|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, August 30, 2023|
2023 Denver Broncos Outlook
The direction of the Denver Broncos has been spiraling downward for the past six seasons, leading to a 35-63 record with six consecutive losing seasons. Their last postseason appearance came in 2015 when Peyton Manning and their defense led them to a Super Bowl title.
The keys to reviving this franchise are in the hands of Sean Payton, who sat out the 2022 season. Over his 15 seasons as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, he went 152-89 with a Super Bowl title in 2009. His teams won the NFC South seven times, helping New Orleans make the playoffs on nine occasions.
Joe Lombardi takes over the Saints' offensive coordinator job. He worked under Sean Payton for 12 years as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach. His success led to Lombardi running the Lions' and Chargers' offenses over four seasons. He is the grandson of Vince Lombardi.
Denver scored the fewest points (287) in the NFL in 2022 despite signing Russell Wilson to a massive contract. Their offense finished 21st in offensive yards, two spots lower than the previous year.
After losing the Broncos' head coaching job in 2018, Vance Joseph returns as their defensive coordinator. Joseph went 11-21 in two seasons with Denver. From 2019 to 2022, he ran the Cardinals' defense while also holding the same position for the Dolphins in 2016. Joseph has 18 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL.
The first order of business via free agency was upgrading their offensive line. They signed T Mike McGlinchey and G Ben Power while moving on from G Dalton Risner and T Billy Turner.
Their defense lost DT Dre'Mont Jones to Seattle but quickly replaced him with a similar player (DT Zach Allen) who played under Vance Joseph in Arizona.
The only other player added of value was RB Samaje Perine.
The Broncos only had five selections in the 2023 NFL Draft. In the second round, they took a swing with WR Marvin Mims. He brings elite speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and quickness to the passing game. Mims must finetune his route running while proving he can win off the line of scrimmage in press coverage. Denver will use him all over the field to take advantage of his open-field running and big play ability. He does need to add some bulk (5'11" and 185 lbs.) to help his catch rate in jump ball situations.
Over the next three rounds, Denver shifted to the defensive side of the ball – LB Drew Sanders (3rd), S Riley Moss (3rd), and S JL Skinner (6th).
Sanders hasn't reached his potential yet, which will come when he fills out and gets stronger. His attacking style plays well in the pass rush from multiple angles, but he is still a thinker in run support, putting himself out of position sometimes. Sanders' future lies as a disrupter close to the line of scrimmage.
Moss has the quickness and speed to cover well over the short areas of the field. He plays above his stature in run support while wanting to be a playmaker when the ball is in the air. Moss must improve his footwork and positioning on double moves and stay engaged better in sophisticated patterns.
Skinner is a big safety who projects well in run support while offering an edge as well in pass coverage. He wants to get the football in his hands, but physical wideouts can have their way with him off the line of scrimmage.
In the seventh round, the Broncos added C Alex Forsyth. His foundation skill set gives him upside, but he must overcome his desire to win by cheating the snap (which leads to too many penalties).
The Broncos fell to 21st in rushing yards (1,935) with 11 touchdowns. Their ball carriers gained 4.4 yards per carry with seven runs over 20 yards. Denver did lose their star running back four games into the season.
Denver improved to 15th in passing yards (4,007) with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 63 sacks while gaining only 7.0 yards per pass attempt.
LT Garett Bolles has a long successful career in run and pass blocking. Unfortunately, his 2022 season got cut short after five games due to a broken right leg. Denver expects him to be in their opening-day lineup.
LG Ben Powers has three seasons of starting experience with the Ravens. His game offers the best edge in pass protection, something he excelled at in 2022. Powers has yet to be an asset in run blocking.
C Lloyd Cushenberry also had 2022 ended early due to an injury (groin). Over his eight starts, he held his ground in pass blocking but rarely created a winning edge in the run game.
RG Quinn Meinerz missed five starts with a hamstring injury. When on the field, he developed into a top-tier run blocker while allowing minimal sacks and hits.
RT Mike McGlinchey has been a neutral offensive lineman in his five seasons in the NFL after the 49ers drafted him ninth overall in 2018. He should hold his ground in run blocking, but McGlinchey will give up some sacks and pressure.
Denver would love for this offensive line to be at least league-average in 2023. If so, they shaved off a bunch of sacks while holding up well in the run game.
