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Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
Charles Rives

New Head Coach & New Ownership


The Broncos are enduring another head coaching change, a probable quarterback change, as well as an ownership change, after another season without winning football and no contention towards a championship. Their new head coach must be able to manage NFL personalities, oversee the locker room, and manage the game (clock, time-outs, challenges, adjustments). He has to be up-to-date on the modern NFL. His offensive coordinator, in addition to being up to date, must also be an excellent game planner and play designer. His defensive coordinator will need to be on the cutting edge of defensive trends, especially pass defense, because taking away an opponents running game, in today’s NFL, only applies to teams that have proven that they can run the ball at will and score on the ground. Sacks are about killing drives and getting off the field and, Denver’s defensive coordinator will have to improve in this aspect without (presently) a true heavy hitter. However, third-year defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones has emerged as a star from the inside: 28 hurries, seven quarterback hits, and five sacks.


The new head coach needs to let his coordinators do their jobs, while holding them accountable without micro managing them. He has to under stand the big picture, inspire his players, and be open to different ideas. His success in Denver will depend not only on what he does, hiring excellent coordinators/coaches but also on how well GM George Paton continues to build the roster.


Whether or not the Broncos trade for a veteran quarterback, Paton needs to have another good draft if the Broncos are to contend. The depth of Paton’s first draft is what sets it apart and is the first step toward playing strong fundamental football. During the season Paton continued to build the back end of the roster emphasizing speed and smaller running backs with elite speed/explosiveness.


After firing OC Rich Scangarello, the offense regressed offensively under Shurmur’s scheme which did not help any of the young play makers, and failed to develop QB Drew Lock. Denver needs a quarterback that can make a difference, game in and game out, and is good enough to do so despite any team weaknesses. Lock remains an option in 2022 with good coaching and play calling.


Part of the purpose of Paton's head coaching search strategy is to glean as much as possible on how different teams and coaches are approaching critical issues in the modern NFL. As it stands now Paton sees the team’s primary areas of needs as; 1. Quarterback. 2 Pass Rush 3. Better run defense 4. Protect the QB. Paton could look to upgrade every spot on the line except LT Garett Bolles, as the offensive line struggled despite Mike Munchak’s coaching. A return to a zone blocking scheme would help minimize the line’s flaws, and the 2022 draft is deep in offensive line talent that would be a good fit for Denver. And, Paton believes in building the offensive line to achieve long-term offensive success.


Defensibly, Denver needs depth and talent in the defensive backfield, especially at CB. Paton traded for ILB Jonas Griffith and draftee, ILB Barron Browning’s development are a hopeful signs for this weak position that is facing potential free agent losses. The whole offense was up and down, and it wasn’t all on the quarterbacks. Denver needs to block and catch better and to make plays in the key moments of the game. They haven’t done that, because of drops, penalties, missed blocks, or fumbles. They can’t win games unless they clean up their game and stop making mistakes at critical times. Paton was expected, and did, name the Broncos’ new head coach during the week of Jan. 24-28. He wanted leadership above everything else. Plus, every candidate had to have an opinion on QB Drew Lock, as well as, a plan to move the Broncos forward. They also needed to speak on their potential coordinators, coaching staff and their vision with the current players and staff. For the first time since 1980 (41), the Denver Broncos had no Pro Bowl players. It's imperative that Paton has a clear grasp of the schemes the Broncos will be running when he and the scouts start preparing for the draft. The key date is the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, in the first week of February. Then comes the real fun-new league year and free agency-on March 16. Then, the ball is in Paton's court to use an orderly process to retool for next year. He will has to rebuild the roster to one that fits Hackett's scheme. He’s now in a position to do something to improve the Broncos for next season.


