Over the off-season, the Denver Broncos acquired a new quarterback in Case Keenum. In the NFL Draft, the team also injected some much-needed fresh, young talent into the wide receiver position group. With OTAs well underway, fans can oftentimes get swept up in the “hype” that a team or its surrounding media creates during early practices.
A repeat of the Broncos’ record-setting 2013 season would be close to impossible for this offense to repeat. However, there is a reason for optimism in the Mile High City, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Looking past the off-season’s optimistic viewpoint, this is a realistic outlook fans should expect from the Broncos 2018 receiving corps.
What to Expects Out of the 2018 Denver Broncos Receiving Corps
It seems like an eternity ago that Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were considered shoe-ins for the Pro Bowl. Both receivers consistently put up gaudy numbers under Peyton Manning-led offenses. Stuck in a Broncos offense piloted by mediocre quarterback play, both receivers have seen their stats drop dramatically over the past two seasons. Many believe that with the signing of Keenum, both receivers will once again return to Pro Bowl form. Keenum gives them both a better chance to accomplish that than anything the Broncos had under center over the past two seasons.
Thomas enters 2018 coming off his worst season, statistically, since his sophomore campaign when he started only five games. He turns 31 in December, and while his best days are likely behind him, he still should have enough left to continue to be a serviceable number one receiver. With Keenum under center, fans should expect Thomas to perform similarly to his 2016 campaign. That season, he logged 90 catches for 1,083 yards and six touchdowns. A similar stat line should be expected with Keenum under center in 2018. While his days of sure-fire 1,300+ yard seasons are likely over, Thomas should continue to produce solid numbers in 2018.
Sanders is a bit more of a wild card than Thomas. Early in the off-season, there was a high possibility that Sanders might not be in Denver for the 2018 season. Rumors began to surface that the Broncos reportedly fielded trade offers for Sanders early in the off-season. A variety of injuries limited Sanders to only 12 games in 2017, where he registered only 555 yards. Finally healthy and playing with Keenum under center, fans should expect a typical Sanders’ season once again. A good comparison might be similar to Stephon Diggs’ season last year in Minnesota. Playing a secondary receiver to Pro Bowler Adam Thielen, Diggs caught 64 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns.
Overall, fans should be excited for Thomas/Sanders heading into 2018. While both receivers are older than they were during the Manning-era, they should continue to be effective at the receiver position and produce at a fringe-Pro Bowl level.
The buzz of the Broncos OTAs has been their two rookie wide receivers. Second round draft pick Courtland Sutton and fourth-round pick DaeSean Hamilton have been making waves early and often. Both selections were praised by fans and draft analysts alike. Many went so far as to say that these two receivers would eventually be the replacements for Thomas and Sanders. While that is unlikely to happen this season, it should be worth noting that both receivers practiced with the first-team offense with Thomas and Sanders absent from a day of voluntary OTAs.
Sutton has been the center of the Broncos OTA hype, continuing to impress coaches and players alike with his ability to make spectacular catches on a routine basis. It’s hard to tell how much playing time Sutton will receive in his first year, as Sutton’s size (6’3″) makes him a better fit as an outside receiver. This is typically where Thomas and Sanders normally line up. However, Sutton could see extensive playing time in three and four-receiver sets, opposite of Thomas. This would move Sanders inside, into the slot receiver position. As Sutton adjusts to the NFL game, fans should temper their expectations for Sutton’s rookie campaign. While he might see limited time in certain offensive packages or as a red zone threat, make no mistake: Sutton is the future at wide receiver for the Broncos.
Sutton’s fellow rookie receiver DaeSean Hamilton could be an immediate impact at wide receiver. Hamilton spent all four years of his college career playing exclusively from the slot position. Luckily for Hamilton, that’s exactly what the Broncos need most at wide receiver. While Sutton will likely stay behind Thomas/Sanders on the outside depth chart. Hamilton should have the opportunity to start right away as the Broncos’ number three receiver. Though still a rookie, fans should expect Hamilton to be on the field frequently, especially on third down situations.
Life in the NFL changes on a daily basis. Careers can start (and end) within a moment’s notice, sometimes beyond the player’s control. Two draft picks from a year ago might have seen their opportunities to make an impact on the Broncos slip away over the span of just one off-season. One was a victim of circumstance, and another has simply failed to live up to expectations.
Isaiah McKenzie‘s struggles last season were well-documented, fumbling the ball six times on punt returns. McKenzie might have cost himself an opportunity to contribute at wide receiver, but also at punt returner. Early in OTAs, McKenzie faces stiff competition at punt returner from rookie underrated free agent Phillip Lindsey. McKenzie’s blunders from last season have definitely hurt his chances of even making the team this season, evidenced by the Broncos drafting two receivers early in the draft. Coupled with his decreased role at receiver in OTAs, McKenzie faces an early uphill battle to make the team.
Carlos Henderson, on the other hand, was unable to see playing time last season. Buried on a depth chart of different receivers, Henderson never truly got his chance. After the Broncos cleaned house at receiver in the off-season, the team was reportedly zeroing in on Henderson being the team’s primary slot receiver. Unfortunately for Henderson, the drafting of DaeSean Hamilton all but makes that possibility nothing more than a pipe dream. Henderson will have a hard time seeing the field this season. If both rookies continue to impress, he will likely be behind both rookie receivers on the depth chart. McKenzie and Henderson could find themselves fighting for the last receiver spot on the roster during training camp.