Denver Broncos 2022 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Broncos were just 7-10 last season, but things were better than that suggests. The Broncos were 7-6 and in the middle of a close game with the Bengals when they lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the rest of the season with a concussion, leading to the Broncos losing their final four games of the season. Bridgewater was also knocked out of an eventual loss to the Ravens earlier in the season, so the Broncos were actually 7-5 last season in games that Bridgewater started and finished. Bridgewater also was far from their only key player who missed time last season, as the Broncos had the 5th most adjusted games lost to injury in the league. Despite that, the Broncos actually finished with a positive point differential at +13, suggesting they still were better than their 7-10 record, even with all of the talent that was sidelined.

Bridgewater was unspectacular, completing 66.9% of his passes for an average of 7.16 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while finishing 21st among 39 eligible quarterbacks on PFF, but he was significantly better than backup Drew Lock, who completed 60.4% of his passes for an average of 7.09 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while finishing 32nd among quarterbacks on PFF. Still, with Bridgewater set to hit free agency this off-season, the Broncos were in the market for an upgrade and they found one when the Seahawks decided to trade them their long-time franchise quarterback Russell Wilson for two first round picks, two second round picks, a fifth round pick, and three players, including Drew Lock, as well as starting tight end Noah Fant and talented defensive lineman Shelby Harris.

The Seahawks moved him because he is highly paid (51 million over the next two seasons) and getting up there in age (age 34 season), while the Seahawks are seemingly hitting the reset button and undergoing a rebuild, but Wilson was consistently one of the best quarterbacks in the league throughout his 10 years in Seattle and has yet to show many signs of slowing down. In total, Wilson has completed 65.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 292 touchdowns, and 87 interceptions in his career, while rushing for 4,689 yards and 23 touchdowns on 846 carries (5.54 YPC), and finishing in the top-10 among quarterbacks on PFF in seven of ten seasons.

Wilson missed three games with a finger injury last season, but he had never missed a game with injury in his entire career prior to that and returned from a 6-8 week injury much quicker than expected. Wilson wasn’t quite the same immediately upon his return, but after his first three games back, he returned to form. If you exclude those first three starts after his return, Wilson completed 67.7% of his passes for an average of 8.24 YPA, 23 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while earning PFF’s 10th highest grade among quarterbacks over those games.

Athletic quarterbacks like Russell Wilson tend not to age as well, as their athleticism declines, and Wilson is coming off by far his worst rushing season in terms of carries (43) and yards (183), but he should remain at least an above average quarterback for another season, even if he doesn’t bounce back as a runner. He significantly elevates the ceiling of a Broncos team that has a lot of talent around the quarterback and that is clearly in win now mode, after giving up a significant amount of draft capital. 

One thing the Broncos still need to do is find a better backup quarterback, with Brett Rypien currently in line to be the #2 quarterback. Rypien was undrafted in 2019 and has thrown just 42 passes in three seasons with the Broncos, posting a 61.2 QB rating, so he would be a very underwhelming option if Wilson were to go down. Rypien’s only competition right now is career journeyman Josh Johnson, the other quarterback on their roster, who has made just 5 starts over the past 10 seasons. Even with the backup quarterback situation though, the Broncos are still in an enviable situation under center.

Grade: A-

Receiving Corps

One position group where the Broncos had significant injury absences was wide receiver, where Jerry Jeudy missed 7 games and KJ Hamler missed 14 games. Fortunately, the Broncos had a lot of depth at the wide receiver position going into last season and wide receivers Courtland Sutton (58/776/2) and Tim Patrick (53/734/5) led this group in receiving with Jeudy and Hamler missing time. All four should be healthy going into 2022, so this is a deep group, even if they lack a true #1 receiver.

Sutton and Patrick had pretty underwhelming 1.43 and 1.48 yards per route run averages, in part because of their inconsistent quarterback play, but Jerry was significantly better at 1.85 yards per route run, so getting a full season out of him should be a boost for this offense. That would especially be true if the 2020 1st round pick takes a step forward in his third season in the league, still only in his age 23 season. 

Jeudy also had a 1.66 yards per route run average as a rookie, so he’s flashed a lot of potential so far, and he has the upside to be a #1 receiver long-term. Hamler was also drafted early in 2020, taken in the second round, but he hasn’t shown much so far, averaging just 1.18 yards per route run. Hamler still has upside, but coming off a torn ACL doesn’t help and he figures to open the season as the clear #4 receiver, unless injuries strike ahead of him on the depth chart.

