For every Ezekiel Elliott or Odell Beckham Jr. that come into the league and immediately make a splash, there are a dozen or more rookies who spend their first season getting acclimated to rigors of NFL football. In that regard, the bulk of the Broncos’ 2016 draft class spent their first season in that latter grouping.
Now, with a year under their belts, which players from last year’s draft class figure to take the next big step in their maturation to become even bigger contributors this season?
Justin Simmons, Safety
A third-round selection, Simmons was the logical replacement for the departed David Bruton Jr. Aside from his usual stellar play on special teams, Bruton had worked himself into a quality defender as well during his time in Denver, filling in as an extra defensive back in both the nickel and dime defenses. At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, Simmons is cut from a similar mold as Bruton.
A broken hand suffered in the early part of the season cost Simmons valuable playing time early. After he healed from his ailment Simmons immediately made an impact on the defense, securing two interceptions in the final games of the season as well as coming through with one of the plays of the year in a blocked extra-point attempt that set up fellow rookie Will Parks’ two-point conversion return for a win at New Orleans.
With a year in the Broncos strength and conditioning program to bulk up his frame, look for Simmons to contribute even greater to Denver’s No Fly Zone in 2017.
Adam Gotsis, Defensive End
Gotsis got plenty of attention early on, as defensive line coach Bill Kollar was so enamored with the raw defensive end from Australia that he actively campaigned for his selection. During the season, Gotsis saw substantial playing time down the stretch and made minor contributions, logging 14 tackles and no sacks.
Gotsis appears to have fully recovered from a knee injury suffered during his last season at Georgia Tech and has added size and strength to his substantial frame. It’s important to note that defensive lineman do take a season or two to fully round into form, not to mention Gotsis was late in taking up American football in his home country.
Both Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko mentioned the improvements they’ve seen in Gotsis so far this offseason. Look for the lineman to make a bigger impact in the revamped defensive line rotation.
Paxton Lynch, Quarterback
Smart teams don’t move up in the first round of the draft to select a quarterback and have him sit for multiple season unless they have someone like Brett Favre already in place. As admirable a job as Trevor Siemian did last season, Paxton Lynch is the future of the Denver Broncos at quarterback.
Lynch saw action in three game last year, filling in for an injured Siemian, going 1-1 and producing uneven results. Going into this season, Lynch has been diligently working out in Florida under Charlie Taaffe to improve his footwork from a year ago. With the hiring of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, both noted quarterback developers, the ball is in Lynch’s court to beat Siemian for the starting job.
A 9-7 record would be good for some around the league, but here in Broncos Country it leaves many wanting more. After free agency and the draft were used to fill in some of the gaps on the roster, these three players, Simmons, Gotsis and Lynch, all will have the opportunity to get the Broncos back on top in the AFC West.