We welcome Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders to dig deep into this Denver Broncos squad and give his take on what we can expect from them in 2016. In their annual Football Outsiders Almanac, Aaron and the FO team dove into the advanced metrics of DVOA and previewing the 2016 NFL Season.
Mile High Report was able to ask Aaron a few more specific questions regarding things fans might want to know a little more about.
MHR: Is there any realistic chance that rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch sees significant playing time this season?
AS: Sure, absolutely. If the other quarterbacks are as bad as we expect, the Broncos may want to turn to Lynch at the end of the season to try to spark things if they’re in a close playoff race.
MHR: What kind of impact do you see Jeff Heuerman having for the Broncos at tight end in 2016?
AS: A small one. He’s probably a better receiver than Virgil Green, but Heuerman is all projection. Even in college, he never had a season with more than 26 receptions. We’ve got him forecast with 42 catches for 473 yards and 3 touchdowns, which would be a fairly impressive season for a guy with no NFL experience but I think would fall short of what Broncos fans online may be expecting from him.
MHR: Do you expect there to be a significant drop off in production (and quality of play) from Danny Trevathan to Todd Davis at the inside linebacker position?
AS: I don’t think it’s likely that Davis can be as good as Trevathan when it comes to pass coverage, but Davis was strong against the run in limited time last year. And hey, I don’t think anybody thought Trevathan would become a quality starter when the Broncos took him in the sixth round in 2012.
MHR: In your opinion, who is the most underrated player on the Broncos? Most overrated?
AS: Hmmm… for underrated, I’ll go with Shaquil Barrett. Of course he hasn’t proven he can play at a high level for more than a single season, but compare his 5.5 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 16 hurries to Shane Ray’s 4 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 5.5 hurries. I don’t think many people outside Denver even know who Barrett is.
It’s hard to highlight an overrated player. I think everyone knows that most of the offensive linemen are either limited or young. I think most people understand that Demaryius Thomas had a down year last year, with drops and sometimes struggling to get open, but one down year doesn’t make him “overrated.” You’ve got to be smoking something to call anyone in the secondary overrated. Which is legal in Colorado, of course. I guess I would say Ray. Not because his numbers as a rookie were unimpressive, because it seems silly to judge a guy based on what he did as the fourth guy on the depth chart behind two Hall of Famer’s and Barrett. And you know, he’ll always be able to say he forced a fumble in a Super Bowl victory. But even going back to the draft, our SackSEER projection system really did not think highly of Ray. His SackSEER rating was only 18.5 percent, which means that his workout numbers and college production suggested he was worse than 81.5 percent of drafted edge rusher prospects since 2000.
But even then, I write “I guess I would say” because there’s reason to believe SackSEER was too hard on Ray. The biggest issue was a horrible 3-cone time, but Ray may have still been recovering from his Citrus Bowl foot injury when he ran at his pro day. You’ve got to always understand that stat metrics don’t live on their own, you’ve got to understand the context. I’m a lot more confident that SackSEER is right about Kevin Dodd of the Titans (this year’s big bust prediction) than Ray.
It’s not a team with overrated players. What’s “overrated” are the chances that the defense can play at such a ridiculously awesome level for two years in a row, even if all the individual players are as good as we think they are. There’s just too much inherent inconsistency in defensive play overall. Since 1989, the only team with two straight years with -20% or better in our defensive DVOA rating was Baltimore in 1999-2000. The Bucs never did it, the Seahawks haven’t, the Steelers never did, or the Urlacher-Tillman Bears, or those awesome early 90s Eagles defenses. Denver probably won’t do it either. That’s not a dis on the players; I mean, I hope comparing them to the 2013 Seahawks or the 2002 Bucs is not disrespectful.
MHR: The 2014 NFL Draft was filled with wide receivers who came in and produced at very high levels immediately. Alas, Broncos second round selection Cody Latimer has failed to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball. Why do you think he has struggled and is there any chance he can become a quality receiver in the NFL?
AS: That’s really a question for a scouting expert rather than someone who’s more of a statistical analyst like myself. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a question for a scouting expert. How much film has there even been to watch on the guy to figure out why he’s not playing?
There’s one explanation for why he might not have played despite having talent, which is that perhaps Peyton Manning was just much more comfortable throwing to veteran receivers he trusted. Except, that doesn’t explain why Cody Latimer got passed on the depth chart by Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler.
There’s pretty much no historical example of a player like this turning into something real. Since 1990, including Latimer, there are 10 receivers taken in the first two rounds who had less than 10 receptions in their first two seasons. One of them was Jimmy Smith, but Smith only played 7 games in his first two years because he missed half of 1992 with a broken leg and all of 1993 with a post-appendectomy infection. That’s not really a good comparable for Latimer. Then you’ve got Jerome Simpson, who had a couple of mediocre seasons in Cincinnati, and then a parade of busts: Yatil Green, A.J. Jenkins, Kevin Lee, Marcus Nash, Patrick Rowe, Limas Sweed, and Rashaun Woods. That’s the territory Latimer is living in.