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Projecting 2019’s Most Valuable Broncos

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It’s all projection ‘til someone gets hurt. Or benched.

NFL: Denver Broncos-Minicamp
Could Drew Lock flip the list by January?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed since I started the Most Valuable Bronco series back January. Elway has hired Vic Fangio, signed a slew of free agents, and drafted a bunch of rookies. So of course looking back, the original 45 seems a bit funky with the benefit of hindsight.

In order to provide Broncos Country the most accurate reflection of where I see the 2019 team, I thought it best to give a run through of how I see things now. A quick disclaimer: as always, 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. Value to this year’s team and past performance

2. Positional value

3. Salary compared to both past & expected future performance

The plan is to present to you the original picks, followed by how things have tentatively changed. I’ll give a couple of quick thoughts on notable changes, but if any decision really grinds your gears, make sure to leave a comment. Let’s dive in.

First, the original list.

45. LS - Casey Kreiter

44. OL - Sam Jones

43. River Cracraft

42. P Colby Wadman

41. S Dymonte Thomas

40. LB Joe Jones

39. LB Keishawn Bierria

38. K Brandon McManus

37. TE Matt LaCosse

38. DB Jamar Taylor

35. EDGE Jeff Holland

34. DB Tramaine Brock

33. OL Max Garcia

32. DB Isaac Yiadom

31. NT Domata Peko

30. WR Tim Patrick

29. OL Elijah Wilkinson

28. TE Jeff Heuerman

27. TE Jake Butt

26. FB Andy Janovich

25. OL Billy Turner

24. WR DaeSean Hamilton

23. RB Devontae Booker

22. LB Josey Jewell

21. DL Zach Kerr

20. RB Royce Freeman

19. DB Will Parks

18. DL Adam Gotsis

17. DB Justin Simmons

16. WR Courtland Sutton

15. OL Jared Veldheer

14. LB Todd Davis

13. OL Connor McGovern

12. QB Case Keenum

11. OL Garett Bolles

10. EDGE Shaq Barrett

9. DL Derek Wolfe

8. DB Bradley Roby

7. OL Matt Paradis

6. WR Emmanuel Sanders

5. DL Shelby Harris

4. DB Chris Harris Jr.

3. RB Phillip Lindsay

2. EDGE Bradley Chubb

1. EDGE Von Miller

Still wondering why the Bengals left Hart alone on Miller.

Guys like Von Miller or Bradley Chubb won’t lose much, if any value in most systems. If a coach can’t figure out how to maximize their value, that’s a sign of a bad coach. As I’ve mentioned following both their respective film studies, Fangio’s coaching staff will probably help all members of the top 5 improve.

Farther down the list though, things become a bit more murky. So, what follows is how I think the MVB has been impacted by the draft, free agency, and system overhaul. Again, if something really irks you here, let me know in the comments and I’ll look into it further.

45. LS - Casey Kreiter

44. OL - Sam Jones

I’ve seen some hype for Sam Jones’ making a big jump this year, which surprised me. I’m as optimistic as anyone that he can stick to the roster and provide depth under Mike Munchak, but he’s completely unproven. He played 13 total snaps in 2018, all of them on special teams.

43. P Colby Wadman (-1)

42. DB Shamarko Thomas

41. WR Juwaan Winfree

40. K Brandon McManus (-2)

39. DL Dre’Mont Jones

This pick is more for future value than 2019. With 3 big name contracts expiring in front of him and a coaching staff looking for interior rushers, Jones looks likely to play a minimal role this season before earning significant playing time in 2020.

38. DB DeVante Bausby

Bausby appears to be the last DB that is a near lock for the roster after he chose the Broncos over 7 other teams when the AAF folded. His familiarity with Vic Fangio certainly helped, and Elway signed him to a 1-year, $655,000 deal. Scotty Payne wrote more about him here.

37. LB Joe Jones (+3)

This is a bit of projection with a looming competition for spots at the linebacker position in camp. I suspect Jones will earn a role with his play on special teams and could serve as LB3 behind Jewell and Davis.

Jones’ biggest play of 2018.

36. EDGE/LB Justin Hollins

If Hollins is as good as I suspect, he’ll be a bit higher on next year’s MVB. As my favorite 2019 draft pick, I wrote about him at length here.

35. EDGE Dekoda Watson

I suspect he will serve as a bridge for Justin Hollins early in the season and insurance against Holland’s development. He isn’t necessarily a player you want as the 3rd Edge off the bench for 16 games, but should prove to be a competent backup as Fangio builds up the depth behind the star duo.

34. TE Jeff Heuerman (-6)

33. TE Jake Butt (-6)

When your GM drafts a first round player at your position, it rarely improves your value to the team. There’s a decent chance one or the other plays as a starter/bridge for Noah Fant this season, but I’d bet on the rookie to carve out a significant chunk of the looks Flacco gives tight ends.

