Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
The 2022 season was marred by injuries and the incompetence of the coaches and the players. In 2023, the Broncos will get a lot of talent coming off injured reserve, after an unprecedented succession of aches, pains and surgeries (30 on IR with 22 still on IR). The recovery timeline of the top players will impact decisions made in free agency and the draft. Most of the free agents this offseason do not merit a big contract, but: RB Latavius Murray stabilized the offense by improving short-yardage situations, red zone efficiency, and limiting turnovers; ILB Alex Singleton earned a 2023 contract, playing the best season of his career; CB Damarri Mathis makes injured/under performing CB Ronald Darby expendable; QB Russell Wilson and WR Courtland Sutton finished better than they started; CB Justin Simmons took his play to another level as a play making safety in his seventh year; and, WR Jerry Jeudy needs to be extended before the potential 2023 extensions for CB Patrick Surtain II, G Quinn Meinerz, and OLB Baron Browning.
The Broncos have a good core of young and mid-career players, but the team would be wise to get a bit younger in 2023 as they were the fifth oldest team in the NFL in 2022. Denver's youngest players were RBs Javonte Williams and Tyler Badie, TE Greg Dulcich, and cornerbacks Ja'Quan McMillian, Delonte Hood and Pat Surtain, who were all 22. Their oldest players were QB Russell Wilson, S Kareem Jackson, RB Latavius Murray, CB K'Waun Williams, OT Billy Turner, NT Mike Purcell and K Brandon McManus. Jackson, Murray and Turner will be UFAs. The Broncos have the third-most ($10.6 million) unused cap space to roll into 2023 and they need to spend their money on improving the quarterback room and on highly important positions. Denver has all ready signed nine former practice-squad player to reserve/future contracts: RB Tyreik McAllister, WR Victor Bolden, OL Parker Ferguson, OL Hunter Thedford, LB Wyatt Ray, LB Ray Wilborn, and DBs Faion Hicks, Delonte Hood, and Devon Key. They've also signed Air Force DL Jordan Jackson to a reserve/future contract. Signed OT Isaiah Prince to a reserve/future contract.
Free Agent Visits: OT Bobby Evans
Denver's order of picks for 2023:
Round 3: own pick 67
Round 3: via Colts (2022 draft trade) pick 68
Round 4: own pick
Round 5: own pick
Round 6: via Steelers (Malik Reed trade) pick.
No compensatory picks.
Quarterbacks WILSON: Under contract from 2023-28. The final weeks of the season saw promise from Wilson.A similar performance 2023 would likely ensure that he remains a Bronco in 2024 and beyond. But, what Wilson does best also exposes him to injury which should make a backup quarterback a high priority.
RYPIEN: RFA The Broncos need a better backup and should let Rypien walk. Guarantano. Under contract for 2023. The coaching change will be a factor, but, If the Broncos take a late-round QB flyer or add one as a priority undrafted free agent, there won't be many snaps for Guarantano.
JAVONTE WILLIAMS: Under contract for 2023 and 2024.
LATAVIUS MURRAY: UFA. He turned 33 on Jan. 18, but he's durable and remains effective. He should be-signed for one-year ($2.5M).
CHASE EDMONDS: Under contract for 2023.
MIKE BOONE: UFA. Let walk.
MARLON MACK: UFA. Re-sign for less money
TYLER BADIE: Under contract for 2023. He can catch and run with 4.45 speed.
DAMAREA CROCKETT: Under contract for 2023. IR for 2022.
TYREIK McALLISTER: Signed to reserve- future contract.
GREG DULCICH: Under contract through 2025.
ERIC SAUBERT: Unrestricted free agent. Closest to being a No. 1 tight end on the roster. Re-sign at a low cost.
ERIC TOMLINSON: Unrestricted free agent. Maybe re-sign at a low cost.
ANDREW BECK: Unrestricted free agent. Re-sign at low cost if the new coach uses a fullback.
ALBERT OKWUEGBUNAM: Under contract through 2023. Make or break year.
Denver could change as many as four offensive linemen for 2023, depending on LT Garrett Bolles' recovery and the new coaches view of the line. RG Quinn Meinerz seems to have the only secure spot on the line.
GARETT BOLLES: Under contract through 2024. IR 2022. Re-worked deal.
DALTON RISNER: Unrestricted free agent. Walk
BILLY TURNER: Unrestricted free agent. Walk
CAMERON FLEMING: Unrestricted free agent. Up grade or re-sign.
QUINN MEINERZ: On rookie contract through 2024.
LLOYD CUSHENBERRY III: On rookie contract through 2023. Trade
GRAHAM GLASGOW: Under contract through 2023. Re-structure or cut.
CALVIN ANDERSON: Unrestricted free agent. Depends on coach.
TOM COMPTON: Unrestricted free agent. Walk.
QUINN BAILEY: Exclusive-rights free agent.
LUKE WATTENBERG: On rookie contract through 2025.
CHRISTIAN DiLAURO: Under contract through 2023
WILL SHERMAN: Under contract through 2023
The big three: Jeudy, Sutton and Patrick. The rest will be in a very competitive battle for a roster spot.
JERRY JEUDY: Under contract through 2023, but must pick up Jeudy's fifth-year option (cap hit: $12,795,000 + $5.255,000 if make Pro-Bowl) this spring.
