Why should the Broncos roll with Keenum in 2019?

With mock drafts moving towards the Denver Broncos selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft despite a weak class, it could spell the end of Case Keenum’s short time in Denver.

Keenum took the Broncos to a 6-10 record in his maiden season in Denver in 2018 and is under contract for 2019, but with a new head coach and offensive coordinator, do the Broncos stick or twist?

We rounded up three Broncos Europe contributors to get their views on why the Broncos should stick with Keenum for one more year.

Kade: A completely new coaching staff could be exactly what Keenum needs to prove that 2017 wasn’t a fluke.

New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello — hailed as a QB whisperer from his time in San Francisco — could be just the guy that can play to Keenum’s strengths as a passer.

Keenum was a leader in the locker room and is respected by his teammates enough to give him another shot.

He was consistently put in bad situations last year with poor play calling but that should change with Scangarello in charge of the offense.

Also, there isn’t a QB in this year’s draft that has “franchise quarterback” written all over them, and there are plenty of other holes the Broncos need to fill, so Keenum should be allowed to finish out his contract as the Broncos prepare for a more promising QB draft class in 2020.

Colum: Case Keenum comes across as a nice guy. He doesn’t lack for effort, he’s solid in front of the media, but he is not an NFL starting QB.

People say PFM wasn’t in 2015, but players loved Peyton and would run through walls for him.

Keenum doesn’t inspire the same reaction amongst teammates.

Mark: This may be a differing point of view, but Keenum can get it done in Denver. He’s a decent — not elite — QB who was let down by awful play calling, and not playing to his strength.

Injuries on the offensive side of the ball as well killed his chances of winning everyone around.

He definitely made lots of poor decisions but with this new coaching staff coming in, it will give him a new lease of life and hopefully he can go on to grab us a winning record next season.

We need to stick to his strengths of play action, and throwing outside the pocket.

His leadership is going to be key to helping the rookies and sophomores improve, and play their part in making the offense a weapon again.

CBS mock draft has Broncos taking QB Daniel Jones

CBS mocks have Broncos taking QB Daniel Jones

Some Denver Broncos fans might have an eye or two on the NFL playoffs this month, but here we’re keeping one eye on who will deny Tom Brady another ring and one eye on who the Broncos should draft in April.

The perennial draft question for the Broncos is will John Elway finally find their new franchise quarterback?

He’s tried a few times and failed.

Meanwhile AFC West rivals Kansas City traded up in the first round in 2017 and landed their guy Patrick Mahomes, Houston traded up to grab former Clemson star DeSean Watson, and the Baltimore Ravens traded back into the first round in 2018 to land their guy in Lamar Jackson.

All three were players the Broncos could have drafted, but didn’t.

Of course, the last time Elway traded up in the first round to get his quarterback was in 2016. We all know how Paxton Lynch worked out.

So will Elway pull the trigger in 2019 after admitting that current starter Case Keenum is “a short-term fix”?

CBS sports writer Ryan Wilson has the Broncos drafting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones 10th overall with Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins already off the board.

CBS writer Chris Trapasso also has the Broncos taking Jones 10th overall.

The old joke is that Elway likes big, athletic quarterbacks. It didn’t work out with Lynch, or 2012 second-round pick Brock Osweiler, but Jones could be the next athletic quarterback gamble the Broncos could take.

The big difference, however, could be that Jones has been coached by David Cutcliffe, who also coached Peyton Manning and brother Eli.

Jones isn’t a finished article but could learn a lot from Keenum and new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who worked with quarterbacks in San Francisco.

Here’s what Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told ESPNU radio host Mark Packer after watching the Jones for the first time ahead of Clemson’s game with Duke in Death Valley last November.

“We have not played Duke since 2012 and we have not had a lot of crossover tape with Duke, so I put the tape in and I usually start from their last game and I go from there,” Swinney said.

“But I am watching this Duke-North Carolina game, and I could not believe what I was seeing.

“This kid was unbelievable. This kid is huge. First of all, he is a 6-5, 220-pound quarterback, but he rushed for 186 yards.

“I’m talking a 72-yard run, 50-yard run, and he is pulling away from guys. He is not explosive latterly, but when he gets going, this guy can leave you. He has legit track speed straight ahead.”

Daniel Jones is a big-bodied, dual-threat quarterback that could tempt John Elway

While Jones set the Duke single-game rushing record in the 42-35 win over rivals North Carolina, his passing has also impressed throughout the season.

“He is incredibly accurate. He is very strong-armed,” Swinney added. “I just kept watching him and kept watching him, and I am like, ‘Oh my Lord!’

“He is very knowledgeable and is obviously very well coached with [head coach David Cutcliffe]. He is a pro. He is going to be a high pick in the draft for sure.

“I did not know a whole lot about him prior to our preparation for him, but I tell you what, he got my attention really quick, and he got our team’s attention.

“This is a very talented quarterback with good veteran receivers and good tight ends, and they have an excellent scheme that features him. Everything goes through the quarterback.”

Our friends at Pro Football Focus aren’t as impressed as Clemson’s head coach.

“The 2019 draft class is a decidedly weak quarterback class and when that’s the case, an off-the-wall name always seems to get first-round hype at some point in the process,” said PFF’s Michael Renner.

“It looks as if Jones will be that guy this year. The Duke quarterback’s 79.7 passing grade this season represents a monstrous jump over his 2017 campaign where he earned a 57.8 passing grade, but he simply hasn’t had enough special throws down the field to warrant the hype.

“Jones’ 13 big-time throws this season rank 71st in the country, and he has almost as many turnover-worthy plays (11) as he does big-time throws.”

Pro Football Focus labeled Jones as overrated despite his rise up their draft board in 2018.

Jones had a solid, if unspectacular, 2018 season for the Blue Devils and, after declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, accepted an invitation to be one of eight quarterbacks at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile on January 26.

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden will coach Jones and fellow first-round prospect Drew Lock as part of the North team against Kyle Shanahan’s South team.

If he shines in Mobile and at the NFL Combine, Jones could certainly find several suitors when the 2019 NFL Draft rolls into Nashville in April.

Time for Elway to admit Joseph can’t lead Broncos

When John Elway hired Vance Joseph in January 2017, he said that Joseph was “a leader of men”. Elway had been going after Joseph for a few years because he was seen as an up-and-coming coach, who had spent time in San Francisco, Houston and Cincinnati as a defensive backs coach before earning his first job as a defensive coordinator with Miami in 2016.

While some teams waited on coaches still doing their thing in the 2016 playoffs to become available, the Broncos pulled the trigger to hire a relatively unknown, first-year coordinator that oversaw the 29th worst defense, three days after the 10-6 Miami Dolphins lost 30-12 to Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card round.

Broncos Country was convinced that the relatively unknown coach would take a 9-7 team back to the playoffs after a 2016 Super Bowl hangover season and third-place finish in the AFC West ended a run of five successive playoff appearances.

During Joseph’s first year as coach, the team had a “great week of practice” each and every week, yet ended the season with a 5-11 record, good enough to earn the fifth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Inexplicably, this leader of men with considerable defensive experience and a four-year contract, made a 9-7 team, with a stud defense that finished fourth overall in 2016, a worse team.

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This year, Joseph’s new repetitive line at press conferences has been that “they are close” and just need to fix a few mistakes and make improvements in some areas. 

Joseph’s reasoning is that the Broncos have been competitive in all of their games, with the exception of the 34-16 blowout loss to the now 3-6 New York Jets in week three.

They have come up just short against two of the league’s powerhouse offenses in the Los Angeles Rams, and the Kansas City Chiefs, twice. He’s right to an extent, but “close” does not win championships.

Joseph is now 8-17 (.320) as a head coach with the Broncos, has only won two games on the road, now has a losing record at home, and is in danger of being the man to lead the Broncos to back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972.

He also has the worst winning percentage of Broncos head coaches since Mac Speedie was relieved of his duties two games into the 1966 season with a 6-19-1 record (.240).

The record does not fall squarely on his shoulders because the Broncos do have plenty of roster holes, but a good coach — and a better than average QB — would be able to hide those holes, as Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning did in 2015 en route to winning Super Bowl 50.

