It seems a bit paradoxical to suggest that everything means nothing so early, only to tell you it’s as good a time as any to share some of what I’ve started to notice as camp has progressed.
The truth is, things can change pretty drastically between now and the regular season. The best laid plans could go sideways with five preseason games to be played.
So a reminder that it’s too early to say anything definitively, but these are some thoughts I’ve had as I sift through all of the reports coming out.
- Kevin Hogan trending downward.
- Don Barclay looks like a lock for the roster.
- Elijah Wilkinson got singled out for praise by Rich Scangarello.
- Trinity Benson, Devontae Jackson and Brendan Langley are turning heads.
- Juwann Winfree earning a lot of hype.
- Drew Lock & Noah Fant look like exciting rookies - but still rookies.
- Dalton Risner will be the best Broncos rookie.
- Tackles may be a concern. Again.
- Could Wilkinson steal Bolles job?
- Austin Fort could jump Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli.
- Jeff Heuerman’s been a blocker, for the most part.
- Lots of interceptions.
- The run blocking has quietly done okay.
- There’s probably a 1A-1B workload for Phil and Royce.
- Freeman and Lindsay especially will get work in the passing game.
- Devontae Booker may need to start sweating.
- DaeSean Hamilton is quietly consistent.
Some of the 10 above shouldn’t be huge surprises. Noah Fant has earned the ire of a few local radio guys because of drops but has also been a key receiver on a bunch of touchdown passes so far. Neither of these things should really surprise you if you’ve read or studied him at all coming out of Iowa.
Vic Fangio’s quote about Lock “not being a quarterback yet” got a lot of play by the national media, but A) he said the same thing about Josh Watson as a linebacker, and B) we knew this. I said as much before the draft that Lock had the best arm talent of this past QB crop, but also had a “dizzying amount of mechanical work he’d need to refine.” Combine that with his penchant for risk-taking and he’s going to have some highlight plays for both sides of the ball in camp.
Speaking of quarterbacks, even if Lock is a bit of a roller coaster, all news suggests, he’s having a markedly better camp than Kevin Hogan, who’s at risk of falling behind Brett Rypien in the QB pecking order. The question has moved from “is Hogan QB2?” to “Is he more than a camp arm?”
Austin Fort has to be considered a big-time surprise at this point. At least one week in, all reports have suggested he’s been the Broncos most consistent receiving tight end. Without any idea as to most of the routes he’s running, I’d still advise you to keep your expectations muted. But he’s gone from long shot to a potential contender for the active roster. That’s big.
Langley, Benson and Jackson were three I expected to compete through special teams. On the first few days of camp, both Langley and Jackson got some gushing reports from Benjamin Allbright, especially with Langley making the biggest catch in the first practice. Benson has been rotating in with the first team offense the last few days and got some love from 9News’ Mike Klis. All three are exciting athletes who have continued to flash with the pads on.
As of now, I’d say Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, and Juwann Winfree look like locks for the receiver room. As I laid out here, it would be a huge shock if the Broncos don’t carry 6 receivers. Very early, but if Langley and Benson keep this up, could it be seven?
One thing Andrew Mason and Ryan Edwards mentioned last night that shouldn’t be ignored is how Booker may not be a lock for the final roster. It’s worth keeping up with, as Booker’s in the final year of his deal. I’ve mentioned before if Freeman and Lindsay can grow as receivers and one of the younger backs shines, it’d threaten Book. It sure sounds like that is the case. The one thing that makes it a bit hard to cut him is Jackson and Lindsay’s size. They are both shy of 200 pounds.
While I’m on the backs, I can’t help but think reflect on what I said in the offseason about how Freeman could get the starting nod. It will probably come down to the hot hand and what sets Scangarello and the Broncos use to open games. They will almost certainly split duties more evenly than what happened in 2018.
One reason I’m holding onto this belief is what Scangarello said over the weekend:
“Royce and Lindsay are perfect complements,” Scangarello said Sunday. “It kind of reminds me of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in Atlanta. They [have] different skill sets, they’re both talented in their own way, they’ll both be able to [use] their strengths so they can be the best players they can be. Royce is big, he’s physical in pass protection. That’s a big deal in the NFL, that durability that comes with it. As far as running the football in the scheme, they both can do it. One’s just probably going to do it with a little bit more physicality and the other’s going to make you miss.”
