Kareem Jackson Jersey

Calling Kareem Jackson purely a safety or a cornerback is inaccurate. Over the course of his nine seasons with the Texans, the breadth of his work made him one of the NFL’s most versatile defensive backs, capable of working in any spot in the secondary.

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When he works at cornerback, he has the broad vision of a safety — and with it the ability to quickly analyze the offensive alignment in front of him. When a coach aligns him at safety, he brings an elite cornerback’s knack for distilling the superfluous moving parts down to his specific assignment.

He does both so well he admits that he doesn’t have a specific preference.

“I actually enjoy kind of floating around, playing a little bit of everywhere,” Jackson said. “I feel like that could be an advantage for us as a team game-planning-wise, just depending on what type of skill sets that the offense possesses in terms of the guys that they have.”

Few defensive backs have this sort of Swiss-army knife adaptability. Fewer still can play so many spots — and do so with solid-starter capability.

“It helps a lot with me being able to play the safety spot, just being able to see the entire field, and also preparing and knowing what the offenses are doing,” Jackson said Friday as he met Denver-area media for the first time as a Bronco.

“Being able to see the entire field on both sides — whether it’s receiver splits, recognizing how deep the back is or just little things like that. It also helps me playing corner as well and one side of the field. You kind of have to get a feel for receiver splits [and] formations. Just little things like that can definitely help in your preparing and going into the games on Sundays.”
The Broncos gained more flexibility in their use of Jackson after agreeing to terms with former Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan on Friday. In three-cornerback sub packages, Callahan can work in the slot, leaving Jackson to handle work on the outside.

Like Chris Harris Jr., Callahan can be used in two-cornerback sets, and the Broncos could use Callahan’s arrival to create opportunities for Jackson to work as a safety — both in the base defense or in some three-safety alignments.

“[Jackson] gives us a lot of options,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said. “Just from week to week we might be able to line him up where we feel he best fits to defend the team we’re playing. He’s smart enough to learn all the different positions. He’s proven it in games and on tape that he can execute the positions, not just know what do to do, but play them competitively and at a high level.

“It’s a big advantage and it helps when you’re looking at other players that you have guys that can move around.”

Jackson’s aggressiveness against the run and willingness to attack and not let others get tackles also pairs well with Harris, who is one of the league’s most active cornerbacks in rushing containment.

“Throughout my career, I’ve just always been that type of guy — [to] kind of get down in the line and be physical and tackle,” Jackson said.

That makes him perfect for Fangio’s defense. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Fangio called tackling a “non-negotiable” attribute in his evaluations of prospective Broncos. Jackson finished last year with 34 stops — tackles that result in a “loss” for the opposing offense — according to Pro Football Focus.

Jackson can do it all, and as he enters his 10th season, he’s doing it better than he ever has before. That’s why Fangio and President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway coveted him, and why he makes Denver’s defense better just by walking into the building.

Jeff Heuerman Jersey

Jeff Heuerman had few doubts about where he would end up during the 2019 free-agency cycle.

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The fifth-year tight end only briefly tested the market before agreeing to a new two-year deal with the Broncos — and he said Tuesday he had clarity throughout the process.

“I knew it was the right decision all along,” Heuerman said Tuesday after signing his contract. “Friday, when I kind of finalized it, was when we went through everything and really made the decision. This is where I wanted to be. This is where my NFL career started. As a player, you want to finish where you start. That is my ultimate goal.”

The Ohio State product certainly has unfinished business with the Broncos, who have been looking for a consistent threat at the tight-end position over the last several seasons. President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said as much in late February at the NFL Combine.

“We’ve been trying to address that every year,” Elway said. “That’s a tough position now, especially when you’re talking about an in-line guy that is a blocker but can also be a good pass receiver. We don’t have a lot of in-line guys coming out of college like we used to because of what they’re doing in college ball opening things up and there’s more receivers coming out of college. It’s much more difficult finding the in-line tight ends than it’s ever been.”

Heuerman, a former third-round pick, looked like the answer for parts of 2018. He pieced together the best season of his career as he recorded 31 receptions, 281 yards and two touchdowns. But he also suffered a season-ending rib injury that sidelined him for the final five games of the season.

“It was very frustrating,” Heuerman said. “It was one of those things where I took a shot, kind of got the wind knocked out of me — it was one of those things where I caught my wind, got back to the sideline and just kind of told myself ‘you’re good, you’re good.’ I went back out there for a couple more plays and I was feeling it at that point. It was frustrating because it was one of those things where I didn’t feel like I should’ve been done for the year. But when you have a punctured lung and that pneumothorax type thing, it’s hard to get cleared in four to five weeks. I think when I got hurt there were five or six weeks left in the season. It was kind of on that fringe.