Sutton has been a #1 receiver for the Broncos in the past, surpassing the 1000 yard mark with a 72/1112/6 slash line in 2019 (2.08 yards per route run), in just his second season in the league. That made it seem like he’d be a #1 receiver for years to come, but he tore his ACL early in 2020 and did not seem to be the same upon his return in 2021, even if he didn’t miss a game. He has a lot of bounce back potential though, now another year removed from the injury, especially now that he has a significant upgrade under center.

With Jeudy and Sutton possessing the most upside of the bunch, Tim Patrick will likely settle in as the #3 receiver, a role he’s a little overqualified for. The 2017 undrafted free agent didn’t do much early in his career, but he’s had back-to-back solid seasons for the Broncos, with slash lines of 51/742/6 and 53/734/5 respectively and an average of 1.59 yards per route run over those two seasons. He probably won’t match the target totals he had in 2019 (79) and 2020 (85), with Jeudy and Sutton likely to command significantly more targets than him, but he also gets an upgrade at quarterback, so he could still remain a productive player in a smaller role.

Wilson won’t have the benefit of tight end Noah Fant, who went the opposite way in the trade with Seattle. Fant had a solid season as a receiver, averaging 1.52 yards per route run, but he struggled as a blocker and the Broncos have a good internal replacement for him in Albert Okwuegbunam. A 2020 4th round pick, Okwuegbunam hasn’t gotten to play much thus far in his career, limited to 86 snaps by injury as a rookie and then playing 421 snaps as Fant’s backup last season, but he’s flashed a lot of potential as a receiver, averaging 2.02 yards per route run. He’s not much of a blocker either and he’s a projection to a larger role, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ended up as an upgrade over Fant as a receiver.

The Broncos will still miss Fant though, as they won’t be able to pass out of two tight end sets as effectively as they did last season. They used a 3rd round pick on UCLA’s Greg Dulcich, but he might be too raw to have a big role as a rookie, so the Broncos could lean on veteran Eric Tomlinson as the #2 tight end. Tomlinson is a capable blocker, but has never been much of a receiver, with 18 career catches in 54 games in the league. The Broncos will likely use more three and four wide receiver sets to make up for their lack of tight end depth, but they have plenty of wide receiver depth and Okwuegbunam has the upside to be an above average receiving option.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

The Broncos also had a lot of injuries on the offensive line last season, as they didn’t have a single starter play all 17 games, missing a total of 16 games across the five starters. All five starters earned average or better or grades from PFF, so they played well when healthy, and they return four of those five starters, so if they can stay healthier, they have a good chance to be an above average unit. The one change they made was at right tackle, where free agent Bobby Massie was not retained and was replaced by free agent acquisition Billy Turner, which is essentially a lateral change.

Also capable of playing guard, Turner has been a capable, if unspectacular starter over the past four seasons, making 54 starts in total. His age is a concern, now going into his age 31 season, but he hasn’t shown any signs of dropping off, so he has a good chance to remain at least a capable starter. If he struggles, he would likely be replaced by fellow veteran free agent acquisition Tom Compton, a versatile player who should provide depth across the board. Compton has never made more than 14 starts in a season in 10 seasons in the league (44 total starts) and now heads into his age 33 season, but he’s played well when depended on, finishing above average on PFF in three of the past four seasons, doing so both at guard and at tackle.

Compton won’t be the Broncos’ only talented reserve either, as they have four starting caliber players competing for three starting spots on the interior of their offensive line. Graham Glasgow and Lloyd Cushenberry were the Broncos starters at right guard and center respectively going into last season, with 3rd round rookie Quinn Meinerz serving as a reserve, but Glasgow was limited to 384 snaps by injuries, opening the door for Meinerz to play 623 snaps as a rookie and he fared pretty well, finishing 38th among guards on PFF.

At center, Cushenberry made the most starts of any Broncos offensive lineman with 16, but the 2020 3rd round pick was a middling starter, after struggling mightily in 16 rookie year starts, so Meinerz could be an upgrade on him. The Broncos could also keep Meinerz at guard and move Glasgow inside to center, where he has some experience earlier in his career. Another option they have is just moving Glasgow to the bench, which could happen if he doesn’t play well in training camp, coming off of a broken leg and going into his age 30 season.