QB Russell Wilson - Sleeper (undervalued)
Russell Wilson, DEN
Over 10 seasons with the Seahawks, Wilson went 104-53-1 with eight trips to the postseason (9-7 with a Super Bowl win and loss). His completion rate (65.0) and yards per passing attempt (7.8) graded well, but he has never played behind a stellar offensive line (361 sacks from 2013 to 2020, with a low of 41 sacks in 2016).
From 2017 and 2020, Wilson delivered 150 passing touchdowns (eight on the ground) with 36 interceptions. In 2021, he missed games (3) for the first time in his career due to a broken right middle finger. Wilson finished with a career-low in rushing production (43/183/2) while being on pace to pass for 3,780 yards and 30 scores.
Wilson finished his first season in Denver with a career-low in his completion rate (60.5) and passing touchdowns (16). Opposing defenses sacked him 55 times, earning him the league high for the season time in four years. He only passed for more than 300 yards in Week 1 (340/1). In 12 of his 15 starts, Wilson delivered one passing touchdown or fewer, ranking 15th in fantasy points (274.00) in four-point passing touchdown leagues.
Fantasy Outlook: The new coaching staff for the Broncos is going to air out the ball in 2023. From 2006 to 2020, Drew Brees averaged 38.3 passes per game, with a low 32.5 in 2020 at age 41. Their offense featured the running back position in the passing game, pointing much more completion by Wilson. I expect a career-best in completions and passing yards, leading to a minimum of 4,700 combined yards and 30 touchdowns. In the early draft season in the high-stakes market, Wilson is the 17th-ranked quarterback. His price point has removed his risk, painting a high-reward QB2 in fantasy leagues.
Other Options: Jarrett Stidham, Jarrett Guarantano, Ben DiNucci
RB Tony Jones - Not Draft Worthy
Over his three seasons with the Saints after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Jones gained 204 combined yards with seven catches on 66 touches. His lack of explosiveness (2.8 yards per carry and 5.9 yards per catch) paints a low ceiling.
The Seahawks had him on the field for only 59 plays last season, leading to 54 yards and five catches.
He failed to earn a workhorse opportunity in his three seasons at Notre Dame (1,744 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 27 catches on 298 touches over 36 games). His best success came in 2019 (144/857/6 and 15 catches for 104 yards and a score).
Fantasy Outlook: The only plus I see was his early ties to New Orleans and this year's coaching staff. He has an uphill battle to even make the Broncos' roster in 2023.
Other Options: Tyler Badie, Damarea Crockett, Jaleel McLaughlin
UPDATE: Jones was released by the Broncos. If he couldn't make the team coached by his former coach, Jones has little chance of making any significant fantasy impact in 2023.
RB Javonte Williams - Sleeper (undervalued)
Coming into the NFL, Williams has a chain-mover feel while relying on his power and fight to finish off carries. He runs with a smooth rhythm while waiting for a hole to open. Once Williams sees daylight, his acceleration pushes into the second level of the defense. He won't hit on many long touchdowns, but his short-area quickness plays well. Williams shows plenty of grit, and his style should wear defenses down. Despite a limited role as a receiver, he projects well in the passing game while having the smarts to pick up an NFL offense on all downs.
The Tarheels used Williams in a split role over the last two seasons, leading to 2,554 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 42 catches. He played at the highest level in 2020 (1,445 combined yards with 22 touchdowns and 25 catches).
I sense some of Frank Gore's traits in his game. Williams has a winning feel, and I expect him to do the dirty work in the run game. He'll bring punch after punch on his runs, leading to productive showings on most days.
In his first season with Denver, Williams gained 1,219 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 43 catches. He finished 17th in running back scoring (206.30) in PPR leagues. His best value came from Week 12 to Week 14 (372 combined yards with four touchdowns and 10 catches). Williams gained more than 100 yards in one other matchup (17/111). On the downside, he scored fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in eight games (5.50, 8.40, 8.90, 9.80, 6.80, 6.80, 6.80, 6.90, 4.20, and 8.40).
Williams left Week 4 last season after 23 snaps due to torn ACL in his right knee. He gained 280 yards with 16 catches on 63 touches over his four starts.
Fantasy Outlook: With 11 months to recover, Williams should be ready for Week 1, but that news will trickle in over the summer. In May, he ranked as the 27th running back drafted in the high-stakes market, with one drafter willing to take him late in the second round. Players coming off significant injuries tend to disappoint, highlighted by JK Dobbins year in 2022. Williams should be the Broncos' top running back choice for touchdowns and catches, making him a value based on his current price point. I'll set his bar at 1,400 combined yards (58% of their 2022 RB stats) with double-digit scores and 50+ catches, as long as there isn't any negative news about his health over the summer.