“If we would have made the playoffs at that point, I would’ve been cleared, healthy and good to go for that run. It was frustrating because of the situation we were in as a team. Having to be put down for the rest of the year was tough.”

Heuerman was already no stranger to injuries. He tore his ACL in rookie minicamp in 2015 and missed the entire season, and he battled injuries in both 2016 and 2017, as well.

But he said Tuesday he’s ready to prove the best of his career is yet to come.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every year you have to come — that is the thing about this business — you have to show what you can do every year. I’m looking forward to working with some of the new guys, [QB] Joe [Flacco] and a new offensive coordinator [Rich Scangarello]. I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.”

Heuerman said he’s watched tape of Scangarello’s 49ers offense that featured tight end George Kittle and of Flacco’s Baltimore unit that often relied upon the tight end.

And he’s also turned to watching his own film from the last several seasons. That included a Week 9 game against Houston that was the best of Heuerman’s career. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound player caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown that gave Denver a late lead.

“Yeah, trust me, I do a lot of self-study,” Heuerman said. “I look at not just that game. I look at all kinds of situations I’ve been in my career and try to build off of all of it.”
With a new two-year contact, Heuerman will have the chance to do exactly that.

Justin Simmons Jersey

Justin Simmons is one of the most athletic players on the Denver Broncos and is primed for a big year under Vic Fangio.

When the Denver Broncos drafted Justin Simmons in 2016 from Boston College, the team had to be impressed with the potential of the safety to roam the backend of their already dominant defense.

In his 2016 season he played in 13 games, only starting three, but the release of veteran safety TJ Ward opened the door for larger responsibility. Simmons responded with a very impressive 2017 season. He did not disappoint.
It became clear that season Simmons was a budding superstar at the safety position.

The field goal block heard around Broncos Country in the team’s win over Drew Brees and the Saints is one that set the stage for Simmons to be a focal point of the defense.

While the play happened on special teams it changed the course of the game in favor of Denver over New Orleans. This play was also a glimpse of the raw talent Simmons possesses. It does not stop there. When Amari Cooper was with the Oakland Raiders, Simmons made one of the most impressive interceptions I’ve seen.

EJ Manuel and Raiders had one final chance to make a play. Manuel tossed a prayer to Cooper, but Simmons high-pointed the football better than the wide receiver. Remember that. Simmons also had enough time to recognize the play and make an impact in the process.
All throughout the 2017 season, he showcased an impressive array of skills. Whether it was ball hawking, reading the quarterback’s eyes and tackling, he did it all.

Unfortunately, in 2018, it seemed like a great deal of these qualities left Simmons. That was the case with other players too, but the Denver Broncos were undisciplined in many areas on offense and defense.

However, there is a new head coach in town. Vic Fangio is a defensive mastermind that is capable of getting the most out of his players. Not to mention the emergence of two young safeties (Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos) with the Chicago Bears is a huge reason to believe Simmons can become a star.

Fangio can make Simmons a true safety capable of free roaming on the backend. Simmons intelligence is often unnoticed at times, but he is very smart to diagnose plays in the secondary.
Adding this trait to his ball skills and athleticism makes for a prototypical star at safety. The biggest advantage Simmons has is the height differential to translate his defensive prowess to any matchup. While it is not ideal for Simmons to play multiple positions, he can do it.

I’m here to tell you that Simmons will become that safety superstar in Denver and hopefully the foreseeable future. Maybe the largest reason a player performs at a high level is a contract year. Simmons is smart enough to shut out those distractions and he will put forth the best tape for Denver to sign him long-term.

Adam Gotsis Jersey

Semi-justifiably, the Broncos’ 2016 draft class will forever be graded poorly because of the failure of first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch.
But as the third pro season for the remainder of general manager John Elway’s selections winds down, the outlook is more positive. Defensive end Adam Gotsis (second round), safety Justin Simmons (third), center Connor McGovern (fifth), fullback Andy Janovich (sixth) and safety Will Parks (sixth) start or play major roles.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement allows a draft pick to sign a contract extension after their third year. As soon as Elway decides who his head coach is for 2019, Gotsis should be first up to get a new contract ahead of free agency.
Gotsis enters Monday night’s game in Oakland with 35 tackles and two sacks. Not eye-popping numbers, but he has flashed the kind of production that will make him valuable in this era of having a two-platoon defensive line.