TIM PATRICK: Under contract through 2024. Cap hit: $11.072,000.
COURTLAND SUTTON: Under contract through 2025. Cap hit: $18,266,176
KJ HAMLER: Under his rookie contract through 2023.
KENDALL HINTON: Under contract through 2023.
FREDDIE SWAIN: Under contract through 2023.
BRANDON JOHNSON: Under contract through 2024
JALEN VIRGIL: Under contract through 2024.
MONTRELL WASHINGTON: On his rookie contract through 2025.
Head Coach Sean Payton
Denver landed one of the best offensive minds in the NFL in recent history. Payton
is a culture-changer and he establishes it quickly. Everyone in the building will feel like they have to prove themselves again, but in a good way. He is an experienced, winning head coach with the requisite credibility to return the Broncos to winning and restore them to competitive relevancy. Payton coaches with intensity, high standards and attention to details. His focus is on winning through strong leadership, preparation and creativity. Payton is an elite in game play caller.
QB Russell Wilson is enthusiastic and committed to working with Payton. Both Wilson and Payton are notorious for their work ethic. Payton is likely to bring in a few former players to up grade the Bronco roster and ease the transition into his program. He likes to stockpile talent at wide receiver, tight end and running back. Some of his favorite coaches will likely join the the current Bronco coaches he retains.
Payton likes to have a tall, physical pass catcher that is dominant on deep-seam routes, pass catching running backs and high quality offensive linemen. He stretches the defense horizontally using short, high percentage passes to open up the run and deep pass game. Payton's emphasizes a dominant interior line (freak, nasty guards) who can prevent the interior pass rush from dominant defensive tackles. The guards also allow the running backs to exploit the middle of the defense and open up the passing game. He will use situational RBs and TEs (and manipulate them with motion and where they line up) to create mismatches and diagnose coverages in the passing game.
Payton will build a defense that will play a lot of nickel and require three starting caliber cornerbacks and at least four players who can play man coverage when playing from behind or against multiple wide receiver sets.
OL Coach Zach Strief , who played for Payton, was a standout lineman (12 years) and has offensive line coaching experience (assistant OL coach/NO). Strief will have the responsibility of rebuilding an offensive line, that allowed 63 sacks (NFL high), although sacks are more on the quarterback.
Potential Offensive Coordinator: Ronald Curry has worked with Payton. Payton will be the play caller, so their relationship is important. The same can be said for Joe Lombardi.
Potential Defensive Coordinator: Sean Desai, a Fangio 3-4 disciple. Mike Zimmer a 4-2-5 double A gap blitzing defense with press man coverage. Both have ties to Payton
Denver has to get an offense, and get a return on their investment in QB Russell Wilson. The Broncos have lacked firepower offensively because they lacked enough offensive creators. Enter Sean Payton whose offenses are light years ahead of any recent Broncos offense. If he succeeds, giving up a first and a second round draft pick to salvage the two ones and two twos sent to the Seahawks for Wilson, will be worth it. However, they need to stop drafting on potential and target athletic football players who have speed and a tendency to remain healthy. The NFL Salary cap will increase by $17M. The Broncos have $10.6M to roll over from 2022. Cutting CB Ronald Darby ($10M) and OL Graham Glasgow ($11M) would give the Broncos an additional $21M in cap space. The Broncos are in position to manipulate the salary cap. I expect the Broncos to be heavily involved in some of the top cap casualties around the league, as well as, the trade market to upgrade their roster. However, the 2023 free-agent class isn't expected to be a deep group. The team needs to find three new starters for the offensive line. LT Garett Bolles and RG Quinn Meinerz should return as starters. Some 2022 starters could return as depth.
Payton runs a hybrid West Coast system (Gulf Coast Offense/GCO). He will help QB Russell Wilson by designing a system that allows Wilson to gain positive yards every play. Payton will do that by seeing what Wilson does well (his strengths) and then building his systems and habits around those things. With the correct system, Wilson should flourish.
The Broncos hired the most experienced coach available. Most Super Bowl-winning coaches deliver immediate improvement in the W-L total in their next gig, Payton hopes to assemble a staff that will give Wilson a chance to live up to his hype. The challenges for Payton are that he doesn't have the best quarterback in the division, may not be able to fix Wilson, and his history of poor cap management.
Payton has built his success around great offensive lines and not letting them slip which will help get the most improvement from Wilson. For his part, Wilson will to improve his pre-snap reads, standardize his mechanics, be persistent in the pocket and throw with accuracy.
Payton's GCO will allow the Broncos to open up the run with the pass or open up the pass with the run with its ability to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally. Because he builds his roster with the type players he needs for each position, he will be able to rebuild the Broncos offense quickly with mid to late round draft picks.
Payton will simplify the game and make things easier for Wilson in 2023. There should be plenty of shotgun formations and downfield shots that take advantage of Wilson's arm (biggest strength). Payton will fill the gaps in Wilson's game with his scheme and play-calling. There will likely be a lot of screens along with quick passing concepts that don't keep Wilson in the pocket longer than he's comfortable with.
Payton's offense will get the most out of Wilson, but that will not be enough to unseat the Chiefs. Payton will need to find a quarterback who's capable of playing with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Payton was hired to develop a team capable of winning a Super Bowl every season.
Broncos fans will draft Wilson too high (along with all the Bronco players), but he can be a value pick if you can get him with a later-round pick.
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