At 3-6 going into the bye week, the Broncos brass have a decision to make. Do they stick it out with Joseph and reassess at the end of the season? Or do they make a move now to show Broncos Country that this performance is unacceptable by firing Joseph and planning for next season?

Both arguments have validity. Keeping Joseph makes sense because there is no long-term solution currently on the coaching staff, and no coaches that are currently available would want to coach a 3-6 team for half a season, even Kubiak.

The Broncos — and other teams inevitably looking for new coaches, including the Cleveland Browns — might have their eyes on guys like Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Stanford head coach David Shaw, or Washington head coach Chris Petersen, but none of these guys would be able to come in until the offseason anyway.

However, firing Joseph now would send a message to the team and the fanbase that when expectations aren’t met changes have to be made. Even Cleveland, after finally finding their franchise quarterback this season, parted ways with Hue Jackson after a promising start was swallowed up by defeats.

Joseph is uninspiring and continues to poorly manage winnable games. The players have shown their support for Joseph in front of the media but there have been rumors swirling all season that players are unhappy.

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The latest post-game reactions from defensive leaders Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr suggest all is not right, while it’s only a matter of time before straight-talking Derek Wolfe gives us more thoughts on the coaching.

Even Demaryius Thomas — traded to Houston last week — made a jab at the Broncos’ game management after Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal that could’ve won the game against Thomas and his new team that started 0-3 but have won their last six.

“That’s what they do over there,” Thomas told NFL.com. “I ain’t a part of that no more. We like to win over here.”

He also relayed to Orange & Blue 760 that Joseph told him last Monday that trade rumors weren’t true the same day Thomas’s agent had told him Elway was shopping him for a fifth-round pick.

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Last offseason, Elway had to “sleep on it” when considering whether or not he should keep Joseph around for another season.

It seems like it’s time for Elway to wake up and own up to the fact that Joseph isn’t going to get it done and it’s time to move on.

Firing Joseph may not help the Broncos improve their record at the end of the day, but it tells everyone that the standard in Broncos Country is still high and that Elway is capable of making the tough decisions.

He’s already owned up to one mistake this season by moving on from 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Can he do it again?

Unfortunately, Elway has already said publicly he won’t pull the trigger on Joseph yet, so get used to him hanging around a while longer.

It’s going to be a long end to the season.

Broncos Europe’s Michael McQuaid gives thoughts on 19-17 defeat to Houston

The Button Benjamin of a Curious Case

Yeah, even old man-baby Brad Pitt thinks that’s a stupid headline but you can’t pass up a backward intro about a cinematic backward life with an awesome pun about a quarterback having a backward season.

Keep in mind I didn’t say a backward QB, I said a backward season, and I want that to be very clear before we delve into what could be as confusing an article as the movie mentioned above.

Case Keenum was brought to Denver on a two-season contract for what could be $18 million a year and was lauded as a guy who would at the very least be a step up from the 2017 disaster of Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler.

The six-year veteran journeyman was coming off a career year in Minnesota where he passed for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions, had the second-best QBR in all of football at 72.8, and led the Vikings to an NFC Championship. Sadly, that success has not transferred over to the 2018 Broncos.

The question is, why? And, most importantly, is he likely to get better?

Let’s discuss the five possible reasons for the struggles through the first six games where Case has looked more like a bad backup risk taker than a veteran playmaker who makes few mistakes as he was in Minnesota:

  1. Last season was an aberration and he is not a good QB; 
  2. The Broncos coaches have not put him in the position to succeed;
  3. He doesn’t trust his offensive line and is scared in the pocket; 
  4. His knee is more injured than we think and it is affecting his play;
  5. He is mentally weak and can’t handle being “the guy”.

A few of these options can only be speculated on and we can and likely never will know the full truth.

Let’s start with #5 because it’s a backward type of day.

Case Keenum is mentally weak and can’t handle being “the guy”

It’s no secret that there is less pressure on a player, especially at QB, when there are little to no expectations of him succeeding. Everywhere he went until 2018 he was not the guy but rather the backup who could ball a bit. It was a role he thrived on and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The big question is if the spotlight or being a QB to follow in the footsteps of Trevor Siemien, Brock Osweiler and John Elway is too much for him. Sorry, I felt like we were getting too serious here.

Is he a man, a player, a quarterback who can succeed when he is the face of a franchise? So far, the proof says that the answer is no. The pressure, the spotlight, and the tough Denver fans have proven to be too much for many an athlete and Keenum would not be the first.

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His knee is more injured than we think and it is affecting his play

This is a point that has been rarely brought up by the Denver media but it’s something that should absolutely be considered before the fan mob throws him under the bus.

The leg was apparently injured in the week two victory over the Raiders and Keenum himself said he needs to be smarter about sliding and not bouncing off tacklers.

Since he played the next four games it’s been assumed that the injury was nothing major and people quickly moved on. Except, the Broncos haven’t won a game since this presumed injury.

Now, Keenum wasn’t lighting the world on fire in the first two games anyway with an average of 275 yards per game, three touchdowns, and four interceptions but if you watch the tape he did then seem to be more fluid with his footwork.

When you watch him “sprint” for a first down in the last few games he has seemed to be a reincarnation of the glory years of Peyton Manning when number 18 was just flying by linebackers /sarcasm.

If you check out his footwork you will see a problem with not stepping up in the pocket and many passes are thrown while his weight is on his back foot. That’s a major issue and it has gotten plenty of guys booted from the NFL — unless your name is Nathan Peterman.

The problem with being seemingly reluctant to step up in the pocket fits in well with #3 on our list.

He doesn’t trust his offensive line and is scared in the pocket

The words “eye test” mean that many hours have been spent pouring over film and watching in perfect detail every single play of each game.

When you watch this line pass block you don’t need a subscription to Pro Football Focus to see that the line is not very good.

There is seemingly always a push up the middle. Garett Bolles is the laughing stock of the NFL in pass protection at left tackle and Billy Turner at right tackle is just okay. We are not discussing their run blocking because they are quite good at that.

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Often when Keenum steps back after the snap you see his eyes leave his receivers downfield and a panicked look come into them as he runs for his life. On other plays, he stands in the pocket and gets hammered because he didn’t have the pocket awareness to feel the pressure coming.

These different issues go hand in hand and it points to the simple answer that he is not comfortable in the pocket.

One reason for that would be something that Keenum was very successful doing in Minnesota last season and has been barely seen this year: the play action pass, which Denver has run on only 16 per cent of pass plays.

This glaring mistake in play calling brings us to our #2 possibility for why the Denver QB has struggled this season.

Case Keenum isn’t getting the chance to play to his strengths in Denver. Credit: Pro Football Focus

The Broncos coaches have not put him in the position to succeed

The lack of play action is just one example of how the coaches have not played to Keenum’s strengths and have struggled mightily in finding an offensive identity.

Other stats that stick out:

  • Keenum an average of 39 pass attempts per game in 2018. In 2017 he averaged 32.
  • The Broncos have averaged 23 running plays in 2018. The 2017 Vikings averaged 31.

As we can’t ever really say a player quit or what goes on in their heads, we also can’t really guess what coaches have planned for their offensive or defensive scheme.

These are smart football people and they clearly spend many hours working together to try and put their players in the best position to win.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. If it is because the players aren’t good enough or because the coaches aren’t smart enough we can’t always say.

Still, when you have a QB who passed for 3,500 yards with only seven picks and 22 TDs, you have to go to that 2017 tape and see what worked. It seems like the Broncos staff has refused to do that and it has cost them dearly.

Keenum, like Benjamin Button, seems to have gone from a wise old man to a naive little boy in only one season. Is that the coaching, or:

2017 was an aberration and he is not a good QB

Trent Dilfer has more Super Bowl victories than Dan Marino.

  • Marino — 147 wins 93 losses, 61,361 yards, 420 TD, 252 Int
  • Dilfer — 58 wins 55 losses, 20,518 yards, 113 TD, 129 Int

Dilfer, the ex-journeyman quarterback, is the perfect example of a team winning it all with not-so-good talent under center when the backup QB — seen as a game manager QB supported by a dominant defense — halted a sluggish offensive start to the 2000 season to lead the Baltimore Ravens on a 7-1 rip down the stretch to finish 12-4.