RB Samaje Perine - Fantasy Handcuff
After kicking around the NFL for three seasons with minimal chances, Perine played well off the bench for Cincinnati over the past three seasons. He gained 1,409 combined yards with 11 touchdowns and 76 catches on 289 touches. Last year, the Bengals gave him a career-high 133 touches, leading to 681 yards with six touchdowns and 38 catches (RB36).
He proved more than worthy over three-game stretch midseason with starting snaps (30.20, 19.30, and 21.50 fantasy points in PPR formats). With Joe Mixon on the field, Perine only had two other games with more than 10 touches.
Fantasy Outlook: Perine's growth and value in pass catching should carve out a rotational opportunity in Sean Payton's offense in 2023. He has a handcuff feel, with a reasonable chance of being a fantasy factor early in the year until Javonte Williams returns to full strength. Unfortunately, his ADP may be higher than most are willing to pay if they don't understand his potential. Possible 700 yards with five scores and 30 catches
WR Tim Patrick - Not Draft Worthy
In 2020 (51/742/6) and 2021 (53/734/5), Patrick did an excellent job off the bench filling in for injured wide receivers on the Broncos. In 2021, he delivered playable stats in seven matchups (4/39/1, 3/37/1, 5/98, 7/89, 3/42/1, 4/85/1, and 6/95). Additionally, Patrick fits well as insurance for Courtland Sutton based on his size (6'4" and 210 lbs.). He missed last season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: Tim Patrick is out for the year with injury.
Denver will mix and match their third wide receiver option based on matchup. Patrick adds scoring value with upside off the bench, but he has to play his way up the Broncos' depth chart.
Other Options: Marquez Callaway, Kendall Hinton, Lil'Jordan Humphrey
WR KJ Hamler - Not Draft Worthy
Injuries cost Hamler three games in his first year with Denver. He finished with 30 catches for 381 yards and three touchdowns on 56 targets. Hamler struggled to get open with a low catch rate (53.6) while scoring over 10.0 fantasy points in three matchups (3/13/1, 6/75, and 2/86/2). Over his final five games, Hamler had five combined catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets.
In 2021, a torn left ACL ended his season after three games (5/74 on 10 targets). Hamler started last year with no catches in Week 1 and Week 3 while missing a game with a hip/knee issue. After a quiet five weeks (7/165 on 13 targets), his season ended midseason due to a hamstring injury, followed by a torn pec in March.
Despite being undersized (5'9" and 178 lbs.), Hamler does play with strength (15 reps in the NFL combined bench press). His electric speed and quickness will threaten a defense whenever he gets the ball in space. Hamler has a slot feel, but his game is about challenging defenders with his legs. Once he gets the ball in his hands, the next move is hitting the gas while having the talent and vision to create in space.
Fantasy Outlook: Hamler has no ties to the new Broncos' coaching staff, and he didn't click in 2022 with Russell Wilson. His skill set does overlap with Marvin Mims, making it difficult to expect a playable fantasy season. Hamler will be found in the free-agent market in all formats while needing to prove he can stay healthy.
UPDATE: Denver released Hamler with an injury designation. There's a chance he could resurface at some point but there is no reason to target him in any drafts.Injury Status: Out - Undisclosed
WR Jerry Jeudy - Gamble (high risk)
In his sophomore season with Denver in 2021, Jeudy had growth in his catch rate (67.9) while failing to score a touchdown. He worked closer to the line of scrimmage (12.3 yards per catch – 16.5 in 2020). An ankle injury cost him six games, and a late-season battle with Covid-19 pushed him to the bench in Week 17. He finished with no impact games (his highest fantasy point total came in Week 1 – 13.20 in PPR formats).
Jeudy looked the part of the Broncos' future WR1 over his final six games (37/523/3 on 45 targets) in 2022, highlighted by his success in three matchups (8/73/3, 6/117, and 5/154). His season started with four catches for 102 yards and one score, but he fell short of expectations over the next five games (1/11, 2/17, 4/53/1, 3/53, and 3/54). After two uptick showings (7/96 and 6/63/1), Jeudy only played one snap over the next three weeks due to an ankle injury.
