Shane Ray heads quartet of Denver Broncos rising stars ready to fly in 2017

Broncos Europe columnist Andrew Lewis gives us his first preview for the upcoming 2017 season

The Denver Broncos have lost many key players to free agency and retirement the last few years. Defensive leader DeMarcus Ware called it a day on his future Hall of Fame career at the end of 2016 season, our monster in the middle Malik Jackson joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in a big money move after winning Super Bowl 50, and Britton Colquitt was a salary cap casualty.

Yes, I know, Colquitt is a punter. However, I implore you to go back and watch our Super Bowl 50 run. Down the stretch, special teams were as crucial a factor as the defense in flipping the field and supporting a struggling offence.

As the 2017 season approaches, it’s time to look at which Broncos players are ready to take the next step in their career, and go from a role player to a bona fide playmaker.

Shane Ray – OLB, Missouri

Let’s revisit the 2015 draft. Shane Ray fell into our lap, with a talent and potential that far outweighed being drafted 20th overall. The only reason we stumbled upon him was due to off the field concerns. Thankfully none of those concerns have come to fruition, and Ray has proven himself to be consummate pro despite those tattoos.

He couldn’t have asked for a better start in the league; working with the future Ware and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. Assuming we can continue to match Von against the commonly weaker right side of the offensive line, Ray is now poised to fill the ROLB/DE position. What will bring Ray success in 2017 is not only his growth, but the quality and depth of talent surrounding him on the line. The offseason additions of space eaters Domata Peko and Zach Kerr means we can push the pocket, forcing the QB to drop further, and then ultimately meeting our edge rushers. Alongside these two additions, there is fellow ready to fly candidate Adam Gotsis; and the criminally underrated Derek Wolfe, whom I believe will be even better this year. The key to this team is the defence. I see no reason why the No Fly Zone can’t be repeated in the secondary. The big question is can we regain dominance in the trenches?

2017 Prediction: 10.0 Sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 TD, 43 tackles

Adam Gotsis – DE, Georgia Tech

Adam Gotsis was the 2016 2nd round pick that went missing. Gotsis was basically a no show in 2016. After missing almost all of last offseason whilst recovering from a torn ACL, Gotsis was then rehabbing injuries throughout the year, and it was impossible to live up to his potential. Despite this, Gotsis did show promise as run stopper last season.

The 2017 season looks to be different. Gotsis has returned to offseason practices bigger and stronger. Newly promoted defensive co-ordinator, Joe Woods described Gotsis as an “action man”.

“The biggest thing with Adam was coming off of his rookie season, he had the injury in college,” Woods said. “They say when you have that type of knee injury, it really takes you a year to recover and be 100 percent. I think last year when he was playing, he really wasn’t himself. When you look at him now, that dude is—he looks like an action figure. That dude is put together. Right now, he’s doing some impressive things and he has to continue to grow.”

More than anyone on this list, I look forward to seeing Gotsis play this year. He has some fantastic mentors around him, and is in a great position to succeed. The key will be to improve his pass rush ability, thus showing that he can stay on the field during third down.

2017 Prediction: 7.5 sacks, 40 tackles.

Riley Dixon – P, Syracuse

And as promised, a punter. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Andrew, do punters really matter?”, “Are punters really people?”. I’m the one making the case, and even I’m not so sure. However, let me throw some names at you; Johnny Hekker, Sam Koch, Marquette King. These guys are stars in their position, and make a real difference flipping the field, therefore putting the defence in a better position to get an early stop. In his first season, Riley Dixon was rated in the top half of all NFL punters for average punt, total yards, and longest punt. With the special teams unit now led by the ever enthusiastic albeit slightly scary Brock Olivo, we should be in for a fun season on special teams. Last year, Dixon threw a completed pass. Maybe this year we’ll even see a touchdown.

Andy Janovich – FB, Nebraska

In the first 10 weeks of the season, the Broncos averaged 97.4 yards per game; not great but it was something. Andy Janovich’s ankle injury in week 12 meant an end to his season, and the full back was put on injured reserve. The Broncos managed just 77.2 ypg after this, a full 20 yards less. Pro Football Focus had Janovich ranked as their number two FB last year, despite being stuck in a struggling offence. This year, he will be fighting for both carries, and targets behind at least six players. However, his blocking prowess is sure to keep him on the field and with Mike McCoy back in the fold as offensive coordinator, the Broncos will find a creative way to get Janovich the ball.

2017 prediction: 500 total yards, 382 rushing, 118 receiving, 3 TDs

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About Andrew Lewis 23 Articles
Andrew is one of Broncos Europe's contributors from Liverpool, England. As well as providing opinion pieces throughout the season, he can also be found in some of our videos. He doesn't come with subtitles, but probably should.

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