32. DB Isaac Yiadom

With Callahan’s injury history and both Parks’ and Simmons’ contracts in question after 2019, Yiadom could become a household name in Broncos Country really quickly. Let’s hope it’s for the right reasons.

Yiadom was thrown into the fire as a rookie, but should improve with seasoning.

31. WR Tim Patrick (-1)

When Elway passed on spending serious capital on a receiver in the off-season, it served as a vote of confidence in the 6’5 Patrick.

30. OL Elijah Wilkinson

29. EDGE Jeff Holland (+6)

With the Broncos depth behind Von and Chubb looking like Dekoda Watson, Holland, and rookie Justin Hollins, it’s inevitable that his potential value increases a ton. However, he’s really unproven, having played a grand total of 52 snaps over the last three games of 2018.

Holland flashed a promising long arm and good burst in very limited snaps last season.

28. RB Devontae Booker (-5)

Booker moves in large part because of the new additions.

27. FB Andy Janovich (-1)

If Scangarello uses 21 personnel as often as Kyle Shanahan did with the 49ers in 2018, Jano could be a huge beneficiary.

26. OL Ronald Leary

Leary didn’t make the initial MVB for a couple of big reasons. First and foremost, I thought it was a certainty that the Broncos would release the 30-year-old guard after 2 injury-plagued seasons. However, the same reason I thought he was certainly a goner all but insured his return to the 2019 roster.

25. DL Zach Kerr (-4)

24. LB Josey Jewell (-2)

23. WR DaeSean Hamilton (+1)

It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these guys are higher on next year’s MVB. All three have an opportunity in front of them. Jewell and Hamilton enter their second training camps with departed veterans (Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas) from a year ago. Zach Kerr has the build and play style to serve as the de facto DL4 with the versatility to play 0-5 techniques.

22. TE Noah Fant

Early signs suggest I could be too cautious with this ranking. You can read a film study here. Oodles have been written about Fant’s freaky athleticism, so instead let me share a fun stat: when Joe Flacco played in the Kubiak offense (the grandfather of Scangarello’s), 33% of his completions and almost 20% of his passing yardage and touchdowns were to tight ends.

21. OL Dalton Risner

How quickly can the rookie left guard acclimate to NFL mashing? Munchak and the Broncos think enough of him to insert him into the starting lineup out of the gate, so there’s clearly an expectation that he’ll adjust quickly. If he does, the Broncos line and offense could really surprise the national media and Vegas this year.

20. RB Royce Freeman

19. DL Adam Gotsis (-1)

18. DB Justin Simmons (-1)

How good is he really? That’s the question hanging over Simmons’ head as he enters a contract year. It was a little over a year ago that I predicted he’d grow into a Pro Bowl player. Instead he showed up for a lot of the wrong reasons in 2018. He’s a player I hope to take an extended look at.

17. DB Will Parks (+2)

Another player I’m hoping to dive into for an extended film study. Parks is one who’s flashed throughout my looks at Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Chris Harris for all the right reasons. Combine that with the positive notes coming out of Dove Valley and there seems to be plenty of reasons for optimism.

16. CB Bryce Callahan

Callahan was the toughest big name vet to place. On one hand, he’s a proven standout in the new defense. On the other, he’s never played more than 13 games in a single season. Fortunately, Elway protected the Broncos against some of the health risk and if things go awry, Denver could walk away as early as 2020. Jeff Essary took a deeper look at the 5th year pro here.

15. OL Connor McGovern (-2)

This bump down isn’t meant as a slight to McGovern. If anything, he’s more important to the Broncos as the reliable “veteran” presence in the middle of the interior offensive line. Instead, it’s a sign as to how important some of the new Broncos are to Denver’s performance in 2019 and beyond.

14. LB Todd Davis

I doubt there’s a player on the Broncos who has a bigger chasm between his play on the field and perceived level of play by fans. As I’ve mentioned a few times, he isn’t the most athletic player and it was a big mistake by the previous coaching staff to leave him in man coverage on tight ends or some of the better backs. Even then, all signs suggest he’ll excel in Fangio’s system, which asks him to win more with his mental processing and less with his legs.

Davis plays faster than he runs.

13. QB Drew Lock

No rookie is more valuable long term than a future franchise quarterback, so Lock lands at the top of the rookie MVB. I’ve written about him at length here and here, but I’ll summarize both posts now: if he’s thrown into action this year, it could stunt his long term growth, so best case scenario he sits and learns for 16+ games. His skill set fits the Scangarello offense beautifully. The closest pro comparisons I saw watching his Missouri tape was Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler.

12. WR Courtland Sutton (+4)

Sutton sees a tentative bump because the Scangarello offense should provide him ample opportunities to flourish as the X-receiver in 2019. Many in Broncos Country expected Elway to target a speed receiver somewhere in free agency or the draft, but that didn’t happen. If anything, it should increase Sutton’s opportunities to make plays downfield, as he’s the best deep target on the roster and is now paired with a quarterback who has a little more juice to get him the ball in stride. My hope is to take a week to study his tape at length and provide more thoughts.