From there, the Ravens went all the way to Super Bowl XXXV, where they defeated the New York Giants 34-7. The world champions didn’t resign Dilfer, who wound up in Seattle, Cleveland and San Francisco in the final seven years of his career.

Unlike Dilfer and his uninspiring numbers, Keenum is a bit different in that he had a good statistical year and made some nice plays in the regular season and in the playoffs.

That’s when the good old eye test comes in handy. If you have 30 minutes of your valuable time to spare, go watch this YouTube video of 2017 Keenum highlights and you won’t be too surprised by what you see.

Case Keenum celebrates against Washington in 2017. Credit: Keith Allison

You’ll see some very good passes on occasion, a ton of play action but — most importantly — you’ll see Keenum getting the ball to his playmakers with easy passes.

So many of the highlights are on screens or slants where the receivers did most of the work. The offensive line gave him time in the pocket and Keenum used his legs when necessary to make a big play outside of the pocket.

To wrap up, when you watch the games this season and look at tape from 2017, you’ll now see a guy who looks stressed and has a lot to prove, is lacking his previous mobility likely due to a bum knee, is short on confidence while in the pocket because of a below average pass-blocking O-line, a gameplan that doesn’t work with his or the team’s strengths, and  a QB who is good enough to be part of a great team but not good enough to lead one.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and there are plenty of ways that Keenum can improve this season and next.

The knee can heal, his coaches can put him, and his O-line in a good spot by feeding the run game and giving the ball to playmakers, his confidence and ability to be the face of the Denver Broncos could come with time, and if he and the team catch a few breaks they could be headed quickly in the right direction instead of backward like our poor dear Mr. Button.

What do you think the reason is for Case Keenum ongoing struggles in 2018?

If you like this article give my Broncos and Bratwurst podcast a listen!

Manning, Ware attend Broncos OTA practice

Former Broncos QB Peyton Manning visited with the team during organised team activities on Thursday, at a crucial time in the group’s preparation for the new season.

Manning’s visit comes a day after his former team-mate DeMarcus Ware returned to Dove Valley in his new role as a pass rush consultant working with the defensive linemen and linebackers.

Shelby Harris, who was not part of the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning roster, expressed his excitement over the visits with the future first-ballot Hall of Famers.

 

“When DeMarcus says something, you listen,” Harris said. “Because you know he’s one of the all-time greats when it comes to getting to the quarterback.

“He has a lot of good insight and you want to pick his brain. You want to sit there and see what he thinks, and the way he thinks when it comes to rushing the passer, so yeah, when he comes in and he says something, you want to listen.”

Manning rounded off his visit with an uplifting post-practice speech:

Just like old times.

Photo credit: Ryan Koenigsberg, BSN Denver

 

Broncos Europe mock draft 2.0

We’re now less than five days away from the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, TX so it’s time to take another look at what we think will happen in the first round of the draft, where the Denver Broncos currently own the fifth overall pick.

1. Cleveland Browns – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Could Cleveland really take one of the draft’s biggest projects at one overall? If the rumours are to be believed this is the direction the Browns are now heading in rather than Sam Darnold, who we had going first in our first mock draft. Allen has a massive arm and all the physical attributes required to play quarterback in the NFL, however worries around his accuracy and his losing record against Power 5 competition raises questions about his prospects at the next level.

2. New York Giants – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Saquon Barkley will be a star in New York. QB Eli Manning is at the end of the road and the Giants choose the player that will help them win now. Barkley is a versatile playmaker and with Odell Beckham Jr on the outside Barkley should see favourable numbers in the box.

3. New York Jets – Sam Darnold, QB, USC

In this scenario Darnold, who has been mocked first overall throughout the process by the majority of the football cognoscente slides to three and the Jets can’t pass him up, despite showing plenty of love to Baker Mayfield through the draft process. Darnold has all the traits you would look for in a franchise quarterback, however turnovers were an issue in college.

4. Cleveland Browns – Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

After selecting Myles Garrett first overall in the 2017 draft, the Browns double down on the defensive line selecting Chubb. The Browns now have one of the deepest and most versatile defensive line groups in the league.

5. Denver Broncos – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The Broncos are only really invested in Case Keenum for one year and still need to find a quarterback who can live up to John Elway and Peyton Manning. With two of their top targets off the board, this pick is a no-brainer for GM Elway. Mayfield may be the most accurate passer in the draft and has enough athleticism to escape pressure from behind a shaky offensive line. His leadership and passion will also translate well to an offense that has lacked both since Manning retired.

6. Indianapolis Colts – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

The Colts can’t win without Andrew Luck on the field and healthy. Nelson, who is arguably the best player in the 2018 draft, has the potential to be a generational player at guard and will help solidify the middle of the Colts’ offensive line for years to come. An absolute steal for GM Chris Ballard and new head coach Frank Reich.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derwin James, S, Florida State

Derwin James won’t have far to travel to Tampa. James has been compared to Seattle Seahawks star Kam Chancellor and his hard sitting style will help the Bucs find an identity on defence.

8. Chicago Bears – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Denzel Ward is one of the draft’s best cover corners. The Bears need to elevate their secondary to compete against the vaunted air attacks of the other teams in the AFC North.

9. San Francisco 49ers – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Edmunds is the type of sideline to sideline playmaker needed in San Francisco. Boasting the size and strength to help stop the run while being athletic enough to cover running backs and tight ends. Reuben Foster’s current legal situation may leave San Francisco thinking they need to reinvest at linebacker.

10. Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

The Raiders have needed help at linebacker for several seasons. Smith plays the run and pass equally well and can play multiple positions.

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11. Miami Dolphins – Vita Vea, DT, Washington

After cutting Ndamukong Suh, Vea fills an immediate need as an anchor on the defensive line. The big fella has all the talent and athleticism needed to become a star in the league.

12. Buffalo Bills – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The Bills will more than likely have to trade into the top six to ensure they get a quarterback they are comfortable with, but with Rosen expected to slide, they could get the most game-ready quarterback in the draft without giving up more picks.

13. Washington Redskins – Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Minkah is a dynamic playmaker with the versatility to play anywhere on the backend. He would make an instant impact in Washington.

14. Green Bay Packers – Marcus Davenport, DL, Texas-San Antonio

Davenport is not polished but has all the tools to become a top pass rusher in what is mostly an underwhelming class at the position, and Green Bay desperately need help on defense.

15. Arizona Cardinals – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson will remain a Cardinal. One of the most polarising prospects in the draft, however with the right coaching the 2016 Heisman winner has all the talent needed to succeed at the next level, and has the seal of approval from former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.

16. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Death, taxes and Ozzie Newsome drafting out of Alabama. Ridley is considered the most polished receiver in the draft and the Ravens are desperate for help on the outside.

17. Los Angles Chargers – Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Evans is an excellent three-down hard-hitting linebacker with the ability to rush the passer.

18. Seattle Seahawks – Orlando Brown, OT, Notre Dame

The Seahawks won’t win again until they address the offensive line. With Duane Brown on the left side Orlando Brown will start at right tackle from day one.

19. Dallas Cowboys – Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Christian Kirk is staying in Texas. The Cowboys need to surround Dak Prescott with talent if they’re going to win. After the addition of Allen Hurns and departure of Dez Bryant the Cowboys passing attack will look very different in 2018.

20. Detroit Lions – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Despite the addition of LeGarrette Blount, the Lions remain in need of an every-down back. Guice has the ability to run between the tackles as well as catching the ball out the backfield.

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21. Cincinnati Bengals – Will Hernandez, G, Texas-El Paso

Hernandez is excellent in the run game and will play a big role in the Bengals’ effort to get more production from Joe Mixon.

22. Buffalo Bills – James Daniels, C, Iowa

With three-fifths of their starting offensive line from 2017 not returning, the Bills could go in several directions. In this scenario the Bills pair their young quarterback with a young center.

23. New England Patriots – Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

In 2017 the Patriots defence was greater than the sum of its parts. The Boise State prospect can multiple positions on defence and would make an immediate impact as the Patriots start life without former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

24. Carolina Panthers – Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

Hughes was a star at UCF, despite not excelling at the combine. He plays fast and can contribute on special teams, exactly what the Panthers need in 2018.

