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How close is the Broncos’ roster to the Chiefs?

Can Denver close the gap in 2020?

For this week’s Cover 2 Broncos, Jeff Essary and I took a look at the Chiefs’ offense and how the Broncos could slow them down. As I dug into different aspect of Kansas City over the past few days, it got me wondering about the roster and moves each team made this offseason. Most agree that Elway had one of the best free agency and draft periods of any GM in the league, but was it enough?

I thought it made sense to take a look at how Denver stacks up against each unit on the Chiefs to get a general bearing. Keep in mind that I’m far more familiar with the Broncos’ personnel than Kansas City’s, and also that I’m in the middle of studying a few of the players before camp opens.

Denver’s D-line against the Kansas City O-line

This is the area where Jeff and I spent the most time focusing this week. As I watched Elway and Fangio’s offseason unfold, it was impossible to ignore how the Chiefs’ offense impacted their moves. Rather than add someone like a Jordan Phillips or Linval Joseph in free agency, the Broncos went out and traded for Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans. The Draft was just as surprising. I spent a lot of time looking at players who could eventually take over as a nose tackle or one technique type such as Leki Fotu and Elway brought in McTelvin Agim from Arkansas.

While Agim and especially Casey aren’t slouches in run defense, both make their money as interior disrupters first and foremost. Agim was asked to play the nose for the Razorbacks, but he’s at his best shooting gaps and wreaking havoc on opponents. I’m finishing a GIF Horse film study on Casey as I write this, but he had perhaps the most unique usage of any defensive lineman in the NFL last season.

Tennessee’s now retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees had Casey play up and down the line from outside the tackle to shaded over the center. On passing downs he routinely asked his defensive lineman to threaten the line as a standup rusher. His lateral mobility and quickness thrive in these situations and it helped Pees to weaponize him on stunts in order to create confusion for the opposing offensive line.

Where this is interesting to me is how the Broncos’ defensive front did not get substantially bigger. Derek Wolfe was 295, while Agim weighed in at 309 at the NFL Combine. As I said before, Casey is a really good run defender. I just expected Fangio to go out and find his next Eddie Goldman or Akiem Hicks and that did not occur, I believe Kanas City is why.

Pairing those two with Dre’Mont Jones and the returning Shelby Harris gives Denver a promising quartet of interior rushers out of Fangio’s nickel front. I’m curious to see how much more Fangio utilizes stunts this year as Jones, Agim, and Casey all have the quickness to really move down the line. Harris is no slouch either, and this could be a way to rush four and get Bradley Chubb and Von Miller one on one matchups against the Chiefs’ offensive line.

That’s going to be key. Mitchel Schwartz is the best right tackle in football, but the Broncos could have an advantage in one on one situations across the rest of the line. They need to find ways to take advantage and post-snap chaos helps throw a wrench at some of the ways Andy Reid and Pat Mahomes mitigates the offensive lineman’s individual limitations.

Advantage: Tilts Denver

The return of Bradley Chubb and Jurrell Casey should give Von a big boost.
The return of Bradley Chubb and Jurrell Casey should give Von a big boost.

Denver’s back seven against the Kansas City skill positions

Like the rest of the NFL, the Broncos are facing a rather glaring speed mismatch across the board here. Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Sammy Watkins are the fastest trio of wide receivers in football, and pair that athleticism with underrated hands and route running. You could make a decent argument that none are the true alpha in the receiving corps though, because the Chiefs’ best all-around threat is Travis Kelce. To that group comes LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who looked like the best running back in the 2020 NFL Draft and a dangerous receiver with the kind of phone booth quickness to make SEC defenders look stupid.

On this week’s Cover 2 Broncos Jeff and I talked at length about how the Broncos’ can deal with this group and what needs to happen in the secondary moving forward, so I won’t write a novel here. Let’s just be clear: It isn’t just Pat Mahomes that makes Reid’s aerial circus so dangerous.

Advantage: KC by a mile.

Kansas City’s D-line against the Denver O-line

Every member of the Broncos’ starting offensive line but Garett Bolles is different than when Mike Munchak was hired in 2019. At least on paper this group looks substantially better, but questions remain. Ja’Wuan James needs to prove he can get back to health, while Lloyd Cushenberry has to hit the ground running and beat Patrick Morris. If both can do that, Denver has a fighting chance here.

Chris Jones is the monster in the middle. Risner, Cush and Graham Glasgow will need to survive. The Chiefs also have their version of Mike Purcell in Mike Pennel, who played a key role in slowing down the Titans’ rushing attack in the AFC Championship game. They also bring back 2019 3rd round pick Khalen Saunders who should improve, as well as Alex Okafor and Derrick Nnadi. I know the narrative of late has been that the Chiefs line had no talent, but that simply isn’t the case.

I spent two weeks after the Draft studying Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson’s tape. Unless a Jason Peters or Kelvin Beachum is brought in, I do believe that the Broncos would be in the best possible shape if their first round bust does enough to win the job in 2020. Let there be no doubt: Frank Clark has a very clear advantage against either, but at least Bolles can better withstand his wide rushes.

