How the Denver Broncos can Improve Into AFC Contenders
Two years removed from a dominating Super Bowl 50 victory, the Denver Broncos are a shell of that championship team. The team is coming off of its worst season in six seasons, when the franchise faltered to a 4-12 record back in 2011. After finishing the 2017 season with a 5-11 records, the team is desperately searching for a way to improve themselves and return to its championship form.
Despite finishing the season with the fifth best defense in terms of total yards allowed and boasting one of the best players in the NFL in Von Miller, the Broncos are still in need of improvement all across the roster. In the midst of free agency and with the 2018 draft fast approaching, the Broncos have the opportunity to to improve their roster to contend in AFC once again.
Upgrade the Offensive Line
The Broncos’ 26th-ranked scoring offense was limited by the play of its offensive line. The constant rotation of linemen allowed 52 quarterback sacks last season (30th in the NFL). The Broncos will need to continue upgrading their offensive line if they wish to give newly sign quarterback Case Keenum any chance of succeeding in 2018. With the bulk of free agent offensive linemen signed, the Broncos will need to turn to the draft to address the remaining holes on the offensive line.
With the fifth overall pick in the draft, the Broncos could take Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. While guards are rare selections in the top-five of NFL drafts, Nelson is considered to be an exception. Widely considered the best guard prospect in years, Nelson has been mocked as high as no. two in the draft. Nelson would line up opposite of Ronald Leary and next to Pro Bowl center Matt Paradis. The addition of Nelson could provide the Broncos with one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL.
If the Broncos have confidence in third year guard Connor McGovern to take over at guard, the team could turn towards one of the tackles in draft. It’s worth noting that most of the Broncos’ front office was in attendance for Oklahoma’s Pro Day to watch star quarterback Baker Mayfield, but also to scout the draft’s top tackle prospect Orlando Brown. The options are there for the Broncos to improve their offensive line, which is sorely needed to improve the team’s chances of offensive success in 2018.
Improve Keenum’s Receiving Corps
The Broncos have been desperately searching for a third wide receiver since the release of Wes Welker following the 2014 season. Over the past three seasons, the Broncos have failed to find a suitable third receiving option behind the Pro Bowl duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Parting ways with former receivers Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler leave the Broncos searching for a reliable third receiver and overall depth at the position especially in wake of losing receiver/returner Jordan Taylor for most of the offseason with a hip injury.
A familiar name still on the free agent market is Eric Decker. Decker player for the Broncos for four seasons before signing with the New York Jets. Decker’s veteran presence would be a welcomed addition to the Broncos locker room. The recently released receiver Allen Hurns or former first rounder Kendall Wright would also be options to fill the void of the third receiver for the Broncos’ offense.
Equally important is the tight end position. Much like a third receiver, the Broncos have sorely missed a reliable starting tight end for quite some time. Currently, the two projected tight ends on the roster are Jake Butt and Jeff Heuerman. Butt, coming off a red-shirt rookie season as he recovered from an ACL injury has yet to start an NFL game. Heuerman has yet to prove himself as a viable number one tight end. A veteran tight end like Brent Celek could be beneficial while Butt adjusts to a starting tight end. Perhaps a reunion with former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas could be beneficial for both sides.
Put fear back into their pass rush
Aside from future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller, the Broncos produced little pass rush in 2017. Once a position of strength, the Broncos finished a lukewarm 22nd in the NFL in sacks per game in 2017, averaging only 2.1 sacks per game. Miller continues to play at an All-Pro level, finishing 2017 with ten sacks and rated at Pro Football Focus’ no. one edge rusher. However, the next best pass rusher on the team was Shelby Harris, who only notched 5.5 sacks.
Opposite of Miller is the rotation of Shaquil Barrett and former 2015 first round pick Shane Ray. Barrett is currently playing on a one-year restricted free agent tender and will seek a long-term deal after the season. Ray, meanwhile, has yet to stay healthy enough to live up to the player the Broncos thought he could be when they selected him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Ray’s future is also an uncertainty. His rookie contract will reach its fifth-year option at the conclusion of the season. Regardless of either player’s long-term future, theNFL Broncos need to improve their pass rush.
In 2018, the Broncos will move 2017 second round draft pick DeMarcus Walker back to defensive end, his natural position. After a failed attempt of putting him at outside linebacker, Walker will look to rekindle the pass rushing magic he had conjured in his days at Florida State. At this stage ion free agency, only situational pass rushers such as Dee Ford or Pernell McPhee remain on the market. This will be a telling year for the future of the Broncos’ defense. The team will need younger players like Ray, Barrett, Harris and Walker to make an impact this season to put fear back into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks.