The Denver Broncos kick off their 2019 Training Camp in just a short few days from now. A lot has changed since the Broncos finale last season. A new coach, a new quarterback, a few big free agent signings, and a new crop of rookies who are trying to make a name for themselves in the NFL.
Each year, you have a handful of players who do make a name for themselves during Training Camp and turn that into success on the field. Just last season, you had two rookies do just that. One being second-round pick Courtland Sutton and undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay.
Here are the seven players who I believe have a chance to have a breakout performance during Training Camp.
1: Tight end Noah Fant
Let us get the obvious one done right off the bat.
Fant was the Broncos first-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and he is joining an offensive system that utilizes the tight end in the passing game. So the odds of Fant having a breakout Training Camp performance are increased already because of all that.
What really increases these odds is Fant’s unbelievable athleticism. He is a 6’4”, a nearly 250-pound tight end who runs a 4.5 40-time. This speed and athleticism translate on to the field as well. He is an instant big-play threat anytime the ball gets in his hands and will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
He isn’t guaranteed to be your week one starter with veteran Jeff Heuerman on the roster, but a solid Training Camp performances would really benefit him moving forward. I expect him to get first-team reps pretty quickly and likely someone targeted by quarterback Joe Flacco often throughout these practices.
2: Running back Royce Freeman
Is it 2018 again? Before Phillip Lindsay became a thing, third-round pick, Royce Freeman was supposed to be the breakout rookie running back. However, poor usage and injuries derailed what looked to be a promising rookie season.
This past season for the Broncos, Freeman totaled 130 attempts in 14 total games(8 starts) for 521 yards(4.0 yards per carry) and 5 rushing touchdowns. He also added 14 receptions for 72 yards to his stat line. I expect these numbers to increase in Rich Scangarello’s offensive system.
The running figures to be the identity of the Broncos offense this season. A strong running game would allow Joe Flacco to utilize the play-action passing game and throw bombs to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. So, this means more carries for someone like Royce Freeman who can a bell cow back if called on.
Phillip Lindsay’s usage obviously will factor into this, but I think they will use him more in the passing game while limiting his carries some. So, this is why I believe that Freeman is a breakout candidate once again this Training Camp.
3: Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton
Another second-year player who I believe could have a breakout Training Camp is the 2018 fourth-round selection, wide receiver, DaeSean Hamilton.
Hamilton received some limited playing time last season but did flash some potential during that limited action. He started the final five games of the season and caught 25 receptions and two touchdowns during that five-game span. In total, Hamilton caught 30 receptions for 243 yards, and 2 touchdowns for the Broncos.
I just really like his game. He’s a smooth route runner with good enough size who is able to get open because of his route running ability. He is a perfect slot receiver in my opinion and will likely play in the slot a lot this upcoming season.
Emmanuel Sanders availability factors into this as well. He will likely begin camp on the PUP and could remain on there throughout most, if not all of Training Camp. This would give Hamilton valuable starting reps as the number two wide receiver and likely give him reps inside and out for the Broncos. So he will likely have a big opportunity ahead of him here.
4: Cornerback Isaac Yiadom
This isn’t one I am necessarily predicting to happen, but it is one that the Broncos NEED to happen.
With Chris Harris Jr. playing outside now and Bryce Callahan manning the slot position, Yiadom is likely in-line to be the Broncos starting outside corner opposite of Harris. So he will likely be targeted by teams who will be looking to avoid targeting Harris and Callahan who both have established themselves in this league.
Yiadom should receive a bunch of first-team reps during camp with no real competition behind him and he will need to take advantage of that opportunity.
A better defensive scheme, a switch to zone, and another year under his belt should have Yiadom feeling more comfortable on the field and playing better. He struggled early on and throughout most of his rookie season, but play better at the end of the year. So he will be someone to keep an eye on these next few weeks and hopefully someone who we are all raving about.
5. Linebacker Josey Jewell
I am continuing with the second-year player theme here with Jewell. Like Hamilton. Jewell was a fourth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft and received some valuable playing time last season.
He played in all 16 games for the Broncos last season and started 9 of those games. During that span, he totaled 58 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and 3 pass deflections. Now he is projected to be your week one starter at linebacker for the Broncos.
I’ve always been a fan of Jewell’s instincts and potential to be a tackling machine and even potentially a captain/leader of the Broncos defense. However, his athletic limitations could just make him a two-down player in the NFL. If Jewell is able to prove he can be a three-down player during Training Camp, he could be well on his way to having a breakout campaign for the Broncos.
What works in Jewell’s favor here is the lack of competition added this offseason. The Broncos nearly did take Michigan’s Devin Bush at 10th overall during the 2019 NFL Draft, however, they decided to trade back and did not add another inside linebacker during the draft.
With the importance of the inside linebacker in Fangio’s defense, the Broncos need Jewell to have that breakout year for them. I think he can, especially in Vic Fangio’s defense.
6: Linebacker Justin Hollins
The Broncos selected linebacker Justin Hollins in the fifth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Oregon. He is mostly used as an edge rusher, but Broncos General Manager John Elway said he can play inside and outside for them.
Our fifth-round pick, Justin Hollins from Oregon, is a big and athletic linebacker who can play inside and outside. His athleticism also will help us on special teams. pic.twitter.com/zPYJWUExNT— John Elway (@johnelway) April 27, 2019
If Hollins can play inside and outside well, he will quickly earn himself a role on the Broncos defense.
There is a lot to like about Hollins. He is coming off a pretty solid pre-draft process where he earned the Defensive MVP honors for his performance during the Shrine Game. He then went on to run a 4.5 40-time, putting 25 reps on the bench press and showed off his impressive length and athleticism.
With the depth behind Von and Chubb iffy currently, Hollins has a chance to earn reps there as well as potentially in sub-packages. It sounds like the Broncos want to try him inside as well, so he could earn some sub-package work as well which would utilize his athleticism and length.
With him likely playing multiple different roles, I can see him being someone we talk about on a daily basis in a positive way. He certainly has the ability to rush the passer and will be facing second and third team tackles, so he should be productive there. If he can cover well and even intercept a ball or two, he will definitely be someone we all will be talking about after camp concludes.
7. Quarterback Drew Lock
I saved the big one for last.
Drew Lock was the Broncos second-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft despite being projected as a first-rounder throughout the process. He is the Broncos hopeful “Quarterback of the future” and will need to show Elway and the coaches that he can be their guy moving forward.
His big arm will likely give him multiple wow plays that we highlight throughout camp, but his mechanics, accuracy, and decision making will likely make or break him this summer.
Lock honestly has the most to gain during this Training Camp period. You would have to think the Broncos decision makers and coaches would like to see him start by next season. Move on from Flacco, free up cap space, and have a young gunslinger to build around moving forward. So a solid camp from Lock would be a big positive step forward for him.
After living through the Paxton Lynch disappointment, it would be nice to have some positive development from a young Broncos quarterback.
Which player do you think is most likely to breakout during Training Camp?
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