is going to be completely reshuffled as it is set to lose many key contributors. The secondary, specifically at cornerback, is a complete unknown going into next season. The offensive line, while improving, still needs work and growth. The receivers are nowhere near the talent level that is needed. The positions that have the most effect on the team's success are QB, OT, CB, and Edge Rusher. Elway finds solid players, he just needs to find them at the most important positions. Elway has been neither bad nor good at drafting, but he needs to get better at finding Starting-Caliber and Star Players. Denver has five injured players from last year, who could be true difference-makers and provide a starting-caliber impact in 2020: Bradley Chubb, OLB (ACL Tear); Bryce Callahan, CB (Foot); Ja'Wuan James, OT (Knee); De'Vante Bausby, CB (Neck); Jake Butt, TE (Knee) (contract year). If the Broncos are going to turn the corner in 2020, they'll need Chubb, Callahan and James back and playing at a high level.
Denver has 18 players who are unrestricted or restricted free agents, the majority of which won't be back. The Broncos aren't going to get a lot of players at discount prices and will have to pay market price for many players they want to sign in free agency. If you are looking for talented players in their prime to build around QB Drew Lock, you're going to have to pay market price and the market for players is trending higher. The Broncos will still pull their guards and will want guards who can move. The Broncos are likely looking at a youth movement in the organization and a number of veterans will be allowed to move on along with a few younger players who want an opportunity to start but won't with the Broncos.
Denver's offseason team work, tentatively scheduled for April 20, will be delayed. This offseason will be critical for the Broncos getting back into AFC West and/or Wild Card contention in 2020. The Broncos have some of the best assets (dollars and picks) in the NFL for the Draft and free agency. The biggest holes they need to fill are at wide receiver and on the offensive line, especially, tackle. There's no depth at tackle after the top group and you're not going to find one, unless you can develop one. They need a starting cornerback, as well as, depth (a strong free-agent cornerback class). The linebacker position is one of the most important roles to fully run Vic Fangio's defense. They need linebackers who have range, sideline-to-sideline speed, and the coverage ability needed in the modern NFL. They also need interior defensive line help.
With so many needs, Elway can not afford to trade up for one specific player and lose top 100 picks. Likewise, Elway would be wise to consider trading down depending on his draft board and whether the deal is good or not. Player Development The Broncos need their young players to really show growth. They need to get the offensive line to the next level and boost their team speed offensively. Among the team's highest priorities is to ensure TE Noah Fant gets the coaching and tools he needs to take that next step in year two by adding some "diversity to his route tree." Fant flashed big-play potential as a rookie, but half his yards came in two games, and he failed to clear five targets over the final six weeks. With not much behind Courtland Sutton, the Broncos are counting on Fant taking that step forward. Denver is likely to exercise LOT Garrett Bolles' fifth year option because there is data that points to Bolles' fourth season being his best yet. Offensive tackles seem to constantly develop throughout their rookie contract and Bolles had a solid 2019 season overall (up and down). Plus, there are far less starting-caliber tackles than starting tackle spots in the NFL. Bolles will start at tackle in 2020.
QB Drew Lock moves into his first year as the incumbent starter. Lock had one decent game in his five starts (Week 16) when he had an 81.2 overall grade. But he also had an abysmal performance (Week 15), when he had a 27.9 overall grade. His overall grade when starting (Weeks 13-17) ranked just 28th of the 32 starters. Most of his production came from his receivers after the catch (seventh-highest rate in the league). He didn't throw deep too often, but when he did, it was far below average as he produced a 51.8 grade and a 44% completion rate when throwing 10-plus yards. Lock finished with above-average accuracy up to nine yards, but he was below average (last/QB) on passes thrown at 10-plus yards. Lock posted a mediocre average of 6.6 adjusted yards per attempt. The Broncos believe Lock is their future franchise quarterback. And, Lock has sought and received Peyton Manning's advice on film study habits, when and how to start throwing, and getting the receivers together and putting a plan of action in place. The NFL is more dependent on the quarterback's ability to beat the pass rush with their legs and Lock can do that. The hiring of Shurmur and Shula gives Lock every possible tool to succeed.
RB Phillip Lindsay (wrist) is recovering from right wrist surgery, but it was a simple, clean-up arthroscopic procedure. Shurmur's offense puts a premium on the three-down running back who can stay in to block, run routes and have sure, soft hands as a receiver. Lindsay will probably never be a 20-25 touch bell-cow, but "I feel like he [Lindsay] can do those things," Shurmur said. "As I get to work with him and I get to talk with the offensive coaches more we'll find out what he can do and try to feature that."
