In July of 2022, Russell Wilson was supposed to be the Denver Broncos savior.

What resulted was Wilson’s worst season as a professional, the worst-scoring offense in the NFL (16.9 PPG), and a 5-12 overall record.

Fast forward to July, 2023 and Sean Payton has supplanted Nathaniel Hackett as head coach, and he’s taken over the “savior” role for the Broncos, too.

Payton was a great hire for the Broncos, even if he was their fourth choice—Jim Harbaugh, DeMeco Ryans, and Dan Quinn were first, second, and third in that order per Ben Allbright.

Still, Payton is one of the better offensive coaches in the NFL, even if he was out of the league for a season. His New Orleans Saints went 152-89 (.639 winning percentage) and they enjoyed a top-5 offense 8-of-15 seasons he was the head man.

But, Payton inherited a terrible team, and his comments about Hackett weren’t wrong, saying to Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY, “It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”

Was Payton simply protecting Wilson’s terrible season, giving him an excuse? Or, was he setting expectations low for this 2023 year?

One can imagine the latter is the case, as Billy Turner pointed out on social media while he backed his friend, Hackett, “Seems like someone started training camp and is trying to soften the blow after realizing what he’s in for this season. F*cking bum.”

However, Turner’s suggestion that Payton just figured out how terrible a team he inherited falls apart because Payton also said in the same piece the Broncos will be a playoff team this year.

“I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team,” Denver’s new head coach told USA TODAY.

Those comments, though, came a few days before training camp kicked off. Is Payton still so confident five practices into camp?

Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler sidelined, hurting Broncos depth at WR

Earlier this week, Tim Patrick tore his Achilles tendon, ending his 2023 season before it even began.

Patrick was the most sure-handed receiver on the Broncos roster in 2020 and 2021, and then he tore the ACL in his right knee in training camp last offseason. Denver die-hards had been waiting for the 6’4″ dynamo to return to the field this season, but everyone will have to wait until 2024.

Then, K.J. Hamler was waived by the Broncos due to “minor heart irritation.” The team now says Hamler needs about four weeks of recovery and could be back, but there are no guarantees.

So, two of the team’s top four receivers are sidelined for the season.

That’s a huge blow, not only to Payton’s offense’s hopes, but for Wilson’s desires to get back to the top of his game, too.

Russell Wilson struggling in camp; will Payton help him bounce back?

Wilson was awful in 2022, especially the first half of the year.

He was incredibly inaccurate throwing the ball, held onto the ball too long and too often, and when he was forced to move it was clear Wilson had lost a step. Or two.

His 55 sacks were not only a career-high, but an NFL-high last season. And his TD/INT ratio (1.45) was one of the worst in the league.

But, most Broncos fans agree Russell Wilson wasn’t the only person responsible for his own play.

Hackett has to take a lot of the blame. His terrible play-calling hurt Denver’s offense, especially in the red zone. And not only was Hackett calling the plays most of the year, he designed the offense and/or allowed Wilson to help design it, depending on what reports you hear.

“That wasn’t his fault,” Payton said of Wilson to USA TODAY. “That was the parents who allowed it. That’s not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the GM (George Paton), the president (Damani Leech) and everybody else who watched it all happen.”

And beyond Hackett’s horrible offense, as well as Russ’ personal struggles, the Broncos’ receivers weren’t all that great last season either.

In the first half of the year, Jerry Jeudy consistently dropped passes, and Courtland Sutton dropped even more. Midway through the 2022 season, Jeudy and Sutton were both among the bottom-third of NFL receivers in multiple analytics categories.

Hamler, too, was off-and-on, while Patrick was missed dearly. No offense to him, but the fact that Kendall Hinton was the fourth-leading receiver on the team (24 receptions) shows just how bad the Broncos receivers were last year.

Wilson was bad, but so were his receivers. Luckily, Jeudy came on in the second half of last year and finally lived up to his first-round draft pick. And Sutton ended with a good, but not great, year.

This year, he’s struggling already in camp, even in Payton’s offense, throwing too many interceptions. He’s been hot-and-cold at best, which isn’t enough. Though, it’s only practice, and we should all hold judgement until the actual games are being played.

For Wilson to truly bounce back, Jeudy and Sutton both have to be stars this season. Maybe even superstars.

And now the Broncos have to also hope rookie Marvin Mims Jr. is an immediate impact guy. Behind those three, there’s Hinton, Maquez Calloway, and a guy named Lil’Jordan Humphrey, among others.

Greg Dulcich can catch the football, which is great, but can the Broncos even crack the top-half of the league offensively with only two dynamic receivers?

Can Wilson really regain his form with that few playmakers surrounding him?

At this point in time—with Mims a complete wildcard, and without signing a free agent receiver—the Broncos making the playoffs and Payton resurrecting Russ’ career all seems like more hype similar to last offseason.

Broncos fans celebrated when the team hired Sean Payton. And, Denver should be in good hands with him going forward. But, to expect immediate success like they did last offseason when Wilson was signed, could be nothing more than fool’s gold.

The Broncos could be facing another season in last place in the AFC West, and we’re just barely into August.