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.
Check out players 16-24 here.
15. Jared Veldheer
By any and all accounts, Jared Veldheer was average in the games he played last year. So why is he ranked as the 15th most valuable Bronco? Read over some of the guys who preceded him:
Menelik Watson - turnstile when he wasn’t injured. Will cost the Broncos $1.3 million in 2019.
Donald Stephenson - turnstile when he wasn’t injured. Laughably bad.
Louis Vasquez - played some tackle in 2015, 2013 Pro Bowl guard. Bad Scheme fit w/ Kubiak.
Michael Schofield - tackle for 13 games in 2015. Now a Chargers guard.
Chris Clarke - tackle in 2014. Traded to the Houston Texans for a 7th rounder in 2015.
Since Orlando Franklin’s last Denver season in 2013, the Broncos have been below average in the best years at right tackle. Most of the time it was a glaring weakness. Veldheer mostly stabilized that, when he was healthy.
The problem, of course, is determining Veldheer’s value. As an unrestricted free agent who brings experience on both sides of the line, he’ll have suitors. Offensive line is a big need around the league. Compounding the value issue? Veldheer also hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and will be 32 by the first day of training camp. Elway should consider bringing him back, but retaining Billy Turner or spending a draft pick may be the $marter decision.
14. Todd Davis
If you’ve read Bill Simmons “The Book of Basketball” you’ll get what I mean when I say that Davis is the John Stockton of the Denver Broncos. You’re not going to brag that he’s a starting linebacker because the things where he really excels are the boring parts of the game, but he’s really good at them. Davis and Justin Simmons were the only Broncos defenders with more than 60 total tackles on the year, but Davis played 235 less snaps and finished with 17 more.
I already refuted this idea that Vic Fangio’s defense needs athletic linebackers last week while discussing Josey Jewell, but let me bury it here. Todd Davis ran a 4.87 at his 2014 Pro Day, Danny Trevathan ran a 4.84 at his. Do you remember Chris Borland, the San Francisco 49er who lit the league on fire before retiring after his rookie season? He ran a 4.81.
You won’t hear me complain if the Broncos draft someone like Devin White from LSU to pair with Davis. Range at the second level would definitely help the defense, but to say 51 can’t cover because he’s on the slower side is to completely ignore the evidence.
Going forward, I’d fully expect Fangio to start the former undrafted free agent this year. After that things get murkier as his contract has a pretty big out in 2020: it would cost the Broncos just $1 million in dead cap to move on and if they do so they’ll save $5 million. 2019 is going to be huge for Davis’ future, but don’t be shocked if he takes to the Fangio defense like a fish to water.
13. Connor McGovern
I spoke with Brandon Thorn last year about the offensive line and what he said about McGovern stuck with me the rest of the season.
I view the interior as the strength of the unit right now, particularly in run-blocking. McGovern has been a pleasant surprise in the physicality, play strength, and overall run-blocking ability he brings to the unit. I’ve noticed him struggle at times with the timing and accuracy of his strike in pass-protection, along with hitting set points in his pass set (under/oversetting), but that is a pretty common struggle for a lot of inexperienced guards, especially having to go against the deepest position group in the NFL (interior defensive line).
It was remarkable to see how long the Broncos adjusted line yards held up even as injuries derailed Max Garcia, Ronald Leary, and Matt Paradis’ seasons. McGovern played a role in that: Even with him playing significant snaps at center with Billy Turner and Elijah Wilkinson beside him, Denver finished the year with the 8th ranked ALY up the MID/GUARD area, per Football Outsiders.
He does need to improve his pass protection, but as a player who will cost less than $700 K against the cap less year, he’s ridiculously valuable.
12. Case Keenum
I fully expect to get some angry responses over 12, but let me say this much: quarterback’s have a ton of value, even mediocre ones. Keenum is a limited journeyman quarterback and a short term fix at the position, but if Rich Scangarello can get his play even close to league average in 2019 the team could make a run at the playoffs.
11. Garett Bolles
Bolles had more holding penalties called on him than any offensive linemen in the league with 7. That obviously misses the times he got away with clear holds, or got turnstiled.
There is little doubt that Justin Houston is an elite edge rusher, so it isn’t altogether surprising Bolles had trouble with him. What’s troubling is that even as he improved over the course of the 2018 season (and he did, I’ll admit) he continued to have issues protecting his quarterback.
While some of the blame for the above play can fall on the Broncos receiver situation and Bill Musgraves play calling (vertical routes on the outside where neither receiver could gain separation), Bolles has to be better than he showed against Blair. Even more disconcerting is how Bolles still has issues adjusting on the fly to situations as they develop.