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“It’s exciting knowing that (could) come in the future,” Gotsis said. “I feel like if I take care of what I have to on the field, the extension is going to be there when the time comes. Saying this or saying that won’t get it done for me. It’s just going out there and making plays.”

Gotsis has done just that during the Broncos’ second half. Statistically, he got off to a slow start this season.

First eight games: No sacks, one quarterback hit and one quarterback pressure. He had 5 1/2 run “stuffs” (gain of three or fewer yards).

But since the Week 9 Houston game, Gotsis’ production has increased significantly as the Broncos have climbed from last against the run after their sixth game (161.3 yards per game) to their current standing of 20th (120.2).

Last six games: Two sacks, two hits and a whopping 11 1/2 run “stuffs,” including 3 1/2 against Houston and 2 1/2 apiece against San Francisco and Cleveland. In 14 games, Gotsis has played 437 of 956 defensive snaps (45.7 percent).
Against the Browns, Gotsis made two huge plays. His sack (2.82 seconds) and forced fumble of quarterback Baker Mayfield was recovered by defensive end Derek Wolfe, ending a 9-minute, 11-second possession without any points. And, in the final two minutes, Gotsis knifed through the Browns’ offensive line for a fourth-down stop that gave the Broncos one final chance.

“The last month-and-a-half, he’s done a great job as far as rushing the passer, making plays in the run game and knocking (passes) down,” coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s got a bright future.”

Said Wolfe: “He’s made huge strides. He’s coming into his own and learning different techniques and picking up on different things.”

Gotsis and Wolfe play the same type of defensive end position, which has been a benefit for Gotsis.

“To see the way Derek has developed over the years and what he’s turned into, it’s definitely something I aspire to be,” Gotsis said. “He’s one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the game.”
Wolfe played out his four-year rookie contract before signing a four-year, $36.7 million contract in January 2016, two months before he would hit free agency. It is tough to project a contract for a 3-4 end like Gotsis because there is currently a very small middle class — the big money guys are Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Jurrell Casey and Stephon Tuitt (all have deals of at least $60 million) and only seven other players with contracts from $20-$59 million.

Working in Gotsis’ favor is his durability. Because of the physical demands of the position, it makes sense to have Gotsis and Wolfe back next year and be complemented by Zach Kerr (unrestricted free agent) and Shelby Harris (restricted free agent). And maybe a new staff will find a way to salvage the career of 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker.

Before concerning himself with the business side, Gotsis wants to continue his incremental progress.

“The goal of the game is to get better every week,” he said. “Even the very best guys like Von (Miller) know they can improve on something. It’s understanding that and trying to improve on the little things, whether it’s playing this block or rushing the passer, and hopefully in the game, you get the opportunity to be successful. The work never stops.”

Jake Butt Jersey

ENGLEWOOD — Jake Butt is saying the words that every Broncos fan wants to hear after back-to-back losing seasons.

“I think everybody knows that we need to step it up,” Butt said. “What’s been going on these last couple years has not been acceptable and it’s not the Broncos brand of football.”

Denver Broncos tight end Jake Butt celebrates after a completed pass during the fourth quarter on Sunday, September 9 at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

Denver’s 2017 fifth-round NFL draft pick wants nothing more than to bolster that cause with dynamic tight end play that earned Butt the Mackey Award at Michigan. One big problem? His ability to stay off crutches.

Butt has torn his ACL thrice since 2014: His sophomore season at Michigan, in the Citrus Bowl as a senior, and another time last September with the Broncos during a Week 4 walk-through practice. He finished the year with eight catches for 85 yards over three starts.

Sunday, Butt served as a panel judge for the final cuts of Broncos cheerleading tryouts and gave an update on his health.

“I can’t go (practice), but I’m getting closer,” Butt said. “I’m about five months out right now. But rehab is going really well. I’m feeling great and I know the trainers are feeling good about where I’m at.”

There is no clear answer for how Butt will fit in Denver’s tight ends group upon his return. The Broncos re-signed Jeff Heuerman on a two-year deal, let Matt LaCosse go in free agency to New England and await the debut of 2018 fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli (sports hernia). It’s also likely Denver selects a tight end in the upcoming draft with a wealth of quality options.
What motivates Butt is an opportunity to catch passes from new starting quarterback Joe Flacco, whose connection with former Ravens’ tight end Dennis Pitta (2010-16) resulted in 224 receptions for 2,098 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Broncos have not featured similar tight end production since Julius Thomas (2011-’14).