Barclay is a name most haven’t noticed. He’s a reserve lineman who spent the majority of his career with the Green Bay Packers. So far in camp he’s been the guard rotating in most often as the coaching staff eases Ron Leary back into work.
While we’re talking about the offensive line, Elijah Wilkinson got praise by name from Rich Scangarello on Sunday. It sparked a bit of a stir in some corners of the local media. 104.3 The Fan discussed at length when Bolles would get benched for the undrafted Wilkinson Monday morning.
If Fangio wanted to send a message, throwing Wilkinson out with the 1s at some point in the next couple weeks could serve as a shock to the 2017 first-round pick. Perhaps, the praise for Wilkinson is because he’s improved, though. Adam Gotsis seemed to think so:
Eli’s really good. He has heavy hands, good feet. If he gets those paws on you, he’s going to lock you down. It’s been awesome to watch him grow from when he came in as a rookie as well. He’s just gotten better, better and better. He ended up playing a bunch of games for us last year, did awesome. Came in, stepped up when ‘Big Ron’ [Leary] went out and did awesome. It’s exciting to see Eli and what he’s going to do this year. He’s a hell of a football player.”
For a big chunk of the first week, there wasn’t much news about Hamilton. That changed the last two days when he had two different one-handed catches. KOA’s Ryan Edward’s mentioned that, “the one guy I haven’t said much about drops is DaeSean Hamilton,” and goes on to say how consistent he’s been. This is a really good thing when you look at who he’s been up against.
I’ve given Juwann Winfree a bit of the same treatment I did with Courtland Sutton last year. There’s been more than a handful of tweets out of camp remarking at this grab or that grab, but little in the way of who he was snagging these passes on. Then came Day 3.
Then he hit Winfree down the left sideline past Bryce Callahan and Kareem Jackson for a 41-yard completion that was the offense’s longest gain of the day.
I’m paying attention now.
- Isaac Yiadom looks poised to make a jump in year 2.
- Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson look like the safeties.
- Justin Simmons is heading towards a breakout year.
- Fangio is rotating everyone at the LB spot Davis’ injury left open.
- DeMarcus Walker had a good practice. Really, he did.
- Tip picks have been a huge part of camp so far.
- Malik Reed has earned praise almost every day.
- Von Miller and Bradley Chubb look great. Hardly surprising, still welcome.
- The D has dominated the O.
I continue to preach. Isaac Yiadom is going to be a player for the #Broncos this year. He may be the biggest beneficiary of Fangio.— Ronnie Kohrt (@RonnieKRadio) July 22, 2019
I’ll be the first to admit Kareem Jackson at safety has been a bit of a shock, even after all the reports out of OTAs. Having watched both Parks and Yiadom’s 2018, I would have thought it made more sense to get Parks onto the field and keep Yiadom as a reserve this season. Kudos to the Broncos 2018 third-round pick for seeming to make a big jump and earning Fangio’s and Ed Donatell’s trust so far. I hope he can keep it up.
Justin Simmons is getting a lot of hype as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new defense. I’m buying it after taking a close look at him last month. Under Fangio, he should play a lot more high safety, which will give him opportunities to work as the robber, a role he looked like an All-Pro at last season.
I wrote late last week how DeMarcus Walker’s skillset is a better fit as a defensive tackle (a 2i or 3 technique, more specifically) rather than the 3-4 defensive end he played for Vance Joseph last year. Then he went out and had the best practice of his career, per reports. Don’t throw dirt on him yet.
One of the things that has been a consistent story line the last couple of days is how dominant the D has been over the O. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen Broncos football the last couple of seasons. I’d be a lot more concerned if it was the other way around because A) the Broncos’ best chance will be to win through their defense, and B) offense tends to be slower to come around in camp.
Bausby looks good. He'll be CB4 https://t.co/dPq6KIforj— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) July 22, 2019
Your Broncos news
I took a very early stab at which players will stay and which will go. Here is my first 53-man Denver Broncos roster projection.
Day 4 of Broncos camp has concluded. Here is how it went.