Dre'Mont Jones looks like a solid developmental piece in the front seven who could turn into a solid starter. Justin Hollins may be a good rotational piece behind OLB Bradley Chubb and OLB Von Miller for the next few years. FB/TE hybrid Andrew Beck started six games, playing a key role in opening up holes and catching passes. OLB Malik Reed was a sound player on the edge and a strong run defender. Patrick Morris (waiver from Pittsburgh) a true, pure center could be a factor at center. Fangio: we feel good about Elijah Wilkinson (2nd RD. Tender), Pat Morris, Austin Schlottmann and think some of them have starter capability or really good backup capability. The Broncos tendered Wilkinson (RG) at the second-round level. Building the team around LOCK (any quarterback): You have to consider Lock's talent level, the type players you need to have around him and how you're going to get them. Mistakes to avoid (Elway): overpaying for average (QB); overpaying for other players; keeping popular players too long; restructuring too many contracts; trading away too much draft capital; using the franchise tag two straight years; poor coaching and poor drafting.
For some prospects, the Combine can be make-or-break and cost them a good amount of money one way or another, as they run drills in skintight suits and against air. People are going to overreact to the testing drills, but what really matters is the player's tape. However, it's fun to jump into the testing and be blown away by athletic freaks. The Broncos use these workouts to rule guys out or potentially look at again. If they don't love a prospect on tape, a great Combine workout could entice them to go back and watch more of his film to see if his athleticism matched his or if there were other circumstances and factors that played in. Likewise, a player with a bad Combine workout, could drop him off the Broncos' board.
Denver's Watch List: Colorado's Laviska Shenault (core surgery after combine); Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk; Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III; and Texas Christian's Jalen Reagor. Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills; Iowa tackle (G?) Tristan Wirfs; USC tackle Austin Jackson; Louisiana-Lafayette tackle Robert Hunt; Oregon guard Shane Lemieux; Boise State's left tackle Ezra Cleveland; Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins; Boston College running back AJ Dillon; Colorado LB Davion Taylor; Virginia Tech TE Dalton Keene. Wide receivers separators: Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, K.J. Hamler (can he do it in the NFL?). Contested wide receivers: Tee Higgins, Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman, Jr., Tyler Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins. 2020 Free Agency Most NFL teams reward free agents for past performance when they should invest in future performance, which is why they bust so much. Teams should go after younger players with four-year contracts and be very cautious of aging vets (28 or older) unless it is an absolute necessity or if they need a vet for 1-2 years.
Value signings, come from street free agents or depth players who don't find teams in the first couple of weeks of free agency. However, if Elway wants to get the best talent to come or stay, he's going to have to pay market prices. Most of the players hitting free agency are looking for the best deals they can get. Denver can't go cheap on elite or good talent. The Broncos have historically been great about creating contracts with low year one cap hits and minimal dead money hits beyond the second or third year of the contract. John Elway is historically aggressive in free agency no matter what the Broncos' cap situation looks like; he's been aggressive making trades when it makes sense to do so. The Broncos can be aggressive, but not too aggressive. Cornerbacks and/or defensive line are two areas for the Broncos to address in free agency.
Exclusive rights free agents that should be resigned: Diontae Spencer, WR/return specialist; Davontae Harris, CB; Trey Marshall, S; Jake Rodgers, OL for competition. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, could be a 'second wave' free agent option. NFL Potential Cap Casualties of Interest: Taylor Gabriel, WR; Prince Amukamara, CB (released/Chi); Xavier Rhodes, CB; Trumaine Johnson, CB; Alex Mack, C; Allen Bailey, DE. Cap Casualties are guys who have not lived up to their contract and are costing the team too much in terms of cap, but with little guaranteed money.
Cap Casualties are mostly low risk/high reward and they don't count against future compensatory draft pick formula. Outside Free-Agents of Interest: Robby Anderson ($13-15 million); Bashaud Breeland; Paul Richardson (released/Was.); Marcel Dareus, (option declined/Jax.); Quinton Jefferson; Taylor Gabriel ($5 million per year); Rashard Higgins; Jonathan Bullard; Timmy Jernigan; Prince Amukamara; Mike Daniels; Jihad Ward; Logan Ryan; Ronald Darby; Breshad Perriman; Devonta Freeman; DeAndre Washington; Alec Ogletree; Tahir Whitehead; Mark Barron; Darron Lee; Cameron Erving. Derek Wolfe, Will Parks, and Shelby Harris could be of interest at the right price. The Broncos are not worried about their starting tackles as Garett Bolles and Ja'Waun James are going to be the starters. But they would like to add a developmental tackle for depth, perhaps in the Draft . What did they do?
