Perhaps no team in recent history has fallen from the ranks of the elite as quickly as the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl champions in 2015, Denver finished with a 5-11 record last season and earned the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft. There are holes all over the roster, but the biggest was at quarterback.
The Broncos cycled through Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch, with Siemian the only signal-caller to win a game. One free agent signing later, and Denver should be in contention for the division crown this year.
Siemian, Osweiler, and Lynch combined to go 332-of-566 for 3,668 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. For reference, Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer led the league in picks with 22, and he didn’t have Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to throw to.
With a deteriorating roster, general manager John Elway knew his team wasn’t going anywhere without a solid QB, so he signed former Minnesota Viking Case Keenum to a two-year contract worth $36 million. Based on his performance last season, the career journeyman earned his deal.
Keenum started 14 games in relief of Sam Bradford in 2017, going 11-3. He completed 325 of his 481 attempts for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns, and only seven INTs. Whether or not Keenum will repeat his stellar performance is a valid question, as his previous career-high for TDs in a season was nine in 2016, when he also threw 11 interceptions. Of course, that was in Jeff Fisher’s offense.
C.J. Anderson is gone, replaced by the duo of third-year runner Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman. Running back won’t be a weaknes as both players should be solid, but neither is a Pro Bowl-type player at this point in their careers.
The strength of Denver’s offense is their receiving corps. Thomas and Sanders have been one of the NFL’s best pass-catching duos for years and should once again make life easier for their QB. Second-round pick Courtland Sutton has All-Pro potential and should make an instant impact, even if he doesn’t start.
Fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton is a solid possession receiver who will help to move the chains. 2017 third-round selection Carlos Henderson has been away from the team, and his future in Denver is uncertain. If he returns, he has the talent to be a very good player in this league. If he doesn’t, the Broncos already have more than enough talent to make up for his absence.
Denver’s weapons aren’t limited to just the wide receiver position. Third-year tight end Jeff Heuerman will see an expanded role this season, and he should make the most of it. His college rival Jake Butt made his NFL debut this preseason after missing 2017 with an injury. If not for that injury, Butt would have been a first or second-round pick. Instead, the Broncos stole him in the fifth round, and he should reward them with his play.
The offensive line doesn’t have much experience playing with each other, but it should still be a solid unit. Garrett Bolles has plenty of potential on the left side, and former Cardinal Jared Veldheer should anchor the right. Right guard Connor McGovern is the weak link, but Veldheer and center Matt Paradis should be able to hide him, at least to a certain degree.
The Broncos are banking on Keenum replicating his 2017 season, and they’ve done everything they can to ensure that he does. But if Keenum reverts back to his career average, Denver is in trouble.
The Broncos were a top five defense in each category last season, except for the most important one. They ranked 22nd in points given up, but they improved the sum talent on that side of the ball for this year.
The defensive line doesn’t have a bona fide star on it, but it is a solid unit nonetheless. 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker is moving back to his natural position of 3-4 DE so he should improve playing opposite of Derek Wolfe.
The linebackers host two of Denver’s best players. Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis are good defenders in the middle, but the real stars are pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb. Miller will have his usual dominant season, but Chubb will be the more interesting story to follow, as outside linebacker is not his natural position. He is more of a power rusher and could struggle to keep up with the duties of a 3-4 OLB, especially in pass coverage. Opposing offenses will look to expose Chubb with packages that force him to cover running backs or tight ends down the field on pass plays.
Passing attacks have to target Chubb and the other linebackers because Denver’s secondary is so good. Aqib Talib is gone, but Chris Harris Jr. is one of the the league’s best corners, and Bradley Roby is more than capable of moving into the starting lineup alongside him. Former Viking Tramaine Brock will be in the slot. Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons are a solid safety tandem, and former Washington Redskin Su’a Cravens provides depth and has the potential to develop into a good moneybacker.
Yet another top-10 finish is likely for the Broncos’ defense, and with a brand new offense, it will be good for the team to have something to rely on.
2018 Broncos Outlook
Denver should see a considerable improvement this year, if only due to the addition of Keenum. The Los Angeles Chargers are still probably the better overall team, but the Broncos should be relatively comparable. The Raiders are a toss-u, with new head coach Jon Gruden and a very old roster, while the Chiefs are starting second-year QB Patrick Mahomes and could experience some growing pains because of it, specifically against a defense like Denver’s.
If Keenum is as good as he was last year, Denver could win the division.