This will follow the same format that I normally use - present the data and possibly give a couple of comments for each position group. Here is the snap count breakdown for the 2017 Denver Broncos.
Garett Bolles missed snaps in only one game - game 7 when he had that high ankle sprain. Other than that he played every offensive snap for us. Matt Paradis did not miss an offensive snap in the regular season. Ronald Leary was great when he was in there, but he missed some of game one with an injury as well as all of the last 5 games of the season. Connor McGovern played in game one for Leary and than hardly saw the field on offense until Leary was lost for the year. Cyrus Kouandjio played fairly well against the terrible pass rush of the Chiefs second string. We still need a RT for 2018 and there is a small chance that Kujo could develop into that for us, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
I’m not sure what went down with A.J. Derby. He went from getting the most offensive snaps for any TE to getting cut in the span of three weeks. Austin Traylor stepped into the void and played decently well. Virgil Green teased us once again with a couple of nice seam routes early in the season and then effectively disappeared as a receiver. he finished the year with 14 catches after getting six in the first three games. He had five games where he wasn’t even targetted. Derby was only on the Broncos for 9 games and had 19 catches (6 in our shutout loss at LAC). The 50 receptions by our combined TEs this season was our lowest total catches from the TE group since they got 30 in 2011. I’ll be expanding this into a whole discussion of how the Broncos used their TEs in 2017 relative to how the rest of the league used theirs.
As a team, the Broncos did a disservice to Jamaal Charles by nor using him this season. C.J. Anderson got the highest number of total offensive snaps that he has seen in his career. DeVontae Booker looked good in the two games where he was the featured back. De’Angelo Henderson was basically red-shirted spending most of the year as a healthy scratch after looking explosive against scrubs in the preseason. Between Charles and Henderson there are always going to be a bunch of “what if’s” about our offensive scheming in 2017.
Demaryius Thomas was our stallwart - playing the most total offensive snaps of any of this group and playing the majority of the WR snaps in every game. Cody Latimer looked like he had finally figured out where he fit in our offense in the middle of the season and then he got hurt so we had to use Isaiah McKenzie “heavily” at WR in the final two games. I’m still hopeful that we can find a way to make him an asset on offense - their are other diminutive slot WRs in the NFL who flourish if used properly, but I don’t know that he has good hands like Jamison Crowder (5’8” 185 lbs), Jacquizz Rodgers (5’7” 190 lbs) or Darren Sproles (5’6” 181 lbs) or the quickness of Jacoby Ford (5’9” 181 lbs), Albert Wilson (5’9” 181 lbs) or Bralon Addison (5’9” 197).
Shelby Harris was one of the few pleasant surprises of this season. Domata Peko was an improvement over Sylvester Williams at NT, but neither was able to collapse the pocket for us. Gotsis was a beast against the run, but has nothing outside of a bull rush for pass rushing. DeMarcus Walker should be in this group, but our coaching staff wasted him at OLB this season. An almost complete lack of pass rush from our DEs and DTs is why we only had 33 sacks this season - 9 fewer than in 2016 and 19 fewer than in 2015. 33 is the fewest sacks by a Broncos defense since 2010, the year before we drafted the best pass rusher in the game, Von Miller.
Our 33 sacks (22nd in the league) were not as poor as they might look at first glance since we had the fewest passing attempts in the NFL against our defense - 491. Our sack rate of 6.30% (sacks/[sacks+passing attempts]) was 17th in the league and our sack rate was better than four playoff teams - MIN (6.25%). PHL (5.95%), KC (5.16%) and BUF (4.30%). By sack rate, BUF had the second worst pass rush in the league - only TB was worse at 3.85%. TB finished the season with 22 sacks, or five more than the league leader, Chandler Jones.
Brandon Marshall took many more defensive snaps this season than he did last year. Unfortunately, he was significantly less effective this year than in past years (for whatever reason). This was the first year since I have been tracking that an inside LB lead the team in total defensive snaps. Marshall had 599 defensive snaps in 2016 and 867 snaps in 2015, but he played much better in those snaps in 2015 than he did in 2017. Todd Davis is a warrior and showed better play recognition and anticipation this season relative to last in terms of run stops, but he is still a liability in coverage and that will probably never change. Losing Corey Nelson early in the season had a much greater overall impact than his 10-20% of the defensive snaps would imply. He was going to be our “coverage LB” and with him out we didn’t have an ILB who could fill that role (so we used safeties).
Shane Ray is a very limited OLB at this point in his NFL career. His mistakes probably cost the defense more often than his good plays helped the defense this year. We need to resign Shaquil Barrett. On any other team, he’s a starter and most likely getting pro-bowl consideration. Von is still the best all-around defensive player in the league. The thought of adding an elite DE in the draft this year with our pick at #5 (like Brandon Chubb) to pair with Von and Shaq (and Shane Ray and maybe Derek Wolfe if he can recover enough to play), helps soothe the pain of this past season. The rest of the league thinks our window of defensive dominance has ended, but adding an elite defensive line player in the draft could make the 2018 defense comparable to the 2015 defense.
Aquib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. were outstanding again this year. Bradley Roby was good enough that the team picked up his 5th year option ($8.26MM for 2018). If Aqib Talib has played his last game for the Broncos, Roby will be expected to fill Talib’s role of our “big” CB. Brendan Langley proved in the one game where he saw significant playing time (not counting the last game) that he is still very much learning how to play CB. Hopefully has has learned enough by the start of the 2018 season to be our #3 CB if Talib is gone. The two CBs that we drafted in 2015, Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon, are both no longer on the team. FWIW Justin Simmons played passably well as a CB when he was forced to play there late in the season due to injury and suspension.
Justin Simmons looks to be the real deal and I can see him getting Pro-Bowl recognition next season if our defense (and team) rebounds in 2018. Will Parks is not as good in any facet of the game as Simmons and in the final four games when Simmons was out, our defense was worse. Jamal Carter looks like he might be the next David Bruton for us as our “box safety” and special teams ace. Dymonte Thomas has a nose for the ball, but I doubt he sees the field much in Denver with four guys ahead of him and only Darian Stewart has the possibility of being a cap casualty (although it’s unlikely that Stewart would be cut because he doesn’t provide a huge cap savings - only 4.5MM with 1.4MM in dead money if cut after June 1).
Let me know if any of this surprised you in the comments section, or yell at me for giving your favorite player short shrift in the my commentary. It’s the off-season. We need something to talk about to distract us from the “horrible” product that the NFL is showing us in the playoffs. Nobody wants to see a 10-3 punt fest (right?) or another New England blowout win. I will say that the epic KC collapse at home was fun to watch.