PFT preseason power rankings No. 12: Denver Broncos
The Broncos lost their quarterback after the 2015 Super Bowl season. They lost their coach after last season. Coach Gary Kubiak retired with health issues a year after Peyton Manning retired.
General Manager John Elway hired Vance Joseph as head coach, with Joe Woods taking over the defense from Wade Phillips and Mike McCoy returning as offensive coordinator. The offense, which finished 27th in total offense and had the fourth-most three-and-outs, will look different with more shotgun, more power schemes and more motion, among other changes. The quarterback could change, too, with Paxton Lynch competing with Trevor Siemian for the starting job.
Whether it’s Lynch or Siemian, an improved running game should help. The Broncos signed Jamaal Charles; C.J. Anderson returns from a torn meniscus; and Denver drafted De’Angelo Henderson. They also sought to fix their offensive line, with a new position coach and three key additions.
But the one thing that hasn’t changed in Denver is the defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest points last season in keeping the Broncos competitive. Von Miller, Shane Ray, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, among others, are back. They have put an emphasis on improving their run defense after ranking 28th last season.
The defense will keep the Broncos in the hunt this season, but it all depends on the quarterback play.
Biggest positive change: The Broncos offensive line needed an overhaul after last season, and it got it. Vance Joseph hired Jeff Davidson as the position coach, and he expects to use more power blocking. The Broncos committed $24.15 million in guarantees to former Cowboys guard Ron Leary and former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson. They drafted Garett Bolles in the first round to play left tackle.
Biggest negative change: Under coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos ranked fourth in total defense and fourth in points allowed last season and first in total defense and fourth in yards allowed in 2015. Phillips left for the Rams, earning secondary coach Joe Woods a promotion. Yes, the Broncos had their issues against the run, ranking 28th, and in first-drive points, allowing 55, but General Manager John Elway said the team’s No. 1 priority was to “stay great” on defense. It is Woods’ job to keep them there.
Coaching thermometer: Vance Joseph will get a honeymoon. It might not last long seeing that the Broncos won a Super Bowl so recently, but Joseph will get time. Joseph, who was the Dolphins defensive coordinator last season, is preaching toughness and the players bought in during the offseason.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Von Miller. He’s one of the NFL’s good guys aside from, you know, wanting to kill quarterbacks. He’s got personality and a smile to match, which is why he became a face of the league after earning Super Bowl 50 MVP honors.
How they can prove us wrong: The defense figures out how to stop the run again. To that end, they got bigger in free agency, adding Domata Peko (325 pounds) and Zach Kerr (334 pounds). Rushing the passer, with Von Miller and Shane Ray, and defending the pass, with Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, remain strengths. The Broncos defense is going to keep them in games and keep them as contenders in the AFC West. How much improvement the offense shows will determine just how good the Broncos are.
The offensive line and running back positions appear improved on paper, and the Broncos still have dangerous receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Mike McCoy’s return as coordinator will help. The question remains at quarterback where Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch take their battle into training camp.