Signed to a 4-year, 44 million dollar deal in free agency two off-seasons ago, Glasgow was a consistently above average starter throughout his time in Detroit, whether he played guard or center, but, in two seasons in Denver, he’s been limited to 20 games total by injury and he’s mostly been a middling starter. The Broncos only kept him this off-season after he cut his expected 9.5 million dollar salary down to 3.2 million and, even if he can bounce back from his most recent injury, the Broncos might not have a starting spot for him, on a deep offensive line.

Left guard Dalton Risner is the most secure in his role of any of the Broncos’ interior offensive linemen, having earned an average or better grade from PFF in three seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2019 (47 of 49 possible starts), including a career best 31st ranked finish on PFF in 15 starts in 2021. He should have another solid season. The Broncos also bring back reserve Netane Muti, who has been underwhelming in four career starts in two seasons since the Broncos took him in the 6th round in 2020 and who will likely be further down on the depth chart on a deeper offensive line this season.

The best player on this offensive line is left tackle Garett Bolles, who finished 26th among offensive tackles on PFF last season, after a 4th ranked season in 2020. Bolles was a first round pick in 2017 and struggled mightily with penalties early in his career, so much so that the Broncos declined his 5th year option for 2021, despite the fact that he allowed just 14 sacks in 48 starts in his first three seasons in the league. 

Bolles’ 45 penalties from 2017-2019 led the league over that stretch, but he’s committed just 15 in two seasons since, leading to the Broncos keeping him on a 4-year, 68 million dollar extension long-term. As long as he can continue to avoid penalties, Bolles should remain one of the best offensive tackles in the league again in 2022. He’ll be backed up by Calvin Anderson, a 2019 undrafted free agent who has just five career starts, but who flashed a lot of potential in 172 snaps last season. This is a deep offensive line without any clear weaknesses in the starting five.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

The strength of this offense last season was their running game, as they had a pair of running backs in Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams who both were effective on over 200 carries, leading the team to a 4.45 YPC average, 10th best in the NFL. It looked like the Broncos would lose Gordon this off-season, but they re-signed him as a free agent and they did so relatively cheaply, on a 1-year, 2.5 million dollar deal. A second round pick last season, Williams could take on a larger percentage of the carries in year two and the Broncos are unlikely to rely on their running backs as much with Russell Wilson being added, but both backs should still have a significant role on this offense and they could find more running room now that the passing game is more of a downfield threat.

Gordon turned his 203 carries into 918 yards (4.52 YPC) and 8 touchdowns and ranked 16th in the NFL in carry success rate (55%), while Williams had a slightly lower YPC average on an identical amount of carries, rushing for 903 yards and 4 touchdowns (4.45 YPC) and a lower carry success rate (48%), but averaged more yards after contact than Gordon (3.42 vs. 3.12), broke more tackles (63 vs. 48). and was the more effective player in the passing game (1.21 yards per route run vs. 0.86). Overall, both finished above average on PFF, with Gordon ranking 15th among running backs on PFF and Williams ranking 18th at the position.

Gordon is a 7-year veteran who has surpassed at least 150 carries in every season in the league, rushing for 4.16 YPC and 53 touchdowns on 1,477 career carries. He used to be used more in the passing game earlier in his career with the Chargers (284 career catches for 2,244 yards and 12 touchdowns), but has not been as involved since joining the Broncos two off-seasons ago. Williams figures to be the primary passing down back again, but both players will play a big role in both situations. The Broncos also have Mike Boone as the #3 running back and he’s averaged 5.52 YPC on 75 career carries in four seasons in the league. He could be a decent fill-in if either running back missed time with injury. This is a talented backfield.

Grade: A-

Edge Defenders

The Broncos finished last season 10th in defensive efficiency, which is even more impressive when you consider that arguably their three best players and their three highest graded players on PFF all didn’t finish the season with the team, with Alexander Johnson (323 snaps) and Josey Jewell (82 snaps) going down for the season with injury and Von Miller (328 snaps) getting traded to the Rams for a second and third round pick, ahead of his pending free agency this off-season. 

The Broncos replaced Miller by signing ex-Cowboy Randy Gregory to a 5-year, 70 million dollar deal with 28 million guaranteed in free agency this off-season. Gregory comes with plenty of risk, as a soon-to-be-30-year-old who missed all of 2017 and 2019 with suspension and who has never played more than 14 games or 457 snaps in a season due to disciplinary and durability problems, but Gregory has been heavily effective when on the field, especially as a pass rusher, and he could prove to be a good value if he can keep on his recent play. 

