If you missed the start of the 2020 Most Valuable Bronco series last week, the link 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
42. Josey Jewell - Linebacker
I recently finished a film study on Alexander Johnson and the impact he had on the Broncos’ defense once he was inserted into the starting lineup. While the shift Fangio made with Johnson also included Shelby Harris sliding out from the nose, Mike Purcell being activated, and Kareem Jackson taking safety duties from Will Parks, Johnson looked like the biggest upgrade over the previous starters.
This may be a disappointment to those who continue to have faith that “the Outlaw” can find his footing and turn into a viable starting linebacker, but after watching the Packer and Jaguar games recently, it’s really clear he lacks the athleticism to be more than an average backup. Some will point to Todd Davis as another backer lacking foot speed who has found success, but he’s a better player in coverage and at the point of attack in part because he processes the game at a much faster level.
Going into 2020, Jewell will likely fight with Josh Watson, Joseph Jones, Justin Strnad, and Justin Hollins to settle in as the number three backer. Right now I have him as the winner of that group, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he finds himself pushed down the depth chart as the younger players make a jump.
41. Nick Vannett - Tight End
The signing of Nick Vannett a year after extending Jeff Heuerman and drafting Noah Fant is what happens when a team churns through offensive coordinators. Like Heuerman, Vannett’s value comes from his ability as a blocker and serving as a fourth or even fifth option in the passing game. Where they differ is that Heuerman is a better blocker on zone style runs while Vannett is better at downblocks. Giving him a 2-year, $5.7 million deal is a sign Pat Shurmur intends to run more gap style plays in 2020 than Rich Scangarello did.
When Nick Vannett down blocks or has a guy head up him, he looks solid. Just about everything else has been an adventure so far. pic.twitter.com/2VweAZIKeW— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 23, 2020
40. Christian Covington - Defensive Line
The former Cowboy and Texans’ defensive tackle came over to Denver for a $1.5 million contract this year. The move happened late enough in the off-season for it to slip beneath many radars, but a $625 thousand guarantee hints at what Fangio and the Broncos think of his talents.
Watch a few snaps from 2019 and it’s easy to see why he makes sense as an upgrade to the rotation. He’s capable of playing snaps from the three to the one in nickel situations, is solid at the point of attack, and seems capable of stalemating double teams while also showing the lateral mobility to be a viable option on games. I don’t think he’s about to break out as a 10-sack kind of player, but he better protects the defense against another run of injuries on the front line.
39. Albert Okwuegbanam - Tight End
The hype machine has already gotten heated up about how Okwuegbanam’s athleticism and chemistry with Drew Lock will give the Broncos one of the most dangerous tight end duos in the league in a year or so. If everything goes to plan that could very well happen, and Shurmur’s second most utilized personnel grouping is 12, which features two tight ends.
After watching Noah Fant’s roller coaster rookie season, it feels necessary to remind Broncos’ Country that it isn’t fair to expect a whole lot out of the former Tiger in 2020. If he earns the number three spot and gets in for Nick Vannett here and there with a couple flashes, I’ll be happy.
38. Elijah Wilkinson – Offensive Line
37. Garett Bolles - Left Tackle
I’d say if Wilkinson winds up beating out Bolles for the starting left tackle spot, I’d retroactively flip their spots on this list. After studying his film for a recent GIF Horse, I do find that unlikely, barring a complete lack of work ethic by the former first rounder.
Do you think Garett Bolles is worried about Elijah Wilkinson stealing his job? pic.twitter.com/cxz6mdF5Y9— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) April 30, 2020
The most likely scenario is something similar to what happened last year with Garett Bolles starting and Wilkinson serving as the swing tackle and backing up both spots, as well as serving as depth for the interior.
Bolles’ spot is about as low as I can feasibly place a starter and I’m sure some of his most ardent defenders will take issue with that. After all, Jeff Essary and I just spoke with Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus on Cover 2 Broncos about why he’s the Broncos’ most underrated player. In the end, I believe his limitations and consistently poor technique in true pass sets and expiring contract hurt his overall value.
