The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we remain in the AFC West and take a look at a Denver Broncos 2016 preview.
Here we will be discussing a team that needs a superhuman effort from its defense to continue its reign atop the division.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Denver Broncos 2016 Preview
Head coach: Gary Kubiak (second season)
Key arrivals: OT Russell Okung, OT Donald Stephenson, DE Jared Crick, TE Garrett Graham
Key departures: QB Pryton Manning, DE Malik Jackson, QB Brock Osweiler, LB Danny Trevathan, SS David Bruton, OG Evan Mathis, LT Ryan Harris
1. Who will start behind center?
Based on the way Trevor Siemian, Mark Sanchez and rookie Paxton Lynch have played thus far during the preseason, turnovers could be a major issue this year.
Heading into the all-important third preseason game, head coach Gary Kubiak has Siemian as the starter for the second week in a row. However, he also mentioned he wanted to see Sanchez and Lynch play for roughly the same amount of time in this game, indicating he’s nowhere close to deciding who will be the starter this year.
Of the three, Lynch has the most upside. He’s been pegged by general manager John Elway as a guy who’ll be ready to play much sooner than people realize. Through two preseason games, it’s clear he is still rough but has the game to play at the NFL level soon.
Siemian might be the safest choice, but he’s taken exactly one NFL snap in his career and showed poor judgement throwing a pick-six against the San Francisco 49ers.
Sanchez is always good for a turnover or two per game.
It might be Lynch’s turn soon enough. But in reality, are any of them good enough to lead the offense well enough to keep this ship from sinking?
2. Is the running game good enough to pick up the slack?
Last year Denver’s running game was pretty darn average, despite the fact that the Broncos featured terrible quarterback play.
We could be looking at more of the same in 2016, as we mentioned above. But Denver’s rushing attack might need to be even better this year if the Broncos are going to win the division and/or get back to the playoffs.
Making things really interesting on this front is news that last year’s leading rusher, Ronnie Hillman, might not make final cuts.
Throw in a new-look offensive line that lost two starters from a year ago and there is plenty of uncertainty. Thankfully, a savior might just be waiting. But more on him in a second.
First, let’s get to our third question.
3. Can the defense get back to elite status?
Likely, the only way Denver will get back anywhere near Super Bowl weekend in Houston this year is if the defense absolutely blows teams out of the water.
And despite what the Broncos would have you believe, that this year’s defense will be even better than last year’s, there is plenty of uncertainty about this unit.
First off, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and David Bruton are all gone. Secondly, Jackson’s replacement at defensive end, Vance Walker, was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
That’s a lot of talent in the middle of the field — at all three levels — the Broncos are going to struggle to replace.
Yes, Von Miller is still Von Miller. Yes, the “No Fly Zone” secondary should still be incredible. But teams can beat both of those aspects by running up the gut against lesser talent in the middle.
It’s going to be interesting to see if Denver can avoid getting run over, around and through this year.
Devontae Booker, running back
Rookie running back Booker out of Utah could end up being the most productive rookie back outside of Ezekiel Elliott in the NFL this year.
He’s already been getting reps with the first-team offense, and he’s had some good moments during the first two preseason games. Teammates and coaches have been giving him rave reviews already.
“Teammates and coaches have praised his quick cuts and strength, as well as his aptitude and mentality on the field. He quietly goes to work — and well, finding his lanes and quickly bolting up field. Monday alone, Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, Gary Kubiak and Aqib Talib all mentioned how impressed they are by Booker,” wrote Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.
At this time, C.J. Anderson is the lead back, but that might not last long if Booker continues to develop his overall game. A guy that can run and catch the ball with ease, he could be the future for the Broncos at this position.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Defense. Pure and simple. Denver’s defense still features plenty of star power, and though it’s early in preseason, the starting unit remains dominant.
If the running game can ramp things up and become a road-grading unit that keeps the chains moving, then the Broncos will have a winning combination.
REASON TO DOUBT
Unfortunately, the AFC West isn’t a cakewalk. Oakland is rising, and the Kansas City Chiefs appear poised to claim the division. Thankfully the San Diego Chargers still look like a dumpster fire on defense, not to mention a dumpster fire in the front office.
But the division won’t be easy to win.
Then there’s the incredible drop-off in talent at the quarterback position this year. Yes, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler weren’t outstanding last year, but things could spiral out of control in 2016 with Siemian, Sanchez and Lynch as the only options.
Still, we’re not predicting a complete collapse.
Prediction: 9-7, second place in AFC West