25. Tennessee Titans – Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College

Landry is a natural pass rusher with high upside who can help the Tennessee defense finally turn the corner.

26. Atlanta Falcons – Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

With a previously record-setting offence still largely intact the Falcons spend draft capital bringing the defense up a level. Payne fills a gap left by the loss of Dontari Poe to free agency.

27. New Orleans Saints – Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Goedert is a capable blocker and a versatile pass catcher with the ability to play as a roving tight end. Goedert gives Drew Brees another safety net, while his blocking prowess will aid the continued development of the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem in the backfield.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Hawkeyes playmaker is a ballhawk. Jackson finished 2017 with eight interceptions and 27 passes defended including three interceptions against Ohio State and two pick-sixes against Wisconsin. Gives Pittsburgh a massively improved secondary.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

Why not build strength on strength? Alexander is regarded as the best nickel corner in the draft and fills a hole following the loss of Aaron Colvin. The trio of Alexander, Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye would be a dominant group for years to come.

30. Minnesota Vikings – Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

Wynn played OT at college but his measurables may lead to him kicking inside at the next level. The Vikings are ready to win now so long they keep their shiny new quarterback upright.

31. New England Patriots – Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

McGlinchey has experience playing both left and right tackle. Following a free agency exodus the Patriots have a need across the line and McGlinchey’s versatility is appealing.

32. Philadelphia Eagles – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

Hayden Hurst is a perfect compliment to Zach Ertz for what the Eagles want to do on offence. Hurst has the frame and is willing to improve as an inline blocker all whilst being a dynamic move tight end. Hurst has only one drop in 100 career catches

Broncos release CJ Anderson

The Denver Broncos have finally parted ways with veteran running back CJ Anderson on the day they began voluntary workouts ahead of the 2018 season.

Rumors had been rife throughout the offseason that the 27-year-old could be on his way out, and the team was shopping him.

One proposed trade with the Miami Dolphins for right tackle Ja’Wuan James fell through before the Broncos traded with Arizona for Jared Veldheer, but with no trade partner likely, the team has decided to move on.

The Broncos save $4.5 million for each of the next two seasons with no dead money from Anderson’s four-year $18m contract signed in 2016 when the Broncos matched an offer sheet from Miami.

Anderson confirmed on Twitter that the Broncos made no offer to renegotiate his contract.

Anderson later thanked Broncos and fans for their support for an undrafted Californian kid during “an amazing five years” and he is excited for the next chapter in his NFL career.

In confirming Anderson’s release, Broncos president of football operations and general manager John Elway described Anderson as an “important members of the team” and paid tribute to his many contributions on and off the field.

The Broncos signed Anderson as an undrafted free agent out of Cal in 2013 and he helped the team reach Super Bowl 48 in his rookie season.

While Anderson was often maligned as an average running back, he was seen as an extra set of eyes for quarterbacks as he honed his ability to read defenses during the Peyton Manning years, and was vital in supporting backup quarterback Brock Osweiler while Manning was injured in 2015.

Anderson was hot at the end of the 2014 season, scoring eight touchdowns in eight games and was selected to the Pro Bowl, while he also played a pivotal role in the Broncos’ march to winning Super Bowl 50, including a pair of touchdowns as he went off against New England in a 30-24 overtime win.

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Injury limited his 2016 season to just seven appearances, but Anderson bounced back in 2017 to post his maiden 1,000-yard season, despite scoring the fewest touchdowns since his rookie season.

Anderson was graded sixth overall among running backs by PFF, ahead of Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Ezekiel Elliott and Super Bowl winner Jay Ajayi, and had the second-best pass block grade behind Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray.

From his five years in Broncos Country, Anderson rushed for 3,051 yards from 693 attempts with a 4.4-yard average, and 20 touchdowns, as well as weighing in with eight receiving touchdowns.

His release leaves the Broncos with big questions 10 days before the 2018 NFL Draft that boasts a deep running back class.

Devontae Booker, who was initially listed as co-number one running back with Anderson last season before a wrist injury kept him out for the start of the season, projects to be the starter, while De’Angelo Henderson, who was drafted in the sixth-round in 2017, is the only other running back on the roster.

Anderson is expected to command plenty of interest in free agency, including from the Dolphins, whose head coach is former Broncos quarterbacks coach Adam Gase, while Eric Studesville — Anderson’s running backs coach in Denver — is now in Miami after leaving the Broncos in January.

Case Keenum plans to be better in 2018 as Broncos QB

New Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum plans to be better in 2018 than his breakout 2017.

The 30-year-old went 11-3 in the regular season in place of the injured Sam Bradford as he led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The University of Houston product threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017, and is best known for the stunning walk-off win against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional game, known as the Minneapolis Miracle, but is hungry to go further after agreeing a two-year $36 million contract with the Broncos.

“It’s a great connection to have with a lot of people, to be honest I’m ready to make some more memories,” Keenum told Broncos TV’s Phil Milani in a live Q&A.

“I got real close to the big game, I got a taste of what it could be like — my first real, live playoff atmosphere game situation, and I’m hungry. I’m not satisfied with where we got to. I’m ready to hit the ground running, and I want more.

“For me, I’ve always been a guy that thinks if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse.

“That’s why I work extremely hard every single day to be the best that I can be. Whether that’s on the football field as a football player, whether it’s as a husband, as a son, as a brother, as a person in general I’m trying to be the best person I can be. I’m trying to be better.

“I plan on this year being better than last year. I’ve played better each year as I’ve been in this league. I think experience is priceless. I’ve had so much experience of playing quarterback in this league, and I’m excited to be better this year.”

As often seems to be the case, the Broncos personnel are plenty familiar with what and who Keenum is.

The Texan’s rise to the NFL is well-documented. Not too much interest from colleges, undrafted despite setting several NCAA records with the Cougars, jumping around between the Texans and St Louis Rams.

Even the Vikings were only willing to offer him a one-year deal to back up Bradford and declined to offer him a new deal for 2018.

Senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak was head coach at the Houston Texans between 2006 and 2013 while Keenum was coming through at the Cougars and brought him into the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, while current Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was defensive backs coach with the team from 2011-2013.

Keenum admits being pursued by John Elway and the Broncos was enough to convince him to head to Colorado.

“For one big reason, they wanted me,” Keenum said when asked why he chose the Broncos.

“John Elway, obviously a big fan of his from growing up to now, for him to pursue me — to make it known he wanted me to be the quarterback — that speaks volumes for me.

“So for a guy who was not very-highly recruited out of high school, undrafted out of college, for a team to come and pursue me like that, that’s huge for me.

“On top of that, it’s the Denver Broncos. To be quarterback of the Denver Broncos is a dream come true, so we’re excited to be here, we’re excited to be in the city, we’re excited to be part of this organisation. I’m looking forward to a great ride.”

The big question for Broncos Country is which Case Keenum are the Broncos getting? That appears to be what stopped the Vikings from moving forward with him.

The six-year veteran concedes he is not the quarterbacks that led the Broncos to three Super Bowl wins, but he is out to perfect his craft.

“I’ve improved a lot of areas.” Keenum said. “Just being a quarterback in this league, it’s more than just throwing the ball, it’s managing a game. I think it’s a craft — I talked about getting better every year, I’m perfecting my craft.

“I’m not John Elway, Peyton Manning. I’m not a lot of different quarterbacks, but I take things from everybody that I see — great players that have played the game — and I try to apply them, things that work for my game.

“I try to perfect my craft, get better each year, whether that’s knowing game situations, making big plays when it really counts, third downs, red zone, two-minute. I think in this league that’s what your quarterback’s got to do.”

Unsurprisingly, Broncos players and alumni have already started blowing up Keenum’s phone amid his whirlwind move.

“Von was one of the first ones to reach out and I’m really glad we’re wearing the same color jersey,” he added.

“Peyton reached out this morning. It’s exciting, this is such a cool, cool organisation to be a part of and I’m going to be very proud to represent Broncos Country every week.”

After a round of media appearances today, Keenum will be officially presented at a press conference on Friday.

