It's always easy to look at the team you cover and say it's strong or weak at a particular position, but that is rarely the complete picture. ESPN's Mike Clay decided to start ranking the positions in the NFL, comparing among each team which has led to some rather interesting results for teams over the years.
Now, it isn’t an exact science, even with all of the data Clay puts into making his rankings. Certain aspects can’t be accounted for, mainly the growth of certain players, which is quite apparent when looking at Clay's rankings for the Denver Broncos. This is a relatively young team, seventh-youngest back in May, so a lot is riding on the growth of each player.
As we analyze these rankings, that needs to be remembered at quite a few of these positions. Clay's rankings can only be done with what information is available currently available to him, and while he's been pretty accurate, he's not perfect. So, how do the Broncos rank at the 10 main positions compared to every other NFL team?
Quarterback | 30
This one will get a lot of flack, but the Broncos’ top-two quarterbacks were bottom-10 in the NFL last year. The Broncos didn’t have much of a chance to climb ESPN's rankings because Teddy Bridgewater rated so poorly last year. Much of the weight of Denver's QB outlook depends on the development of Drew Lock.
While Lock has shown it in the preseason, he needs to show it consistently in the regular season. It's straightforward as to why Clay has the Broncos' quarterback room ranked so low compared to the rest of the NFL. There are a couple of teams, like the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, that one can make an argument to rank higher than the Broncos but you wouldn’t get one from me. I would put the Broncos’ No. 28 of 32 and above those two teams.
Running Back | 12
Without much information about what Javonte Williams will do in the NFL, it is reasonable to have them just outside the top 10. Melvin Gordon was the primary back toward the end of last season, which was enough to keep the Broncos' running backs ranked relatively high. With Mike Boone entering the equation, the depth has been improved which was a concern for the Broncos last year.
When looking at the 11 teams in front of the Broncos, this is a pretty appropriate placement. However, some can be disputed, primarily the Jacksonville Jaguars with James Robinson and Travis Etienne, the latter of whom is a rookie like Williams. This will be one to watch to see whether the Broncos end up higher in Clay's rankings after the season, which wouldn’t be surprising.
This is a little lower than I would have gone. I would have ranked the Broncos at No. 11 above the Jaguars. Robinson had a great rookie year, Etienne is a talented rookie, but Carlos Hyde is a solid depth guy. That said, the combination of Gordon, Williams, and Boone offers more.
Wide Receiver | 15
With Courtland Sutton coming back from his injury and needing to see development from Jerry Jeudy and KJHamler, this ranking does make some sense. The Broncos also have Tim Patrick, who has proven to be more than reliable as a depth receiver over the last couple of years. However, this ranking also raises the most questions, with multiple teams checking in above the Broncos.
The two teams that raise the most questions are the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville's D.J. Moore is very talented, and Robby Anderson is one of the better deep-ball receivers, but besides them, it’s a group of hopeful youngsters. Meanwhile, with Laviska Shenault, D.J. Chark, and Tavon Austin, the Jaguars show promise, but they have similar questions as the Broncos.
For my rankings, the Broncos would be a bit higher than ESPN's. Not quite top-10 because of the injury recovery and growth needed, but a little closer to it. Denver would jump the Panthers and the Jaguars to land at No. 13 instead of 15.
Tight End | 11
Denver has Noah Fant, who hopefully really emerges as the star tight end he can be this year. ESPN did snub Fant not that long ago by keeping him out of its top-10 tight end rankings, which he completely deserves to be in. Outside of him, it's either a bunch of JAG bodies or a hopeful developmental piece like Albert Okwuegbunam.
Fant carries Denver to this ranking, and it's one I can’t find much fault in. Every team above Denver has an excellent case to be ranked higher, while teams below can’t have the same argument made. So No. 11 is spot-on, even with a top-10 tight end because of concerns about the depth.
Offensive Line | 19
This was one of the tougher ones because the offensive line play around the NFL has been down over the last few years. Some teams have great starters but lack any semblance of depth. Denver has solid starters and depth, which makes this ranking challenging to place.
However, ESPN has multiple teams ranked above Denver that I can’t agree with. For example, the Detroit Lions are similar with their starters but have worse depth; the L.A. Chargers are in an even worse position, especially with their depth, and the Arizona Cardinals have a great center but lack at the four other spots.