Over his last two seasons at Alabama, Jeudy caught 145 passes for 2,479 yards and 24 touchdowns over 28 games. The Tide used him as a big-play wide receiver in 2018 (68/1,315/14). The following season, Jeudy worked more as a traditional receiver (77/1,163/10), where he relied on his route running to get open. Many of his catches were in the flat or coming back to the quarterback, leading to less explosiveness after the catch. When able to secure passes going forward, his speed and acceleration become more disruptive. Jeudy doesn't have the same explosiveness when caught flat-footed with the ball trying to make defenders miss.
His release projects well while having the speed (4.45 40-yard dash) to test a defender deep. However, Jeudy needs to add some bulk (6'1" and 195 lbs.) to help combat physical corners. He also grades lower than expected with his short-area quickness.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: Jerry Jeudy suffered a serious hamstring injury and his status for week one is in jeopardy. Courtland Sutton and Marvin Mims get bumps.
Coming off career-highs in catches (67), receiving yards (972), and touchdowns (6) over 14 games, Jeudy looks poised to make an impact in 2023. His first step is proving he can stay healthy for 17 games. In 2020 and 2022, 28 of his 119 catches gained 20 yards or more, with nine reaching the 40-yard mark. He ranks 19th at wide receiver heading into June, which is only three spots better than his finish in 2022 in fantasy points (204.20 – 22nd) in PPR leagues. Jeudy is trending toward a top-12 wide receiver in 2023. Next step: 85 catches for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
WR Courtland Sutton - Solid/Safe Pick
After missing most of 2020 with a torn ACL, Sutton came into 2021 with questions about his early health. He caught only one pass for 14 yards in Week 1, but his game was fantasy worthy in three showings (9/159, 7/120/1, and 8/94/1) over the following five matchups. Unfortunately, Denver struggled to get him the ball over his final 10 games (20/237/0 on 40 targets). Over this span, Sutton had two catches or fewer in eight games. When at his best in 2019, he caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. His catch rate (55.9) has been relatively low to start his career while gaining 15.2 yards per catch.
Sutton was a buzz guy last season, with Russell Wilson taking over at quarterback. His season started with five competitive outcomes (4/72, 7/122, 8/97, 5/52/1, and 5/74) before hitting a three-week slump (2/14, 3/23, and 1/13). After three steady games (6/66, 5/80, and 6/75), he was shut out in Week 13, followed by two missed starts due to a hamstring issue. Sutton drove the bus home with below-par results over three matchups (5/64, 4/44, and 3/33/1), leading to a 43rd-place finish in wide receiver scoring (159.40) in PPR formats.
Fantasy Outlook: The thought of Sutton developing into a WR1 should be a distant memory. He should be better than in 2022 while taking a back seat to Jerry Jeudy in the target share. Sutton looks to be a value based on his ranking (43rd) at wide receiver in the early draft season. I view him as a backend WR2 while on a path to catch 75 passes for 1,000 yards and a handful of scores.
WR Marvin Mims - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over three seasons at Oklahoma, Mims caught 123 of his 183 targets for 2,398 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 19.5 yards per catch. His best season (54/1,083/6) came in 2022, highlighted by two matchups (7/163/2 and 5/162/2). He only had one other game (9/106) with more than five catches.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: Now with the injury to Jerry Jeudy, Mims is thrust into the spotlight and must be considered a fantasy sleeper around WR55.
Mims fills two voids for the Broncos' passing attack. He'll take the top off the defense, and Denver will use him on short quick passes where his legs and open-field running can turn a short pass into a long play. Despite his explosiveness, Mims flies under the radar in the early draft season (73rd wideout). I could see 50 catches for 750 yards and five scores in his rookie season.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam - Not Draft Worthy
As the TE2 for Denver in 2021, Okwuegbunam caught 33 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns on 40 targets. His best value came in three matchups (3/16/1, 3/77, and 5/41/1) while never receiving more than five targets in a game.
Last year, he had a minimal opportunity over the first five weeks (7/50 on 11 targets). Denver only had him active for one game over the next nine weeks. Okwuegbunam had his best output in Week 17 (3/45/1 on six targets).
Okwuegbunam caught 98 passes for 1,187 yards and 23 touchdowns on 144 targets over his three seasons in college.
Fantasy Outlook: The Broncos lost confidence in Okwuegbunam last year, leading to him needing to rebuild his career in 2023.
UPDATE: Okwuegbunam was traded to the Eagles.
TE Greg Dulcich - Quality Backup
Over his last two seasons at UCLA, Dulcich caught 68 balls for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 targets. He gained an impressive 18.3 yards per catch. However, his value as a blocker looks minimal early in his career, pointing to only a vertical opportunity for Denver in his rookie season.