Broncos confirm Keenum on two-year deal, Siemian to Vikings

The Denver Broncos have confirmed the signing of quarterback Case Keenum on a two-year deal.

The 30-year-old arrives in Denver off the back of a career season in Minnesota, where he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game after an 11-3 record in his 14 regular season starts.

The former University of Houston Cougars star began the 2018 season as backup to Sam Bradford, who went down in week two, and finished 2017 with 3,547 yards, with 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Keenum’s deal, according to Pro Football Talk, is for $36 million, with $25 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Broncos president of football operations and general manager John Elway described some of Keenum’s attributes as what he was looking for in a quarterback to be the starter in the Mile High City after rotating through three below average quarterbacks in 2017.

“Case is a great fit for us,” Elway said in a statement. “He’s coming off a tremendous season last year and has obviously been through a lot of situations throughout his entire career.

“Along with that experience, his leadership and competitiveness are what you look for in a quarterback.

“Case has fought and battled for everything that he’s earned in the NFL, and it’s exciting to add someone with that type of mentality to our team.”

Trevor Siemian’s fall from grace as a starter is followed by a swift exit from Broncos Country after a trade was finalised with Minnesota.

The former Broncos starter will back up Kirk Cousins, who is expected to join the Vikings on Thursday in a $84m deal, and joins former Broncos quarterback Kyle Sloter in the Twin Cities.

During his three years in Denver, Siemian was on the roster when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, and started 24 games in 2016 and 2017 following Peyton Manning’s retirement when he beat out Paxton Lynch to win the starting job.

The Northwestern product threw for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions with a 59.3 completion percentage, but was hampered by left shoulder problems and a poor offensive line.

Lynch remains under contract with the Broncos in 2018 along with Chad Kelly, the 2017 draft’s Mr Irrelevant.

Keenum will be unveiled to the Denver media at 10:00 MT (16:00 GMT/17:00 BST) on Friday.

 

Reports: QB Case Keenum intends to sign with the Broncos

Case Keenum will sign with the Denver Broncos when the 2018 NFL season begins on Wednesday.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the 30-year old free agent quarterback is the Broncos’ preferred choice as they overhaul their QB room, despite a free agency market that includes Kirk Cousins, who is expected to land in Minnesota, and Drew Brees, who is expected to stay in New Orleans.

The Broncos were believed to be among the contenders to land Cousins, whose contract is expected to reset the bar for top-tier quarterbacks, but the Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala tweeted that Keenum was their guy, not the former Washington Redskins QB.

An undrafted free agent out of Houston signed by Broncos senior personnel advisor and former head coach Gary Kubiak during his time at the Texans, Keenum will arrive in Denver off the back of a stellar single season in Minnesota, where he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game.

Minnesota went 11-3 with Keenum at the helm after Sam Bradford went down early in the season, putting up 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Keenum is 20-18 as a starter through his two stints in Houston and St Louis/Los Angeles, and Minnesota, with his two playoff starts coming in January 2018 with the Vikings.

It remains to be seen if the Broncos will use the fifth overall pick to draft a quarterback after former picks Brock Osweiler (2012), Trevor Siemian (2015), and Paxton Lynch (2016) all struggled to 5-11 last season, while among the worst teams in turnovers.

Osweiler is a free agent this summer, while Siemian has one year left on his rookie deal, but his future with the team remains up in the air.

President of football operations/general manager John Elway confirmed at the NFL Scouting Combine that Lynch will return, while Chad Kelly, the 2017 draft’s Mr Irrelevant, will get a chance to show Broncos Country what he can do after sitting out his rookie season with injuries.

Watch Case Keenum throw the Minneapolis Miracle pass in the NFC Divisional Round against New Orleans.

2017 Review: Coaches, quarterbacks, rookies all disappoint as losing football returns to Denver

Initial expectations

On the 5280 Podcast during training camp and preseason, we had talking heads from Denver’s sports media predict everything between 6-10 and 10-6. Some had us as playoff contenders, others had us missing out altogether.

The spectrum showed that, as talented as this team was on paper, the only consensus was that we didn’t know what this team would be capable of with a new coaching staff, and the strongest strength of schedule in 2017.

Being optimistic, we settled on 10-6, which would have been an improvement on 2016, and a return to playoff contention. How wrong we were!

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Rookies

The 2017 rookie class has been another abysmal affair for the Broncos with injuries and poor decision-making plaguing most of the youngsters drafted.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt and Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly saw no action at all, while Louisana Tech wide receiver Carlos Henderson, who was projected to play in the slot, wasn’t seen after a preseason injury.

Georgia wide receiver/punt returner Isaiah McKenzie has been a bust so far. Half a dozen muffed punts, and taking it upon himself to go infield rather than out of bounds with no time outs and the clock running out on the first half against Washington in week 16 was another infuriating moment.

He was benched twice and should have remained inactive despite injuries to Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. Tim Patrick or River Cracraft — both have been given futures contracts — off the practice squad should have been given a chance on offense late in the season.

Whether McKenzie returns in 2018 remains to be seen as Vance Joseph also gets a second chance in Denver.

Running back De’Angelo Henderson, who many tipped to rise up the depth chart after a promising preseason, has seen little action behind CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker.

Since Booker returned from injury, Henderson has been a regular inactive on game day, with Jamaal Charles being the regularly underused third running back.

Considering the Broncos have been handicapped at wide receiver for much for the season with injuries to Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer, the absence of Henderson’s pass-catching ability is a poor reflection on the coaching staff, and Henderson gave Broncos Country a timely reminder of his ability with a majestic 29-yard receiving touchdown on a screen play against Kansas City in week 17.

On defense, Lamar cornerback Brendan Langley was active for 11 games, but offered little in terms of production. Was given a working over by the Oakland Raiders in week 12, when he saw more game time after Aqib Talib was ejected, but his biggest contribution has been on special teams, with six kick returns going for 183 yards, all averaging more than 20+ yards and a long of 61.

The Broncos can’t work out what to do with defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Walker, who has been another regular on the inactive list. Has seen some rotational action, but has largely been a disappointment as a second-round pick although not necessarily his fault.

The one shining light from this year’s class has been Utah tackle Garett Bolles, who won the starting left tackle job and has been solid for the most part, despite being one of the most-penalised players in the league this season.

There are obvious growing pains, and one of his problems has been the glut of holding penalties he was known for in college, but he’s been solid and done well considering he was going up against some of the league’s best edge rushers.

Notably, he outperformed and outlasted right tackle Menelik Watson, who finished the season on injured reserve.

Aside from Bolles, and very briefly Henderson, it was another disappointing draft class for John Elway and friends in the front office with fans having to wait again to see if the new recruits break out in year two.

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Coaching

Was there anything to be pleased about from rookie head coach Vance Joseph or his assistants this 5-11 season?

It’s fair to say that the coaching at times this season has left a lot to be desired. For the most part it has been awful.

Despite the promising start to the season, with Joseph “having the time of his life” on the sidelines in the opening last-gasp win over the Los Angeles Chargers to the thrilling annihilation of Dallas in week two, it was a fairly inauspicious to the Joseph era.

The eight-game losing streak after starting 3-1 solidified the opinion for many that Joseph is not head coach material.

Miami Dolphins fans insist he wasn’t a great defensive coordinator from his time there in 2016 — they ranked 26th in overall defense — which begs the question what on earth does Elway see in him that no other general manager does, and why does he deserve a second season in Denver?

Teams weren’t exactly lining up to interview Joseph for head coach in 2017 — or in 2015 when Elway wanted him while he was in Cincinnati — unlike now-San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

The back-to-back wins that ended the crushing losing streak might, just might, have been a factor in saving Joseph from the axe after one season, but it’s difficult to feel good about that for the future of the team.

That most of the players came out and backed the coach was likely a big part in Elway standing behind the guy he brought in.

Yes, the quarterback situation has been a disaster from day one and there should be some mitigation there, the offensive line was the fourth worst in the league in 2017, but the coaching wasn’t great, and the buck should stop with Joseph, this supposed “leader of men”.

How can we trust him to turn it around just because there’s a new quarterback in place for 2018?

