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2018 Season Review: 5-11 (3rd in AFC West)
The Denver Broncos started out 2018 the same way they had been since winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 2015 season: looking for a QB to pair with a good defense and make it back to the playoffs. They decided to go after Case Keenum instead of Kirk Cousins, and signed Keenum to a two-year $36 million deal after his great year with the Minnesota Vikings. In the draft, they went heavy on offense and took players like WRs Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, and RB Royce Freeman in the first four rounds. With their first round pick they brought in Bradley Chubb, the highest ranked pass rusher in the draft. More importantly they signed RB Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent.
Well all of that offensive help only led to a team that scored 20.6 points which was good for 24th in the league. They were 19th in the league with 230.9 yards passing per game, but were 12th in the league with 119.2 rush yards per game. The rushing was led by the aforementioned Philip Lindsay who ran for 1,037 yards and had another 241 yards receiving with only starting 8 games and played in 15. He out-touched Royce Freeman by 62 rushes and and 21 catches. He also more than doubled Freeman in total yards. Lindsay was easily the Broncos best back but for long stretches the Broncos offensive staff kept giving the ball to Freeman. By no means was Freeman bad, Lindsay was just that good. However, Lindsay was the only bright spot for this offense. Emmanuel Sanders led the team in the receiving in only 10 games with 868 yards before the tore his Achilles. Rookie Courtland Sutton ended up with 704 yards in 16 games, while the Broncos traded former Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans after 8 games. No Texans receiver had more than 4 TDs on the whole year.
Case Keenum was the man to blame for some on their offensive struggles. Keenum did start all 16 games for the Broncos and ended up throwing for 3,890 yards with only 18 TDs and 15 INTS. He also got sacked 34 times on the year and finished with a 47.9 QBR, which is not good. Keenum was a shell of the QB we saw in Minnesota in 2017.
On defense the Broncos were better, but were by no means even close to what they were in 2015. They ended up 13th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 21.8 points per game. That should have been good enough but their offense was so poor some games it just wasn’t enough. There were games the defense only gave up 17 points, 20 points, and 19 points in which they all lost.
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were both studs for the Broncos though. Miller had 14.5 sacks while Chubb had 12. After that though, the Broncos third best sacker only ended up with 3.0. I guess it doesn’t matter when two guys combine for 26.5. They ended up 8th in the league with 44 sacks total and forced 28 turnover while only giving it up 21 times, good for a +7 differential which was in the top half of the league.
The Broncos had the defense to make the playoffs, just not the offense. They started out 2-0 beating the Seahawks and Raiders at home before losing 6 of their next 7. The only win? A 45-10 drubbing of the lowly Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night. After their week 10 bye week though, the Broncos reeled off 3 wins in a row to get to 6-6 and were in the Wild Card hunt until Week 15.
Not only was the offense not good enough, but injuries plagued this team. They lost three of their starting OL during the year to season ending injuries, they lost starting TE Jake Butt to another ACL tear, stud CB Chris Harris Jr. broke his fibula in Week 13 and never returned, Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his Achilles tendon during a practice in early December and never returned, and Phililp Lindsay was lost in Week 16 to a wrist injury.
It just wasn’t the Broncos year. They couldn’t stay healthy, their QB play was poor, and some of their games were just downright boring to watch. Another important note for the Broncos failures is penalties. They were second in the NFL with 125 penalties called on them for 985 yards. It’s hard to win games when you’re penalized that much. (though the Chiefs won 13 games with 137 penalties).
Because of the two years of disappointment, Head Coach Vance Joseph was fired by John Elway at the end of the year. Joseph went 11-21 in his two years in Denver.
Key Off Season Acquisitions
Head Coach Vic Fangio
The rest of the league is going with young, offensive minded coaches and here the Broncos are rebuilding with a reliable veteran QB and getting a defensive coach that has been in the league for a long time and been very good at what he does. If you think about the Broncos last Super Bowl in just a few years ago, you may think Peyton Manning but that team won with a dominate defense. They still have the players to be dominate and now they bring in Vic Fangio who can coach this defense to one of the best in the league.
Fangio most recently was the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears who had one of the best defenses in the league last year and helped lead the Bears to a NFC North crown and a playoff appearance. Fangio is an old school no bullshit kind of guy that is going to take over a veteran team, with pieces all around that can win right away. Out of all the teams in the top 10, the Jaguars and Broncos are really the two team that have the pieces to win now and compete for a division crown.