Denver has been relatively cautious in free agency, but they did make three major moves in acquiring starters in Bouye, Glasgow and Casey. The Broncos have been good at managing the cap and still have flexibility ($23.1m) to tweak the roster as needed. Signed: CB A.J. Bouye ($13.4m); RG/C Glen Glasgow; LS Jacob Bobenmoyer; QB Jeff Driskel ($1.7m); re-signed; CB De'Vante Bausby; re-signed LB Joe Jones; Signed RB Melvin Gordon. Lost: OG/C Connor McGovern (Jets); CB Chris Harris, Jr. (Chargers)
Picked up the options for LB Todd Davis, PK Brandon McManus, OLB Von Miller. Placed the franchise tag on S Justin Simmons ($11.4m). Released DL Billy Winn, waived CB Horace Richardson and let RBs Devontae Booker and Theo Riddick hit free agency. Tendered: WR Tim Patrick, WR/PR Diontae Spencer, CB Shakial Taylor, and DB Trey Marshall. Traded FB Andy Janovich to the Cleveland Browns for a 2021 seventh-round draft pick. Traded a seventh round pick to Tennessee for nine-year veteran DL Jurrell Casey. Tendered: OL Elijah Wilkinson ($3.2m) and NT Mike Purcell ($3.2m) at the second round level. Declined OG Ronald Leary's team option. Released QB Joe Flacco.
There may be an ideal way to build a team, in terms of the money you commit to each position, but you always want to keep the players who are worth keeping, while letting others depart and, once free agency is done, using the draft to replenish whatever you lost. The best way to approach the draft is to look at the big picture, regarding your roster as it stands going into the new league year, then how it looks after you are finished with most of the free agency period. From there, you can determine what makes the most sense in the draft, rather than reaching for a player because you think one need is greater than the others. The Broncos need to keep their picks because they need to improve their depth. Trading down is a consideration, but shouldn't be done if they don't get a good offer to trade down. Instead, they should stick to their draft board as long as they don't reach for whatever they think is their biggest need. The only real concerns with draftee injuries are those that come with any long-term implications, more so than the number of injuries a player has sustained. Who the Broncos draft depends both on free agency and how the draft board falls.
Historically, Elway's preference has been to address major needs in free agency. In 2020, they will have an opportunity with so many draft picks to find the depth in the middle rounds that they sorely need. And, they are looking to get younger on the D-line. The greatest predictor of "hitting" on a player is if he is drafted in the top 100. Denver has 5 picks in the top 100. Running backs: AJ Dillon; Jonathan Taylor; J.K. Dobbins; Clyde Edwards-Helaire; D'Andre Swift; Cam Akers. Offensive line: T/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa, C Cesar Ruiz, Michigan, T Mekhi Becton, Louisville Off-ball Linebackers: RD. 1: Patrick Queen, LSU ; Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma. RD. 2-3: Troy Dye, Oregon; Malik Harrison, Ohio State; Davion Taylor, Colorado. Offense Fangio was extremely dissatisfied with Scangarello's offense.
Enter Shurmur who is a big believer in tailoring the offense to the strengths of the personnel. There will be changes for the offensive scheme and as well as the type of players the team will prioritize to run it. His offense is about spreading the defense out, utilizing speed and spacing to exploit the opposition in the play-action passing game. Shurmur's core philosophy is the West Coast Offense; a variant that utilizes more of the spacing concepts found in the Spread Schemes and vertical passing. It's important to Fangio and Shurmer that they challenge the defense by attacking the defense down the field. Fangio said "I like to be aggressive."Shurmur said he'll aim to promote an aggressive style of play:"I think it's important for us that number one, we're efficient," Shurmur said. "We need to move the ball and score points... you need to be able to score points and move the chains and do all the things that offenses must do." Shurmur's offense puts a premium on the three-down running back who can stay in to block, run routes and have sure, soft hands as a receiver.
RB Phillip Lindsay (wrist) is recovering from right wrist surgery, a source said. This time, it was a simple, clean-up arthroscopic procedure. Shurmur's offense puts a premium on the three-down running back who can stay in to block, run routes and have sure, soft hands as a receiver. Lindsay will probably never be a 20-25 touch bell-cow, but "I feel like he [Lindsay] can do those things," Shurmur said. "As I get to work with him and I get to talk with the offensive coaches more we'll find out what he can do and try to feature that."
