Analysts said it before the 2021 season, and Melvin Gordon said it mid-season, “It’s such a well-built team. It’s a Super Bowl team.”
The Broncos were a quarterback away from playing in the postseason, even with a multitude of injuries and trading away superstar Von Miller mid-year.
Simply, Denver must find the guy they’re willing to devote years to or they’ll be stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. Of course, that’s easier said than done with maybe 10 star quarterbacks in the entire world.
Still, George Paton is up to the task. At least, if his first draft was any indication.
Yes, Paton could have taken that possible QB of the future in Justin Fields at No. 9 overall, choosing instead to select Patrick Surtain, a star cornerback in the making. But, outside of that criticism, Paton’s first draft class dazzled.
Surtain picked off four passes and played well throughout, while there’s a feeling he can even fine-tune his skills. Javonte Williams is an angry runner who refuses to go down, Quinn Meinerz filled in well at guard and Jonathan Cooper was maybe the steal of the draft as a 7th-round pick.
In fact, it was so solid, Pro Football Focus named it the second-best draft of the class.
As it sits currently, the Broncos are a talented roster mostly made up of young players who are working to reach their potential. They’re deep at wide receiver, running back, and in the defensive backfield, depending on how free agency shakes out. Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan and Kareem Jackson are among Denver’s four most-expensive free agents going into the offseason. Others they could lose include the aforementioned Gordon, Teddy Bridgewater, Alexander Johnson and a few more.
So, outside of quarterback, what are the two other crucial positions Denver needs to focus on this offseason to finally get back to the playoffs?
Bobby Massie was decent this season, starting 13 games at right tackle for Denver, but he was nothing special.
On the year, Massie gave up five sacks and was given a 70.1 overall grade by Pro Football Focus, which landed him as No. 40 overall. However, his pass-blocking grade was a 60.1, or 63rd. In other words, he was at the edge of starter/backup quality in terms of pass blocking.
Overall, he wasn’t awful — with only one penalty on the year — but he’s not a bookend tackle the Broncos need going forward.
Trent Brown (78.3 overall grade) will be a free agent after playing this season with the Patriots. He’s an elite pass-blocking right tackle and would help the next quarterback stay clean in the pocket to be sure. Or there’s Morgan Moses most recently of the New York Jets, who was graded just behind Massie (70.9) but is a bit younger and a more balanced tackle.
There are also three right tackles ranked in the top-10 ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft: Evan Neal of Alabama, Charles Cross of Mississippi State and Ikem Okwanu of NC State, but it’s unclear if Paton sees the need to dire he’d be willing to use the team’s first-round pick on a tackle.
When Von Miller was with the Broncos over the last decade, they were set at edge. Of course, he also played with Elvis Dumervil, Shaquil Barrett, DeMarcus Ware and for a few games Bradley Chubb opposite of him.
Now, Miller’s gone and Chubb remains, however, he’s struggled to get back to star status following his latest injury. In fact, Chubb was graded a 45.0 overall, which was tied for dead-last among edge rushers this year.
The Broncos’ best edge was Cooper, who graded out at a 69.1 per PFF which was 40th-best. Malik Reed came in 90th, with a 56.4 grade.
And this chart helps to illustrate how the Broncos need help on the edge, too:
End of season edge chart!
Double team rate when pass rushing at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y).
Note: Micah Parsons did not qualify at edge, but I included him anyway because, well, look where he is.
(ESPN / NFL Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/iIHcofzLuj
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 14, 2022
If they’re looking in free agency, Melvin Ingram is available, or the Broncos could break the bank and go after a guy like Haason Reddick of the Panthers. Ingram was PFF’s 16th-best edge this year, but he’s more of a run-stopper. Meanwhile, Reddick racked up 11 sacks and seems primed to continue to break out.
However, if Paton wants to draft an edge, keep an eye on David Ojabo. PFF college graded him an 89.3 in pass-rush this year and he enjoyed 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles this year alone.
Outside of edge and right tackle, the Broncos will likely need to upgrade at cornerback and possibly promote Caden Sterns at safety if they let Jackson walk, and they also need to beef up the interior defensive line.