Fangio will still run a 4-3 defense that will focus on attacking and bringing pressure to the QB. He had Khalil Mack in Chicago last year and gets a better pass rusher in Von Miller in Denver along with Bradley Chubb. Fangio brought Ed Donatell from the Bears with him to be his defensive coordinator. Between Fangio and Donatell, and the talent this defense already has in the place and you have the makings for a defense that should be in the top 10 and be one of the leaders in the league in forcing turnovers.
QB Joe Flacco (via trade with the Baltimore Ravens)
The Broncos traded for Joe Flacco who was run out of Baltimore after starting off last season relatively well then fizzling out and losing his starting gig to Lamar Jackson. Flacco can still play, he can still make all the throws, and has proven he can win in the playoffs. Now he has always had great defenses and good running games during the years he’s made the playoffs. When Flacco is asked to be the offense, he’s struggled in Baltimore. Good for him, he’s going to have a both a good defense and good running game here in Denver. If Denver can stay in the playoff hunt. Flacco should be able to have this starting gig for at least this year before Drew Lock takes over. He is an upgrade to Case Keenum who got paid after having a crazy weird and good year in Minnesota. The Broncos upgraded at QB with Flacco.
RT Ja’Wuan James (4 years, $51 Million)
Von Miller said in June that James is the best RT he’s every practiced against. Now it’s not like the Broncos have had absolute studs at RT in the past with Miller on the team, but that’s still saying something coming from Miller. James comes over from Miami where he was solid but didn’t live up to expectations. This contract looks like an overpay for some but with if James can solidify the RT spot, then the money was well worth it.
CB Kareem Jackson (3 years, $33 Million)
Broncos lose Bradley Roby to the Texans, and they get Jackson from the Texans. Along with Chris Harris and the next guy we’ll discuss and the Broncos could have the best 3 CBs in the league in a division where they have to play the likes of Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, and now Antonio Brown. Jackson will start right away opposite Chris Harris Jr.
CB Bryce Callahan (3 years, $21 Million)
Vic Fangio had a big hand in making Callahan the player he is today and getting him paid. For that, Callahan showed some loyalty and followed Fangio to Denver instead of staying in Chicago. Callahan is a great DB that plays primarily has that slot defender.
2019 NFL Draft
Round 1 Pick #20: TE Noah Fant
The Broncos traded down in the draft with the Pittsburgh Steelers and still got they guy they wanted in Noah Fant. Fant for the most part was always the second TE off the board behind his former teammate CJ Hockenson, but the range of where he was going to get picked was anywhere between #10 to the send round. Fant is 6’4″ 250 pounds which is remarkably similar to former stud Bronco TE Julius Thomas. Fant however, ran a 4.5 compared to Thomas’ 4.6. Fant is a receiving TE, he’s not going to blow you away with blocking but he’ll do what he can. At Iowa Fant lined up everywhere on the field and was used in the quick passing game also. He’ll be a guy Flacco looks to right away and will be starting at TE for the Broncos from day 1.
Round 2 Pick #41: OT Dalton Risner
The Broncos had an incredibly banged up offensive line last year, they were’t the best but played good enough with the injuries, and they lost Billy Turner and Matt Paradis in the offseason, along with some other guys who provided depth. Well the Broncos got a steal in the send round with Risner who was a guy some people thought could go #10 overall to them. Risner will probably play at guard for the Broncos with Taylor and former first round pick Garrett Boles at tackle. Risner will get every chance to start from the get go. But make no mistake about it, 41 picks into the draft the Broncos got one of the best guys in the whole draft.
Round 2 Pick #42: QB Drew Lock
Lock could be the QB of the future. Just like the two guys above him for the Broncos, Lock fell all the way into the second round when he could have gone as high as #10 to the Broncos in the first round. Lock has a great arm and is a big prototypical pocket passer, but he never flashed at Missouri, struggled against good competition in the SEC and had accuracy issues. He is a project for the Broncos but if they stick to Joe Flacco for the next year or two then they have their QB of the future.
Round 3 Pick #71: DL Dre’Mont Jones
A theme here for the Broncos, they get another guy that man felt like fell in the draft. Jones was first team All-Big Ten last year with 43 tackles, 13 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, and 3 fumble recoveries. For a DT he might be on the little side at only around 280 pounds but he was great for Ohio State on the interior. He won’t be a started at that inside position and because he can rush the passer so well, don’t be surprised to see him rotating in at DE maybe even more than DT. Either way, Vic Fangio and company will be able to play Jones all over the line.
Key Off Season Departures
C Matt Paradis (lost via free agency to the Carolina Panthers)
Paradis was a captain for the Broncos, and reliable until he broke his leg in game nine last year. Apparently John Elway wasn’t sure about his ankle going into this year and didn’t want to spend the money on him. Not only do they lose one of their best OL, but they lost a captain. The Broncos will look to Connor McGovern to replace him.