WR Tim Patrick and WR DaeSean Hamilton have solid skill-sets, but Patrick is very similar to Sutton and Hamilton is a good route runner, but lacks dynamic ability and speed. They can be used as depth in the Broncos' offense, but Denver needs to add receivers and not make the veterans the No. 2 or 3 by default. This is a good draft class to get the types of players Denver, but adding a low cost veteran presence would be a solid move (Breshard Perriman/maybe Chester Rogers). Lock's top targets in the passing game are probably not currently on the roster, except Sutton and Fant. There is a lack of consistency at the wide receiver position and not enough there. They lack a true complementary wide receiver who can bring additional traits to the table and present their own unique challenges to opposing defenses.
The Draft's "Big Three" wide receivers could all compliment Sutton. Pat Shurmur's offensive scheme wants to spread out a defense running 11 personnel (3WR sets). Lock finished with above-average accuracy up to nine yards, but he was below average (last) on passes thrown at 10-plus yards. 53.3% of his yards came after the catch, the seventh-highest rate in the league. The Broncos believe Lock is their future franchise quarterback and hired Shurmur and Shula to give the young signal-caller every possible tool to succeed. Wide receiver is one of the toughest for players to transition to from college to the pros. If the Broncos double-dip (top 100) at the wideout position they could add speed and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field: Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Laviska Shenault, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, Justin Jefferson, K.J. Hamler (didn't show well at the Combine).
The Tight end position is not a concern for the Broncos, but they could use an upgrade in their depth. Denver needs speed across its entire offense- speed on top of speed at RB and a dynamic speed threat at WR. A scheme can help get a receiver open, but it takes the right athlete to make it work. Getting the ball to explosive play makers is what it all comes down to-it's a speed and spacing game. The second round in this year's draft may be the best spot to pick wide receivers. Defense Vic Fangio's defense is less dependent on star corners and more dependent on the pass rush getting home, which is why the return of Bradley Chubb and hopefully spending money on the defensive line in free agency will the defensive backs to succeed. Fangio's defense really features the 3T defensive tackle position, and relies on the interior defensive linemen creating one-on-one situations for the edge rushers. The Broncos want to get to the point where every one of their rushers is a threat to win a one-on-one matchup. Additionally, #3 safeties play a lot of snaps in Vic Fangio's scheme. While the cornerback position doesn't have the importance it did under Wade Phillips, Denver still needs to upgrade their cornerbacks and get more consistency. Fangio has stated his top qualities for defensive backs are players who can 'cover' (not scheme dependent players) and tackle. Denver needs a D-line rotation that can consistently pressure the whole game-both starting caliber players and depth. Fangio wants more speed and coverage upside to combat the spread passing attack. He has hinted at using more six defensive back looks to lessen linebacker coverage responsibilities, making linebacker/defensive back hybrids interesting options in rounds two or three of the Draft.
Elway needs to invest in quality depth for the secondary. Special Teams Special teams are an important part of a team's success in field position — getting< good field position for the offense or pinning an opponent deep in its territory. If the coverage units don't come through when needed, you won't have good special teams. The Broncos have problems on special teams. They need to bring in a new punter, a competition kicker and find a special teams gunner. The gunner's task is to put pressure on punters and contain opposing return men. He also needs to be a good depth player at another position to stick on the roster.
At #15, Denver is in a good position to take the best player available, with need being the tie-breaker between players of equal value. Rounds two and three are good rounds for wide receivers and linebackers. Free agency is a high risk zone where money management, "value youth", and contract structure are king. Denver has made enough moves to go into the Draft if they wanted to, but they should be looking to do more in free agency. Denver still needs depth on the defensive line, some upgrades on offense and improvements in the secondary going into the second wave of free agency. Melvin Gordon (2 years) is a three-down back and Lindsay (RFA 2021) will be the change-of-pace back and Freeman (UFA 2022) will be a good back-up for both Gordon and Lindsay. Fantasy Draft Outlook QB Drew Lock-waiver wire
RB Melvin Gordon (27)-Phillip Lindsay (25)-Royce Freeman (24) committee; a mess for fantasy
WR Courtland Sutton-wide receiver 2 with # 1 upside
TE Noah Fant- low tight end #1 with top 5 upside
PK Brandon McManus- top 10
DST – top 10
That's all for now. See you in April!
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Sunday, September 13th, 2020
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