11. OL Ja’Wuan James

I wrote at length about James here. Long story short: pretty stoked he’s a Bronco and should help settle what’s been one of the more uncertain positions in recent years. He’s young enough to still improve a good bit under Munchak and his contract is nowhere near as unpalatable as the national media suggested.

10. OL Garett Bolles (+ 1)

There’s no doubt about it, Bolles is entering a defining year with the Broncos. I can’t help but think of this chat I had with the Athletic’s Brandon Thorn last season:

I think he can improve things like technique..which is his biggest issue. Getting to the right spot in his pass set so he can establish an inside-out, half-man relationship with the defender is a big issue for him.

When he over or under sets a rusher, he tends to get grabby as a means to ‘recover’ rather than reposition his feet while maintaining his base and balance. If he can learn to get to his spot consistently in pass-protection against various defensive alignments (5-6-7-9 techniques) then he will be in optimal position to use his hands.

Mike Munchak should be able to refine the raw talent Elway liked enough to take him in the first round of the 2017 draft. The 27-year-old made marked improvement as a pass protector last year, but needs to continue that upward trajectory to justify a fifth year option next spring.

9. DL Derek Wolfe

8. WR Emmanuel Sanders (-2)

7. DB Kareem Jackson

I’ll admit I was less than thrilled with Jackson’s signing when it broke. 31-year-old imports are risky propositions, after all. I still need to look over Jackson’s tape at length with the Texans, but Jeff Essary did a brilliant job explaining the rationale behind the decision here. That combined with what I’ve dug up in Sports Info Solution’s charting numbers are promising. KJ allowed just 6.4 yards per pass in his direction last year and only 2.6 after the catch. He should be a noticeable in the secondary over Tramaine Brock, Bradley Roby, or Darian Stewart. I mention all three because he’s so versatile that it remains to be seen if he’ll play the majority of his snaps as a safety or cornerback. Additionally, his contract is a 2+1 deal in all reality. He’ll count $6 M against the 2019 cap before his number jumps to $14 next year. If the Broncos need to cut bait at that point, they can do so at a $3 million dead cap hit. Chances are, he plays out his deal.

6. QB Joe Flacco

This is the highest I could justify placing the Broncos’ new quarterback. His positional value and financial situation make him a valuable commodity in a vacuum. He provides real flexibility going forward as both insurance against Drew Lock and potential trade bait. In a perfect world, he’ll start 16 games, fit into Rich Scangarello’s offense as well as he did Kubiak’s in 2014, and lead a young and exciting offense. Realistically, it remains to be seen if he’s a noticeable upgrade over the departed Keenum. Combine that with his questionable durability and I’m firmly in the “we’ll see” camp. I dove into his addition more here, in case you missed it.

5. DL Shelby Harris

4. RB Phillip Lindsay (-1)

The fact Lindsay is this high up should be enough to understand I’m not an ardent believer in the “backs don’t matter” theory. By and large, runners are the most replaceable player in the league. What makes Lindsay so special is his breakaway speed, agility, and quickness. He’s also a better pass protector than his 190 lb frame suggests. His high character also helps his cause. It doesn’t hurt that his contract is highway robbery for what he provides. To hold onto his spot in the top five, he’ll need to grow as a route runner and prove he can stay healthy over a 16+ game schedule.

3. DB Chris Harris Jr. (+1)

This change has more to do with positional value. On my original MVB, I moved Strap down to 4 when his contract situation started to look as though it’d get ugly. He’s still on a 1-year deal that may see Elway wave goodbye following the season, but now that it’s a certainty he’ll play for the Broncos in 2019, his value gets a bump. He should feast in the Fangio scheme.

Harris should see more opportunities to make plays on the ball in the new defense.

2. EDGE Bradley Chubb

1. EDGE Von Miller

One reason sacks are a poor reflection of production and proof Von’s “disappearance” is overstated.

Final thoughts

Words can’t begin to describe how much fun it’s been to create this list and the adjusted version presented here. I really appreciate all the feedback and support, Broncos Country. As we wrap it up and start to look towards the upcoming training camp, I’d love to know who or what you’re most interested in reading more on. I’ve already started a short list for prospective film studies, but am always open to more suggestions.

Poll

Tell me more about _____

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Von Miller’s "disappearing" act towards season’s ends.
    (206 votes)
  • 10%
    Will Parks
    (47 votes)
  • 9%
    Justin Simmons
    (41 votes)
  • 14%
    Courtland Sutton
    (67 votes)
  • 17%
    Early scouting on key opponents.
    (79 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (Please Comment)
    (13 votes)
453 votes total Vote Now