The Update: Denver Broncos 2017 Preview

The Update: Los Angeles Chargers 2017 Preview
July 11, 2017
Inside the Helmet: Watching Tape with Michael Rose-Ivey
July 13, 2017

The Update: Denver Broncos 2017 Preview

Justis Mosqueda
In an effort to break the two-paragraph preview trend of national writers, Setting the Edge has dedicated themselves to previewing all 32 teams in the NFL in a series called “The Update”, which will focus on:

  1. Where a team stands from a decision-maker standpoint
  2. Where teams were efficient and inefficient last year by using percentile radar charts
  3. Who the moving parts between the 2016 and 2017 seasons were
  4. Where a team is trending heading into the 2017 regular season

Justis Mosqueda will be writing the team previews while Charles McDonald posts film breakdowns based on the writing. After posts on entire divisions are finished, they will discuss teams on division-specific Setting the Edge podcasts which you can find on SoundCloud and iTunes. Five stars only. Tell a friend.

With a mostly new coaching staff, let’s start this Denver Broncos preview with who their new coaches actually are and what their backgrounds are.

Head Coach: Vance Joseph

  • 13th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former defensive backs coach in San Francisco (2005-2010), Houston (2011-2013, under former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) and Cincinnati (2014-2015)
  • Former defensive coordinator in Miami (2016)

Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs: Eric Studesville

  • 21st year coaching in the NFL
  • Former running backs coach in Chicago (1997-2000), New York Giants (2001-2003), Buffalo Bills (2004-2009) and Denver Broncos (2010-present)
  • Assistant head coach of the Broncos since 2010, and he even served as an interim head coach (1-3 record) in 2010 when Josh McDaniels was fired

Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCoy

  • 18th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former offensive assistant, wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and passing coordinator in Carolina (2000-2008)
  • Offensive coordinator (2009-2012) and quarterbacks coach (2009) in Denver before taking a head coaching position in San Diego (2013-2016, 27-37 record)

Quarterbacks: Bill Musgrave

  • 19th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former quarterbacks quack in Oakland (1997), Carolina (1999-2000), Jacksonville (2004), Washington (2005), Atlanta (2006-2009) and Philadelphia (2014)
  • Former offensive coordinator in Philadelphia (1998), Carolina (2000), Jacksonville (2003-2004), Minnesota (2011-2013) and Oakland (2015-2016)
  • Former assistant head coach in Atlanta (2010)

Wide Receivers: Tyke Tolbert

  • 15th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former wide receivers coach in Arizona (2003), Buffalo (2004-2009), Carolina (2010) and Denver (2011-present)
Tight Ends: Geep Chryst

  • 24th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former quarterbacks coach in Arizona (1996-1998, 2001-2003) and San Francisco (2011-2014)
  • Former tight ends coach in Arizona (1996-1998) and Carolina (2006-2010)
  • Former offensive coordinator in San Diego (1999-2000) and San Francisco (2015)
  • Did not coach in 2016

Offensive Line: Jeff Davidson

  • 23rd year coaching in the NFL
  • Former tight ends coach in New England (1997, 2002-2004)
  • Former offensive line coach in New England (1998-2004) Cleveland (2005-2006), Minnesota (2011-2015) and San Diego (2016)
  • Former offensive coordinator in Cleveland (2006) and Carolina (2007-2010)
  • Former assistant head coach in Cleveland (2006)

Defensive Coordinator: Joe Woods

  • 14th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay (2004-2005), Minnesota (2006-2013), Oakland (2014) and Denver (2015-2016)

Defensive Line: Bill Kollar

  • 23rd year coaching in the NFL
  • Former kicking teams coach in Tampa Bay (1984)
  • Former defensive line coach in Atlanta (1990-2000), St. Louis (2001-2005), Buffalo (2007-2008), Houston (2009-2014, under Phillips) and Denver (2015-present)

Outside Linebackers: Fred Pagac

  • 17th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former linebackers coach in Oakland (2001-2003), Kansas City (2004-2005), Minnesota (2006-2010) and Buffalo (2014)
  • Former defensive coordinator in Minnesota (2010-2011)
  • Joined on as the outside linebackers coach of Denver in 2015

Linebackers: Reggie Herring

  • 12th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former linebackers coach in Houston (2002-2003, 2011-2013), Dallas (2008-2010), Chicago (2014) and Denver (2015-present)