As Rich Scangarello mentioned in my Q&A with him today, Mike Munchak clearly has had a significant role in developing the Broncos' offense. (Why wouldn't he?)https://t.co/Ty7qW3qQ7I pic.twitter.com/fRfSwd9miz— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) July 21, 2019
The Broncos’ first-round pick has shown some rookie mistakes but after some harsh words from his peers, had a better day on Sunday.
Here are the news and notes from day 3 of Broncos camp.
The middle linebacker known as “The Mayor” is looking to become the latest undrafted success story in Denver.
He looked good today. Ran with the ones. https://t.co/KiT3qnYnoD— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) July 21, 2019
The position battles could get interesting very quickly.
Andrew Mason said that Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Vic Fangio’s defense could produce 32 sacks this season.
In 2018, he continued to showcase his versatility and made the 53-man roster seeing time at both guard and tackle in camp. That versatility would be called upon mid-way through the season as Wilkinson was thrown into the starting lineup at right guard after Matt Paradis went down with an injury in Houston. As a result, Wilkinson played almost 50 percent of the offensive snaps in 2018 and started the final seven regular season games at right guard.
Could a coaching change help DeMarcus Walker find a home in Vic Fangio’s defense?
Every training camp sees a fan favorite underdog QB. Brett Rypien has the makings of being the guy if he gets a decent chance.
“I just think guys have to practice,’’ Fangio said. “The only way you get better is to practice, get more reps. One thing you all need to keep in mind, too, is there are 90 guys out there. Although we’re out there a long time, there’s nobody getting more than maybe a third of the reps. So individually, it’s not that long other than being out there.
“I got a great coach here, one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life,” Miller said. “We have great leadership here but he’s an outside linebacker guy. He’s coached a lot of great ones. I wanna be his greatest product yet. It’s the little things, like coach Fangio says. When you really focus on the little things it turns into a change of game. It turns into a whole different athlete. I bought into that. I bought into my outside linebackers coach as well, coach Staley. He stays up super late thinking about how to make me better . . . I can really appreciate that. I bought into whatever those coaching points that they give me.”
Good news for Von Miller: He has more sacks before turning 30 than all-time sacks leader Bruce Smith had before turning 30. Bad news for Von Miller: Bruce Smith had 92 sacks before turning 30 . . . and 108 after turning 30.
Phillip Lindsay averaged more yards before contact than any other RB in the NFL in 2018. He doesn’t get much credit for this. But, his vision, footwork efficiency and sudden acceleration often turn 5 yd runs into untouched 40 yd TDs. pic.twitter.com/T6VYt1WzmJ— J Moyer (@JMoyerFB) June 3, 2019
The Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP)Matt Waldman’s RSP Cast Ep.78: Running Backs and New Schemes with J Moyer
Should we be considering Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman a dangerous 1-2 punch with a near split in volume?
Most important position battle: Tight end.
For three consecutive springs, the Broncos have drafted a tight end -- starting with Jake Butt in the fifth round in 2017, continuing with Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round in 2018 and concluding with Noah Fant’s selection in the first round this past April. Denver’s competition at tight end will span from the starting role to the last roster spot at the position.
Fant, who hauled in 18 touchdown catches combined over his last two seasons at Iowa, showcases 4.50 speed, and if he doesn’t start in Week 1, it would seem as if it’s only a matter of time before the job is his. Nonetheless, Jeff Heuerman signed a two-year deal in March following a 10-start 2018 campaign. Opportunity came Heuerman’s way after Butt, who was off to a solid start to the season, was injured. Fumagalli spent his rookie season on IR. Thus, the tight end situation with the Broncos has been marked by injuries and revolving doors. The reality of it is, there’s plenty of depth at the position, but Fant should speed away from the pack.
”I wasn’t banking on my technique, I was just wanting to make plays,” Patrick said. “Being able to do that with no technique gave me so much confidence going into the offseason to work on my technique. And if I do that then it’s going to be really hard to stop me.”
”I watched [film] then went back through the playbook and tried to time up my footwork with the routes and the different plays,” Lock said.
You don’t trade for a 34-year-old veteran to facilitate a rebuilding project. That move seems to be designed to try to win now, with the always-competitive Elway feeling the pressure to try to avoid a third straight losing season. If that’s the standard we’re judging this team by, then 2019 is likely to be another highly disappointing year. The failures of the last two seasons have cost a head coach, two offensive coordinators, and four quarterbacks their jobs. There aren’t many scapegoats left, and one more poor season might well put even a franchise legend like Elway on the hot seat.
