I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about how the 2016 Broncos compare to the 2015 Broncos. I thought I’d write a piece that takes a systematic view at each position group, and provides a best and worst case scenario. I feel this is the best approach this time of year, and factors in the views of the homers and the pessimists. At the end I provide a summary of the upside and risk of each position group.
Since 2016 injuries will be unpredictable, I’m comparing to a healthy 2015 team with the exception of Clady and Heuerman, who did not even make it to training camp last year. I did factor in declining play among older veterans, and to a lesser extent, players whose play seemed affected by nagging injuries. Additionally, I did not list injuries in every “worst case” scenario, although injuries could obviously create worse scenarios than I laid out here.
I tried to look at each group individually, even though their success is greatly intertwined. For instance, if the O-line struggles, the running backs and QBs will not look good. On the contrary, if the running game is strong, troubles by the passing game could be masked.
Best case: Sanchez has a career year, fixing his turnover problem. He does everything the Broncos ask him to do, is able to step up and be a leader, throw more when needed, and control the offense. He uses the play action beautifully, and pulls out a couple heroic comeback wins. Lynch looks good in preseason and when he comes in for mop up duty.
Worst case: Sanchez struggles and continues to throw picks. He does not command the offense, and Lynch is thrust into the spotlight early. Lynch is in over his head and struggles as much as Sanchez was. Meanwhile, Brent tears it up Houston. This is a dark scenario.
Best Case: CJ stays fresh/healthy all year and has the year we’ve been dreaming of him having since the end of 2013. Booker is a great change of pace back and splits time with Hillman for the backup role, who takes another step forward in his development. (I’ll throw out that Hillman is only 8 months older than Booker).
Worst case: CJ continues his inconsistent play and is riddled with nagging injuries. Booker, like many rookies, cannot control his fumble problem he struggled with in college and is quickly benched. Hillman takes a step backward in his development.
Best Case: Latimer/Fowler/Norwood emerge as a strong 3rd receiver. Sanders continues his strong play in his contract year. DT thrives in a more successful offense, and improves the drops problems he has had throughout his career.
Worse case: DT continues to struggle with drops and struggles in the offense, taking a step backwards. No strong 3rd WR emerges and depth is a major issue.
Best Case: Jeff Heuerman lives up to his billing and becomes one of the top young TEs in the league, and provides a red zone threat the Broncos missed so much last year. Virgil Green continues in his role as a strong blocking TE who can also catch when you need him too. Graham provides solid depth now that he’s back with Kubiak. Owen Daniels stays home all season.
Worst case: Heuerman does not pan out as quickly as expected and Green does not make a quantum leap and become a #1 TE. Graham shows that his 22 catches over the past 2 years are not a fluke. The Broncos have no receiving threats from the TE position, greatly hurting the Kubiak offense. We are forced to look for trade options after Owen Daniels tells us to fuck off.
Best Case: Okung plays top notch and forces the Broncos to pick up his option. Stephenson shows he is a worthy starter and provides solid play on the right side. Schofield improves and provides solid depth.
Worst Case: Okung and Stephenson both struggle in the new environment, and Stephenson shows why Pro Football Focus had him rated as one of the worst tackles in the league.
Best Case: Garcia continues his strong play from last year, and Sambrailo proves much more effective on the inside. Paradis continues to play well. McGovern makes strides as a rookie and provides quality depth should Garcia or Sambrailo go down or struggle.
Worst case: Garcia struggles to become an every down guard and Sambrailo does not show much improvement from last year, even on the inside. McGovern is not developed enough to play and the Broncos are left dearly missing Mathis and Vazquez. Paradis struggles when not playing next to two former first team all pro guards.
I think the Broncos will now have players who fit the scheme much better, which should improve things quite a bit. On the other hand, I’m worried we’ll miss Peyton, and everything he did that didn’t show up directly on the stat sheet. Regarding the line, I’ve seen a lot of fans say, The O-line couldn’t play any worse than last year, the only place we can go is up. I think this is incredibly naive. Last year the Broncos ranked 15th in rush yards/attempt, and 20th in sacks allowed. There is plenty of room to get worse if players don’t pan out.
Best Case: Derek Wolfe continues on the tear he was on last year, while Gotsis, Crick, Vance Walker, and a healthy Kenny Anunike all combine to fill the hole left by Malik. Sly Williams takes another step in his 4th year (like Wolfe and Jackson did) and either Kilgo or Phil Taylor round out the group.
Worst case: Jackson proves to be more valuable than some thought, and the play of the unit declines. Only 1-2 struggling pieces could drastically impact the ability to rotate pieces in and out keep guys fresh and effective.
Best case: Brandon Marshall does not let his low salary affect him, and takes his game to the next level in his contract year. Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson, or some other unknown steps up to fill the hole left by Trevathan.
Worst Case: The unproven Todd Davis and Anderson prove to be incapable of starting, and Marshall’s play declines without Trevathan playing next to him.
Best Case: This group is so good already, it’s hard to believe they could be better, but if Miller and Ware keep playing well, and Shaq and Shane Ray continue to develop, the defense could become even scarier. Von is freed up to do more all over the field, and a balanced rotation keeps all 4 guys fresh all season long.
Worse Case: As Ware turns 34 this July, his play declines and he struggles to stay on the field. Von’s busy offseason with celebrity tours, Dancing with the Stars, and ongoing contract negotiations cause a slow start and conditioning problems. Ray and Barrett continue to be inconsistent at times.
Best Case: Again, hard to imagine seeing this position play any better, but I suppose it’s possible. One of
Ryan Murphy, Brandian Ross, Justin Simmons, or Will Parks emerge and are just as effective as Bruton was in the third safety role. Stewart takes his play to another level during his contract year.
Worse Case: Talib and Ward, are on the wrong side of 30, and start to see their play decline. Lack of emergence of a strong third safety is troublesome, but we did alright with Keo and Bush in the role so it can’t be too critical.
Best Case: Dixon wins the starting job and never looks back. As he matures, he adds 1-2 yards to his senior year gross average of 43.7, good enough to move into the top half of the league. He and the new long snapper have no issues adjusting to the pro game, and there is no botched snap/hold all year. McManus builds off last season, improving accuracy on long FGs and becomes a top 5 kicker in the league.
Worse case: McManus has a regression to the mean and continues his (slight) struggles with accuracy over 40 yards. The new LS/holder botches a snap or two, costing the team a game. Dixon beats out Colquitt in TC, but can’t deliver during the season.
The Broncos relatively low turnover and plans to run a similar scheme are both a positive and negative. On the one hand, players will be more familiar in the system and can build off what we did last year. On the other hand, we’ll have a bigger target on our backs this year, and offensive coordinators will have a whole off-season to break down our play and scheme against us. We played 10 of our 2016 opponents last year, so there will be a lot of familiarity both ways. It’s a copycat league, and the game of cat and mouse has only just begun. I’m not going to default to the defense being better just because of their coherence, although I believe it is certainly a possibility.
I’ve made a table below to try and summarize the upside and risk I felt at each position group, compared to last year. For instance, the DBs only gets a 2 in upside, because I think it will be very difficult for them to surpass last year’s performance. I also tried to combine odds of being better with how significant I think the improvement is likely to be. For instance, I think a small improvement at QB play is more likely, but I see a potential decline being greater in magnitude.
1 = Almost no chance of being better/almost no risk of being worse, 5 = average chance of being better/average risk of being worse, 10 = almost certainly better/worse. I’ve fiddled with these numbers for a while. I feel they are arbitrary and I am tempted to take them out, but I will leave them as a point of discussion.
Seeing it laid out this way, what are your thoughts?