For his career, Gregory has had a 12.7% pressure rate and he’s been especially good over the past two seasons since getting his life on track, totaling 9.5 sacks, 20 hits, and a 13.9% pressure rate in 22 games, while finishing 11th and 18th among edge defenders in overall grade on PFF in the two seasons respectively. He’s also missed 11 games over that stretch and it’s unclear if he can hold up as the 600-700 snaps per season type player that the Broncos are paying him to be, but he could easily prove to be a worthwhile risk.

Gregory will start opposite Bradley Chubb, who is coming off of a very disappointing season, being limited to 268 snaps in 7 games by injury and struggling when on the field, with 0 sacks, 4 hits, and a 6.9% pressure rate. Chubb also was limited to 233 snaps in 2019 by injury, but the 2018 5th overall pick has shown a lot of potential when healthy, totaling 19.5 sacks, 19 hits, and a 13.0% pressure rate in 30 games between 2018 and 2020, and he’s still only going into his age 26 season, so he has a lot of bounce back potential. He also has all the financial incentive in the world to perform this season, going into the final year of his rookie deal, with a big payday in free agency likely awaiting him if he can bounce back. Gregory and Chubb both come with risk, but they have the potential to be an above average edge defender duo.

The Broncos have good edge defender depth too, especially after using their second round pick on Oklahoma edge defender Nik Bonitto. The Broncos also have Jonathon Cooper (457 snaps) and Malik Reed (737 snaps), who saw significant roles last season with Chubb missing a lot of the season and Miller getting traded. Cooper was a 7th round pick in 2021 and, while he didn’t show much as a pass rusher as a rookie, with 2.5 sacks, 4 hits, and a 8.7% pressure rate, he excelled as a run defender. I don’t know if he’ll ever develop into a starter, which rarely happens from a 7th round pick, but he should provide decent depth again. Reed, an undrafted free agent in 2019, is a similar player, generally earning above average grades from PFF for his run defense, but totaling just 15 sacks, 17 hits, and a 7.8% pressure rate in 45 career games. This group has a lot of potential and depth, but their starters come with a lot of risk.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

Shelby Harris was traded to the Seahawks in the Russell Wilson trade and the Broncos will miss him, especially as a pass rusher, with him totaling 6 sacks, 5 hits, and a 9.0% pressure rate last season, a great rate for a player who almost exclusively lines up on the interior. With Harris gone, Dre’Mont Jones will likely be the Broncos’ top interior defender, after playing 560 snaps and 614 snaps over the past two seasons respectively. The 2019 3rd round pick doesn’t hold up well against the run, but he’s an effective interior pass rusher, with 15.5 sacks, 13 hits, and a 9.3% pressure rate in three seasons in the league. He also may still have untapped potential, only heading into his age 25 season.

Harris will effectively be replaced by free agent signing DJ Jones, who comes over from the 49ers on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal. A 6th round pick in 2017, Jones has developed into a capable player and is coming off the best season of his career, playing 550 snaps and earning above average grades for his run defense and pass rush. If he keeps that up, he should be worth what the Broncos are paying him, but, prior to last season, he had never earned more than a middling overall grade from PFF for a season, nor had he ever played more than 420 snaps in a season, so he’s not a guarantee to repeat the best season of his career. Either way, Jones should have a significant role as a starter alongside Dre’Mont Jones.

The Broncos didn’t retain reserve Shamar Stephen (393 snaps), but they will bring back fellow reserves Mike Purcell (361 snaps) and DeShawn Williams (386 snaps). Purcell is strictly a base package nose tackle and has just a 3.3% career pressure rate, but he’s earned above average grades from PFF for his run defense in three straight seasons and the Broncos won’t need him to play much more than the limited role he’s played in recent years. Going into his age 31 season, there’s some possibility his run defense drops off, but he has a good chance to remain a useful rotational player.

Williams, meanwhile, is more of a pass rusher than a run stopper (career 7.7% pressure rate), but he declined across the board in 2021 and finished below average on PFF, after a surprise breakout year on 436 snaps in 2020. Williams played just 57 career snaps between going undrafted in 2015 and his 2020 breakout season, so there was always skepticism that he would be able to repeat that performance. Now going into his age 30 season, he has a little bounce back potential, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he kept struggling, especially against the run.

The Broncos also have some young prospects competing for reserve roles, as they drafted Eyloma Uwazurike in the 4th round and Matt Henningsen in the 6th round in this past draft and have 2020 3rd round pick McTelvin Agim. Agim has shown nothing in two years in the league, struggling mightily across just 231 career snaps, and the selection of two defensive linemen in this year’s draft isn’t a good sign for Agim’s long-term chances, but he still theoretically has upside. None of the young players figure to see significant action early in the season, but they could be forced into a larger role by injury. This group will miss Shelby Harris, but it’s still not a bad group overall.