If the Broncos truly are that impressed with Wilkinson, then the clock is ticking much faster on Bolles than anyone expected. As Vin Fangio said after practice, the key to Denver’s offense is the line giving Flacco time to throw.
.@Broncos @champbailey v @steelers @AB84 This is how “an elite break on the ball” is supposed to look. Champ in his 15th season with elite suddenness #ClinicTime. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Bmye5dM3V2— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) July 20, 2019
A look around the rest of the West
A story that began more than four months ago has now reached its apparent conclusion
The NFL announced this week that Tyreek Hill will not be suspended after a thorough investigation into accusations of child abuse. Mina Kimes, Dan, Stu, and Mike discuss the decision to not penalize Hill.— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) July 21, 2019
The NFL followed the lead of local authorities, choosing not to discipline Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill when he wasn’t charged with a crime. But the audio recording, in which Hill threatens his fiancée, should have been enough to suspend him under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
I know domestic violence cases are difficult & sensitive. But the wildly different outcomes of NFL investigations without much public explanation give the impression to players & fans the discipline is random & arbitrary. True or not, it's a bad look and the NFL has to fix it.— Judy Battista (@judybattista) July 22, 2019
After news came on Friday that the NFL would not suspend the wide receiver in 2019, attention immediate turned to what comes next
Tyreek Hill has earned less than $2M his first three years in the league and is scheduled to make $2M this season. A discounted extension would, again, be a situation where the Chiefs benefit from Hill's behavior https://t.co/M6KeAfreRd— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) July 19, 2019
Given the spectacle this ordeal has been dating back to Hill’s initial selection by the Chiefs in 2016, it’s fair to wonder if any new deal would have to include financial protections for the team if Hill runs into future legal issues.
Best estimate for Tyreek Hill's free agency value the next two seasons based on projected WAR is $25-30M/yr.— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) July 19, 2019
Hill's top-4 comps: pic.twitter.com/org4rMZYPj
The NFL’s in-house justice system is deeply flawed, for a variety of reasons. One of the most important reasons is this: It often has no power to get the evidence needed to properly investigate incidents involving players.
Since the NFL is unlikely to suspend wide receiver Tyreek Hill, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Kansas City Chiefs should have their top wideout from Week 1.
Between Hill, Sammy Watkins, rookie second-round pick Mecole Hardman and tight end Travis Kelce, opposing defenses should have their hands full. What could burn opponents, though, is forgetting about fourth-year wideout Demarcus Robinson. He was rarely a first or even a second option in 2018, but he still put up respectable numbers: 22 receptions, 288 yards and four touchdowns. He could be in line for even more production this season.
Friday’s analysis of what to expect from Chiefs training camp makes some solid points, but misses on some key details
Mahomes left a fair number of big-play opportunities on the table. The first half of the regular-season loss to the Patriots comes to mind as a place where Mahomes narrowly missed scores. He more than made up for the misses, of course, but it’s scary to say that there might even be more chances for him to make magic happen in 2019.
The Chargers possess one of the most promising rosters in the league, especially following the 2019 NFL Draft, but the offensive line continues to be a headache. The group surrendered a quarterback pressure on 30.8% of dropbacks which ranked 25th in the league in 2018. For an offensive line that saw four players earn sub-62.0 grades, it has to finally be the time to give Forrest Lamp, 2017 second-round pick, the chance he deserves.
RBs with over 15 rush att in 10+ games:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 22, 2019
Oakland Raiders front seven
Which statistical oddity is more embarrassing: 1) The Raiders could have doubled their 2018 sack total (13) and still would’ve finished last with room to spare; or 2) six NFL players had more sacks than the entire Oakland roster?
Although new GM Mike Mayock did address his biggest need with the selection of Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall, the rest of the acquisitions inspire little confidence up front. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall were deemed a step (or three) slow in Cincinnati and Denver, respectively. Former Cardinals defensive ends Josh Mauro and Benson Mayowa have combined for seven sacks over the past two years. Mayock will need at least one more loaded draft class before he can weed out the progress stoppers on defense.
Training camp is where it all begins. So what actually happens on the first day? Let me explain, step by step.