Paton at the Senior Bowl "It's really important to see them in person — all positions, but especially quarterback," "You weigh the free-agency class compared to the draft class, and that's what we're doing now," Paton said. " If we don't think the draft class is very good, we're probably going to try to go heavy into free agency or the trade market. But I think there's some talented guys in this rookie class, so we'll weigh that as we will other positions. What are the strengths of free agency compared to the draft, and if the draft isn't strong at a certain position, we're going to be very aggressive in free agency." "Part of the appeal of Coach Hackett is his ability to develop younger players, and especially quarterbacks," Paton said, "so he's going to have a big-time role, as will the other coaches, in our free-agency process, as well as our draft process." "...I do think it's going to be a big man's type draft." (meaning both the offensive and defensive lines)




TE Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland. WR Dareke Young, Lenoir-Rhyne. LB Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin. OT Kellen Diesch, Arizona State. IOL Hayden Howerton, Southern Methodist University. DL Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame. RB Rachaad White,| Arizona State. WR Velus Jones, Jr., Tennessee. WR Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama, OT Spencer Burford, UTSA, OT Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan, IDL John Ridgeway, Arkansas. Edge Boye Mafe, Minnesota. Edge DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky. CB Mario Goodrich, Clemson. OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa. DL Logan Hall, Houston. LB Devin Lloyd, Utah. EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State. TE Trey McBride, Colorado State. LB Chad Muma, Wyoming. OT Braxton Jones, Southern Utah. OT Zach Tom, Wake Forest. OT Alex Akingbul, Fresno State. QB Sam Howell, UNC. QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh. QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati. QB Carson Strong, Nevada. QB Malik Willis, Liberty. QB Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky. Edge Sam Williams, Mississippi. Edge Amaré Barno, Virginia Tech. Edge Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma. Ali Fayed, Western Michigan. Edge Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M. IDL Matt Henningsen, Wisconsin. IDL John Ridgeway, Arkansas, IDL Zachary Carter | Florida. IDL D. J. Davidson, Arizona State. IDL Otito Ogbonnia, UCLA. CB Mario Goodrich, Clemson. CB Marcus Jones, Houston. CB Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska. CB Mykael Wright, Oregon. CB Jermaine Waller, Virginia Tech. S Smoke Monday, Auburn. S Quentin Lake, UCLA. S Nick Cross, Maryland. S Bryan Cook, Cincinnati. S Percy Butler, Louisiana.


HC Nathaniel Hackett


Choosing a head coach, is much like choosing a player. No matter how hard you try to be objective, it is really subjective. Nathaniel Hackett is the son of Paul Hackett who has had the whole west coast system and genius offensive concepts drilled into him as a young kid. Paton looked for leadership and found it in Hackett who has the ability to command a room, relate to his players, earn respect from everyone in the building and get them to buy in. He has proven he can call plays with the best of them and get the most out of an offense that needs it. Hackett’s specialty is planning what the team is going to do in the red zone.


Hackett has displayed his leadership by making everyone feel like they are equals, getting them to buy in and have fun doing it, delegating responsibilities appropriately to his staff and players. Hackett is an energetic coach who understands the modern game and has a brilliant offensive mind. Paton views him as a dynamic leader and a coach with intelligence, innovation and charisma. He knows that Hackett is an outstanding teacher and communicator with a strong vision for the Broncos in all three phases of the game. Hackett is a student of the game and knows how to put his players in a positions to win. Hackett has notified coaches that will not be retained: DC Ed Donatell, LBs coach Reggie Herring, defensive pass game coordinator Chris Beake, TEs coach Wade Harman, assistant DL coach Mike Heistand, offensive quality control coach Chris Cook, assistant OL coach Chris Kuper, quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, offensive line Mike Munchak. Broncos country can expect a versatile, explosive and prolific offense (passing and running) under Hackett's guidance. Hackett will manage his players/play makers better and will call the plays on offense. Paton doesn't want to take a step back defensively, but he wants Hackett to fight offensive fire with offensive fire in the AFC West. On offense: "First and foremost, any offense that you have, it has to be maneuverable and it has to be adjustable for whoever you have on your team," Hackett said. "It's about finding out what your guys do the best and being able to do that over and over again, taking advantage of their skill set. You want to have enough that you can do so many different things and adjust, because there's injuries. There's nothing you can do about that in football. That's just how it is. You have to be able to maneuver that."


