Vic Fangio is the head coach, Ed Donatelli is coming on as the defensive coordinator, Rich Scangarello will coordinate the offense and Mike Munchak will coach the offensive line. With big parts of the coaching staff in place, I continued my look at Denver’s roster. What players mean the most to the team? Obviously some could move up or down based on how the schemes change. That means this is as much art as science, but to be as transparent as possible I wanted to lay out how I made my list. There are 3 main aspects I considered.
1. Their value to this year’s team and past performance.
2. Positional value
3. Salary compared to both past & expected future performance.
All three factors are important, but obviously this isn’t an exact science, so I look forward to seeing how Broncos Country disagrees with me.
Check out players 45-35 here.
Check out players 25-34 here:
24. Devontae Booker
I wrote at length about Booker during the season and what I said then is as true now as I look back over his production in 2018.
Devontae Booker has been a bit of a controversial player among Broncos fans this year. Early in the season, everyone, including myself remembered him for his 3.8 yards per carry career average. I thought that perhaps he was earning playing time on third downs because the coaching staff was reluctant to trust the rookie backs with protecting the quarterback. While there was undoubtedly some truth to this, it’s probably time to accept that Booker has also done a good job with the assignment.
The veteran ball carrier in a very young running back room finished the season with a career low in touches, but averaged 5.4 yards per carry and hauled in 38 passes for 275 yards. He was also the best pass blocker of the 3 backs last season which is how he originally earned third down role out of camp.
Going forward, his role may diminish as Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman carve out bigger more time in the passing game. Both bring more to the table than Booker does with the ball in their hands and it wouldn’t be a complete shock if the new coaching staff looks to add competition to the group before camp this Summer. That would impact Booker more than the others.
23. Josey Jewell
No player better represents how much a scheme may diminish a players value as much as Josey Jewell, and, to a lesser extent: Todd Davis. Both are instinctual backers that thrive in the running game but have athletic limitations that impacts schematic diversity. That was a bit of an issue at times in the Vance Joseph/Joe Woods defense but could potentially limit their playing time on defense under the new regime. It isn’t a death knell as some in the media have theorized though: Neither Chris Borland or Navarro Bowman were track fast, but it bears watching.
With that issues in mind, why is Jewell rated so highly? He had a very encouraging rookie season. Jewell came to the Broncos with hype as the defender who best covered Saquon Barkley in college football. Last year he had issues at times with superior athletes in space, but did quite well playing in front of him. Pro Football Focus graded Jewell as the 54th best linebacker during the season, not bad when San Francisco’s 3rd rounder Fred Warner finished 51st, while Chicago’s 1st rounder Raquan Smith finished 37th.
22. DaeSean Hamilton
Much like Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton’s opportunities and production exploded once Emmanuel Sanders hit injured reserve. 83% of his receptions, 75% of his receiving yardage and both of his touchdowns came during the Broncos final four games. Hamilton was also the only Broncos receiver to earn positive “effective yards” by Football Outsiders, which means he played better than his raw totals indicate. He’s a player the national media will probably sleep on this spring, but don’t be surprised if he is a breakout player in 2019.
DaeSean Hamilton's game against Indiana displayed every trait I could possibly ask for from an NFL slot WR. Coupled with his performance at the Senior Bowl, he's a surefire top 10 WR in this Draft class— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 4, 2018
Plucks the ball out of air and lays down a ruthless stiff arm pic.twitter.com/aVQgHhi9BL
Coming out of college, Hamilton was well regarded for his work ethic and route running savvy. That combined with every report I’ve seen that he has a very high character suggests he has a bright future in the league, barring injury.
21. Zach Kerr
Zach Kerr is one of those underrated signings that smart franchises make. Championship teams have guys like Kerr up and down the roster, which gives them the cap flexibility to pay their best players and maintain a healthy core. Kerr will never be the best at his position group but has quietly been an above average player for a number of years now. He’s a decent run stopper, but it’s his pass rushing prowess that really boost his value.
Kerr is an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason and at 29 he’s in the prime of his career. He’s a tossup to return with a loaded defensive line class in both the draft and free agency, but the Broncos could do a lot worse than extend the versatile 330 pounders stay in the Rockies.
