The Denver Broncos will hopefully look different under new head coach Sean Payton this upcoming season. If the Broncos are going to turn things around, they’ll rely heavily on several players who are easily the team’s biggest X-Factors on offense, defense, and special teams.

Russell Wilson will need to be the Denver Broncos X-Factor this season

When Sean Payton took over as the Denver Broncos head coach in February, he made the analogy that last season’s 5-12 disaster needs to be put in the rearview mirror. Payton didn’t dismiss the season entirely but acknowledged that drastic changes and improvements must be made.

The rearview mirror for the Broncos has been broken and taken out as they prepare for this upcoming season, and Russell Wilson is focused on bouncing back from last season’s disappointing year. After throwing for a career-low 16 touchdowns while throwing 11 interceptions, Wilson changed a variety of things in his routine that have him much leaner coming into training camp.

While Wilson struggled inside of Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, he also battled through various injuries that impacted his performance, including a torn lat in his throwing shoulder, a torn hamstring, a knee injury that had lingered around for the last year or so, and a concussion. Wilson had an arthroscopic procedure done earlier in the offseason to fix the issue bothering him in his knee.

His recovery went smoothly, allowing him to be ready for the start of the team’s strength and conditioning program. He progressed into OTAs and mandatory minicamp and looked much more decisive inside of Payton’s offense, but the real test approaches in just two weeks’ time for the start of training camp.

If the Broncos are going to turn things around and get back to winning football games, Wilson will need to be the team’s biggest X-Factor. An argument can be made for several players like Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, and Greg Dulcich to be X-Factors, but having a quarterback who controls the entire operation with command and efficiency is what allows those players to thrive and produce.

With Payton’s investment into the Broncos’ offensive line, if Wilson’s jersey can stay clean, they’ll have a better chance of winning. Part of the 63 sacks on quarterbacks last year took into account missed execution on the offensive line, but there were various times when Wilson held onto the ball too long on certain plays.

After a strong offseason program, how Wilson carries that over into training camp when the pads come on will be something to watch for ahead of the season.

As Justin Simmons goes, the Broncos’ defense follows

Justin Simmons is the X-Factor for the Denver Broncos defense. An argument can be made for Patrick Surtain, Randy Gregory, Josey Jewell, Frank Clark, and various other defensive players, but Simmons’ on-field impact can’t be overstated enough.

Despite missing five total games last season, Simmons turned in another career-high year — snagging a league-leading six interceptions and accounting for ten total takeaways on defense, leading the rest of the NFL from a defensive player.

The Broncos team captain has consistently elevated his game and the defense’s performance year over year since coming into the league in 2016. His football IQ has consistently put him in a position to make plays in the box against the run and downfield, emerging into one of the league’s top ballhawks.

The Broncos are instantly put in a better position when Simmons is on the field. As he prepares for his eighth season in the league, the team internally believes that he’ll be even better this upcoming season. Last year was the first season he’d missed any time due to injury.

If he plays all 17 games this upcoming season, he could lead the league in interceptions again. Surtain’s emergence as one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks creates more opportunities for Simmons to make plays on the football if a team avoids Surtain’s side of the field.

Can Riley Dixon become a consistent element for Denver’s special teams?

The Denver Broncos need to revamp their special teams unit in a big way this upcoming season. That’s what new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica and long-time veteran special teams coach Mike Westhoff plan to do.

While the kicking game will be important for Elliott Fry, Riley Dixon’s performance in the punting game could have a massive impact that may lead to success. Corliss Waitman had some traits to him that showed promise in the long run, but ultimately his inconsistency hurt the Broncos’ production in the punting department.

For various years, the opposing team’s punters seemingly come into Denver and boom punts at will, but the Broncos punters have struggled with doing it consistently. Dixon’s second stint with the team presents him with an opportunity to grow into the player they had previously drafted years back.

While it would be ideal for a team’s punter not to have to punt, the nature of the game demands that a team has somebody who can do it effectively and consistently. If Dixon can consistently flip field position, the Broncos will have better odds of winning more games.

Far too often, the Broncos’ special teams unit has been negatively impacted by short punts, big returns by opposing teams, and, more importantly, starting field position. Waitman last season had 96 punt attempts, but only 30 of them pinned opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line.

As a member of the Los Angeles Rams, Dixon had 71 punt attempts, with 19 of them landing inside the 20-yard line. There’s so much more context to be discussed, like field position when punting, how many times the punter is backed up into their own endzone or inside their own 30-yard line.

The true measure to watch for this season will be how efficient Dixon is when punting from the team’s 40- or 50-yard lines. How many opportunities will he have to pin a team deep into their own territory?

During Broncos OTAs, Dixon looked consistently good with his punt placement, angling toward the sideline inside the 20 or 10-yard lines. If he can carry some of this over into the preseason, it should give Broncos fans a clear picture of what they may expect during the regular season.