Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
State of the Denver Broncos
The core of Denver's defense and Denver's skill positions are in the latter part of their prime. And, the 2017 Broncos showed a surprising lack of discipline. President/CEO Joe Ellis has noticed a sense of complacency in the team and has set his sights on ending that mindset. Even HC Vance Joseph says that there needs to be a culture change in the position rooms. Denver officially owns the fifth-overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The pick is the Broncos' highest since the second-overall selection in 2011 (OLB) Von Miller. The Broncos are still in win now mode and they are believed to be ready to make a strong play for QB Kirk Cousins. John Elway also sees the team's draft picks as 'ammo' to make trades.
OC Bill Musgrave's approach — more runs, fewer passes — is what Joseph wants. Musgrave is a great play designer who uses complex and innovative run-blocking schemes which combines zone-blocking concepts with "power" man-blocking concepts. Each game calls for runs designed to take advantage of the week's defensive line’s tendencies. Criticisms of Musgrave are largely about his play-calling He tends to be rigid in his run first philosophy and seems to trust his system more than his players on the field. Musgrave had a great system with the Raiders by blending Chip Kelly’s spread system with a powerful under center run game (which Elway likes). All of the Raider numbers were great, but his play calling was questionable. Musgrave was pretty adept at "manufacturing touches" for guys that don't necessarily have a traditional role on the field, but need the ball in their hands. Whether the Broncos will have one of those types of players is a big question. Musgrave keeps a tight control on the offense and has a philosophy he refuses to deviate from- even when it seems to be detrimental to the offense. Carr is adept at the no-huddle attack, but Musgrave seldom used it, just as he hardly ever used his tight ends. Musgrave’s bland, vanilla, predictable play calling was once again a reason for his unemployment because he clung to his philosophy and stopped Carr and the offense from reaching their potential. "Running the football is always a must for a young quarterback and giving him a chance to have some easy completions," (Vance Joseph)- as DC's know. "We’re going to try to be much cleaner in our approach and take care of the football and quarterback," Musgrave said, "and be explosive when the ball is in our hands." Didn't we hear that from the Head Coach in 2017?
RB Coach Curtis Modkins brings old school power-blocking expertise to the offensive staff. He gives a fresh new look and ideas.
QB Coach Mike Sullivan has eight years of coordinating/QBs coach experience. Sullivan is a coach who gets the most out of his quarterbacks, although his last two years were dismal with the Giants.
OL Sean Kugler molds run oriented and physical offensive lines. Kugler is a fiery coach like Bill Kollar.
STC Tom McMahon. McMahon is an experienced special teams coach that emphasizes fundamentals and has a proven track record of developing young players on special teams. Offensive Line-Tackles Coach Chris Strausser. Strausser Spent 19 of his 28 years coaching college offensive linemen before joining the Broncos in 2017. He and Kugler have a common bond as former Boise State offensive line coaches.
Defensive Backs/Corner backs coach Coach Greg Williams. Williams has 15 years of coaching experience, nine years in the NFL.
WR Coach Zach Azzanni Azzanni has coached wide receivers the past 19 years. He coached at the college level for 18 years. The Texans would not allow WR Wes Welker interview for the job.
The Broncos signed all 10 of their practice-squad players to future contracts. The players will officially be added to the roster when the league year begins on March 14. DT Paul Boyette, WR River Cracraft, OLB Stansly Maponga, S Jordan Moore, TE Brian Parker, WR Tim Patrick, T Jeremiah Poutasi, LB Marcus Rush, DE Jhaustin Thomas and WR Jordan Leslie. The Denver Broncos signed three more players to future contracts: WR Kenny Bell, OT Andreas Knappe and DL DeShawn Williams.
The Seahawks had to pay QB Russell Wilson a ton of money, and the rest of the roster is struggling because of it. As much as the NFL is a star driven business, by and large, a team built on depth is better than a team built on stars and scrubs. It likely will take $24 million a year with $10-12 million a year guaranteed to sign QB Kirk Cousins which would leave the rest of the Broncos roster to struggle like the Seahawks. Cousins will be drafted by the team who erred the most in predicting his worth. The Broncos need a good QB in 2018, but a high priced quarterback is a luxury they can ill afford. Veteran players like CB Aqib Talib, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and WR Demaryius Thomas may have played their last game for the Broncos. But the Broncos will need to keep some veteran guys to build the team's identity. Unrestricted Free Agents: Virgil Green TE ; Todd Davis ILB; Jamaal Charles RB; Jared Crick 34DE Allen Barbre LG Cody Latimer WR; Billy Winn 34DE; Billy Turner RG; Brock Osweiler QB (will let walk).