"The starting point is outside zone. Outside zone is what you want to do on offense and you want to base that off of play[-action] pass. You want to make the defense cover the entire field. And you want to take shots down the field. Let's all face it: That's what the people in the stands love. They love those bombs down the field. I remember watching John Elway throw the ball down the field to [Ed] McCaffrey on all those boot fakes. That was unbelievable. This is really where this system kind of evolved from and was created. You're always looking for that. And then mixing in that West Coast principle of the drop-back game. That's kind of a quick summary. So many fun things to talk about with the offense." But, ``It's only fun when you win football games." Hackett’s offensive scheme will be outside-zone with Shanahan passing principles on offense (vertical shots downfield, drop backs, boots). While we will see more outside-zone rushing and far less power looks, the inside-zone and 11 personnel will be part of the offense. There should be opportunities for multiple running backs to make large contributions and RB Melvin Gordon III wants to return and pair with Javonte Williams. Players who may not fit the new scheme include G Netane Muti, WR Tyre Cleveland (nothing others can’t provide) and C Lloyd Cushenberry III (lacks strength for inside game; mobility for out side game).


On defense: "I think when I look at defense, I look at defenses that are most difficult for me to go against," Hackett said. "I think any time you're looking at a defense, when the front structure is changing and when you don't know what coverage it is, those are the two things that I'm always going to be looking for. I never want somebody to know exactly what they're getting. When I know exactly what you're getting, good things are going to happen — you're hoping, if everybody can execute the right way. I think those are two of the biggest staples for me." On analytics: "They're a great way to check what you're doing yourself," Hackett said. "Any decision you have out on that field, it's very quick. I think the more that you have that analytical data to help you make that better decision, it's going to help the whole team. I think we'll use that quite a bit. It's not necessarily going to be the only thing. … We're definitely going to utilize it to help us makes great decisions." On coaching: "Understand what you need to get done so you have the ability to be great on game day," Hackett said. "In the end, that's the most important thing. I think for me it's about being able to budget all my time, being efficient. That's something I pride myself in, is not wasting a lot of time. Making sure everybody's prepared and ready and to be able to do that is having that great staff. You have that great staff, and you're very capable of doing anything. Very excited to get back to doing that."


On game management: "The in-game decisions — for both fourth downs and when to call timeouts — may necessitate the dedication of a full-time staff member." Hackett said he'll evaluate that option, but he noted the importance of the role in football. "I think the starting point is getting a great game-management guy and somebody that's there," Hackett said. "Let's face it, we see it every week. That's really the big difference between a lot of games. I think it's about having somebody good that can kind of always be there to guide you as you're going into a game. But practice is big. You've got to work situations all the time. Working those situations isn't fun for the guys sometimes because you've got to slow it down, you've got to talk through it. Sometimes their minds go. But you've got to put them in it as much as you can, because in the heat of the battle you want them to react the right way. Again, you just always want somebody in your ear that's doing a good job."


On Lock: Drew Lock is one of the players in Denver who stands to gain the most from Hackett's arrival and hands-on coaching style. Lock's name did not come up in the presser, but Hackett did give his views on the quarterback position: (two traits) "I say toughness and intelligence," Hackett said of the quarterback position. "Those are the two things. Quarterbacks take some massive hits and they’ve got to still get up. It’s both mentally and physically because they have to talk and answer for a lot of things. It’s one of the hardest positions in all of football from that point [of toughness]. Then intelligence is so important to be able to do the different things you would like to do on offense." From a personality perspective, Hackett and Lock have a lot in common: love of the game of football and infectious positivity. That doesn't mean Lock will be Denver's starting quarterback Day 1. However, Lock has the best odds of being the Broncos’ starter come Week 1, because trades are difficult (everyone is at the whim of Rodgers) and the draft is a crap shoot.