Advantage: Tilts KC

Kansas City’s back seven against the Denver skill positions

If there’s one area where the Broncos can really surprise in 2020, it’s going to be here. Adding Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to the mix should eventually pay dividends. The questions is going to be how soon?

Adding the rookies to Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton should give Pat Shurmur the kind of athleticism he needs to run his full passing attack. If Drew Lock can make the jump with his first full (albeit COVID-19 cut) offseason, there are holes to exploit in the Chiefs’ secondary.

One of the reasons I was a bit relieved that Reid and the Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the NFL Draft is because they had Jaylon Johnson on the board. Bypassing a corner for a running back means they’ll bring back Charvarious Ward and Rashad Fenton. Despite his legal woes, I’ll assume Bashaud Breeland’s available to play until he isn’t. There’s a decent chance L’Jarius Sneed could find his way to playing time by the time Denver plays the rematch in December.

If the defense was still running Bob Sutton’s scheme from 2018 I’d say Sutton could roast the group as individually they aren’t all that impressive. As I predicted last year Steve Spagnuolo protects them with more zone coverage and leaning on Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill, who are among the most dangerous safety pairs in football.

Two additions that could have an underrated impact on these matchups is Denver bringing in Melvin Gordon and Kansas City drafting Willie Gay. Gordon should upgrade the Broncos’ pass protection when he’s kept in to block while Gay adds a level of dynamic athleticism to the second level the Chiefs haven’t had since Derrick Johnson.

Advantage: Let’s call it a push for now.

Your Broncos’ Links

How do the Denver Broncos stop the Kansas City Chiefs? - Mile High Report

Pray for a miracle isn’t a viable strategy.

Denver Broncos roster review: Rookie running back LeVante Bellamy - Mile High Report

Could the productive UDFA running back LeVante Bellamy make the Broncos final roster?

Undrafted receiver Kendall Hinton excited to join the Broncos - Mile High Report

Hinton is one of a trio of draft picks Denver made from Wake Forest.

Denver Broncos roster review: Cornerback Essang Bassey - Mile High Report

Can the undrafted cornerback from Wake Forest find his way onto the 2020 Broncos roster? Bassey certainly has the approach and attitude to make that happen.

Denver Broncos roster review: Defensive lineman McTelvin Agim - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos may have found a gem in late in the third round with interior pass rusher McTelvin Agim.

A.J. Bouyé getting in extra film work as he studies Broncos’ scheme from afar - Mile High Report

The new Broncos’ cornerback is ready to take Chris Harris Jr.’s place and be both a teacher and student to the guys he’s coming in to play with.

Why did Lloyd Cushenberry fall to Denver Broncos at #83 in NFL Draft? - Mile High Report

To find out, I reached out to And The Valley Shook’s Stephen Baker to talk more about new Denver Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry.

Melvin Gordon: Chargers’ offense didn’t play to my strengths

“It really didn’t play out to my strengths, especially the first couple years there,” Gordon said. “I kind of just had to adjust and make it work. It kind of wasn’t a system built for me. But I feel like Denver kinda runs my style of football, and I think it’s a great fit.”

“They run a lot of inside zones, and that’s what I did a lot at Wisconsin,” Gordon said. “It’s going to really help me get back in the feel of what I do best. I’m an inside-zone runner.”

Broncos believe KJ Hamler can fix drops if he’s willing to ‘do the work’ - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN

The Broncos landed one of the draft’s fastest receivers when they took Hamler, who struggled some with drops during his final season at Penn State.

NFL Links

Fan-free season could spark $5.5 billion loss for NFL - ProFootballTalk

It’s unclear whether and to what extent games will be played without fans. It’s possible that some states will allow stadiums to be open, and that others won’t. It’s also possible that medical advances in the coming weeks and months (such as a greater understanding of what it means to test positive for coronavirus antibodies) will make it easier to open stadiums and invite fans at low or no risk for developing COVID-19.

Any money lost in 2020 will potentially affect the 2021 salary cap. As recently explained, however, the league and the union set the annual spending limit via negotiation, and it’s possible that the two sides will agree to, for example, borrow against future salary caps in order to keep the 2021 cap at or near where it otherwise would have been.

South Korean immunity research holds promise for the NFL - ProFootballTalk

A South Korean study, featured as the lead item on Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, suggests that persons who have had the coronavirus (and thus who test positive for its antibodies) cannot get sick from the virus again — and cannot pass it to others.

If that research can be confirmed, it becomes a huge step both for playing the 2020 NFL regular-season and postseason games and doing so in stadiums filled with fans. Anyone who has tested positive for the antibodies quite possibly would be able to attend football games without fear of catching or spreading the virus.

Patriots extend Patrick Chung - ProFootballTalk

There’s a good chance that the 32-year-old Chung won’t actually play out the full term of that contract, or that it will be renegotiated. In fact, this is the third consecutive offseason that the Patriots and Chung have agreed to a new deal.

Dave Toub not sure how much returning Mecole Hardman will be doing - ProFootballTalk

Toub said on a Tuesday conference call that a bigger offensive role for Hardman may limit his availability for the kicking game. “I’m not sure about Hardman. I don’t want to lose him. I think he’s just scratched the surface as a returner,” Toub said, via James Palmer of NFL Media.