What next for the Broncos? (By Jim Green)
Ah, the Denver Broncos. After a strong 3-1 start they went on a bye week and never came back. Eight losses on the bounce later and their record currently has them as the 4th worst team in the NFL. Vance Joseph is having a tough first season as a head coach. Aside from Cleveland, no team has suffered more double digit losses this year (Denver are tied with Cleveland on seven).
They had what was widely regarded as one of the best defensive units in the league led by Von Miller. But in the off season with the appointment of Vance Joseph as head coach they let defensive coordinator/genius Wade Phillips leave the building. Denver’s loss was LAs gain and with it, Denver have given up 26 passing TDs, the worst in the league. When they are still strong is in rush defence where they have the 5th best record.
Where they are lacking is on offence. What was once one of the most potent units in the NFL under future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is now a wasteland of, at best, mediocrity. The choices at quarterback are uninspiring, and with that their talented wide receiving duo of Thomas and Sanders have been starved of production.
So what’s next for the Broncos?
The offensive line
Possibly one of the worst units in the NFL at the moment. Let me illustrate that with a few stats, because we all love a stat. Denver have given up 39 sacks so far this season which puts them joint third in the league with Cleveland and Detroit. In rushing yards they’re 17th in the league and that’s despite having a half decent set of running backs in CJ Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker.
There is no doubt that there’s little quality at quarterback – but the line is not helping one bit and it’s been the same for a couple of years now. The unit needs attention. It’s too early to be looking at who will become available as a free agent but there are one of two interesting names, though not many so Denver could expect competition. Top of the list is Nate Solder from New England. I would be surprised to see him leave the Patriots as they need to keep their aging prize possession upright but Belichick has been known to shed older players – still, Solder isn’t that old (29) and he is good. Former high first round pick Luke Joeckel is next on the list. Joeckel is on a one year contract with Seattle and given their troubles in the same position there’s a good chance he stays with the Seahawks. Other notable names include Greg Robinson, DJ Fluker and Jonathan Cooper. Hardly a who’s who but one or two of them would probably help improve what’s there.
As it stands, the Broncos have a high draft pick. But also as it stands, there’s not many offensive linemen that warrants a pick that high. The only option might be Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame. He probably could have gone high in the 2017 draft but chose to stay in school. His form has maintained and he looks to be the best option in 2018. So the option would be to go for McGlinchey, a QB (more on that later) or trade down, get some value for the high draft pick and take an offensive lineman later in the draft. Should they do that then Trey Adams from Washington is the next placed tackle. Should they opt for a guard then another member of the fighting Irish would be the top prospect; Quenton Nelson. Nelson has been projected by some as a top ten talent but I think the top 25 would be more realistic. Billy Price from Ohio State would be the next best option but realistically they could likely pick him up in the second round.
Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lycnch and Brock Osweiler. Do I need to say more?
Ok so none of them have been helped by the offensive line. Siemian is probably the best of them and has shown he can probably be a game manager. But does the legend that is John Elway want that? Probably not. So what are the options to renew the personnel?
Kirk Cousins is going to be the most in demand QB entering free agency if the Redskins don’t manage to tie him down to a long term contract. Would he go to Denver? Possibly. They do have good receivers and a great defence so with some improvement to the offensive line this could be a good offense again. The other option could be Eli Manning. There’s obvious history with the Manning family in Denver and Peyton could act as middle man between Elway and his younger brother should the position arise.
Again, I find myself talking about draft prospects at this position. On the basis that Sam Darnold goes to Cleveland and NYG stick with Eli then the Broncos need to decide on whether they want to take a punt on Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has been getting all the attention given his play, his attitude and his obvious talent – but he’s not tall. Rosen has long been thought of as a quality prospect and stands tall at 6-4 which, given their history of taking tall QBs, might appeal. Height wise, Jackson sits in between but he may be the most talented out of all of them. Like Mayfield he has great scrambling ability (which might be needed with the current line – see Russell Wilson in Seattle) but he’s also a strong pocket passer. If they do go for a top QB prospect then I think it will be Jackson.
The coaching staff
I thought long and hard over this next one. I don’t want to be the guy (nor do I want this to be a site that) just shouts “SACK THE COACH!” whenever a team goes through a rough patch. It’s too easy to do. Nor do I think the Broncos are an organisation that would throw a coach overboard at the drop of a hat.
But the truth is, this coaching team isn’t good. You could, and probably should, blame John Elway and maybe it is time he should go. But that’s just not going to happen. Elway IS the Broncos so let’s not harp on about that. No, next up for debate is the coaching team. Joseph was a slightly left field choice. Whilst he has an extensive CV, he’d only served one year as a coordinator where he was defensive coordinator in Miami and whilst they did make the playoffs in 2016 it wasn’t exactly an amazing defensive performance.
The first mistake Vance Joseph made was to not bust his arse to keep Wade Phillips. Maybe he felt as a defensive coordinator himself that it would be too many defensive minds in one place if they kept the defensive genius Wade on the staff. Or maybe he felt threatened by it. Well it’s worked out alright for the Rams. By all accounts, Phillips had a great relationship with the defensive players in Denver and by not keeping him on the staff Joseph hardly kicked off on the right foot.
Along with the front office, they’ve not done enough to improve the offence – both in terms of adding the right personnel or coaching them up. Earlier in the season Mike McCoy was ejected as a casualty of the poor showing but you have to look deeper than that. I’ve pointed to the O-Line already but part of their disappointment has to lie with the coaching of it. Seattle are famed for having poor pieces when it comes to their line but under Tom Cable (and a quality scrambling QB) they’ve managed to get by.
Following the departure of McCoy, Musgrave has been promoted to offensive coordinator after a stint of being the QB coach. Most people get promoted after doing well in their current role. Under Musgrave, Denver have cycled through three quarterbacks – hardly successful.
So they need a clean sweep in the coaching room. You can’t point to a single unit within the Denver team which you can say is doing well. Front office failures aside in terms of acquiring the right pieces, the lack of success has also to rest on the coaching staff.
Where does Elway go next with this? Well I would be looking for an offensive minded coach to add some zing to the offence and then bring in a strong defensive coordinator. Matt Nagy from the Chiefs would be my first choice. He took over the play calling from Reid when the Chiefs played the Jets and suddenly the Chiefs looked potent again. He would also have the knowledge of a division rival which wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
Another direction Elway could go would be to look to his former college and tempt David Shaw to move to Colorado. Shaw has been on the shortlist of a good few NFL teams in the past but has always declared his (and his families) love of living in Palo Alto as a reason not to move. Could control over a storied franchise with high draft pick and a number of strong college QBs coming into the draft be enough to tempt him? Well, you probably need to ask Mrs Shaw.
Coaching staff need to go. The new head coach needs to pick what’s more important to him with that high first round draft pick – a QB or strengthening the O-Line. Elway will make the ultimate decision here but any coach being interviewed would be well served to have a strong opinion. Once that’s decided, find a new young running back!