“The tight end room is really excited about having Joe,” Butt said. “There is going to be some opportunity for us.”

It’s easy to doubt Butt’s ability to bounce back from a third torn ACL equally as an effective blocker or receiver. But his only focus remains on the day-to-day grind he has endured twice before. He’s on track for an August return to the practice field.

“Every (ACL tear) is different,” Butt said. “This time, it’s been a pretty smooth recovery. I want to keep that going.”

Fumagalli cleared

The long-awaited return of another injured Broncos tight end is almost here. Fumagalli, who suffered through a sports hernia since he was drafted from Wisconsin last April, said he has been cleared to practice starting April 2.

“I’m really excited about it,” Fumagalli said. “I haven’t played in forever. It will be a blast to get back out there playing football again and putting the past behind me. I’m looking forward to it.”

Fumagalli hauled in 135 catches for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns over four college seasons.

Garett Bolles Jersey

Another free agency period has come and gone and once again the Denver Broncos are less than set along the offensive line. For what feels like nearly a decade, the trenches along the offensive side of the ball have left the organization and fanbase wanting.

With the constant switching and struggles to find a solid right tackle, the myriad of left tackles with a propensity to draw flags from the officials, and a solid but unspectacular trio of interior players, the Broncos’ offensive line has continually left much to be desired.
State of the O-line

To be fair, the O-line did make a marked improvement last season. Up-and-down left tackle Garett Bolles seemed to be trending in the right direction over the last half of the season, with Jared Veldheer offering a steady presence at right tackle, and the interior, when healthy, played decently well.

Recently-departed OL Coach Sean Kugler, who is now in Tampa Bay, deserves some credit considering the injuries that the line faced last year and how good the blocking, especially for the ground game, was despite the shuffling of players along the front.

While the O-line did lose the likes of long-time center Matt Paradis and up-and-coming, versatile lineman Billy Turner, John Elway and the Broncos did make an impact signing on the O-line this offseason with the addition of former Dolphins’ first-round pick Ja’Wuan James to man right tackle for the foreseeable future. Jared Veldheer, who is still a free agent, did play decent last season but with his injury history and older age, Denver went with the upside play bringing in the long, young, and athletic James to play right tackle.

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James has had his bouts of inconsistencies during his tenure at Miami, but the upside is still tantalizing and garnered him enough intrigue on the market to become the highest paid right tackle in NFL history. On the other side of James, Garett Bolles will be given another year to man the blind side of the O-line.
Bolles has had an inconsistent start to his career, drawing the ire of fans due to his knack for losing his technique and falling into the bad habit of drawing holding calls, but his play had been improving. The former first-round pick has started to draw some concerns regarding the mental side of the game.

He will be given another year to prove himself at tackle, both in play and desire to be great. Next offseason the Broncos will have to decide his future in regards to their decision on his fifth-year option.

The addition of new OL Coach Mike Munchak will undoubtedly help the Broncos now and going forward. Considered one of the greatest O-line coaches currently in the NFL and arguably the second-best behind New England Patriots’ wizard Dante Scarnecchia, the Broncos’ O-line should be trending in the right direction in 2019. Given that the tackles also appear to be ‘set’ in 2019, the unit’s success will likely come down to how the interior rotation settles.

Connor McGovern had his ups and downs last year, but should be a serviceable player. He plays with strength and intensity but sometimes can struggle in one-on-one situations, especially against athletes with length such as New York’s Leonard Williams who beat up McGovern a few times. McGovern may be center or guard, but the drop off from Paradis after injury was felt in both snapping the ball in shotgun, as well as calling out protections pre-snap.

If lined up at center this year, McGovern will have an offseason to prepare for the responsibilities of the position. Ronald Leary is likely the most talented player on the interior, but he has already ended the last two seasons on injured reserve. Will he be ready Week 1, and for how long can he stay healthy? After those two, some combination of Elijah Wilkinson and Sam Jones will make up the interior, but both are projections at best as average starters in 2019.
Round two will again be the sweet spot for interior O-line

Will the Broncos look towards the draft to help add much-needed talent and competition to the interior? It does not seem like the Broncos will be using the No. 10 overall selection on an offensive lineman given that the team appears to be set in 2019 at tackle and there is no pure interior player of the quality of Quenton Nelson in this year’s class. One could argue for Alabama’s Jonah Williams who could start on the interior year one, push Bolles at left tackle, and give the team a backup plan in case they decide to move on from Bolles, but that doesn’t seem super likely at this moment.
However, round two of the draft seems like a great spot to pick up an interior offensive lineman that can start and be a good contributor year one. However, that may be a risk for the Broncos to expect to find a good interior offensive lineman in round two.