"When you’re developing a quarterback, I think all quarterbacks need to have success," Hackett said. "You need to be sure that you’re protecting them and whenever you’re dealing with a young quarterback you want to be sure, and even with an older quarterback, you want to be sure you’re always protecting them. You do that with both protection with the offensive line and running the football. I think that’s kind of the best way to be able to always make sure that they’re having success and able to have clean pockets". Quarterbacks need time on task. "It’s about that—a lot of people say the 10,000-rep count," Hackett said. "It’s about continually working and continually staying in it. I think that’s why I’m so lucky to be here right now is because it’s going to be a continuous offense. The offense is going to be here for a long time so you bring somebody in and develop them, and they can get the reps. They can get the understanding of one play because when you start calculating the analytical data on one play, the different things that can happen in each one throughout all the different coverages."


"There are so many different things that can happen in one play for a quarterback so I think it’s always working with them, always teaching them, and letting them get a comfort level so they can go out there and play and have that ‘can’t stop me mentality’. I always talk about that," Hackett said. "That’s what you want that quarterback to have when he gets out there." If the Broncos need to use Lock, he at least has three years of experience (reps) for Hackett to build on. "I’ve been with a lot of different quarterbacks, and they always know I’ll put them in position to excel, and I’ll always have their backs," That would be a novel experience after Fangio and Shurmur. One of the key questions for Denver's head-coaching candidates was what they'd do to get the most out of Lock. Perhaps, Hackett is exactly the coach Lock needs. Offensive Coordinator Hackett is determined to inject youth, new ideas and a determined work ethic into his coaching staff-incorporating new ideas that can improve all phases of the game. Justin Outten, former GB tight end coach is the new offensive coordinator. Hackett will call the plays, but there will be a very collaborative approach, so Outten won’t be just a figurehead. Outten brings continuity and understanding of Hackett’s scheme, as well as much offensive line experience. Outten has had the chance to observe Kyle Shanahan and two other offensive coordinators with the Falcons (Steve Sarkisian and Dirk Koetter) which means he’s not solely tied to the Packers and what they have run on offense. He will be part of a Broncos’ offensive staff that is all on the same page and can work with any type of quarterback. Outten: "The ball is everything. [The] second thing is getting 11 guys on the field playing fast, physical, and having relentless effort. That’s extremely important, and all being on the same page." "Having a fine balance between the run and the pass game is extremely important, keeping the defense on their toes," Outten explained. "Lastly, making things all look the same to start out, but end up paying out differently, making sure they are covering every inch of that field."


Klint Kubiak will be the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Kubiak explained that he has three core areas to key on: "I would say I like to stress the process over results," Kubiak said. "It’s important to me to stress accountability and to always make practice stressful for the players so that game day is easy. So those are three things I like to key on." Butch Barry, another Hackett protege, will be the offensive line coach. Barry inherits the 19th ranked offensive line which gave up 165 total pressures, including 28 sacks. The Broncos' run blocking was almost as bad, but succeeded because Gordon and Williams broke a combined 108 tackles. Except for free agent RT Bobbie Massie, the Broncos return their entire line, but may seek to upgrade it. In hiring two young up-and-coming offensive coaches, Hackett is building a staff that resembles those of Shanahan, McVay, and LaFleur. Hiring Kubiak shows Hackett's Broncos’ commitment to the outside-zone rushing scheme and its passing game. The Broncos have hired UNLV defensive coordinator Peter Hansen as their linebackers coach. By hiring Evero (?) and Hansen, the Broncos would ensure that elements of Fangio’s defense will remain. Hackett has hired Aaron Rodger’s former teammate, Ben Steele, who was the assistant offensive line coach under Klint Kubiak in Minnesota. Tyrone Wheatley will coach the running backs. Hired Jake Moreland as tight ends coach and Ramon Chinyoung as the team's offensive quality control coach. Also, hired Derek Haithcock as assistant to the head coach and John Vieira as instructional designer (Hackett’s coach/teacher for his coaches). formally from Green Bay. The offensive coaching staff is complete.