The worst of them all was the Seattle Seahawks, who added to their line but still aren't a good unit on paper. I would rank the Broncos above all of them at the O-line, and more so because of the issues those teams have than it being a strength for Denver. I'd rank the Broncos No. 15.
Interior Defensive Line | 18
This was the biggest insult of all the rankings with how strong Denver’s defensive line was despite dealing with so many injuries last year. Shelby Harris is back, and Dre’Mont Jones is poised to break out, and the Broncos' depth is strong. While Denver wouldn’t quite crack the top-10, I would ranked the D-line just shy at No. 12.
The Arizona Cardinals added J.J. Watt, but he has not been the same player, and the rest of their line is weak (Chandler Jones comes in as an edge), the Chicago Bears have a group that hasn’t been up to par the last year two (Khalil Mack is an edge), and the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, and the Tennessee Titans would follow them.
Some of those teams have one good or great player on their interior defensive line. None of them have the depth the Broncos do. This was a snub relative to what the Broncos have upfront.
Edge Rusher | 5
Having the Broncos come in at fifth was a little shocking as there seems to be a lot of value placed on Von Miller coming back. Seeing this ranking raised even more questions about Clay's whole process and how he values players coming back from injury because of the receiver's rankings.
With Miller and Bradley Chubb coming back from injury, Malik Reed having his limitations, and the depth being unproven players, I would’ve had the Broncos a little lower than fifth. Denver would have come in at No. 8 for me behind the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears, mainly because of Miller’s uncertainty.
Off-Ball Linebacker | 12
I have long asserted that the Broncos' off-ball linebackers are better than most fans are willing to admit. This is not the first time they have checked in highly for position rankings compared to other teams or even individually. Pro Football Focus recently ranked both Broncos' starting linebackers rated highly.
When looking at the rest of the teams, I could easily have Denver higher and in some cases, even lower. There's a lot of variance, depending on what exactly you are prioritizing. For example, a defense asking more of its linebackers in coverage would rank lower, but they'd check in higher in a downhill, attacking defense. So, No. 12 seems fair because there is decent balance and plenty of upside with the depth at the position.
Cornerback | 2
There is an actual argument here for the Broncos to have the top spot over the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, both of whom are great corners in the NFL, but Denver is right there with them and has better depth. If we were talking just the top-two corners on the depth chart, the edge would go to Baltimore, but it'd be easy to go with Denver overall.
With how much teams have to rely on their depth corners, there is a bit more weight placed on the overall depth chart, and that is very much in Denver’s favor. Both teams have dealt with injuries from their slot corner in Bryce Callahan and Tavon Young, respectively, but Callahan is much better than Young when healthy. The real kicker comes in Jimmy Smith, who is still a solid corner, vs. Patrick Surtain II, who seems to be the young up-and-comer.
Safety | 1
Denver ranked No. 1 at safety, which makes sense as many believe the Broncos boast the best safety in the league, and one of the best duos. Having depth questions with two rookies and two other young players is a concern, but not enough to drop them for me. There is so much value placed on the starting dup to keep them in the top spot.
Even putting more value on the depth would make it hard for me to drop the Broncos down because of what Caden Sterns and P.J. Locke have been showing in the preseason. Granted, it has only been preseason, which raises some concern but they look like good depth. However, it's a moot point as weight is added to the starting duo, which keeps Denver at the top.
Overall | 16
The overall rankings weigh the quarterback positions, and Denver comes in at 16 in the NFL. That speaks to how strong the Broncos' roster is overall, and honestly, their defensive rankings likely carried it. On the defensive side of the ball, Denver ranked in the top-half in four of the five positions.
With the weight being placed on the quarterback position, it is surprising that Clay had the Broncos No. 16 overall with the 30th-overall quarterback room. It would be great to see more explanation for each because much of Clay's football arithmetic doesn't add up when looking over these rankings.
These rankings confirm that the Broncos have a talented roster that will only go as far as the quarterbacks take them. However, Denver can get into the playoffs with reliable quarterback play, and it doesn’t even have to be remarkable.
With how Denver ranked at a few of these positions, it will be interesting to revisit after the season and see what changes Clay makes to them.
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