It was reported that last year the Broncos had hopes of landing a starting quality interior player round two of the draft. With the Broncos slated to have the No. 8 pick in the second round, 40th overall, and four highly-regarded interior offensive lineman on the board, Denver likely believed they had a shot to nab a high-end player in the second round.

However, with the round kicking off, a flurry of offensive linemen flew off the board, with Austin Corbett, Will Hernandez, Braden Smith, and James Daniels going in the first seven picks, which caused Denver to decide to select wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Many reports have indicated the Broncos would have liked Will Hernandez or James Daniels if they were still on the board.

The 2019 draft very well could play out the same exact way. While the Broncos likely feel they are in a prime spot to select an immediate starter on the interior at pick 41 of the second round, a run on offensive linemen seems like it could happen once again.

Perhaps the likes of Garrett Bradbury of North Carolina State, Chris Lindstrom of Boston College, Dalton Risner of Kansas State, and Erik McCoy of Texas A&M don’t even make it to the second round, but given the value of the fifth-year option of first-rounders, most interior offensive linemen don’t find their way into round one.

However, Denver very well could find themselves in a situation like last year where they wanted to take a starter on the O-line, but the players they liked are gone. The decision then comes down to taking the best player on the board, but leaving the interior vulnerable, or reaching to fill a need.

The likes of Wisconsin’s Michael Deiter, Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins, Ohio State’s Michael Jordan, Oklahoma’s Dru Samia, and Penn State’s Connor McGovern will all very likely be on the board at 41, but that would mean the Broncos are almost assuredly passing on better talent.
Don’t rule out a trade

The Broncos could attempt to trade up to secure ‘their guy’ on the interior, trading back up into the end of round one or to the top of round two, but that will likely carry a very heavy cost including either their second and third-rounder this year, or potentially even involving their 2020 first. Denver is not a single interior offensive lineman away from competing for a Super Bowl in 2019, so any trade involving their first in 2020 should be off the table.

Still, it could leave Denver in a very vulnerable position offensively. Given how important the push from interior offensive line is in the effectiveness of the zone run and keeping the immobile Joe Flacco upright and playing with confidence from within the pocket, if the interior plays as poorly as the currently listed starters, the offenses’ overall potential will be capped even with the guiding eye and development of Munchak.
Bottom line

The Broncos have finally appeared to take steps forward in stopping the bleeding along O-line. With the additions of offensive line coach extraordinaire Mike Munchak and upside of their new right tackle, the Broncos are trending in the right direction in the trenches.
However, with the multitude of questions along the interior ranging from McGovern’s best fit and effectiveness, Leary’s durability, and whoever shakes out as the third interior lineman, the interior looks like a black eye on the roster. The Broncos would likely love to address that position round two if possible with one of Bradbury, Risner, Lindstrom, or McCoy, but hoping one falls to 41 is extremely risky given the history of ‘runs’ on the position early in round two.

Munchak will have his work cut out for him, but Denver better have a plan B in case that a guy they want round two doesn’t happen to fall to them. Munchak will have his plate full either way, but if the Broncos are to jump back into AFC West contention, the offensive line must be better. With the interior having as many questions as they currently do before the draft, that might be a difficult ask in 2019.

Royce Freeman Jersey

After being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Royce Freeman was projected to be the featured running back in Denver. Freeman finished his college career (Oregon) as the all-time leading rusher in yards (5,621), all-purpose yards (6,435), rushing touchdowns (60), and total touchdowns (64).

In 2018, Freeman (6’0, 229lbs) was ironically overshadowed by undrafted Phillip Lindsay (5’8, 190lbs). While Lindsay ran his way through multiple awards and a Pro Bowl bid, Freeman compiled a lackluster 521 rushing yards, with 5 touchdowns in 14 games.

At times, it seemed that Freeman was uncomfortable in various formations, particularly the Power I. In Single Back formations at Oregon, Freeman found success. Behind lead Bronco Fullback Andy Janovich, Freeman was not able to use his bruising running style. Then, after sustaining a high ankle sprain midseason, Freeman never found his groove. Overall, Freeman’s 2018 campaign left Broncos Country feeling incomplete. At times, he showed flashes of power, and potential but was inconsistent.

