By ZACK KELBERMAN (247SPORTS) – The 2018 Denver Broncos, from what we’ve seen so far, have spurred plenty of questions but not so many answers.
Fortunately, we’ve got Broncos Country covered.
Broncos on 247Sports has pilfered through Facebook comments, Twitter replies and podcast topics to assemble a hot-button Q&A about Denver’s current outfit — everything from quarterbacks to the coaching staff.
So without further ado …
Q: Who’s going to back up quarterback Case Keenum?
A: To no surprise, nothing was decided during Organized Team Activities and this week’s mandatory minicamp. Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly remain neck-and-neck in a battle that will come to a head during the preseason. Though, if the season started today, Lynch would likely be penciled in as the No. 2. He’s shown a better command of the second-string offense, as well he should.
Q: Will the Broncos keep three QBs?
A: Yes, barring a surprise change-of-course, all of Keenum, Lynch and Kelly will make the 53-man roster. Perhaps if Lynch was a little more established they could get by with just two signal-callers. Plus, Denver cannot risk Kelly being stolen by putting him on the practice squad.
Q: Which running back will earn the starting job?
A: Again, a competition that’ll rage on through the summer. Devontae Booker, Royce Freeman and De’Angelo Henderson have all received first-team reps, and coach Vance Joseph is on record as wanting a committee backfield. My gut says Freeman will handle early-down work and cede passing snaps to Booker, but Henderson (and possibly undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay, if he makes the club) will contribute, too.
Q: What about the No. 3 wide receiver gig?
A: This is a crowded depth chart that isn’t even at full strength yet; Jordan Taylor (hip surgery) is set to resume practicing sometime during training camp. As it stands, and based on their dominance over the past five weeks, rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton are locked in behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. If the Broncos carry six WRs, this leaves Carlos Henderson (who’s in Joseph’s dog house), Isaiah McKenzie (who’s in the fanbase’s dog house) and Taylor to compete for two spots.
Q: Is the offensive line a cause for concern? Have they improved from last season?
A: Why there’s any doubt that Denver’s front-five is better than last year’s iteration is beyond me. The club is expecting a sophomore leap from left tackle Garett Bolles, who will be aided by Ronald Leary kicking back to his natural left guard slot, and they upgraded mightily at right tackle, replacing Menelik Watson with Jared Veldheer. The only question mark is right guard, where Connor McGovern is stationed. But if he’s your weakest link, the OL is in great shape.
Q: Tight end? What’s happening there?
A: I’ve been singing Jake Butt’s praises since he was drafted, and I’m basically gloating now after he’s rocked OTAs by making fantastic grab after fantastic grab. He might not earn the title of TE1 — Jeff Heuerman is taking over the in-line void that previously belonged to Virgil Green — but he’ll quickly become a monster red zone weapon for Keenum.
Q: Are the Broncos done signing free agents?
A: Short answer: Yes. Unless they suffer an injury during camp, they’re pretty much finished on the open market. There’d been speculation that cornerback Kayvon Webster may return, but nothing has transpired. And, no, they’re not bringing back former safety T.J. Ward.
Q: Speaking of free agency, will the Broncos’ pickups pan out this season?
A: If I possessed a crystal ball, you wouldn’t be reading this column. But you can’t with a straight face tell me Keenum isn’t an upgrade on Trevor Siemian, Marquette King isn’t an upgrade on Riley Dixon, Veldheer isn’t an upgrade on Watson, Clinton McDonald isn’t an upgrade on Jared Crick, and Su’a Cravens isn’t an upgrade on Will Parks. The one area where they arguably got worse is cornerback, but Tramaine Brock and rookie Isaac Yiadom should help offset the loss of Aqib Talib.
Q: Is Bradley Chubb the real deal? Can he fill in for Shane Ray?
A: A second question predicated on knowing the future. Based on several accounts, though, Chubb is excelling in his transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker, and the presence of pass-rush consultant DeMarcus Ware will enhance his development. You might not see a double-digit sack campaign for Chubb in 2018, but he’s a lethal long-term complement to Von Miller. He and Shaquil Barrett will more than make up for Ray’s absence.
Q: How many games can Denver win this season?
A: With stable play under center, a refined offensive supporting cast, and the vaunted defense still mostly intact, combined with a weaker strength of schedule, there’s no reason to think they can’t notch eight, nine or ten victories. If — and it’s a big if — the new moving parts meld together, this is a squad that has legit playoff aspirations. The wildcard, though, is sophomore head coach Vance Joseph, whose seat is scalding hot.
Q: How many games to save Joseph’s job? How many to lose it?
A: The Broncos clinching their first postseason berth since 2015 would earn him another year. A winning record or perhaps an 8-8 finish drastically cools down his seat. Anything less, and John Elway will be faced with another franchise-altering decision. At the very least, the team must show progression, not regression. Conversely, stringing together multiple losses (or worse, blowouts) en route to, say, 6-10 seals his fate. There’s even a chance he’s fired midseason if things really go downhill. (In such a scenario, for those asking, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave likely steps in to handle interim duties.)