This graphic from @friscojosh's recents article is so great, because it tells us two things at a time:— Moo (@PFF_Moo) July 19, 2019
1. The "Rushing causes wins"-analysis is flawed, because run rate depends on game status (win probability).
2. After accounting for win probability, winners pass more often. pic.twitter.com/xFQRKCLOqm
A couple familiar names make this list.
James Holzhauer, the man who dominated Jeopardy this year, also applies his brainpower to betting on sports. And he has a tip he’s willing to give away publicly heading into this football season: Don’t bet on the Browns to win the Super Bowl.
PFT 2019 storyline No. 4: How will the Steelers perform without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell? – ProFootballTalk
The Steelers didn’t make it to a single Super Bowl with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell both on the roster. Now, they’ll try to get there with neither of them.
Jets running back Le’Veon Bell frequently posts on social media about the way he spends his free time, which includes making music and playing basketball. Like most celebrities, he gets a fair amount of criticism from trolls. It appears that Bell takes that criticism personally.
Washington will have a new a couple of new quarterbacks under center when the team reports to training camp. Neither of them will have his best chance at blind-side protection.
Michel can be activated at any time and is not expected in danger of missing the beginning of the season. The second-year running back had his knee scoped earlier this offseason but has reportedly been making progress since. Michel’s knee troubles go back years and will remain a concern for the rest of his career. The rushing touchdown upside keeps him in play as an RB2, but rookie RB Damien Harris is a name to know.
On the Michael Thomas contract talks: Sources say the #Saints have offered a deal averaging between $18-$19 million a year. Thomas would like to be the first $20 million wideout in the #NFL. A $20 mil per year average w/ the right structure/guarantees would likely get it done.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) July 23, 2019
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is expected to be sidelined about three weeks with a thumb injury, sources told ESPN.
Giants are bringing in veteran free-agent safety Jonathan Cyprien for a visit today, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 22, 2019
The Colts re-signed several of their own players in free agency this offseason and General Manager Chris Ballard has talked about the possibility of extending the contracts of other pending free agents before the start of the 2019 season.
Something to keep in mind when you're tempted to point to volume as an indicator of effectiveness.— Josh Hermsmeyer (@friscojosh) July 22, 2019
This is basically the universal picture with rushing efficiency. pic.twitter.com/GeEbnbZRY6
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott still has not decided whether or not he will hold out or show up when veterans report to training camp on Friday, according to Ian Rapoport.
The big risk for Dallas here is that it can clog up their salary cap especially down the line and put the team at a competitive disadvantage. One of the reasons that the draft is so important to teams is that it gives them the ability to find cheap, productive talent at premium positions like quarterback, cornerback, and edge rusher. The lower costs spent on those players helps open a window to take risks elsewhere in free agency where you can justify paying a Sammy Watkins type player a large premium simply because you have a built in benefit of a $30+ million QB playing for $4 million a year. Once you make the switch to the veteran contract for that player that pays a market rate that luxury vanishes and your margin for error is not as large.
The #Lions have placed big-ticket free agent pass-rusher Trey Flowers on the PUP list.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 22, 2019
After several months of negotiations, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to a deal with rookie linebacker Devin White, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the team announced Saturday.
One former Seahawk who remains a free agent I'm hearing the team could have interest in? D-tackle Athyba Rubin. Didn't play last season after biceps injury in preseason while with Raiders. Will be 33 when season starts. Obviously, would be a low-risk deal if it happens.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) July 8, 2019
Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Jarran Reed has been suspended six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Like the Steelers with defensive backs, the Broncos couldn’t develop Lynch into anything worth a damn -- so much so that Lynch spent the 2018 season out of football all together.
LSU S Grant Delpit: 200-1 Grant Delpit might be one of the top three players in this entire draft class, but that doesn’t mean you should bet on him to go No. 1 overall.
Hayden Winks projects where the 2020 quarterbacks will be drafted. Plus notes on Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm and other prospects.
Hayden Winks projects where the 2020 running backs will be drafted. Plus notes on D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, and other prospects.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Days that Shea Patterson, the current starter, and highly recruited No. 2 QB Dylan McCaffrey could split time this season.
Best 2020 draft position groups (so far...it’s July):— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 22, 2019