As we enter the lull in the offseason after rookie minicamp and before summer training camp, we now have a good guess at what Denver's 53-man roster will look like come late August.
Of course, the hype surrounding the Broncos this year is the highest it has been since the Manning days because of the additions of quarterback Russell Wilson and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett.
This team has legitimate expectations now. Even in a stacked AFC West, the Denver Broncos have a lot to prove with their new signal caller. Given these lofty expectations, some players will be under more pressure to perform than others. Here are the five Broncos with the most to prove in the 2022 season:
5. Russell Wilson, QB
Kind of a gimme here, but Wilson just being in Denver is not enough. Thinking of the infamous quarterback carousel of the last several seasons, it is up to Wilson to prove that he is different from the rest. We know what he has been over the course of his career thus far, but he needs to show that he's worth all the hype.
Ever since he's been acquired, Denver has begun to receive more and more recognition from the national media and it looks like people are beginning to realize how good this Denver team can be. It really is up to Russ to make sure that happens.
4. Michael Ojemudia, CB
Ojemudia was drafted by John Elway in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. After a promising rookie season in which he started 11 games and allowed one of the lowest completion percentages among rookie corners, Ojemudia missed all but two games of the 2021 season due to injury.
Since he has been drafted, Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and K'Waun Williams have been added to the corner room ahead of Ojemudia. Bleacher Report recently named Ojemudia as the "best" Bronco likely to be cut before the season starts, but I wouldn't be so sure. Behind the three starters and Ojemudia, there is virtually no depth at corner. On top of that, Darby's injury concerns are well documented, and Williams is more of a slot corner than a boundary corner.
If Darby is to miss any time next season, Ojemudia will be the next man up. Anytime he sees the field will essentially be a tryout for his future in Denver. If Ojemudia performs well enough, Denver could save some money by cutting Darby after the 2022 season and inserting Ojemudia as the starter opposite Surtain.
3. Javonte Williams, RB
Williams had plenty of highlight runs last season en route to 903 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie. Williams also broke 31 tackles, most in the league, while having 100 less carries than the next-best (Najee Harris with 30). He did all this while splitting carries with Melvin Gordon.
So what exactly does Williams have to prove?
No matter how good Williams performs, plenty of Broncos fans have been vocal about their disagreement with Denver trading up in the second round to grab him. Running back is not seen as a "premium" position and that very likely was a poor use of draft capital.
Additionally, the talk was that Williams was primed to be one of the top running backs in the league with the backfield all to himself since Melvin Gordon was a free agent after 2021 ended. Then, George Paton decided to bring Gordon back on a cheap deal. It's unlikely Gordon will take away a significant amount of carries from "J-Dubs," but it will be interesting to see how Coach Hackett utilizes the two backs.
There is of course the concern too with the scheme change. Coach Hackett and the Broncos will roll out more of a zone scheme with their rushing attack. This brings about more questions surrounding Williams and if he has good enough vision and awareness to succeed in a zone scheme.
If he can though, then Denver will have one of the top young running backs in the league.
2. Bradley Chubb, EDGE
Chubb has played well for Denver since being drafted fifth overall in 2018; when he's healthy. After starting all 16 games as a rookie and registering 12 sacks, Chubb has only appeared in 25 out of a possible 49 games since due to ACL and ankle injuries. Still, George Paton elected to pick up Chubb's fifth-year option because of his ability to produce when healthy. Chubb made the pro bowl in the 2020-21 season.
Even though his option was picked up, a long-term extension is far from guaranteed. In fact, the Broncos drafted Nik Bonnito out of Oklahoma in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Bonnito could just be insurance in case Chubb or Gregory miss time next season, but he also could be Chubb's replacement should Denver elect to move on.
1. Jerry Jeudy, WR
Jeudy's time in Denver has been full of ups and downs. As a rookie in 2020, Jeudy recorded 52 catches for 856 yards and three touchdowns while making a name for himself as one of the best route runners in the league. Then, his production dropped as a sophomore to the tune of 38 catches, 467 yards and no touchdowns.
While he did miss time due to a high ankle sprain which no-doubt hindered his ability to run even when he came back, Jeudy was expected to be one of the best young receivers in the league. He has failed to live up to that bill.
The good news for Jeudy is that he will now be catching passes from Russell Wilson instead of Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater. If he's anything close to what he was supposed to be coming into the league, Jeudy will have no problem proving himself to the rest of the league next season.
Graham Glasgow/Lloyd Cushenberry III/Dalton Risner, Cortland Sutton, Albert Okwuegbunam, Ronald Darby.
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