20. Royce Freeman
The forgotten rookie back quietly had himself a decent season. While it fell fall short of the hope I had for him last March, Freeman still finished the year with 521 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also finished his rookie year among the top 20 players in PFF’s elusive rating, and 14th in yards after contact. Both of which bodes well for his future.
The hope here is that Freeman will have a healthier sophomore season as an ankle injury suffered against the Arizona Cardinals did seem to have some lasting impact on the rest of his year. Ideally, incoming Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello will find a way to utilize both Lindsay and Freeman together on the field at the same time. It would require both to improve at things such as pass protection and route running, but could really add another layer for defenses to worry about. If that fails to happen, Freeman will likely continue on as the second string “Thunder” to Lindsay’s “Lightning” and both will share responsibilities with Booker or another third string back on passing downs.
19. Will Parks
Parks is a player I considered an afterthought coming into the season. His 2017 was completely forgettable, to the point where I was leading the call for Elway to sign someone like Eric Reid this time last year. While a blue chip safety would still be a worthwhile addition to the secondary, Parks’ 2018 tape suggests that he deserves an opportunity to step into the starting lineup full time.
S’ua Cravens got a lot of attention in camp after the Broncos traded for him, of course. Partly this was because of reports that Elway had a 1st round grade on the former Trojan, but whether an injury sidetracked him or something else was amiss, Craven’s never did much to justify the hype last year. In fact, the Broncos defense was stronger when Parks was playing his role in the lineup.
If the Broncos fail to add any safety help to the current crop, Parks should start in 2019. Darian Stewart’s legs have become an issue and the Broncos former 5th round pick has the tape to back up his claim for the gig. He could polish all aspects of his play, but he’s ready.
18. Adam Gotsis
This coming offseason is a big one for defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has a contract option that would lock in his base salary of $8 million. If Elway and the Broncos wind up moving on from the 29 year old it will say as much about Gotsis as it does the 7-year veteran. Gotsis has essentially been a poor man’s version of the older lineman thus far in his career; both are better against the run than pass but contribute to the rush on occasion, as Gotsis did against the Browns.
At 26, Gotsis appears to be entering his prime. The 2018 season was the best of his career thus far and with his contract expiring after this coming year the Broncos will need to determine if he’s worth extending. To date, Gotsis hasn’t been the pass rusher that Derek Wolfe’s was a this point in his own career so the numbers will probably determine if he returns.
17. Justin Simmons
The only Bronco to play every single snap on defense last season. The 2016 3rd round pick’s versatility and availability were the defining features of his 2018 season. Unfortunately, his third season was a bit of a disappointment beyond that. While neither stat is entirely his fault, the fact that the Broncos finished the season among the bottom half of the league against deep passes and throws to the middle of the field should illuminate some of the issues Simmons had.
So why is he still so highly ranked? In one word: potential. Few players could benefit from the addition of Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell as much as Simmons. If anyone will find a way to fully utilize the athleticism the Simmons brings to the table, its them.
2019 is a make or break year for the former Boston College Eagle. A contract year, he could earn a lengthy extension as a starting safety for the Broncos or find himself looking for a new home and opportunity. Let’s hope he puts it all together.
16. Courtland Sutton
This feels low for one of the most exciting rookies who has suited up for the orange and blue in recent memory, but speaks to how mercurial his production became once Demaryus Thomas was traded. He was held to less than 30 yards in 50% of the games he started. In all four of those contests he had a sub 35% catch rate. That doesn’t even include the disappearing act he performed in the second half of the week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns.
Going forward Sutton will need to respond to the fact that defensive backs became far more physical with him during his routes as last season progressed. He’ll need to refine his overall route running, especially the subterfuge that comes when a receiver runs the full tree. If he can become proficient enough at selling routes like the 9 (or Go) route, it will help open up underneath catches for him. The sky remains the limit, but Coach Azzanni has a lot of work to do with him for the second year pro to grow into a complete wide receiver.
What do you think Broncos Country? Let me know in the comments if you think I have anyone too high, or low. Or just hit me up with any player you may be really interested in reading a deeper tape study on.
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