While the 2018 season embodied inconsistency for the entire team, new Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio insists on a culture of competition. Fangio is known for his attention to detail and preparation. With Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) and Training Camp quickly approaching, Fangio should have a steadfast eye on Freeman.

While Lindsay rehabs from a season ending wrist injury, Freeman has yet another opportunity to earn a starting position.

Courtland Sutton Jersey

Did the Denver Broncos retire Emmanuel Sanders? If so, we didn’t get the memo.

On Tuesday, as the Broncos descended on Dove Valley to begin the first Offseason Training Program of the Vic Fangio era, we got to hear from second-year wide receiver Courtland Sutton.

Lost in the excitement of hearing from Broncos players for the first time since the end of the disappointing 2018 season, and the news that Chris Harris, Jr. was missing in action from these voluntary OTAs, was the bomb Sutton dropped with regard to the 2019 wide receiver depth chart. Spoiler: Sanders is not No. 1.
“I’m excited going into this season knowing that I am going to get to be the No. 1 and I’ll get all of [those] looks and all of the pressure,” Sutton said on Tuesday following OTAs. “I’m excited about that. I want my teammates to look to me as that leader and that guy that is going to assume that role and take it and go with it as long as I possibly can.”

Wait, what?

Emmanuel Sanders is supposed to be the de-facto No. 1 receiver in Denver. Entering his 10th NFL season, Sanders is a two-time Pro Bowler with three 1,000-yard receiving seasons under his belt as a Bronco.

The 32-year-old was having one of the best individual seasons of his career last year before the injury bug struck, and sapped him of the remaining four games on the schedule. Still, 12 games in, Sanders had hauled in 71 receptions for 868 yards and four touchdowns.
He also pulled off the rare trifecta of having scored touchdowns as a receiver, a passer and as a rusher. With Sanders’ recovery from the torn Achilles reportedly ahead of schedule, the Broncos exercised the option on his 2019 contract, which cost the team $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, Sutton produced a solid if unspectacular rookie campaign, hauling in 42 receptions for 704 yards and four scores. It was the fourth-best rookie season for a rookie wideout in Broncos’ history.

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Based on resume and experience — and wherewithal, frankly — Emmanuel Sanders should be grandfathered the No. 1 spot on the Broncos’ depth chart. But in what was perhaps a Freudian slip, or perhaps just simply an unconscious lapse, Courtland Sutton stated publicly that in his second year, the team apparently expects him to be WR1.

I’d be curious to know what Sanders thinks of this. And in fairness, it could have been that Sutton was simply speaking of a mindset he has, viewing himself as the No. 1 receiver. But as an experienced analyst who’s been covering this team for seven years, that’s honestly not how I interpreted Sutton’s remark.

To me, it sounds like the Broncos have informed Sutton and the offense that he’ll be No. 1 on the depth chart. If true, its a curious decision by the team, as Sutton struggled to produce as the WR1 over the final four games of the 2018 season, after Sanders had been lost to injury.
In two of those four games, Sutton was held to two receptions or less. On Tuesday, Sutton talked about the lessons he learned from being the WR1 down the stretch, and how they’ll inform and fuel him in his second year.

But its also worth mentioning that this could simply be semantics. Since Sanders arrived in Denver back in 2014, he was the ‘Z’ receiver to Demaryius Thomas’ ‘X.’ The Z lines up as the flanker on the weakside of the formation, while the X lines up outside on the strongside.

As a prospect, Sutton projected as an X and that’s how the Broncos viewed him when the team spent the 40th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft on him — as the successor to Thomas at the X position. Thomas was traded to the Houston Texans ahead of Week 9, which ushered in the beginning of the Sutton-as-a-starter era in Denver.

Without hearing from new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello or Vic Fangio, we can’t confirm that Sutton will indeed be ‘the No. 1’. However, the next time Fangio is made available to the media, I’m sure the topic will be broached in no time flat.

Meanwhile, according to Sutton, his relationship with Sanders continues to be on firm footing. The 6-foot-4 receiver was elated to hear that Sanders was in fact returning for 2019.

“I was excited. Emmanuel is a great leader and a great vet for our room,” Sutton said on Tuesday. “I love being able to be around him. I was actually just talking to him a little bit in the locker room just about how exciting it is for this new offense. He was telling me how he’s played in similar offenses and he’s already starting to give me some of the insights of what he learned being in this type of offense before. Just something like that is awesome. I’ve never been an offense like Coach Rich’s (Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello).

