After winning the Super Bowl in 2016, Denver has now missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Broncos Executive Vice President & General Manager John Elway has a roster that’s teetering the line between “built to win now” and “in the process of a rebuild.” That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos’ fortune in 2018 go in either direction.
Quarterback: Despite what they might tell you publicly, Case Keenum wasn’t their top preference at quarterback this offseason. But, after balking at the price tag for acquiring Kirk Cousins, Keenum was a much more affordable and palatable option, so he’s now the guy under center. Coming off a career-redefining season, the Broncos will look to Keenum to end the square dance that the Broncos have had at the quarterback position since Peyton Manning retired. Keenum’s 3,547 passing yards in 15 starts were good (though not great), but one concern Denver has to have is the fact that Keenum threw interceptions in both of Minnesota’s playoff games last year; one of the big knocks on Keenum has been his penchant for turning over the football. The Broncos will certainly hope he didn’t bring that bad habit with him to Denver.
Running Back: Denver’s messy situation at running back didn’t really get much cleaner this offseason. While the Broncos did decide it wasn’t worth bringing back veteran running back C.J. Anderson, that means they’ll be without the guy who accounted for more than 50% of their running game last year. The coaching staff is still high on running back Devontae Booker, even though Booker has averaged less than 3.7 yards per carry on his 253 rushing attempts in the NFL. That’s why they went ahead and drafted Royce Freeman with their third round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Freeman was a high-volume running back at the University of Oregon who showed toughness and athleticism running between the tackles in Eugene (something Denver didn’t really see from Booker). It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Freeman emerge as the early down running back for the Broncos, with Booker coming in during passing situations (where he excels).
Wide Receiver: Denver’s selections in the 2018 NFL Draft might’ve also signaled “a changing of the guard” at wide receiver. It’s true that Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders suffered because of Denver’s inconsistency at quarterback, but it’s also true that they’re not quite the same guys that they used to be. That’s why Denver drafted guys like Courtland Sutton from SMU (their 2nd round pick) and DaeSean Hamilton from Penn State (their 4th round pick). Thomas and Sanders will still be the starters this year; Sanders, in particular, could have a bounce back season, as he dealt with a nagging high ankle sprain for most of last year. But the proverbial writing is on the wall for both guys.
Tight End: The tight end situation for the Broncos is one of those “is the glass half empty or half full” scenarios. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt are both athletic guys who could still develop into quality NFL starters, but have had major injury questions — both are already coming off torn ACL injuries early in their career — which have stunted their development. Heuerman is well-aware of the fact that this might be a make-or-break season for him, yet Butt might be the guy with the most upside. Still, this is a really murky situation that you’d be better served to avoid.