Defensive Coordinator Rams secondary coach, Ejiro Evero is Hackett’s projected new defensive coordinator. Evero is way involved in passing game defense, and has worked under some of the best in the business: Raheem Morris, Monte Kiffin, Jon Gruden, Sean McVay, and Vic Fangio. He’s really into scheming and grinds hard. With Evero the Broncos will stick with the 3-4 defense. Paton will have to add a pass rusher, cornerback, and inside linebacker through the draft and free agency and upgrade the defensive talent for Evero. Ola Adams has been hired as the assistant secondary coach and Dom Capers will be a defensive assistant (a much-needed dose of experience). The Broncos have hired UNLV defensive coordinator Peter Hansen as their linebackers coach. By hiring Evero and Hansen, the Broncos have ensured that elements of Fangio’s defense will remain. Marcus Dixon (Rams assistant DL coach) is projected to be the new defensive line coach, while Broncos DL coach, Bill Kollar, shifts to a consultant role. Hired Bert Watts as outside linebackers coach. Special Teams Coordinator Ram’s ST assistant coach, Dwayne Stukes, who is highly coveted across the league, is the projected new special teams coordinator. Ex-Jaguars, as assistant special teams coordinator, Mike Mallory, has been hired to assist Stukes. Assistant General Manager Director of Player Personnel, Darren Mougey, has been promoted to assistant general manager. Mougey worked his way up in the Broncos organization over the last 10 years. He worked closely with GM George Paton to put together one of the better draft classes in 2021.


Owner The Pat Bowlen Trust has begun the sale process and hope to have it completed by the start of the 2022 NFL season. Free Agency The Broncos have multiple positions they need to upgrade on both sides of the ball. Paton has said the team has about $50 million in available salary cap space this off season. He could also save $45,794,436 through "simple restructures," converting money into signing bonuses (already restructured G Graham Glasgow) which would be big if Rodgers becomes available. Denver has high-priced veterans like NT Mike Purcell, WR Daesean Hamilton and P Sam Martin who could be let go to free up space to sign new faces. Hackett is said to be "all in" on trading for Rodgers. But in many people’s minds, it would be Best for Rodgers to stay in Green Bay. In any case, Rodgers wants Davante Adams and Marquez Valdez-Scantling with him. Denver has plenty of holes to fill and needs to tweak the roster to what Hackett wants to do. But Valdez-Scantling would be a good add for Denver even without Rodgers.


Denver also has several free agents who have value in terms of on-field production and intangible traits. Replacing those players is easier said than done (rush LB Malik Reed; RB Melvin Gordon). Free agent Prospects TE Robert Tonyan. WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. WR Davante Adams. Trade for a quarterback (Aaron Rodgers/???/trade). CB Mike Hughes, Chiefs. CB Chandon Sullivan, Packers. CB Desmond King, Texans. QB Mitch Trubisky, Bills. QB Marcus Mariota, Raiders. QB Jameis Winston, Saints. (Russell Wilson (???/trade). OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Steelers. OT Brandon Parker, Raiders. OT Germain Ifedi, Bears. QB Tyrod Taylor, Texans. WR Chris Godwin, Bucs. WR Mike Williams, Chargers. WR Michael Gallup, Cowboys. WR Braxton Berrios, Jets. RB Sony Michel, Rams. RB Raheem Mostert, 49ers. RB Jerick McKinnon, Chiefs. RB Wayne Gallman, Giants. DL B J Hill, Bengals. OT Joe Noteboom, Rams. DL Larry Ogunjobi, Bengals. Edge Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Rams. DL Solomon Thomas. DL Jarran Reed. TE Maxx Williams. TE Jacob Hollister. TE Eric Saubert. Draft Picks (11): 9, 40, 64, 75, 96, 106, 130, 137, 175, 202, 204 (approximate due to trades and compensatory picks). No compensatory picks are projected for Denver in this year's draft, but the Broncos are in a position to kind of remake their roster how they want to. Paton will have to add a pass rusher, cornerback, and inside linebacker through the draft and free agency.