Joseph has consistently reeled off the same lines about practice being great, everyone doing fine, trusting the process, and that’s without the talk of not making changes because of two-score games or, in stating the obvious, that everyone has to coach better, play better.

He gave multiple chances to McKenzie only for that to blow up in his face.

The decision to keep Joseph in Denver hasn’t gone down too well with a large number of fans.

Special teams coordinator Brock Olivo has a clear passion for the game, but whatever he did with special teams didn’t translate on the field, especially when it came to the coverage and return game.

It’s amazing that McKenzie took so long to learn when to fair catch the ball. That’s fundamental for a returner and that’s on the coach, and the player. Olivo was lucky to still be in Denver in week 17.

The fact he’s a first-year coordinator probably meant he got a pass from the team, but it was no surprise to see him shown the door at the end of the season.

Bill Musgrave is a man with potential. Lauded for his role in transforming Derek Carr into a franchise quarterback in Oakland, he did improve the offense in a limited capacity since taking over the reins from Mike McCoy after most of the damage was done.

The less said about the offensive performances under McCoy the better. Like many, we were guilty of buying into the notion that he would return the Broncos to being the high-scoring team it was during Peyton Manning’s early years in Denver.

It’s easy to see that Musgrave could create an offensive scheme that would suit Heisman winner Baker Mayfield should the Broncos draft him in 2018, but he should also be able to craft a scheme that would suit seasoned veterans such as Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith should they be in Broncos colours next season, and it makes sense he was given the coordinator role on a full-time basis.

For all the talk that the promotion of Joe Woods from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator wouldn’t been much of a change in the defense following the loss of Wade Phillips, we saw it only in patches because of how often the offense turned the ball over.

The problem with stats is they can often mask problems: The Broncos finished 2017 ranked third in total defense (290 YPG), fourth in passing (200.6) and fifth in rushing (89.4), but were also 23rd in total points allowed (23.9 pts/game) and 28th for receiving touchdowns allowed (29).

Yes, it was year one for many of these coaches, but the roster was talented enough to be a playoff team. The fact that the head coach remains as well as the offensive and defensive coordinators doesn’t sit well so soon after a disappointing season.

They just about deserve the chance to turn it around, but further failures won’t be accepted. He remains on thin ice going into 2018 and might not see out the season if we see the sort of results through the middle of 2017.

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Quarterbacks

Team Trevor, Team Paxton, Team Brock, Team Kyle, Team Swag. Almost every fan had a favourite Broncos quarterback at the start of the season. None of them really delivered.

We loved what we saw from rookie Kyle Sloter in preseason, wish he would have stayed in Denver, and begrudgingly accepted his decision to secure his financial future in quarterback-rich Minnesota, but he was never going to start unless we got really desperate.

It would have been nice to see what Kelly could have done for the Broncos, and he might still get a chance during the offseason after sitting out his rookie year with injuries.

Trevor Siemian was the best of an inexperienced group in preseason and rightly deserved to be named starter ahead of Paxton Lynch, but it would have been interesting to see what could have happened had Brock Osweiler been in Denver during training camp.

The early signs were promising for Siemian, notably after that performance against Dallas, but it proved to be an outlier. Just as the big performance Siemian had against Cincinnati in 2016, it showed he’s capable of doing it, but not consistently enough, and after some tenderising from defensive linemen, and some niggling injuries, he falls apart.

The poor offensive line hasn’t helped, but that’s when quarterbacks really show what they’re capable of. Kirk Cousins was pretty useful in Washington despite a glut of injuries to his offensive line, while Russell Wilson was still handy for the Seahawks, and rookie DeShaun Watson was lighting it up before tearing his ACL despite the poor offensive line in Houston.

Unfortunately for Siemian, he’s probably a backup quarterback at best. Still, he and Osweiler were outplayed by many other backups this season, notably Case Keenum in Minnesota and even the much-travelled Josh McCown for the New York Jets.

With Lynch out, the Broncos should have moved to Osweiler long before he was given the reins for the Philadelphia blowout defeat. That’s on the coaches.

Osweiler has shown since his return that he offers a lot more. More comfortable going downfield, a bit more mobile although not as mobile as Lynch, and more passionate leadership, even if his teammates aren’t always paying attention on the sidelines.

That’s not to say Osweiler is the answer. In his brief outings, Lynch hasn’t exactly lit it up either. All three quarterbacks to play this season had problems with ball security and poor decision-making. Which of them comes back in 2018?

It’s not unfair to say the Broncos’ franchise quarterback was not on the 2017 roster based on what we’ve seen, and we wait to see which of them return in 2018 and who arrives at Dove Valley in the coming months.

Early expectations for 2018

It’s too early to say what the Broncos will look like in 2018 and futile to go into expectation detail until the quarterback situation is known, then which of the veterans are returning, and how the team performs in the draft, which hasn’t been great in recent seasons.

Joseph’s return as head coach isn’t overly popular, but we’ll give him a chance to turn it around. He might be one of the nicest guys in the world, but has looked too clueless too often to consider him a decent — never mind elite — head coach.

It could be weeks or months before the quarterback situation is clear as offers are made on veterans and the 2018 NFL Draft takes place at the end of April. Instead, here’s what should happen.

Those players brought back — there are more than a dozen free agents across the team this offseason — get a clean slate. Same for the rookies and the practice squad guys, who didn’t get much of a look in towards the end of 2017.

The big question is how the Broncos front office balances the books to free up cap space for a franchise quarterback when Von Miller is already receiving that money, and resign key players including Bradley Roby, Matt Paradis and Shaq Barrett.

Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart, Demaryius Thomas, Sanders and CJ Anderson all have contracts that can be renegotiated or traded away. If two, or more, are willing to take team-friendly deals, the Broncos need to keep them.

In terms of quarterback, it’s hard to disagree that the Broncos should throw the chequebook at Cousins if Washington doesn’t slap him with the franchise tag for a third season.

He might never come close to equalling Manning’s overall success, but Cousins is the best quarterback potentially available and will be around for a good while yet.

There is a growing respect for Keenum and what he’s been able to do in Minnesota this season, but he hasn’t done it multiple seasons.

If Smith is out of Kansas City, he’d be a good short-term option, but that probably means drafting a quarterback in 2018. If the Broncos get Cousins, there isn’t that strong need to draft a quarterback in the first round, which will allow the team to deal with deficiencies on the offensive line or inside linebacker.

The Broncos drafted Jay Cutler, Tim Tebow and Lynch in the first round. None of those were the answer. Given the quarterbacks Elway has drafted during his time as general manager, confidence isn’t high he’ll get the right guy this time around.

Joseph talked of a reboot when he became head coach almost a year ago, but with some familiar faces expected to leave during the offseason it still feels like a team in rebuild mode rather than transition.

Elway has been lucky before with quick fixes keeping fans largely happy, but it can’t be understated that the Broncos aren’t immune to needing a few years to rebuild. The history shows that. Veteran Broncos fans will remember the barren years.

More recently, the Broncos had just two winning seasons between 2006 and 2011, five of those years were without playoff football, and that streak was broken in 2011 as they scraped an 8-8 record to finish top of the AFC West. Then came the Manning years.

In a competitive AFC West, the Broncos have to keep moving forward. The Los Angeles Chargers showed this year that they are a team capable of winning and aren’t far off having a great team. Kansas City has back-to-back AFC West titles, a quarterback of the future, and a raft of young talent that is already delivering, while Oakland has their franchise quarterback and seems set to lure Jon Gruden back as their head coach.

With the divisional rivals so strong, there is no guarantee that next season will see a return to winning football, which at the very least means returning to the playoffs, and 2018 could be as difficult as 2017 if the right pieces don’t fall into place.

This article was originally published by our friends at Gridiron & Gravy – the NFL community for the north.

You can find Gridiron & Gravy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

From mediocre to Super Bowls and back: Where do the Broncos go from here?

How did the Broncos go from Super Bowl champs to 3-8?

After the horror of the Josh McDaniels era, the wild ride of Tebowmania gave Denver fans a reason to smile. Building on that optimism the Broncos arguably became the greatest offence the game had ever seen and got to Super Bowl 48 as a result. They lost, badly.

Returning two years later, this time with a dominant defence, they took home the Lombardi trophy despite a misfiring offense and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning losing his powers.