Again, this isn’t solely on Bolles. Musgraves scheme completely failed to account for the loss of Emmanuel Sanders down the stretch. What is problematic is that Bolles followed Ronald Blair as he stunts and never reacts to the outside rusher. Instead Billy Turner is forced to try and slide out. Kudos to him for trying, but he shouldn’t have had to. I mentioned Bolles weakness to extra rushers in my 2018 review of his rookie tape, but going into a third year its fair to wonder if this is who he is.
So, like Keenum before him; Bolles earns his high ranking on the MVB in part because of his positional value. Unless the starting left tackle is a complete disaster he’s going to be valuable. Additionally, the former Ute’s play in the run game and athleticism bring value to the team, as does his $3 million cap hit. But he’ll have to make a huge jump to really justify a 5th year option.
10. Shaquil Barrett
I mentioned this during an early GIF Horse last year, but when the Broncos took Bradley Chubb 5th overall in the 2018 draft it likely spelt the end for both Barrett and Shane Ray’s tenures with the Broncos. Shaq has already gone on record to say that he hopes to find a starting job this spring, which crosses the Broncos off his potential destinations.
If the 26-year old does move on, it will be a blow to the Broncos depth. Barrett has never accumulated eye popping sack numbers, but has been a very strong player against the run and solid contributor to the pass rush. He’s the highest rated player who is ranked primarily because of past contributions, because Denver would have had a much harder ride to the Lombardi in 2015 without the 2nd year Shaq filling in for an ailing DeMarcus Ware.
Barrett also brought versatility to the rush scheme because of his ability to create havoc from multiple angles allowed coordinators to have him on the field with Von and Ware/Chubb/Ray at the same time. That won’t be easy to replicate with the current edge depth chart. Selfishly, the fan in me hopes Shaq finds a cool enough market that he returns to Colorado. If this is the end though, I wish him nothing but the very best going forward.
9. Derek Wolfe
There may not be another player on the Broncos roster I had as many trouble ranking as the 7th-year veteran. In his favor is the fact that no other defensive lineman on the Broncos had more than 15 pressure last year (Wolfe had 19.5, according to Sports Info Solutions). Additionally, Von Miller has given credit to Wolfe more than once for his work tying up blockers to help he and others get after the quarterback.
On the other hand, there’s a number of things working against Wolfe going forward. First and foremost: he’ll cost a lot to keep. In 2019 Wolfe’s $10.925 million cap hit is the 9th highest figure of any 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, and while he did accumulate nearly 20 pressures, Shelby Harris notched 12 in a little more than half the snaps. Last, but certainly not least: it’s fair to wonder how much Wolfe will play in 2019 as he’s suffered an injury in every season since 2014. While he did play in all 16 games last year, he played through a rib injury suffered against the Bengals.
With the Broncos in relatively health cap shape, it could make sense to hold onto Wolfe for the final year of his contract. He is a valuable player on the field, even with the questions in mind. But if Elway moves on it shouldn’t come as a huge shock.
8. Bradley Roby
Player A faced 78 targets and allowed an average of 10.3 yards per catch when he was in coverage. He was successful (percentage of plays where this cornerback was in coverage that did not meet our baseline for offensive success (45 percent of yardage on first down, 60 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third down) 45% of the time.
Player B faced 70 targets and allowed an average of 10.4 yards per catch when he was in coverage. He was successful 44% of the time.
So why was Bradley Roby’s season considered a huge disaster while Marshon Lattimore’s was a relative success? In a word: consistency. In three words? Consistency and perception.
Roby was a player that was hard to count on for each game, but when he was playing at his peak the Broncos fielded two strong corners with the former Buckeye and Chris Harris. That bears out in the numbers: According to Football Outsiders DVOA ratings Denver was the best team against tertiary receivers and 11th against WR1s. The Fly Zone was the strongest defense in the league against passes to the left and a top 10 D against passes to the right. They were top 5 against short passes. Roby was a significant part of that.
An unrestricted free agent this spring, it remains to be seen if the Broncos will bring their 2014 first round pick back. Ronald Darby headlines a really soft corner class that may see Roby earn substantially more than Elway is willing to pay. At present Spotrac.com is estimating that Darby’s market value is in the $13 million a season ballpark. I’ve seen more than one Broncos writer suggest that Denver move on from Roby to chase former Fangio nickel corner Bryce Callahan (who’s market value is estimated at about $7 million per season), but the former Bear will likely benefit from the same market dynamics if Roby does and is far less versatile.
7. Matt Paradis
Speaking of unrestricted free agents, the Broncos will need to pay big money to retain their starting center. They ought to do so. Paradis is considered one of the very best pivots in the entire league and fits the incoming Scangarello system to a T. While Connor McGovern played admirably once Paradis was lost to injury, there was a noticeable difference in the lines performance. For one: Paradis has allowed just one sack the last two years.
He’ll turn 30 during the 2019 season so the contract length may be important to consider, but there’s little question Paradis was a key component of last year’s strong rushing performance.