What’s better than the food onThanksgiving, besides time with family and of course NFL football all day long? Of course, it’s the leftovers!
Speaking of leftovers, of course, as is on-brand for yours truly, what started as a 10-point Broncos’ Thanksgiving article turns into a short thesis paper. Too much to be thankful for, even in the middle of another poor Broncos season, in regards to this Broncos team.
Hopefully, by now, you've read Part I and checked out the first five developments in Bronco-land to be thankful for this Holiday season. Let us now dive into a second helping of reasons to feel #blessed for this squad.
6. Risner a Solid Start of Broncos Stabilizing O-Line
Outside of the ineptitude that has been the quarterback position for the Broncos, perhaps no unit has been put into the grinder of fan angst as much as the offensive line. In 2017, the Broncos used the 20th overall selection on offensive tackle Garett Bolles out of the University of Utah. That so far has (clearly) not worked out the for the best.
With Bolles continually repeating his mistakes, with a propensity to lose his technique and hold onto a defender, or simply play with poor form and allow pressure, he has not panned out to date.
The other tackle position has also been a bust. Even during the Peyton Manning seasons, the right tackle position has been an issue in Denver. Whether Ty Sambrailo, Michael Schofield, Donald Stephenson, Menelik Watson, and now Ja’Wuan James, Denver just seems to struggle with the tackle position.
Honestly, this team hasn’t been ‘set’ at tackle since the Mike Shanahan days when Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris manned the bookends.Tackle has remained an issue for the Broncos this season undoubtedly, but the Broncos have started to lay the foundation for a better offensive line.
In the 2019 draft, with the team’s second pick in the class, the Broncos selected Dalton Risner out of Kansas State. The Colorado native had playing experience at tackle, guard, and center, but given his stature and technical prowess, he has found a home at left guard for the Broncos.
The 41st overall pick in the 2019 draft has been more than adequate for the Broncos in his first professional season. Of course, it has not been perfect, but desperation for anything serviceable along the offensive line isn’t something unique to the Broncos. 30 teams in the NFL and their fanbases would point to the O-line as an area of weakness that must be addressed. It’s just the state of trench play in the league currently.
Overall, Risner has allowed 14 pressures on the season, nine hurries, two quarterback hits, three sacks, and has committed three penalties. Not fantastic, but considering he is a rookie more than amenable. On the season Risner has earned a 67.6 overall grade, with a 73.7 pass-blocking grade and a 63.6 run-blocking grade.
This is right on par with other interior O-line rookies in New Orleans’ Erik McCoy and the Green Bay’s Elgton Jenkins, despite both those players playing on far superior offensive line units and making their job and learning curve that much easier. Risner may never be an All-Pro level guard, but he feels like the first step in the process in Denver establishing a solid offensive line. He can’t do it alone as the line is as much about the collective unit as any other positional group in football, but it’s a solid start.
7. Munchak is Still Here Developing the OL
Continuing on the O-line, even if the unit has been essentially equivalent to last seasons as far as output, the unit has to be trending up, right? Ronald Leary, who is undoubtedly playing through injury, has been much more consistent over the second half of the season. Connor McGovern, coming off a game where the entire offensive line struggled, has been in the least a solid starter at center and looks like he could be a long-term solid piece on the line.
Elijah Wilkinson has had his struggles at right tackle, and may not have ‘the goods’ to stick at tackle given inadequate footspeed, but even if just depth beyond this season a very valuable young piece for the unit.
When a team is as poor at quarterback as the 2019 Broncos have been, it’s pretty darn hard to get a true read on the O-line. Yes, the unit deserves blame, but those piling it entirely on the big boys up front have tunnel vision and missing how synergistic these issues on offense are on this team.
The depth of the pass-catching weapons harms the team, losing Ja'Wuan James essentially for the entire season to date, Leary playing through injury, and not having options beyond Bolles, don't help. The quarterback being able to either evade pressure with some mobility or being able to go through reads with some semblance of arm talent would help. All of these things are issues right now, and it causes the entire offense to fail in varying degrees.