Dulcich missed the first five games in 2022 with a hamstring injury. He helped fantasy teams over his first three matchups (2/44/1, 6/51, and 4/87) before fading in five of his next seven starts (1/11, 4/30, 2/11, 3/42, and 1/11). His other two games of value came in Week 13 (6/85) and Week 16 (4/39/1). Dulcich missed the final contests with another hamstring issue.
Fantasy Outlook: When on the field, he was the Broncos' best tight end. Dulcich projects as midtier TE2. I expect him to catch 50+ balls for 650 yards and five touchdowns.
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
TE Adam Trautman - Low Potential
Over four seasons in Dayton, Trautman caught 178 passes for 2,295 yards and 31 touchdowns. His play improved in 2018 (41/604/9) and 2019 (70/916/14).
Trautman came to the NFL with a pass-catching skill set. He does some things well in his route running while having questions about his release and blocking.
As the TE2 for the Saints in 2020, Trautman caught 15 of his 16 targets for 171 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately, his only playable game came in Week 9 (3/39/1). In 2021, he pushed his output to 27 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns on 43 targets. He missed four games late in the season with a knee injury and Covid-19. New Orleans gave him a minimal season (18/207/1 on 22 targets) last year.
Fantasy Outlook: Sean Payton drafted Trautman, so he'll have a better opportunity to earn snaps in 2022. His low resume forced him to prove himself on the field before getting rostered in any fantasy leagues.
Other Options: Chris Manhertz, Tommy Hudson, Nate Adkins
PK Elliott Fry - Not Draft Worthy
The Broncos scored 29 touchdowns in 2022 while creating 36 field goal chances. Fry is the only kicker listed in Denver's depth chart after releasing Brandon McManus in the offseason. Over four seasons at South Carolina, Fry made 161 of his 162 extra points, but his field goal accuracy (75.0% - 66-for-88) doesn't look worthy of keeping an NFL job. I'm sure the Broncos will bring in another option by the start of the season.
UPDATE: Fry was waived by the Broncos and now will try to latch on as an injury replacement this season. Denver solved their kicking situation by trading for Will Lutz.
PK Wil Lutz - Solid/Safe Pick
After being beaten out for the Saints' kicking job by Blake Grupe, Lutz was traded to the Broncos where he will prove to be an upgrade. Lutz has been a solid kicker during his NFL tenure but now must contend with outdoor conditions at Mile High. He should prove to be a solid fantasy option with more than simple streaming appeal.
Denver - Bye Week Fill-in
The Broncos climbed to 10th defending the run (1,866 yards), with ball carriers gaining only 4.3 yards per carry. They allowed 12 rushing touchdowns.
Denver slipped to 13th in passing yards allowed (3,665) while allowing 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The Broncos picked up 36 sacks.
CB Patrick Surtain continues to work his way up the defensive ranks at his position. He holds receivers to short yards per catch while showing growth vs. the run. Surtain has six interceptions and 24 defended passes over his first 33 games with Denver. CB Damarri Mathis handled himself well in his rookie season. He allowed a high catch rate, but minimal big plays and touchdowns. His most significant weakness is his tackling. Incoming rookie, CB Riley Moss, gives the Broncos a third cornerback option with upside.
S Justin Simmons missed five games last year due to a quad injury. Despite a short season, he set a career-high with six interceptions. His run defense had been a strength before 2022. S Kareem Jackson will start the year at age 35. He remains a neutral run defender, with some mistakes made in touchdowns in the passing game.
Their defensive line lacks star power. DT Eyioma Uwazurike may emerge in his second season, and DE Zach Allen should add some sacks after improving with the Cardinals over the last three years.
LB Alex Singletary delivered 300 tackles over the past two seasons, but only one sack and seven defended passes. His run defense remains stellar. LB Josey Jewell is an asset in run support, but quarterbacks will pick on him in coverage. He had 128 tackles in 2022 with a career-best in sacks (2.5) and interceptions (2). LB Baron Browning upped his game in the pass rush while seeing a sharp decline in tackles (24 – 58 in 2021). Denver needs LB Nik Bonitto to develop his pass-rushing skills after a disappointing rookie season.
I don't see an edge on the defensive line vs. the run, requiring Denver to fill the holes with two high-volume tackling linebackers. The pass rush has questions in most spots in their front seven. The Broncos have two to three winning pieces in their secondary that would be helped by a shorter passing window. In the fantasy market, this defense projects to rank outside the top 12 while offering some matchup value.