Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
The Denver off-season began with a bang: John Elway stepped down as the Broncos’ GM and his right-hand man, Matt Russell, retired. Denver moved swiftly with interviews with their top candidates which resulted in George Paton (Peyton) becoming the new GM. Paton believes the Broncos have a "talented young core of players". His priority is drafting and developing players and not letting good young players go (players who make sense to retain, but not overpay). His philosophy is that the offensive and defensive lines are the core of the team and you will be in every game if you have a really strong defensive line and a really strong offensive line. He views the quarterback as the most important position in sports and that if you don’t have stability at quarterback, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining winning. QB Drew Lock’s performance improved from Week 11 and he was substantially better than he was at the beginning of the season. There is no doubt he has the tools to make the necessary plays and that he is making strides. However, questions remain about his ability to read defenses and make the right decisions. Lock needs to have better communication from Shurmur (and Lock to Shurmur) if he is to become the Broncos franchise quarterback. Lock has hired a long over due footwork coach for the off-season which should help his game (accuracy). When the 2021camp begins, Lock needs to show that he can: keep the offense on-schedule; not turn the ball over; play with poise and command at the line of scrimmage; and, above all, execute. Paton’s first moves as GM were: reaching out to free agent S Justin Simmons for an informal, no business, conversation; releasing DE Joel Heath and S Alijah Holder; signing WR Fred Brown, TE Jordan Leggett and T Darin Paulo to a futures contract; hiring Chris Cook as an offensive quality control coach; releasing CB A.J. Bouye (saved 13.3M/cap space); hiring defensive quality control assistant Christian Parker as the new secondary coach; and, hiring Pierre Ngo as Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach;
ALL PLAYERS ON THE TEAM NEED TO BE ON THE SAME PAGE. The Denver Broncos have so much talent on the offensive side of the football that the team is ready to compete. However, the Broncos are walking a thin line which will require a solid offensive line to give them the best chance to succeed. Denver also needs better play out of its 2020 draft class to improve its AFC West position. WR Jerry Jeudy’s poor attitude and poor performance are troubling. His total drops for the season were in the double digits. Both rookies K. J. Hamler and Jerry Jeudy had the worst and second-worst drop rates in the league, respectively. TE Albert Okwuegbunam also had some drop problems. Shurmur’s West Coast Offense relies on quick separation and the ability to create yards after the catch. But NO BRONCO receiver exceeded separation and air yards expectations in 2020. His offense also requires a back that can help the team on all three downs. This year’s draft class has RBs at the top who could be instant impact three down players: Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.
Denver’s defense is in full blown rebuild mode. The aging defense had to overcome extreme injury problems, but were lackluster and inconsistent. Its lack of talented depth, at the cornerback position was an extreme liability which made the whole secondary look bad And, they still hasn’t found an inside linebacker who has the foot speed to keep up in the tight end strong AFC West.
Futures contracts: Tackles Quinn Bailey and Darrin Paulo, wide receivers Trinity Benson, Fred Brown and Kendall Hinton, defensive back Chris Cooper, running backs Jeremy Cox and Damarea Crockett, tight end Jordan Leggett and defensive tackle Deyon Sizer.
The Free-agents field comes with factors that don’t make them attractive: age, injury concerns, lack of production and guaranteed money. Plus, the free-agent market doesn’t set up well for the Broncos. The free-agents that are available aren’t of much interest because the best ones are at positions where the Broncos don’t need help. The best Peyton can hope for is depth players on the defensive line and corner backs (no difference-makers). The trick will be to not over value them. Free agency should be about finding players who will be with the team after 2021. Any long-term commitments the Broncos make toward players, need to be for those who are in the primes of their careers and are the types of players any coaching staff would welcome. The Broncos have rolled-over $17.788M in unused cap space into 2021.
With instability at ownership, a new GM, a head coach on the hot seat, and a quarterback the team still isn't sure about, cannot afford to miss in the 2021 draft. Paton’s draft philosophy is that the more picks you have, the more shots you have at hitting on those picks. This year’s draft strength is not with the top prospects for the Broncos. It would not be surprising for Paton to trade down for more picks. Paton should build for the short term, but with an eye on the long. Speculation about what the Broncos will look for in the draft are running rampant, but it is too early in the off-season for anything but wild guesses. With that said here are some under the radar prospects: CB Elijah Molden, Washington; RB Khalil Herbert,|Virginia Tech; LB Tuf Borland, Ohio State; and, RB Demetric Felton, UCLA.
George Paton says all the right things about team building and hopefully, he means what he says. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. He is a 4-3 defensive man, but again, hopefully, he will retain Denver’s historical 3-4 defense. He likes analytic(s); Fangio doesn’t trust them. Elway thinks good defense trumps good offense; it doesn’t. Can he make things work with Elway and Fangio? How long does he have with the prospects of a new owner on the horizon? It’s not over in Bronco Country!
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