“Having someone like Emmanuel who has been in something similar and being able to break it down and help me understand the nuances of this offense and the benefits that come from being able to maximize certain things in this offense, I’m excited and I know he is really excited as well.”

I won’t put on the tinfoil hat and extrapolate any additional meaning behind Sutton’s public declaration that he’s the new No. 1 receiver. But I’d understand if some fans might wonder what it means for Sanders’ future in Denver.

Sanders’ 2019 salary is $10.15M, of which the Broncos guaranteed $1.5M by picking up his option. The team could save $8.75M on the salary cap by releasing him and even more by trading him. Keep that as a feather in your cap as we get closer to the 2019 draft.

However, its worth pointing out that if the Broncos truly want Joe Flacco to succeed in Denver, they’d be remiss to put all their eggs in the Courtland Sutton basket. Nothing against Sutton, as he’s an extremely talented young player with an enormous ceiling — but when Flacco has been at his best as a pro, he was throwing to proven veterans like Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
There’s no question in my mind that Emmanuel Sanders’ presence on the Broncos’ roster gives Flacco the best possible chance to succeed and hit the ground running in Denver. However, with Sanders’ timetable to return to action up in the air, due to that Achilles injury, all bets are off.

Maybe that’s why Courtland Sutton is operating as the No. 1 — because Sanders is still recovering from his injury and isn’t back to 100 percent quite yet. But then again, the Broncos aren’t even practicing yet. In Phase One of OTAs, all Denver can do is work out in the gym and spend time in the classroom learning their new systems and technique, and watching film.

Courtland Sutton Jersey

Things got pretty ugly at times for the Denver Broncos in 2018. But try to imagine what that team would have looked like without its phenomenal rookie class.

Most fans think of Bradley Chubb and Phillip Lindsay when the Broncos’ 2018 rookie class is mentioned — and for good reason. Both produced at a prolific level.

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But what makes it arguably such a brilliant class of draft picks by GM John Elway was the quality of depth, round after round. Elway did a great job, no question. And with improved coaching, each one of those selections has the chance to make a massive impact in Denver.
What the Broncos really need, though, is for wide receiver duo Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton to take a quantum leap forward in year two. Sutton came out of the gates as a rookie strong, as the third wideout on the depth chart.

Alas, after Demaryius Thomas was traded ahead of Week 9 and Emmanuel Sanders suffered his Achilles injury down the stretch, Sutton was unable to separate himself as Denver’s suddenly No. 1 receiver. Instead, we saw Hamilton rise to the occasion in the final quarter of the season, along with Tim Patrick, who was in his first-year as a pro.

Both Sutton and Hamilton have the chance to really put the Broncos over the top offensively, especially with the addition of the 12th-year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, if the duo can take the next step in their development. Flacco is unafraid to work the middle of the field — which bodes well for Hamilton — nor does the QB fear throwing the slant or pushing the ball deep — which is where the 6-foot-4 Sutton really thrives.
With Sanders’ future availability in question as he recovers from his injury, the Broncos really need Sutton and Hamilton to step up in 2019.

“They’d better be ready to step up,” Vic Fangio said last week at the NFL Head Coaches Breakfast in Phoenix, AZ. “We’re counting on them. You always need reinforcements. Like I said, it’s a league of receivers and DBs right now, so there’s always room for improvement and to add to those groups. You never have enough of them, but I like where we’re at with receivers.”

Fangio is of the opinion that with the arrival of Flacco and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, the offense “has the chance to be better than people think”. I don’t disagree.

If you look at the skill positions — from Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton — the Broncos have young, explosive talent teeming with potential. There are questions about the offensive line, especially with the unit’s rock, Matt Paradis, departing in free agency. But the team expects the arrival of O-Line Coach Mike Munchak to mitigate those questions.

“I think our line is better than people think it is and I’d like to think that if we’re right with Joe Flacco, he’ll have a hand in making those guys look better too,” Fangio said.

The wildcard is Rich Scangrello. Although he’s been coaching for two decades, this will be only his fifth year in the NFL and his first time as a play-caller at the pro level.
However, Scangarello was selected by Fangio because of his root philosophies offensively, which jive with the head coach’s. As one of the preeminent defensive schemers in the NFL, Fangio knows what type of offenses give him the most fits. Its one of the reasons Fangio is bullish on the Broncos’ offense, talking publicly about teams sleeping on them.

“Because we try and go to the extreme to make run and pass look the same for the first couple of seconds for the down,” Fangio said. “There is the indecision of the defense of is it a run or a pass? That is so fundamental that some people forget about that.”