So what to be thankful for in regards to the O-line? While the unit is bottom-10 in the league so far this season, it would be shocking if this unit is not going to trend in the right direction. After playing a really solid game against the Vikings, the Broncos went to Buffalo and played an entire interior O-line trio that was questionable coming into the game. The unit was banged up and it showed against a good defense. A bad game, no doubt, but not one to cling to going forward.
The Broncos still have the ace in the hole in O-line coach Mike Munchak. Did many hope he would have a more immediate impact on turning the offensive line around? Of course. Was that a reasonable expectation? Probably not.
It was always going to take time for Munchak to cultivate talent and develop his O-line. Baby steps, game-by-game, season-by-season. Given the resources the Broncos will have available this offseason in cap room and draft capital, Munchak can have a say in talent acquisition and bring in ‘his guys’.
Will James ever play a snap? Will McGovern be retained? Can the team find a replacement for Bolles? Who knows the answers, but having Munchak as the guy to figure it out given his elite background is enough to feel somewhat at ease that this will get settled one way or another.
8. Broncos Currently Have No. 5 Overall Draft Pick & Fifth-Most Draft Value
Speaking of draft capital, the Broncos are currently sitting on a solid heap of valuable draft picks for the upcoming 2020 draft. As it stands, the Broncos have the No. 5 overall selection in next April’s Draft.
Of course, that pick in itself carries a lot of value, and there is no guarantee the Broncos will end with a top-5 selection given there are still five games left to be played. Still, that fifth pick, and all of Denver’s own picks after, give the team a solid bit of capital.
Not only do the Broncos have their own picks sitting high each and every round, but Denver also has a solid chunk of picks in the middle of the draft. With Pittsburgh’s third-round pick, San Franscico’s third and fourth-round picks, the Washington's sixth-round pick, and New England’s seventh, Denver has nine total selections in the draft with five in the top-100 and seven in the top-130.
Not only that, but Denver will also be awarded some compensatory selections. As it is projected, Denver will receive a fifth for Billy Turner, a seventh for Max Garica, and a seventh for Tremaine Brock.
According to Tankathon, without compensatory picks announced yet, the Broncos are sitting on the fifth-highest value of draft picks in the upcoming draft, with a total value of 2,905.9. This can and will change as the Broncos move up and down the draft over the last five games, but Denver has the capital to add talent and make moves up and down the draft if the opportunity arises.
Denver isn’t done wheeling and dealing as there will be moves made this offseason, but with that much capital, Denver will have a real shot to add some serious young talent to the roster. For as much flack as John Elway gets in regards to his drafting, the Broncos’ last two classes have been pretty darn solid.
Stacking three great draft classes in a row? That could help spring Denver back to relevance and fast.
9. Chubb Returning in Future Like Adding Another Top-10 Pick
Defense has not been ‘the’ problem for the Broncos this season. However, as a unit, it could always get a bit better. Of course, the big issue on the defense as it stands is cornerback. Chris Harris, Jr. is set to hit free agency and doesn’t appear likely to return, the corners behind him appear to be more depth than long-term solutions.
The defensive line also has questions. After getting thoroughly blasted this past week against the Bills, the unit is okay but lacks difference-makers. On top of that, the likes of Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis, and Derek Wolfe are all set to hit free agency this offseason as well.
Despite these concerns, the Broncos defense that started slowly does appear to be heading in the right direction. This isn’t surprising, considering how mentally demanding Vic Fangio is with his defenses.
From changing so much week-to-week and the instinctual and communication aspects of playing a more zone heavy defense, the lag time as the defense set seems obvious in hindsight. The defense is playing at a higher level than it was earlier in the season, and that is perhaps in spite of the defense not having its most valuable player.