Secondary: Marcus Robertson

  • 11th year coaching in the NFL
  • Former secondary coach in Tennessee (2007-2011), Detroit (2012-2013) and Oakland (2014-2016)

When you think of NFL head coaches, you think of someone who separated himself from his peers over long periods of time, outlasting others and slowly moving up the ladder. In Denver at least, that model is basically the opposite. Joseph is 44 years old. Here is the age of the other coaches on the team: 50, 45, 49, 49, 55, 49, 47, 64, 58, 65 and 47. Joseph also has spent 13 years in the NFL. Here are the years of NFL coaching experience of the other coaches on the team: 21, 18, 19, 15, 24, 23, 14, 23, 17, 12 and 11.

Joseph is the youngest and third-least experienced coach, in terms of years in the NFL, on Denver’s coaching staff. Most of the staff got their first cracks at coaching in the NFL between their mid-20s or early-30s, but not one coach on the staff would be considered anything less than middle aged. For whatever reason, right or wrong, the Broncos clearly value age and experience in their coaching staff.

Offense:

Backs: The Denver Broncos are going on Year 3 of quarterback controversy. In 2015, the question was if Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler was the better quarterback. Right before the playoffs, the Broncos jumped on the Manning wagon, which eventually led to a Super Bowl ring. Manning then retired on top, and Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans, who one year later packaged draft value to ship Osweiler’s contract to the Cleveland Browns.

In the meantime, the Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch of Memphis in the first round as a big-arm, plus-athlete quarterback project, with former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian taking over as the team’s starter in 2016. The long-term future at quarterback for Denver revolves around Lynch, Siemian and rookie seventh-round pick Chad Kelly of Mississippi, the nephew of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.

Here’s what each of those quarterbacks, all 25 years old or younger, look like so far as professionals:

Here’s what each of those quarterbacks looked like in college:

Based on numbers alone, Lynch and Kelly seem to have been better prospects coming out of school. Surprisingly, despite the fact that Siemian isn’t really a “toolsy” quarterback, he’s already outperforming his numbers at the college level against NFL defenses. There’s hope for Lynch moving forward, but the idea that teams sit and develop first-round quarterbacks is a farce. Since 2007, the only first-round quarterbacks to not register at least 200 pass attempts in their rookie season have been Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Jake Locker, Johnny Manziel and Lynch. That grouping is less than stellar. With that being said, something needs to change in Denver, as their passing offense finished just 11th in interception percentage, 15th in yards per completion, 25th in sack percentage and 26th in completion percentage last year. On a team that was bogged down by their offense, their passing game was worse than their running game in 2016.

This is not when we turn to the Broncos ground game of 2016 and say it was quietly underrated. They were also below average. They finished 10th in fumble percentage, 16th in run percentage, 17th in TFL percentage and 28th in yards per carry. Relative to how often Denver ran the ball and were able to block up the first level of defenders, the Bronco backfield failed the team.

Last year, Devontae Booker took 174 carries for a 3.5-yard average and C.J. Anderson took 110 carries for a 4.0-yard average. For how often Denver wants to to run the ball, or hide Siemian, that’s not good enough. The team brought in two new backs this offseason in veteran Jamaal Charles, a one-year, $2.5 million signing, and sixth-round rookie De’Angelo Henderson. Charles is a four-time Pro Bowler, but he’s also a 30-year-old who is listed at under 200 pounds and missed 24 of 32 games in the 2015-2016 seasons. Last year, between knee injuries, Charles took just 12 carries in three games for a 3.3 yard per carry average. We very well might go into 2018 with the Broncos’ biggest draft needs being quarterback and running back.

Pass-Catchers: Denver ran virtually their entire passing offense through receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Those two combined for 169 reception. The third player on their roster in terms of receptions was their running back Booker, who brought in just 31 receptions. Virgil Green led their tight ends in receptions with 22.

Depth at receiver was a need for the Broncos this offseason, as Cody Latimer, the team’s 2014 second-round pick, hasn’t panned out, and Jordan Norwood, their “number three receiver” who is still a free agent, hit the open market. The team answered this issue by drafting Carlos Henderson of Louisiana Tech in the third round and Isaiah McKenzie of Georgia in the fifth round. Jake Butt, a tight end from Michigan coming off of a knee injury, was also drafted in the fifth round.

