What to expect from Denver’s rookies in year one

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws a pass under pressure from Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli (61) and nose tackle Bryan Mone (79) in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 22-14.
Aug 8, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws a pass under pressure from Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli (61) and nose tackle Bryan Mone (79) in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks won 22-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos draft class in 2018 was stellar, but their group of picks from 2019 could end up being even better. They will need heavy contributions and a lot of help from this wealth of young talent in order to right the ship under Vic Fangio. Here’s what the Broncos and their fans can expect from Denver’s rookies in year one in the league:

Noah Fant

Projected stat line: Eight starts, 37 receptions, 450 yards, and two touchdowns.

In the NFL, tight ends rarely pop in their first year playing. Since 2009, only three rookie tight ends have eclipsed the 50 reception mark. In that same span, only Rob Gronkowski and Evan Engram have both caught more than five touchdowns and gone for over 500 yards in their rookie seasons.

Noah Fant could be a different case with Rich Scangarello as his offensive coordinator. Scangarello’s scheme saw George Kittle pick up 515 yards and two touchdowns as a fifth-round rookie, before he broke the receiving yards record for tight ends in his second season.

Scangarello pounded the table for the Broncos to draft Fant in large part thanks to his similarities with Kittle, and has a plan to take advantage of his hyper athleticism. Not only should Fant get a lot of targets schematically, but as a tight end, he’ll get a lot of targets from Joe Flacco that aren’t drawn up as well.

Dalton Risner

Projected stat line: 16 starts, three sacks allowed.

The 2019 season will be a year of growth for the Broncos, especially on offense, and even more so on the offensive line.

Connor McGovern has to adjust to snapping the ball and playing center, Ja’wuan James and Dalton Risner are getting acclimated in their first season with the team, and Garrett Bolles is expecting a big step forward in year three. Under new offensive line coach Mike Munchak though, the line should end up being among the league’s best before too long.

That being said, the adjustment from the college game to the pro game in the trenches is always a tough one, and guard is the position Risner has the least experience with entering the league. He also has a lot on his plate, as he’s expected to be an anchor for the left side of the Broncos’ line from day one.

Protecting the blindside for an older quarterback like Flacco will be incredibly important for the Broncos’ season. Risner will be up to the task, but against talented pass rushers like Chris Jones, Akiem Hicks and Calais Campbell early on, he’ll struggle to some degree.

Drew Lock

Projected stat line: Two starts, 550 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions.

The Broncos would be wise to sit Drew Lock on the bench for the majority of the season, giving him a start or two in the last few weeks of the season. Lock has a ways to go in his development before he’s ready to take an NFL field, but the tools are undeniably there.

Lock took a huge step between the Hall of Fame Game and the official first week of the preseason. That being said, when the line breaks down, Lock’s mechanics and field vision go with it, leading to mistakes and too many sacks.

Once Lock gets his chance though, he should shine. The final two games of the season, hosting the Lions and the Raiders, would be a perfect time to throw Lock into the fire, and get him some momentum heading into 2020.

Dre’Mont Jones

Projected stat line: Three starts, 14 combined tackles, eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks

After two preseason games, Dre’Mont Jones looks like a steal for the Broncos in the third round. Not only is he adept at rushing the passer, but he has a knack for finding the running back in the backfield as well.

Playing behind Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, and Adam Gotsis will limit the amount of snaps Jones plays in year one, but Fangio is sure to put his young defensive weapon into favorable positions.

Don’t expect Jones to be a tackling machine, as his total numbers likely won’t be that impressive. Jones’ role in this defense will be to wreak havoc and blow up plays from the interior, a responsibility which he should excel at.

Justin Hollins

Projected stat line: No starts, 12 combined tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one pass deflection.

Justin Hollins‘ contribution to the team may be the hardest one to forecast considering it’s still unclear where he’s gonna play and how the Broncos want to use him.

Throughout camp and the Hall of Fame Game, Hollins played as an outside linebacker which is his more natural position, but thanks to his versatility, the Broncos moved him inside following Josey Jewell‘s injury.

Hollins’ ability in coverage matched with his size and athleticism could make him a good option to lock down tight ends in the future, making him an intriguing prospect inside, but his best trait as of now is his ability to get to the quarterback.

Expect to see Hollins used as a rotational edge rusher, especially when Fangio is bluffing blitz only to drop back in coverage.

Juwann Winfree

Projected stat line: No starts, 8 catches, 100 yards, one touchdown.

The Broncos just keep striking gold with overlooked Buffaloes.

Juwann Winfree was an immensely gifted college player, but the pieces never fully came together during his time at school. He initially went to the University of Maryland, but was kicked out for violating the school’s student-athlete code of conduct. Then, at the University of Colorado, it was injuries and playing across from superstar Laviska Shenault that held him back. Now, he has the chance to be much better as a pro than he ever was in college.

The only reason Winfree’s projected stat line isn’t higher, is because his rookie status and Denver’s depth of pass-catching weapons. When it’s all said and done, Winfree could be the Broncos’ tenth receiving option, limiting his final stats.

That being said, Winfree is so talented and so physically gifted that he should maneuver his way up the depth chart as the season progresses.

 

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