Denver must: 1. Add talent on the edge (deep draft) 2. Upgrade defensive backs, especially cornerbacks and depth 3. Add a 10-sack threat, and pass rushing firepower in general 4. Upgrade off-ball linebackers, especially depth 5. Upgrade the interior defensive line (a top need). The fact that it takes two to three years to develop D-Linemen makes it hard for the draft alone to upgrade the position. RB Melvin Gordon III replacement: Round 2 or 3: RB James Cook (Georgia). Cook works (any scheme) best in an outside zone scheme and his receiving ability and explosion would add another weapon to Denver’s loaded offense.


Denver’s scouts are spending a lot of time scouting the offensive and defensive lines at the East-West Shrine Bowl. They have spoken "briefly" with Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (6-3, 220 pounds) at the Senior Bowl and he expects to meet with them more later in the week. They also met with Liberty QB Malik Willis (6-1, 225 pounds), and Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma (6-3, 242) at the Senior Bowl. Denver had a "productive and long" meeting with Miami WR Mike Harley Jr. at the Hula Bowl in Orlando, Florida last month. Transactions Signed DE (Ten; CFL) Jonathan Kongbo to a futures contract. Claimed defensive back Essang Bassey off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers. Future contracts for TE Shaun Beyer, RB Damarea Crockett, WR Travis Fulgham, T Drew Himmelman, G Zack Johnson and LB Barrington Wade. Signed OT Casey Tucker to a Reserve/Futures contract. Claimed P Corliss Waitman off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Awarded DB Essang Bassey & P Corliss Waitman Off Waivers.


Fantasy Outlook


Hackett’s offense is perfect if you want to manufacture production in today's NFL. It’s a precision offense that requires precision from its receivers. WR Jerry Jeudy (round seven) is known for his ability to create space with his footwork, speed and suddenness. WR Courtland Sutton (round nine) should also be viable for fantasy owners in 2022. WR Tim Patrick (Denver’s unsung hero) is just another guy, who is cheap to draft later. TE Noah Fant will be a number one tight end with better quarterback play. TE Albert O (Okwuegbunam) is a legit tight end who is blocked by Fant. The Broncos’ defense is strong on the field and will potentially be better for fantasy owners with more turnovers and sacks. PK Brandon McManus will get more PATs, but field goals will depend on Hackett and his "going for it" on fourth downs. RB Javonte Williams will be the lead back and part of the Broncos’ passing game. His running mate (Gordon or...) could also be involved in the passing game to Williams’ detriment. The Quarterback is still unknown, but QB Drew Lock is a definite option. However, if Lock isn’t the answer, it’s time for the Broncos go "all in" on a superstar passer, if they they want to make a playoff run in 2022.


Orangeman’s Take


LB Von Miller provided interesting insight to the difference between the Broncos (Vic Fangio) and the Ram’s (Sean McVay) game preparations. The Rams preparation: "it’s been very consistent whether we win or lose." Denver, in contrast, changed after a loss, making changes and doing more of everything. Head coach, Nathaniel Hackett is a great hire as the Broncos’18th head coach. Hackett will bring the Broncos into the 21st century offensively, as Fangio did with the defense. The outside zone, Shanahan offense is in the Broncos DNA, just like the odd front (3-4) defense. The biggest concern is that the offense is hard to teach and hard to learn. However, Hackett plans to hire an expert in education and technology to coach the coaches and improve their performance levels, with the intention to improve engagement with the players. ("...I want them to walk into the classroom excited to learn. It won’t be me, or our coaches, just talking. It will always be us interacting.") Mike Shanahan believed to be successful, you needed to be a top five team in both offense and defense. He also liked to have a 55-45% pass and run ratio. Hackett is mostly keeping his hires within the Shanahan/Gruden coaching-tree family.


Bronco country is anxious to see how Hackett’s Broncos will do! Forget Rodgers! Hope will kill you!



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