A further two years along, the Broncos now have a rookie head coach, let one of the most-respected defensive coordinators in football leave, have used three quarterbacks they drafted and, after a 3-1 start, have lost seven games straight.

From Super Bowl champions to the punchline of many jokes in two years. How did it come to this?

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As you might imagine, the reasons are many, but the overall theme is surprisingly simple.
Fingers will be pointed at the failure to properly address the offensive line and the obvious issue of the quarterback. While bringing in Drew Brees and putting him behind the Dallas Cowboys offensive line would certainly improve matters, that is not exactly feasible.

However, something else, something more fundamental that the Broncos did have control over has been allowed to happen: the gradual erosion of leadership and culture. Players have come and gone over the years and, in isolation, each roster move has made some sense, but it has been a death of the culture by a thousand cuts.

Emerging from the wilderness

After the back to back Super Bowl wins at the end of the 90s with John Elway and Terrell Davis, there was a very lean decade in Denver, failing to even make the playoffs for most of it.

McDaniels was brought in to much fanfare with a mandate to bring back the glory days.

The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach was an unmitigated disaster, but was directly responsible for the Broncos acquiring some key rookies. He drafted Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow, plus he left the team in position for his successor to pick second in the draft and snag Von Miller. His ignominious exit also saw Broncos legend John Elway take up a front office position with his beloved franchise.

A decade of mediocrity had left a dearth of quality veterans in Denver, two notable exceptions being left tackle Ryan Clady and cornerback Champ Bailey. So, newly-minted executive Elway had a lot of scope for roster moves.

The 2011 season could have been written off for a host of reasons, but a much improved defence, the infectious confidence of Tim Tebow, and the right leg of Matt Prater saw the Broncos sneak into the playoffs and dispatch the shell-shocked Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. That they were blown out the following week by the Patriots was not important, they were on the right track.

While Miller was the shining jewel of the 2011 draft, undrafted free agent Chris Harris Jr has proven to be equally important. The fact that All-Pro corner Bailey, one of the few veterans in the locker room, was in a position to mentor Harris Jr was key to his development.

Bailey was a leader both on and off the field, he took Harris Jr under his wing and taught him how to play in the NFL. As Bailey’s skills declined, Harris was in position to replace him and lift the whole unit.

The Sheriff comes to town

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With 2012 came major change. Amid stiff competition, Elway convinced Manning to come to Denver after he was let go by Indianapolis, and a period of unprecedented offensive dominance was born.

Understandably, Manning caught all the headlines, but there were some important changes on the defensive side of the ball also. The Broncos moved on from linebacker DJ Williams and drafted Danny Trevathan to replace him. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson was drafted to solidify the defence.

Manning proceeded to put together two of the greatest offensive seasons of his career, making stars of Broncos draftees Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas. Veteran Wes Welker was brought in also to add extra fuel to this dynamite offence.

Below the flashy headlines, through all the roster turnover, there were two less heralded players that remained – safety David Bruton Jr and linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Out of the spotlight, they were savvy veterans with a great locker room presence and a trusted voice in the community; indeed both were nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

They were both kept around in part because of their commitment to and value on special teams. Their presence in the third phase of the game was supplemented by the addition in 2013 of Kayvon Webster, another below-the-radar guy with a hunger for the less-heralded parts of the game.

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Manning and his high speed, high-scoring offence brought the Broncos to the Super Bowl, where they got blown out by the Seattle Seahawks. For Elway, this necessitated a return to what he had started before Manning’s arrival — a team built around defence.

Julius Thomas and Welker left, while Decker had been allowed to leave the year before. In their stead came free agent Emmanuel Sanders and second-round pick Cody Latimer.

The major focus for 2014 acquisitions was on the defence. The Broncos made a splash with cornerback Aqib Talib from New England, safety TJ Ward from Tampa Bay, and future Hall-of-Fame outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware from Dallas. Ohio State corner Bradley Roby was also drafted in the first round to add to this new defence. Almost lost in the shuffle was the release of Woodyard, his snaps at inside linebacker were taken by Brandon Marshall.

It worked. Harris Jr continued to develop, pairing him with Talib they became the most-feared corner duo in the NFL. Ward brought a nasty streak and DeMarcus Ware — like Champ Bailey before him — guided rising star Miller and showed him how to bring his formidable talents to bear.

With the major shift in focus, the team was not quite complete and fell short in the playoffs against Manning’s old team. The team had seemed primed for great things and it felt as if they had missed an opportunity.

Top of the mountain

In 2015, former St Louis and Baltimore safety Darian Stewart was added to create the No Fly Zone with Talib, Harris Jr and Ward. They grabbed the opportunity missed the previous season as the defence carried an ailing Manning and misfiring offence all the way to Super Bowl glory.

However, it was the pass rush that defined the defence. Miller was the undoubted star and deservedly Super Bowl MVP. Partnered with Ware, and Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett their understudies, they harassed every quarterback they faced.

That defence was truly special; “legendary” as defensive coordinator Wade Phillips described it on the 5280 Podcast in April 2017.

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Having been dragged to his second Super Bowl victory by a once-in-a generation defence, Peyton “the Sheriff” Manning rode off into the sunset and with him went any semblance of an offensive identity.

While the organisation were correct that his diminished skills made his play replaceable, the leadership and confidence derived from his presence was something special and not so easily moved on from.

Player Exodus

Jackson and Trevathan, with their reputations sky-high after Super Bowl victory and the Broncos unable to match exorbitant contracts on offer, left in free agency to Jacksonville and Chicago, respectively. Bruton Jr also took his chance to go, looking for a larger role with another team. He landed in Washington.

The 2016 season ended with a disappointing 9–7 record and no playoffs. The departures continued with Ware retiring after battling injuries and Kayvon Webster leaving to be a defensive starter in Los Angeles with Coach Phillips. Then, just prior to the 2017 season, the Broncos released Ward.

Each of these departures over the last two seasons makes sense in isolation, but the leadership vacuum left behind and loss of depth has left the Broncos with no identity and struggling to find somebody to pick them up when they fall.

Defensive identity

Trevathan admirably replaced Williams and Marshall stepped in seamlessly for Woodyard. But, when Trevathan left there was no succession plan. Marshall stepped up into his leadership position, but who took on Marshall’s role beside him?

The Broncos had struck gold drafting Trevathan and claiming Marshall off waivers when he was cut by Jacksonville. The thinking seems to be that linebackers are easily replaced so there was no great need to put in work to find another gem, nobody has yet adequately stepped up.

Jackson provided great pressure up the middle, his threat allowed the edge rushers more freedom and, just as important, he pushed defensive end Derek Wolfe to be better. His snaps have been taken by Adam Gotsis, but without the same production and again another lost voice.

Among the edge rushers, the plan was for Ware to be replaced by Ray and Barrett. While it is near impossible to replace a Hall-of-Famer, it has also been noticeable that nobody has stepped into the hole behind Ray and Barrett. Miller, at 28, is now the veteran. Ray and Barrett are the rising stars, but where are the young guys pushing them, fulfilling their old role?

The Broncos front office felt that Ward was no longer required as youngsters Justin Simmons and Will Parks were more than capable of replacing his skills. They have proven that they certainly are, but Ward’s leadership and infectious energy were the greater loss.

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Neglecting the third phase

On special teams, Woodyard’s departure was keenly felt but offset by the emergence of Webster and Latimer. When Bruton Jr left, Latimer and Webster were able to pick up some of the slack, but losing Webster in 2017 has left the special teams unit with a lack of experienced leaders and that rarely found enthusiasm for running and gunning.

The releases of kicker Prater (2014) and punter Britton Colquitt (2015) were also blows to the special teams unit. Their replacements are excellent young players and growing into fine leaders, but that takes time.

So where to next?

After the Super Bowl humbling by the Seahawks, Elway blew up the team and switched from offence to defence. In that context, neglecting the offensive line and quarterback are not terminal complaints. However, compounding that with the loss of defensive leadership and talent has led interminably to the sorry place where the Broncos now find themselves.

Elway made the same mistake that most teams make at some point. He underestimated the value of veteran leadership and the positive impact of “glue guys” like Bruton, Ward and Webster.