Despite the stat-bros yelling about Von Miller not racking up sacks this season, he is still the best player on this defense. True, he isn’t creating sacks at a breakneck pace like he had before, but Von has the third-most hurries (42) and eighth-most pressures (54) of any edge rusher in the NFL this season, despite playing for a defense that is not afforded many great pass rush opportunities.
Von has still got ‘it’ and a great player, but given his age and cap hit, it should be argued he wasn’t the team’s most valuable defensive player. With the No. 5 overall selection in the 2018 draft, the Broncos selected Bradley Chubb out of N.C. State.
Despite the defense taking time to adjust to the scheme change, and how slow out of the gate the pass rush was, Chubb was still generating pressures, playing the edge, and making an impact. There is a reason Fangio, notoriously a ‘tough love’ coach who rarely hands out compliments, was raving about Chubb and his future in this defense this past offseason.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, Chubb tore his ACL in Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played through the injury, which the thought were just cramps in the moment given the on-field stability test — a testament to Chubb’s toughness and desire to play as much as anything.
It wasn’t until later in the season when the defense finally started to ‘click’. While Malik Reed has played admirably, Chubb he is not. Coming back off the injury next season for the Broncos will be like adding another top-10 level pick to the defense next season, on top of the improvements the team would have made naturally.
Another offseason to add the guys Fangio thinks are right for the defense, continuity in scheme and on-field chemistry, and throw in a revitalized Chubb? Yes, please. Even if he isn’t playing for the rest of 2019, Chubb will be back and a massive shot in the arm to the defense next season as a long-term building block player for this team.
10. The Anger and Frustration of the Fanbase
Why on earth would anyone be thankful for anger? Go around Broncos Country and it’s easy to see that this fanbase is not happy with the current direction of the team. From the issues at quarterback and the bull excrement that was 'Joe Flacco is in his prime', to the continual ineptitude of the O-line, to just losing games in such excruciating fashion, folks are justifiably angry.
When the organization continues to say they are competing this season, and the product on the field shows that is anything but the case, fanbases will get angry. Would Broncos Country be more understanding if Elway came out and said, “This team is rebuilding and looking to stack young talent as best as possible to open up a new window of competition in the future"? Perhaps.
Given the Broncos’ history of being consistently good or better, there are likely some fans so rooted in the team being competitive that even coming out and stating this team isn’t good enough right now and is aiming towards the future wouldn’t be enough. However, I believe that a massive majority of the fanbase is smart enough they would understand this logic and accept it.
It is the constant PR stunt and bending of the truth that ‘this team can compete now!’ despite the obvious deficit this team faces each week against most opponents. Even still, the anger and frustrations are a good thing!
Even in the midst of the organization’s most inept three-year stretch since before the 1970s, this team has drawn interest and passion. Denver has a potential championship-level basketball team in the Nuggets, a young and up-and-coming hockey team in the Avalanche, and one of the better atmospheres to take in a baseball game at Coors with the Rockies.
Even still, the Broncos are king. As much of a testament in how deeply rooted this fanbase is due to the years of being a good-to-great team through the Elway era to the Manning era. Elway may want the Broncos may want their players to be ‘kicking and screaming’, but in reality, it is the fanbase that has adopted this mentality. Is it always pretty? No.
Do emotions run hot from time-to-time on Twitter and Facebook? Yes. But the passion is still there, loud, and opinionated. That is great news. This shows that despite the rough stretch that has been this team since Super Bowl 50, the fanbase cares and cares a lot.
It’s when apathy sets in and the fans just don’t care anymore that things get sad. The Broncos do appear as close to that as they have been in decades, but deep down, this fanbase wouldn’t quit on this team.
This season has been long, and the longer rookie quarterback doesn’t play, the more apathy creeps in. However, after a long offseason, the fans will be right back with passion and fervor.
Anger beats apathy, and Broncos’ Country remains passionate. That perhaps is the thing to be most thankful for of all this Thanksgiving Holiday.