The ingredient that could take such an offense to the next level is a QB who can make defenses pay for their indecision. That’s where Joe Flacco and his young receiving corps come into play.
Most concepts usually look better on paper. Its the practical application that either exposes the flaws of a plan, or reveals it to be special.

Right now the Broncos’ plan offensively is all in theory. The team will have to put all the pieces in place, and to the test, on the grid-iron against NFL competition.

Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton will get the chance to show their new coaches what they’re capable of a little earlier than usual, as the Broncos will play the first of their five preseason exhibition contests on August 1 against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL’s Hall of Fame Game.

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Bradley Chubb was easy to find last year. Right outside linebacker. Two-point stance. Period.

And it worked for Chubb, who was selected fifth overall by the Broncos. He led all NFL rookies and was tied for 14th overall with 12 sacks (also a franchise rookie record).

But more should be expected from Chubb this year and more will be required for the Broncos to climb into AFC West contention.

“Overall (improvement), that’s what you want to see,” general manager John Elway said recently. “Even though he played very well his first year, you (should) see a big jump in confidence.”

To help fuel the next step, new coach Vic Fangio may have multiple new wrinkles for Chubb.

It makes complete sense to add layers to Chubb’s job description. Last year represented a soft transition for Chubb, who played as a 4-3 defensive end for North Carolina State but became a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Broncos.

Per the Denver Post’s game charting, Chubb had 38 1/2 pass-rush disruptions (12 sacks, seven knockdowns and 19 1/2 pressures) in 844 snaps. All but three came when he started the play as the stand-up right outside linebacker (92.2 percent).

Chubb had two disruptions starting from the left outside linebacker spot (including a clean-up sack to start the Seattle game) and a hit when he lined up at left defensive end.

The Broncos kept him at one spot and he used three moves: The bull rush to get into the left tackle’s pads, the speed rush to win around the corner and the inside stunt to knife by a guard.
As the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator last year, Fangio said he “did a lot of work” evaluating Chubb even though the Bears did not have a first-round pick. Coaches being coaches, they always take a look at the top guys just in case. Fangio’s work became beneficial when he was hired by the Broncos.

Fangio used that baseline of knowledge to provide some hints during his two media sessions last week. As a potentially elite pass rusher, moving Chubb around the line of scrimmage to probe match-ups in concert with Von Miller could be a boon for the Broncos.
Could Chubb line up inside of Miller on the same side?

“Sure, that’s a possibility,” Fangio said. “I think he obviously has the ability to play on the edge of our defense, but I will also be interested to see how much we can move him around. And if It fits what we want to do in that regard, I think he can.”

Versatility has become a Fangio buzzword. He wants cornerbacks who are able to play inside and outside. He wants safeties that can play in the box and deep middle. He wants defensive linemen who can play end and nose tackle. And having Chubb and Miller at his disposal will give him myriad options.

“I do get excited about it,” Fangio said of scheming pressures for Miller and Chubb. “But until we see them on the field and how 11 all can fit together, anything we might want to draw up (is something) we’ve probably already drawn up in the past.”

Translation: Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell may not reinvent the pass-rushing wheel, but it could look new to Broncos fans.

What Fangio shouldn’t do is use Chubb in coverage. A player at 269 pounds is built to move forward, not track a smaller man in coverage or back-pedal into a zone.

What Fangio should do: Everything else.

Use Chubb as a hand-on-the-turf defensive end, which was his college position, allowing Miller (or another rusher) to line up on his outside hip to give opponents a pick-their-poison option. … Use Chubb as a floater in a stand-up position, use pre-snap deception to make the center and two guards guess where he will be rushing. … And for a change of pace, use Chubb as an interior defensive lineman on third down to see if his power-to-speed can catch a center off balance.

Using Chubb inside would eliminate him getting chipped by a tight end before engaging with the left tackle. Sure, he would face a center-guard double team, but that means one of his teammates has a single matchup.

Twelve sacks was a good start for Chubb as a rookie. But it should be just that — the start.

“For him to make a big jump and improve from Year 1 to Year 2, I think he’s very capable of that,” Fangio said. “He could play outside backer like everybody knows in the nickel. He’s a guy you can sync down inside and play some as a d-lineman. I’m anxious to work with him and see how versatile he might be.”

Said Elway: “Especially with the type of guy he is with how much football means to him and how great he wants to be, I’m sure we’ll see a big jump from him.”