The latter isn’t necessarily his fault, but consider this: if Bolles makes a leap in his fourth NFL season, Elway’s decision to decline Bolles’ fifth year option means the Broncos would need to lock him up in a long term deal or see him hit the market in 2021. So “best” case scenario, the 2017 first round bust shows enough promise to extend him a second contract that will take him into his 30’s, while the worst case scenario is he remains the penalty-prone bookend that the team has to scheme around this season.
Them: Garett Bolles only had one holding call once Drew Lock entered the lineup.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 8, 2020
Me: Well... pic.twitter.com/AYawaUrFjy
Chances are left tackle will be a huge priority next off-season.
Your Broncos’ Links
We’re getting this series going again with all of the games from 2013-2019. Here is where we left off.
Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus discusses his rating of Garret Bolles’ as Denver’s most underrated player, as well as a deep dive into the PFF grading system.
How good can the Broncos’ middle linebacker become?
Broncos corner Duke Dawson sat down with Broncos Country Tonight to discuss how the offseason is going so far.
The MHR Radio Podcast discusses the QBs that Lock can learn from, a developmental league, and a little more.
The Mizzou product has a unique advantage. It’s up to him to seize it, though.
Could the long shot safety be a dark horse for a roster spot?
Denver’s rookie alphabet soup continues with the talented 5th round linebacker out of Wake Forest.
Jake Butt talks candidly about protests, coming together as a team, improving on offense - Mile High Report
The third-year tight end talked with Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright about the state of the team and locker room amidst the ‘challenging’ times.
If society reflected Fangio’s team itself — 53 people from disparate ethnic, geographic and sociopolitical backgrounds working toward a common goal, then, yes. Fangio is spot-on; it would be great.
But the NFL itself?
“After reflecting on my comments yesterday and listening to the players this morning, I realize what I said regarding racism and discrimination in the NFL was wrong. While I have never personally experienced those terrible things first-hand during my 33 years in the NFL, I understand that many players, coaches and staff have different perspectives. I should have been more more clear and I am sorry.”
“Right now, we won’t be on the field until training camp,” Fangio said Tuesday. “If that changes between now and then, then we will adjust.”
The rise of trips formations and how NFL teams scheme against it in Cover 3 | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
The mastery of the Cover 3 techniques against trips formations is tantamount to success in the NFL right now. Although we may be at the start of the quarters revolution in the NFL, we are not quite there yet. Playing one-high zone means teams must protect the seams schematically, but it also means teams have to find players who can do that. If teams want to play Cover 3, they need a Will linebacker who can run, a couple of corners who can play man and a free safety with range. The second a defense loads the box with the extra run defender in the form of a spun down safety, the offense will attack it vertically. NFL defenses need people and ways to stop it.
“The God that I believe in, the Jesus that I believe in has sacrificed for us all, and I think at the end of the day, for me, I want to love like Jesus did,” Wilson said in a conference call, via video from Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “I want to be able to care like Jesus did. Hopefully, . . . our family and everybody else that I can hopefully have an influence on will continue to grow with me and with us and everybody else. Like I said, I don’t want to talk about football. I think about the pain of George. I think about Ahmaud [Arbery]. I think about Breonna [Taylor]. I think about these people who have been murdered. It’s a lot of pain on my heart right now.”
“All I will say is this: We saw it. We watched how it unfolded,” Hicks said. “And we see that he doesn’t have a job now. This call isn’t to advocate for Kaep getting a job, but he did sacrifice his position for where he is now. His career was ended because of it, in my opinion.”
“I know that’s a big discussion,” Nagy said, via Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Whatever we end up doing together, it would be that [together]. What the players want to do, we’ll do. We’re gonna listen. We’ll talk through it. Then whatever we all decide to do, or they decide to do, we’ll do that. I know that we’ll do it together.”
“I love and respect my teammates, and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
“I’m afraid because I am very aware that my wealth and life achievements will not introduce me when confronted with police authority,” Jenkins writes. “Instead, my skin will do that. Then I am, simply, black.
“Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those men who fought as well for this country. I asked him question about it and thank him all the time for his commitment. He never found Kap peaceful protest offensive because he and I both know what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong!”