Grade: B

Linebackers

Off ball linebacker is the position where the Broncos were the most affected by injury last season, as every down linebackers Josey Jewell and AJ Johnson both played at a high level when on the field, but were limited to 82 snaps in two games and 323 snaps in six games respectively. Both were free agents this off-season and the Broncos only retained Jewell, replacing Johnson with ex-Eagle Alex Singleton. A late bloomer who didn’t play a defensive snap between going undrafted in 2015 and his first career defensive action in 2020, Singleton has plenty of tackles over the past two seasons (257 total), but he struggles mightily in coverage and has only earned middling overall grades from PFF in both seasons, despite his high tackle totals.

Singleton was only signed to a 1-year deal worth 1.115 million, so it’s possible he could see some competition from the Broncos’ reserve linebackers, who were forced into larger roles last season in the absence of Jewell and Johnson. Baron Browning led this group with 528 snaps played last season, doing so in just 10 games, and he held up pretty well for a third round rookie, earning a middling grade from PFF. He will probably be a reserve, but has the best shot of anyone to push Singleton for a starting role.

Justin Strnad (314 snaps) and Jonas Griffith (255 snaps) also played significant roles for this team down the stretch. Griffith, undrafted in 2020, flashed as a run stuffer in his first career action, but didn’t hold up as well in coverage and would be a projection to a larger role, so I wouldn’t expect a significant snap total from him, while Strnad, a 5th round pick in 2020, struggled mightily in the first significant action of his career and would not seem to be a strong candidate for a larger role. Still, with Browning in the mix as a reserve option, the Broncos have better linebacker depth than most teams.

Josey Jewell, meanwhile, re-signed on a 2-year, 11 million dollar deal this off-season, so he should be locked into his role as an every down linebacker. If Jewell plays like he did last season before he got hurt, when he was PFF’s 7th ranked off ball linebacker across the first two weeks of the season, then he’ll be a steal at that price. While that’s unlikely, as he’s never shown that over the course of a full season, even if he plays like he did in 2020 he should be a good value.

In 2020, he finished 17th overall among off ball linebackers on PFF and played the 14th most snaps by an off ball linebacker with 1,011, showing himself to be the kind of linebacker who can hold up in coverage and against the run. It’s concerning that he’s coming off of a significant injury, but he had missed just one game in three seasons prior to last season and is still in the prime of his career in his age 28 season, so he isn’t a major injury risk. He elevates an overall middling linebacking corps, albeit one with above average depth.

Grade: B

Secondary

With Von Miller no longer with the team, the best player on this defense is probably safety Justin Simmons, who has consistently been one of the best players in the league at his position over the past three seasons, finishing 1st, 9th, and 18th among safeties on PFF over the past three seasons respectively. The 2016 3rd round pick also finished in the top-30 among safeties in two of his first three seasons in the league too, before breaking out as an elite safety in 2019. Still only going into his age 29 season, having not missed a game in four seasons, Simmons should remain one of the top safeties in the league again in 2022 and could be even better than in 2021, which was actually a down year compared to 2019 and 2020.

Kareem Jackson was once an elite safety alongside Simmons, finishing 5th, 8th, and 6th at his position on PFF in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively, 2018 with the Texans and then 2019 and 2020 with the Broncos, but he’s getting up there in age, going into his age 34 season, and dropped off significantly in 2021, finishing as PFF’s 88th ranked safety out of 98 eligible. As a result, Jackson had to take a paycut down to 2 million this off-season and he may not even be guaranteed his starting spot. 

Caden Sterns was the third safety as a 5th round rookie last season and, while he was nondescript on 311 snaps, the Broncos may view him as a future starter and he could take Jackson’s starting job with a strong pre-season. The Broncos also used a 5th round pick on Jamar Johnson last year and a 4th round pick on Delarrin Turner-Yell in this year’s draft, but Turner-Yell would likely be overmatched in significant playing time as a rookie, while Johnson didn’t get on the field for a defensive snap as a rookie, so it’s unlikely either plays a big role this season. Jackson is the favorite to keep his job and may have some bounce back potential, but he also could decline even more or he could cede his starting job to an inexperienced young player.