The team now has depth that they can be hopeful about, but immediate impact is an entirely other story. Cautious optimism.

Linemen: The Denver Broncos return four of their five most-player offensive linemen from a team that finished 17th in TFL percentage and 25th in sack percentage last year. They also chose to opt out of Russell Okung’s contract, meaning that they could have kept all five of their “most played” together, if they wanted to. Okung has since signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.

That leaves Max Garcia, Matt Paradis, Michael Schofield and Donald Stephenson as the returning, recently-experienced veterans. Unless Ty Sambrailo has a bounce back season, three new additions to the offensive line should shake up who the 16-game starters could be. Guard Ronald Leary, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, signed a four-year, $35 million deal, while swing tackle Menelik Watson, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, signed a three-year, $18 million deal. The squad also drafted tackle Garrett Bolles of Utah in the first round. Bolles, based on his athleticism and draft position, should be a long-term starter for the team. You can mix-and-match eight potential names to make up the Broncos’ Week 1 or Week 17 starting offensive line. Only time will tell.

Defense:

Line of Scrimmage: In the span of a year, the Broncos went from having one of the most historically dominant defenses in the history of the league to one of the most historically one-sided defenses in the history of the league. In the passing game, Denver finished 1st in completion percentage, 1st in yards per completion, 5th in sack percentage and 14th in interception percentage. In the ground game, Denver finished 13th in fumble percentage, 18th in yards per carry, 29th in run percentage and 32nd in TFL percentage.

Teams knew that running the ball at Denver was their path of victory when their offenses were on the field. Luckily for the Broncos, they have plenty of names on their interior defensive line. Jared Crick, Derek Wolfe and Billy Winn return as three of the team’s four significant interior players from 2016. Sylvester Williams left on a three-year, $17.5 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, but the Broncos added two free agents of their own in Domata Peko (two-year, $7.5 million deal) and Zach Kerr (two-year, $3.25 million deal). Adam Gotsis, who basically took a redshirt year last season, was the team’s second-round pick in 2016, and DeMarcus Walker of Florida State was the team’s 2017 second-round pick.

Speaking simply by the numbers, it’s likely that the team will jump in talent in the defensive interior by working Gotsis, Walker, Peko and Kerr into the lineup in Williams’ absence. Don’t expect the gap between the team’s pass defense and run defense to be as wide this season.

On the edge, Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, one of the league’s best trios, return. The squad lost DeMarcus Ware, but a question mark at “EDGE4” is more of a blessing than anything.

Backs: Denver added bodies to their backfield. Denver added bodies to their pass-catching unit. Denver added bodies to their offensive line. Denver added bodies to their the defensive line of scrimmage. The Broncos could look completely different as a team this year, other than their defensive backfield.

At linebacker, they return Todd Davis, Brandon Marshall and Corey Nelson. The status quo. At cornerback, they return Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. The status quo. At safety, they return Darian Stewart, T.J. Ward and Justin Simmons. The Status quo.

This team should still be great in coverage, as the team’s biggest move was drafting third-round cornerback Brendan Langley out of Lamar. The only thing that will keep the Broncos from repeating their success in coverage over and over again is going to be the age and health of their cornerback trio.

2017 Prediction: You’re going to find that I’m going to repeat myself often in the the prediction section of the AFC West’s previews. I think whichever team does win the division takes the fourth seed in the AFC. I think both the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate contenders who are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in their divisions. I think that the Tennessee Titans, with how quarterback Marcus Mariota is trending, along with the team’s cemented offense and improving defense, will win the AFC South by a decent margin.

The AFC West very well might have four of the six or eight best teams in the AFC, in terms of talent, but talent doesn’t reflect record if this condensed pool of talent has to play each other six times a year. I don’t think the odds are in Denver’s favor to come out of the West as the division champions. They have too many questions on offense for me to assume that. They very well might be a wild card team, if they can survive the AFC West gauntlet.

According to just about every book, the Broncos are currently pegged to finish third in AFC West, but the AFC West, NFC South and NFC East are by far the tightest divisional races in the league going into the 2017 season. Denver has the talent of a wild card team. With that being said, anything from first place to fourth place in the AFC West is on the table this year for everyone involved.