For the most part, truly elite quarterback prospects are going to be drafted by the time the 12th overall pick rolls around. Teams that can't afford to give a late first-round pick time to grow should look elsewhere but regardless, if your organization and coaching staff lacks the structure, knowledge and expertise to develop and coach a young quarterback, you are doomed. There is no excuse for the Broncos not knowing what they have in QB Paxton Lynch, and it wouldn't be surprising if they "bet the farm" on a free agent QB and passed on the potential elite QB candidates that should be there at number five. At least at #5 they should be able to get an elite talent. Quarterback is the focus, but a LOT, an interior pass rusher, the top G and the top running back are all potential targets.
2017’s rookie class highlights the gap between the young players on the team and the players who were part of the Super Bowl 50 victory. This rookie class had to be ‘dragged along’ by the veteran players on this Broncos team. That simply can’t be the culture in the locker room, and could be a key reason why such a talented team failed to live up to expectations. Nobody is entitled to anything and the front office may have to permanently split up some of the stronger personalities in the locker room. This was a rookie class that came in thinking it would be easy and it wasn't. But they learned as the season wore on.
QB Paxton Lynch's strengths at this point are his athleticism, his ability to make plays off-script and his potential to keep defenses off-balance with his feet. His athleticism is a huge asset to a creative offensive coordinator, but he.will throw the ball up for grabs. Lynch was a developmental prospect who needed time to grow into position (think Ryan Tannehill). Lynch can function at a high level in executing concepts that are similar to the tactics he ran at Memphis, but should now be ready to transition to a pro playbook. The question the Broncos will have to answer is whether a rookie they would add is a better prospect or has greater potential than the young quarterbacks already on hand. But it appears that Elway doesn’t have the patience to see Lynch's development through.
OT Garett Bolles had an up-and-down season, but proved that he can be a tackle in the NFL. He needs to add size and strength without losing his athleticism and to clean up his technique in pass protection.
DL Marcus Walker needs to bulk up a bit and stay on the defensive line where he will be a key piece of the rotation.
WR Carlos Henderson would be considered a favorite to play in the slot, except for an arrest for marijuana possession in Louisiana. Although legal in Colorado, Elway does not tolerate its use.
TE Jake Butt is a special talent who will be a major factor in 2018, in-line and out wide.
RB De’Angelo Henderson has plenty of bulk for his height, power, vision, balance, and speed, plus he can catch passes and play special teams.
QB Chad Kelly. OC Bill Musgrave has been working with Kelly for a year and hopefully he makes the roster.
LB Jamal Carter is built more like a linebacker than a safety, but has the speed and athleticism to play Safety and have a key role on special teams.
S Dymonte Thomas, is the gem in the undrafted free agent class and will factor in to the team’s secondary plans.
DE Adam Gotsis feels ready to shift his off season focus from feeling physically ready to honing his pass-rush skills after a break-out 2017.
Uncertain Futures: WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Cody Latimer, and WR Bennie Fowler.
2018 Opponents: Home: Browns, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Seahawks, Steelers, Texans. Away: 49ers, Bengals, Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders, Ravens, Jets
It is obvious at this point that Elway wants a team that controls (read "runs") the ball, moves the chains and plays defense. An NFL offense's run game amounts to about four or five plays: the inside zone, the outside zone ("stretch play"), power, counter, and some kind of draw. The Broncos were a better run-blocking team than a pass protection team in 2017. OC Bill Musgrave is a conservative play caller with a run heavy approach which fits Elway's plans. Musgrave is a creative offensive coordinator which could be good for Lynch, as could his run centered offense. However, his lack of use of the no-huddle/up-tempo at altitude would be a huge negative. Players tend to do best when specialized and given fewer, more consistent responsibilities. Musgrave's run scheme requires blocking adjustments for each game. His rigid adherence to his system would put more pressure on a struggling, unsettled offensive line that will sport at least two new members. The wide receiver's are woefully inadequate which will allow the opponent defenses to play eight in the box with impunity. TE Jake Butt is more potential than starter after missing his rookie season. TE Virgil Green is the best blocker, but not a top receiver. None of the other tight ends are in Butt/Green's class. Denver's running backs are adequate for a last place team in the AFC West, with only second -year RB De'Angelo Henderson with the potential to be more (but may not get the chance if Anderson and Booker return). The defense allowed 29 TD passes in 2017, nearly as many as they permitted the previous two seasons combined (32) as they focused on stopping the run. IMO, they desperately need an interior pass rusher at nose tackle and an upgrade at inside linebacker. Other needs include quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive guard and offensive tackle. Denver needs to decide if it still has an open championship window or if it is closed for this bunch of players. Cousins could help the Broncos if they think their window is still open, but they are difficult to deal with when it comes to money and Cousins would take up most, if not all of their cap space. Tough decisions for Elway.
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