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Offseason Team Previews

2022 Denver Broncos Offseason Preview

by Kyle Dvorchak
Updated On: March 14, 2022, 12:52 pm ET

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The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house. 

Broncos 2021 Recap

With a cast of weapons fit for a mercenary and a talent-rich defense, the Broncos entered the 2021 season a quarterback away from being a playoff contender. Teddy Bridgewater was acquired from Carolina as the missing puzzle piece and that strategy was working for most of the year. Denver got to 7-6 before losing four consecutive games and getting bounced from the playoff picture. Head coach Vic Fangio and his staff were all relieved of their duties at the end of the year, sending Denver back to the drawing board. They hired Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as their next boss.

Key Offensive Stats

  • Points per game: 19.7 (23rd)
  • Dropback EPA: .1 (13th)
  • Passing yards per game: 211 (19th)
  • Rush EPA: -.09 (21st)
  • Rushing yards per game: 119 (13th)

 

Though Denver made it to 7-6 before collapsing, to say their strategy was working may have been a bit too kind. Bridgewater scored more than twice in a game just once and only found the end zone on 4.2 percent of his throws. The Broncos could’ve snuck into the playoffs with Teddy but the veteran went down for the year with a concussion in Week 15, giving the reins to Drew Lock, who ferried the team to its regular season demise. The most exciting part of any game was when Javonte Williams took the field. The rookie finished fifth in Pro Football Focus’s Elusiveness Rating metric while trailing only Jonathan Taylor in missed tackles forced. Denver’s strategy of adding a middling veteran at quarterback was enough to keep them afloat but it's clear that they weren’t poised for a meaningful playoff run if they had made it to the postseason.

Key Defensive Stats

  • Points per game: 18.9 (3rd)
  • Dropback EPA: .05 (17th)
  • Passing yards per game: 215 (8th)
  • Rush EPA: -.07 (18th)
  • Rushing yards per game: 111 (15th)

 

It was business as usual for the defense. They finished third in points allowed and fifth in percentage of drives that ended in points. Rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain logged four interceptions and led the team with 14 passes defended. Stud safety Justin Simmons also notched five interceptions of his own. The pass rush was teeming with potential but Bradley Chubb and Von Miller combined for 14 games. The former was limited by a severe ankle sprain while the latter was traded to a contending Rams squad. Denver’s EPA per play stats paint a slightly less rosy picture but all of the evidence still points to the offense as the weak link on this team.

Broncos 2022 Offseason

Notes

 

Cap Space

$23.5 million

First Pick

No. 31

Total Draft Value

Sixth

Notable Free Agents

QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Melvin Gordon, CB Kyle Fuller, CB Bryce Callahan, S Kareem Jackson, MLB Kenny Young, RT Bobby Massie, MLB Alexander Johnson, MLB Josey Jewell

Cut Candidates

DT Mike Purcell ($2.8 million in savings), WR DaeSean Hamilton ($2.2 million)

Notes: Denver's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.

Even after the trade for Russell Wilson, Denver still holds two picks on Day 2 of the draft. They also have plenty of cap space and could be in the market to make a splash signing or two. Even if they don't no team can hold a candle to the Broncos' overhaul this offseason. 

Team Needs

Linebacker

The Broncos were hit hard by linebacker injuries last year. They lost multiple inside linebackers to season-ending injuries, forcing them to trade for Young from the Rams. The easiest way for them to address this need is by bringing back one or two of Young, Johnson, and Jewell.

Defensive End
Despite having a punishing defense, the Broncos finished the year as a below-average team by sacks per game. After the trade of Miller, the Broncos will need to up their investment in generating pressure. They could also do so with an outside linebacker but Chubb rebounding would shift their need toward the defensive line.

Offensive Tackle
With Massie headed for free agency, the Broncos need a bookend on the right side of their line. Their extensive cap space should make finding a replacement relatively easy. The team could bring back Massie, who will be 33 at the start of the year but was a solid starter during his lone season in Denver. They could also look for an upgrade on the open market.

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Coaching Changes

The Broncos brought in Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett to replace Fangio, seeing an offensive mind as the answer to their regular season struggles. Hackett adapted to the strengths of Aaron Rodgers and revived the once-MVP to his former glory. He dialed up the play-action early and often in Green Bay. The Packers were 10th in pass attempts from play-action from 2019 to 2021. They were sixth in RPOs called in 2021. Rodgers was great but having his life made easy by Hackett certainly helped. The Packers also passed for more yards on throws that gained 20 yards than all but one franchise during Hackett’s three-year run. On the ground, the Packers have ranked no lower than seventh in EPA per rush attempt in the past three seasons. The team almost always employed a backfield-by-committee, splitting Aaron Jones’ reps with Jamaal Williams and then AJ Dillon

After Hackett, the team hired Rams secondary coach Ejiro Evero as their next defensive coordinator. Evero has said that he embodies LA’s defensive philosophy but will also have to adapt to the talent of his new team. He began his NFL coaching career in 2007 with his Bucs, slowly working his way up the ranks across numerous teams. His stint in LA lasted five years and he served under three defensive coordinators including Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. Last year, the Rams were a 3-4 defense and showed a two-high safety look on the vast majority of their plays, though they weren’t afraid to switch up their style to throw off opposing offenses. What was most interesting about Evero and DC Raheem Morris's game plan was the usage of Jalen Ramsey, who moved around the lineup more than ever. Ramsey didn’t play his usual lock-down role and instead played a “star” role. He set career-highs in slot, box, and defensive line snaps. It’s possible that Surtain is used in a similar way under Evero as he has a similar physical profile to Ramsey and moved across the formation in college.

Offseason Outlook

The Broncos' entire outlook changed with one transaction (in the most literal sense as I have to rewrite the whole outlook). The team moved two first-round picks, two second-round picks, QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, and DT Shelby Harris for Wilson. Lock is a year away from free agency and Albert Okwuegbunam played well when given opportunities last year, making Fant expendable. The Broncos had also been loading up on picks recently so they aren't locked out of the draft. The trade allowed them to go all-in on a roster loaded with pass-catchers and defensive talent. Now it's up the Hackett and his new staff to give us the #LetRussCook season we all deserve.