When you look at the cap hit and on field production in isolation you risk missing the bigger picture that the guys on the field are real people, with real relationships, highs and lows. It is the lows that show you the value of the guy that might otherwise seem expendable.

All is not lost. There are still plenty of quality players in Denver on both sides of the ball, but the key to a long term resurgence is finding and retaining guys that make those around them better.

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Week 9: Broncos consider QB change after third straight defeat

Vance Joseph conceded that the Denver Broncos are evaluating everything at all positions after a third defeat on the bounce on Monday Night Football.

The Broncos turned over the ball five times—with quarterback Trevor Siemian throwing three interceptions—in a 29-19 defeat to Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium that saw them slip to 3-4.

Despite another poor performance from Siemian, Joseph kept the third-year quarterback in the game rather than bench him for Brock Osweiler.

The key decision for Joseph and the coaches is whether to make a change at quarterback for the week nine trip to Philadelphia to take on the red-hot Eagles (7-1).

If the Broncos do make a change, Osweiler is expected to be the starter with Paxton Lynch just returning to practice from a shoulder injury suffered in preseason.

Osweiler went 5-2 as a starter while Peyton Manning was injured in 2015.

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Week 6: Brandon Perna recaps Broncos 23-10 defeat to the Giants

The New York Giants, minus half their team, defeated the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football 23-10.

Al Michaels made a Harvey Weinstein joke, and talked like a baby.

Denver fell to 3-2 and failed to put the heat on the Kansas City Chiefs after they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Eli Manning led the Giants to their first victory in 2017 without Odell Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Dwayne Harris. They leaned on running back Orleans Darkwa who was the first 100-yard rusher the Broncos allowed this season.

The No Fly Zone didn’t get any pick sixes.

Trevor Siemian threw two interceptions, including a pick six that he was injured on late in the second quarter.

Brock Osweiler entered the game to finish the half before Siemian returned to start the third quarter.

Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie both left the game with what appeared to be serious leg injuries.

Sanders suffered an ankle injury, but we know it’s not broken as X-rays came back negative. I’d guess it’s a high ankle sprain.

Peyton Manning also attended the game, and cursed the Broncos by probably rooting for his brother.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas played a hell of a game and also appeared to be dealing with a lower extremity injury throughout the game.

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Three takeaways as the Broncos upset the odds, destroy Cowboys

Broncos feed big against Cowboys

Few Broncos fans will forget the last time we played the Cowboys. That epic tussle at Jerry’s World four years ago that saw the Broncos edge a 99-point shootout 51-48.

Peyton Manning led the team to a 50 burger on the Cowboys that day, complete with a rare rushing touchdown, but the Trevor Siemian and CJ Anderson-led 40 burger in week two finally shows that the current iteration of the Broncos offense under offensive coordinator Mike McCoy can also eat big.

Siemian tied his game best with four touchdowns, equalling his tally from last year’s week three 29-17 win over Cincinnati, while Anderson put up his first 100-yard game since week seven against Houston in 2016 as the Broncos pounded 178 yards on the ground against the Cowboys.

Anderson has never had more than two 100-yard games in the same NFL season, but with 199 yards from the first two weeks of the season, the fifth-year running back is on course to better his 929 yards—including the post season—in 2014 and 954 yards in 2015, if he can stay healthy, while Siemian deserves his plaudits for marching the team up and down the field with a swagger not seen since Manning was still at his best.

 

Run defense stuffs Zeke and friends

After holding the Los Angeles Chargers 64 yards in week one, nobody would have expected the Broncos’ run defense to contain Ezekiel Elliott the way they did.

The Ohio State star led the league in his rookie year with 1,631 yards, but with a six-game suspension going through the courts, Elliott’s second year has been underwhelming in the opening two games.

Eight yards from nine carries for 0.9 yards against the Broncos is as brutal as it sounds for a back who put up 100-yard games for fun in his rookie year. Never has Elliott had such low numbers in his football career.

Even Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian—not exactly known for his rushing ability—had better numbers with 14 yards from five carries for a 2.8 yard average.

The Broncos run defense spearheaded by the omnipresent bulldozing force of Adam Gotsis and Derek Wolfe, held the Cowboys to 40 yards from 14 carries for 2.9 yards—the same average they held the Chargers to last week.

That’s good enough for sixth lowest yards a carry average this year, and the best run defense when you take away Tampa Bay, Miami and Detroit, which have all played one game less at the time of writing.

That’s a far cry from the 28th run defense that allowed 2,083 for an average of 4.3 yards a carry in 2016. The early signs are promising, but further big tests await with LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Kareem Hunt among the backs Denver will face before the end of October.

 

 

Watson is the tackle to fear most

For all the reservations about what to expect from left tackle Garett Bolles, the rookie out of Utah has been solid for the Broncos through his first game and a half in the NFL.

He was visibly upset on the sideline during the LA Chargers game when he allowed a sack on Siemian. That was a good sign of how much he cares about his quarterback and his job protecting him.

If only the same emotion could be seen in Manchester-born right tackle Menelik Watson, who has shown promise in the run game, but has been atrocious in pass protection. He might be a Brit, and we want to see him do well, but his performances as a Bronco thus far can’t be sugar coated.

His six sacks allowed in just two games are half the total some teams had throughout 2016. He was ranked 59th of 61 tackles in week one by Pro Football Focus, and last in week two. The loss of Bolles to injury is now a major concern.

Donald Stephenson is listed as both the backup right and left tackles on the depth chart following the preseason departures of Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield, but the sixth-year tackle out of Oklahoma lost out on the starting job to a rookie and a fifth year guy who struggles to block.

What does that say about Stephenson, who has started 33 of NFL 75 games, of which 12 came last year for the Broncos?

If the Bolles injury is two to three weeks rather than six to eight or longer, the Broncos won’t make moves to bring in a guy—yes, we’d like to have Joe Thomas in Denver too—and could use veteran Allen Barbre at left tackle, keeping Stephenson free to relieve Watson of his duties on the other side.

The more we see of Watson, the more he looks like a guy who can’t play the position. He needs serious help, or we need to get in someone who can actually block.

Featured image provided by Ryan Greene. Check out his work through Twitter and Instagram.

Paxton Lynch: Taking his next step in Denver

Despite being the Broncos first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, quarterback Paxton Lynch has had to bide his time in the team behind Trevor Siemian.

While the Broncos had a number of challenges in the 2016 season, Siemian played well. His game against Kansas City was one which echoed the Peyton Manning years: three touchdowns, no interceptions; 20 of 34 for 368 yards — a superb record in this game.

From weeks eight to 14, Siemian was one of only three QBs who averaged over 300 passing yards in each game.

He completed the season with an 18-10 touchdown to interception ratio and an 84.6 passer rating. With this sort of performance, you would expect Trevor to be the starter in 2017, but perhaps Paxton Lynch should still be given a chance to show why the Broncos traded up to draft him in the first round just over a year ago.

A QB battle in Denver awaits.

A new coach, a new system. The Broncos 2017 season brings a lot of change, but a lot of excitement for the fans. There is no doubt that Paxton Lynch was selected in the NFL Draft to be the future QB for the Broncos. Numerous whispers were coming out of the initial preseason training that Lynch has really “came out of his shell” and started to go up a gear in his preparation.

Writing at 9News.com, Mike Klis believes that something happened to Lynch going into the final stretch of the initial offseason program.

“His switch was flipped,” Klis said. “He started to get it. He started to play as if he was doing just that — playing. Playing and not thinking about his protections and hot reads and coverages and delivering the ball on time.”

Lynch is happy with his progress so far this offseason.

Lynch also recognises that significant improvement during the offseason.

“I mean, the more reps I’m getting with these guys, the more I get to go against the defense and see the looks live compared to just on paper, it’s helping me a lot,” he said in an interview with 9News.

“I think each practice I’ve progressively got better”.

While Klis thinks Siemian is still first choice, one must look at the overall performance after the Broncos training camp. Surely if Lynch continues with this form he should deserve a chance to lead this team in 2017?

Opinion is split in Broncos Country, but a QB battle is always healthy at this time of the year.

Saddle up, folks.