After hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February, the Broncos are now tasked with the most difficult role in the NFL: defending Super Bowl Champions. The Broncos’ defense carried an anemic offense to a title, and they return most of the important pieces from that unit. Peyton Manning’s retirement only adds to the adversity that the Broncos offense will face in this upcoming season. If the starting Quarterback, whoever that may be, is able to limit mistakes on the offensive side of the ball, this team has enough talent to make it back to the playoffs and possibly win a game or two.
This position is obviously the biggest question mark for the Broncos’ opening day roster. Gary Kubiak has yet to name a starter, but it looks like the Broncos’ 2015 7th-round pick Trevor Siemien is the leader in the clubhouse. Mark Sanchez signed a contract with the Broncos this offseason, but it looks as if he hasn’t quite put those turnover problems that have plagued his career behind him. The Quarterback who has the most upside of the group, and looks to be the Broncos’ QB of the future is 2016 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. Lynch has shown flashes of brilliance in the preseason, and is reportedly picking up the offense well during camp. He has also made a smooth adjustment from being in the shotgun for most of his college career to spending most of his time under center in Kubiak’s offense. I don’t know if anyone can be confident in predicting who will start under center against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, but I am confident in predicting that Paxton Lynch will earn the starting job at some point during the season.
The Broncos may have overpaid for CJ Anderson this offseason after initially giving him a low-ball offer that was topped by the Dolphins, causing John Elway to open his wallet and give Anderson a 4-year $18 million contract. Anderson has been mostly solid during his career, but there aren’t many Running Backs in the NFL who are worth that kind of money. The Broncos then showed their lack of confidence in Anderson by drafting Devontae Booker out of Utah in the 4th round. I think this backfield will end up much like the Quarterback battle where the coaching staff initially gives the starting job to Anderson due to experience, but Booker ends up receiving most of the carries by the end of the season.
The Broncos have two of the best Wide Receivers in the league in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who will provide reliable targets to whoever wins the starting job at Quarterback. Behind those top two are many unproven players including: Jordan Norwood, Cody Latimer, Jordan Taylor, Bennie Fowler, and Marlon Brown. Most of those options are young and have the ability to make the jump to being a reliable NFL Wide Receiver. If just one of these options can improve enough in camp to earn the 3rd Wide Receiver spot this will be a top-5 NFL Receiving corps.
With the release of Owen Daniels, Jeff Heuerman and Virgil Green will man the Tight End spots. Heuerman was sidelined for the entire 2015-16 season with a torn ACL in training camp after being drafted in the 3rd round by the Broncos out of Ohio State. I think Heuerman will have a big year for the Broncos after sitting out a year, and being able to fully grasp the playbook while nursing his knee injury. He will be a valuable member of this offense, especially with an inexperienced Quarterback who will make good use of the Tight End spot as a safety blanket.
In Pro Football Focus’ Broncos Season Preview, they listed the Offensive Line as the 28th best OL in the NFL. Center Matt Paradis is the only returner from last season’s unit. They added two starting Tackles in Free Agency in LT Russel Okung and RT Donald Stephenson. Okung is a solid option at Left Tackle, but Donald Stephenson will need to improve from a pretty terrible 2015 season with the Chiefs. Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo are slotted in to start at the two Guard spots. Sambrailo only played in 3 games last season, all at Left Tackle, where he struggled mightily. Max Garcia is an above-average run blocker, but had a lot of issues in pass protection in 2015. This group will need to prove that they are much better than the 28th-ranked Offensive Line in the league for this offense to even remain competent.
The Broncos pretty much know what they’re getting out of the Running Backs and receiving corps with the Offensive Line and the Quarterback position being total wild cards. If this offense can receive average performances from both of those units, the defense is still talented enough to drag this team into the playoffs. With the Chiefs and Raiders looking like legitimate division title contenders, and the Chargers looking like a much better team than last year, the Broncos will have a difficult time defending their division title. If the Broncos can sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card, the defense will be able to keep each game close enough where the Broncos will always have a chance to win.