At cornerback, the Broncos made a couple changes, with a pair of players who played significant roles last season, Kyle Fuller (719 snaps) and Bryce Callahan (504 snaps), no longer with the team. Fuller struggled mightily last season though, finishing 127th out of 134 eligible cornerbacks on PFF, so losing him will be addition by subtraction, while the Broncos made a lateral move to replace Callahan with K’Waun Williams, signed as a free agent from the 49ers on a 2-year, 5.2 million dollar deal.

Like Callahan, Williams is an undersized and injury prone cornerback who excels on the slot, where the 5-9 185 pounder has played 86.6% of his career snaps. Williams never played in all 16 games once in eight seasons in the league and has missed 38 games total in his career, but he’s also earned an average or better grade from PFF in every season. Going into his age 31 season, there’s some concern that he’s coming off of a career worst grade from PFF in 2021, only earning a middling grade across 647 snaps, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he continued declining, but he also could remain a solid slot option for at least another season.

The Broncos didn’t replace Fuller, so, instead, they’ll be hoping they can get a healthier season from starting cornerback Ronald Darby, who missed 6 games last season. That’s probably wishful thinking though, as Darby has been injury prone throughout his career like Williams and Callahan, missing 29 games in 7 seasons in the league, including 26 over the past 5 seasons, while only playing in every game once. Darby is generally an above average player when healthier, finishing above average on PFF in 5 of 7 seasons in the league, but he’s also struggled through injuries in the past, resulting in some poor play on the field, especially in 2019, when he was PFF’s 129th ranked cornerback out of 135 eligible. He’s talented, but not the most reliable player.

If Darby misses time, he’ll likely be replaced by 2020 3rd round pick Michael Ojemudia, but he struggled mightily across 852 snaps as a rookie, finishing 114th out of 136 eligible cornerbacks on PFF, before only playing 85 snaps last season. He could face competition from 4th round rookie Damarri Mathis for the top reserve outside cornerback role, but Mathis also would likely struggle if he had to play significant snaps as a rookie. 

Williams, meanwhile, will likely be backed up by 2020 undrafted free agent Essang Bassey, who struggled across 382 snaps as a rookie, before playing just 11 snaps last season. The Broncos also signed veteran Blessuan Austin, who struggled 16 games with the Jets from 2019-2020, but struggled so much in 2020 that he played just 149 snaps in 2021. The Broncos have questionable depth for a team with injury prone starters.

The Broncos’ best cornerback and de facto #1 cornerback will likely be Patrick Surtain, who they selected 9th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Surtain joined a group of veteran cornerbacks and only played 16 snaps in week one, but moved into the starting lineup week two and started the rest of the way except one game he missed, earning a slightly above average grade from PFF across 900 snaps in the process. 

Surtain has the upside to be better in year two and a big breakout year is certainly a possibility, given his immense upside, still only in his age 22 season. There are some questions in this secondary, with Williams and Darby being injury prone, Kareem Jackson coming to the end of his career, and the depth being questionable, but Patrick Surtain and Justin Simmons lead a group that has the upside to be above average if enough things go right.

Grade: B

Special Teams

The Broncos had one of the worst special teams units in the league last season, finishing 30th in special teams DVOA. Kicker Brandon McManus and punter Sam Martin had solid seasons, but they didn’t have a single core special teamer finish in the top-50 among special teamers on PFF and their return game was among the worst in the league, especially their kickoff return unit, which ranked dead last with just 16.2 yards per return on the season. 

The Broncos did add Montrell Washington, who scored five times in his collegiate career, albeit against underwhelming competition at Samford, but, aside from that, not much has changed in this group, with the Broncos still lacking any high level core special teamers. Especially if Washington doesn’t make much of an impact as a rookie, this could remain among the worst special teams units in the league this season and it could be tough for Washington to make an impact if he doesn’t get help from his supporting cast.

Grade: C

Conclusion

The Broncos were a decent team last season, despite being one of the most injury affected teams in the league. This season, they should be healthier and they get a big upgrade under center with Russell Wilson replacing Teddy Bridgewater. Their defense probably won’t be as good this season, because former head coach Vic Fangio got the most out of that unit and is no longer with the team, but their offense should be a lot better and could be one of the best in the league, led by new coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was previously the offensive coordinator in Green Bay.

The Broncos are a legitimate contender, but unfortunately they play in the much tougher AFC and share a division with two of the best teams in the league in the Chargers and Chiefs, as well as another playoff contender in the Raiders. The Broncos are well-positioned to at least get a wild card berth, but they’ll have a hard time getting through the loaded AFC in the playoffs. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.

Prediction: TBD, TBD in AFC West

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