G Billy Turner (lost via free agency to the Green Bay Packers)
Turner was not a starter for the Broncos but he was a guy who could fill in anywhere on the line, and he was solid when he started. He got money to start in Green Bay which is why he left, but the depth of this OL will be whats effected if the Broncos suffer a ton of injuries again.
CB Bradley Roby (lost via free agency to the Houston Texans)
This isn’t a huge loss with what they replaced him with but Roby was great with Denver. They didn’t want to give him big money long term so he took a 1 year deal with Houston where he’ll try to prove himself and get a big contract next year. Roby will be missed but with a new defensive coordinator and replacing him with Jackson and Callahan, this loss won’t be felt too badly.
This Broncos team as all the talent to make a playoff run, they have a brand new start with a good veteran coach, and they have a QB who has proven he can win under the correct circumstances in Joe Flacco. The key to this team compared to last year is simply playing healthy. Any team that loses 3 of their starters on the OL, their best WR, and second best defensive player are not going to have the greatest success in the world.
Going into 2019 the Broncos have a new and improved OL, they have a very good young RB (two of them in fact), two good young WRs (Hamilton & Sutton), and a good young TE (Fant) to go with Joe Flacco. Just like very team the Broncos have had since winning the Super Bowl, this success of this team will rely heavily on the QB play. Just like his whole career, many are split on whether Flacco can still play at a high level. I believe he can, and obviously John Elway does too. Flacco needs a run first team and can also play great defense. Those are the kinds of teams he led in Baltimore to many playoff wins and that is the makeup of the 2019 Denver Broncos.
Defensively, this team won’t miss a beat. The weakest part of the defense is the LB core but when you have guys like Miller and Chubb up front with the CB group they have, the LB corps is allowed to be weaker than the rest. This defense should be in the top 10 in scoring, and with Vic Fangio should be one of the leading teams in forcing turnovers.
Another hiccup for the Broncos is their division. The Chiefs won 13 games last year, and the Chargers won 12. Neither team should be missing a beat. The Raiders won 12 games a few years ago and they are reloaded on offense and defense. The Raiders won’t compete for the playoffs most likely, but the already split with the Broncos last year. The Broncos are going to have a tough time making the playoffs with they can only win one or two AFC West games like they did last year.
The AFC West gets to play the NFC North and AFC South this year. The Broncos got third in the AFC West last year so they also draw the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills.
The Broncos get two prime-time games, one of the Monday Night Football openers at the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and a Thursday Night game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7. The Broncos get their bye week in Week 10.
The Broncos have a lot of new pieces that are going to need to get acquaited quickly, they have a tough opening half of the season. After they open with the Raiders, the only team they play in their first 8 games that didn’t make the playoffs the past two years is at the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 and well, the Packers should be a lot better. They get to play the Bears, Jaguars, Titans, and Chiefs at home, and play the Chargers and Colts on the road after the Raiders. I mean other than the Chiefs, all those teams had VERY good defenses last year and the Broncos need to break in Joe Flacco with a new offensive coordinator. If Flacco sucks early and the fans clamor for Drew Lock, it’s going to get ugly for him. The second half of the schedule eases up on the Broncos but not by much. If the Broncos want to make a playoff run, they’re gonna have to somehow come out of those first eight games with at least a .500 record. Good luck.
Fantasy Player You Want
Noah Fant. If there’s one rookie TE I want it is Fant. He’ll get drafted behind Hockenson, he has a QB who loves to throw to the TE, and he’s a better receiving TE than Hockenson. I think Fant has an immediate connection with Flacco, and even Drew Lock if he’s thrown into action. Also, you’ll probably be able to get Fant much later in the draft than a guy like Hockenson.
Fantasy Player to Avoid
I gotta go with Phillip Lindsay here just because I don’t want him in the first two rounds, and that’s where I think he’ll go. He’s a small back and the Broncos picked Royce Freeman higher than Lindsay. I think Lindsay has a good year but I see the Broncos more of a committee than the majority of the touches to Lindsay.
I really like Fangio and this roster makeup. If the offensive line can stay healthy and keep Flacco upright with a strong run game, I can see this team winning 10 games behind that defense. Their schedule is tough but the second half opens up a bit. This is a tough team to get a handle on.
This total revolves around Joe Flacco. If he’s a dud and Drew Lock has to play this season, I could see the Broncos only winning 5 games this year. This offense has talent but could easily be pretty poor, and then combine that with a tough early schedule and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team something like 3-5 or 2-6 after their first 8 weeks.