One of the tougher parts of cutting a list like the MVB is the internal debate between what a player brings to the snaps he plays vs. his role and overall positional value. Even with things like PFF’s WAR rating, it’s more art than science. This week I went back and forth on a couple of the players trying to sort it out.
If you missed the opening post of the series, the link is here.
Last week’s post is here.
As will be the case all throughout, I’m considering three criteria as I rank the players:
1. What do I expect them to bring to the roster going forward?
2. Positional value
3. Salary compared to both past and expected future performance
36. Jeremiah Attaochu - Edge
At this time last year Jeremiah Attaochu was learning Steve Spagnuolo’s defense after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs in April. He didn’t make the final roster and found himself out of football for the month of September before Elway and the Broncos signed him after Bradley Chubb suffered a season ending injury.
He was signed with the hope that he’d provide solid depth and more beef at the point of attack than Malik Reed and Justin Hollins. He did just that while also finding his way to 437 snaps, and he didn’t log less than 50% of the Broncos’ defensive snaps across the final final six games.
Fangio thought enough of him that he was resigned in March for $1.5 million and $500,000 guaranteed against being cut. The move hints that Attaochu’s place on the 2020 roster is pretty secure barring a huge slip in play and also suggests the plan for Justin Hollins going into his sophomore season may be more off-ball backer than edge.
35. Malik Reed - Edge
Last summer I highlighted Malik Reed as the Broncos’ rookie free agent most likely to become the Phillip Lindsay of the 2019 season.
It probably wasn’t fair to put those kind of expectations on the Nevada product, but he did his best to deliver. After making the initial roster and finding his way to playing time, the early signs were promising, especially his first game against the Chargers and the Cleveland Browns’ contest.
He hit a rookie wall and lost playing time to Hollins and Attaochu down the stretch, but I remain optimistic that an offseason to get stronger and refine his pass rush repertoire could help him take a step forward. 23 until August, his best football should be ahead of him and he’s under contract through 2022.
34. Duke Dawson - Cornerback
This feels low for Dawson, but going back over my notes from the season it certainly feels like he’s going to need to make a big jump forward. After coming to the Broncos via trade, he found his way to playing time in the Jaguars game but was pushed to the bench after the beatdown in Buffalo. Jeff Essary made a good point on Cover 2 Broncos about the fact since that he never got a full offseason or even training camp to learn the Fangio defense he could make real strides this year.
The big question I keep coming back to is “what role he’ll carve for himself on this year’s roster?” If Bryce Callahan returns to his 2018 form, the starting nickel position will be locked up, and Dawson didn’t play boundary cornerback or safety last year. Maybe he can, but it’s a a projection. My hope is to dive back into his tape a little later this summer, but for now I’d say the jury remains out.
33. Trey Marshall - Defensive Back
At least for me, Marshall serves as a reminder to trust Fangio when it comes to defensive backs. When the Broncos dumped Su’a Cravens, Dymonte and Shamarko Thomas at the end of last year’s preseason for Marshall I was dumbfounded. He looked like the worst of the bunch from what I could make out from the broadcast tape. When Kareem Jackson was suspended the final two games of the year for a DUI, I worried about the safety position.
Outside of the Kenny Golladay reception where Fangio left him in a no-win situation, Marshall performed admirably with his opportunity. Clearly the Broncos agree for they did nothing to address the depth behind Jackson and Justin Simmons, unless Michael Ojemudia winds up at safety.
32. Mike Purcell - Nose Tackle
How much value can you place on a top notch run stuffer who plays 39% of snaps and does close to nothing as a pass rusher? That’s been on my mind for the last couple weeks as I tried to place Purcell, a fan favorite in some circles while simultaneously working his way back to the NFL from the Salt Lake City Stallions a year ago.
Those who want to argue for his value will point out that adding him to the starting lineup is what elevated the entire defense, which is a bit of a misconception. He was a key cog out of the Broncos’ base 3-4, but because he is a non-factor against the pass Fangio elected to take him off the field for most nickel personnel until injuries along the defensive line became a factor. As I pointed out in my film study on Alexander Johnson, the linebacker change was the biggest reason for Denver’s defense making a jump after Chubb’s injury.
Fangio and Elway liked Purcell enough to pay him $3,259,000 in 2020. Adding Jurrell Casey, McTelvin Agim, and Christian Covington shouldn’t directly harm his role either. When the Broncos are in their heavier personnel packages, big 98 will man the middle and wreck the run.
31. Jeff Driskel - Quarterback
If Jeff Driskel never plays a single regular season snap for the Denver Broncos I’ll be happy. His positional value gives him a big bump, but if you get a chance to work through his film from last season you’ll find a player who locks onto his primary read and has scattershot accuracy past 10 yards. If he sees time, the hope has to be Pat Shurmur can push his development like he did Case Keenum and weaponize his mobility enough to keep the offense afloat.
In signing Driskel over more established players like Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, the Broncos made it clear Drew Lock will be the starter in 2019. Many argue that quarterback isn’t like most positions and real competition is as likely to become a locker room disruption as it is to help anyone. This belief follows that because the media attention, a lack of a clear QB1 pushes every teammate to take sides and harms the whole offense.
The good news with Driskel is that Lock would have to fall flat on his face to worry about losing his job to him. The good-bad news is if Lock winds up being a bust or gets knocked out for a significant length of time, the Broncos will wind up at the top of the draft once again.
One of the underrated things King brought up that I wonder if #Broncos fans have thought about:— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 4, 2020
With the way the season is moving towards starting every team will need to prepare for a plan if "X" got COVID. Let's say it's Lock. We're getting 2+ weeks of Driskel. pic.twitter.com/XWu5mVREms
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Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Kaepernick is in great shape, and he wants to play. And he is “more motivated to play than ever” to the NFL. It will be interesting, and probably not coincidental, if other reporters and analysts begin pushing this same theory. But few players end up with a bigger platform when, you know, not playing. Regardless, Kaepernick wants to play. No opinions from the AP or anyone else, whether crafted organically or with a nudge from someone with the league office or a team, will change that.