Kelberman's Korner: 5 Most Overrated Broncos
Welcome to Kelberman’s Korner, a weekly installment by Mile High Huddle senior columnist and Huddle Up Podcast co-host Zack Kelberman, where he tackles your questions —and, as your #FootballPriest, provides absolution — regarding the Denver Broncos.
Inspiration can strike at any moment. In this instance, it hit me while recording a recent podcast, as partner-in-crime Chad Jensen and I compiled a quick list of five underrated Broncos players heading into the 2020 campaign.
Huddle Up Podcast superstar Glenn Hauser commented that, "Next question should be the five most overrated," and the light bulb immediately went off. Ding!
It's a fairly difficult exercise considering Denver has such a young roster and, save for Von Miller, not many household NFL names. In order to be overrated, one has to be rated — and there aren't a lot of folks rating the Alexander Johnsons of the world. Not yet, anyway.
But it nonetheless is an exercise worth engaging as we attempt to trudge through the doggiest days of an unprecedently unique offseason.
Here you are, Glenn, in no particular order, the Group of Five overrated Broncos:
1. KJ Hamler | WR: Taking my contrarian hat off — I did, and still kind of do, question his second-round selection — Hamler makes the unenviable cut here through little fault of his own. The blame lies with fans who believe he's a day-one incarnation of Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson. Yes, the three share a speed commonality, but that's about as far as I'm willing to go mentioning them in the same breath. Hamler (5'9) is an inch shorter than both Hill and Jackson and not sure as sure-handed, dropping 12 catchable targets in 2019 alone. He's also a raw route-runner who struggles against press coverage, still learning the intricacies of the position. To be fair, the Penn State product is dynamically fast, incredibly agile, and will help Denver on offense and special teams. His short-term potential, however, is capped. Hamler may spend much of his rookie year as a decoy for Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, with the occasional grab, or drop, that leaves your mouth agape.
2. Ja'Waun James | RT: The Broncos handed out a then-record-setting $51 million contract (including $27 million guaranteed at signing) and all they got was this lousy T-shirt. James was limited to three games last season, registering 63 (!) offensive snaps, due to an MCL injury he was never quite right from. Context: He earned $79,365 for each snap. Not a great return on investment if you're John Elway. The former Dolphins first-round pick was known as a mentally-soft player before coming to the Mile High City, and James did nothing to extinguish that unflattering label. When healthy and motivated, he's an upper-echelon right tackle with youth (28) on his side. There's a concern, though, that James checked out after receiving his windfall, which, again, was only furthered by his "effort" in 2019. He, like the next man on this list, should be fighting for his future this season.
3. Garett Bolles | LT: By sheer virtue of drawing the comical label of "most underrated Bronco," Bolles holds his place amongst the overrated. Why should a decent five-game stretch last season erase two-and-a-half years of utter incompetency? The answer: It shouldn't. I struggle to recall a fledgling first-round offensive tackle, let alone a blindside protector, whose subpar play is so easily rationalized away. "He hasn't had a decent quarterback!" "He's a slow learner!" "He has the physical talent!" "He isn't the worst player in the NFL!" Please. This might fly if Bolles was a mid-round investment or if he showed even a modicum of reliability. As the No. 20 overall choice, with the best line coach in the game, he's just bad for business. Don't take my word for it; there's a reason why Denver declined his fifth-year option and stuck him in an open competition with hobbled Elijah Wilkinson, a natural guard-turned-unnatural tackle unobjectively worse than Bolles, whose drum-beating hype video means absolutely nada.
4. Nick Vannett | TE: This seems like a random name to toss in, but hear me out. The Broncos curiously signed Vannett to serve as an in-line blocker, a sixth offensive lineman, if you will. Yet he wasn't all that good at his job last season, slapped with a paltry 25.1 pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus, before the Seahawks unceremoniously shipped him to the Steelers. He finished as PFF's 65th-rated tight end out of 67 qualifiers (48.2 overall grade). Denver already had 10,394 TEs on the roster; Vannett was a head-scratching addition to the stable. Something tells me the $5.7 million they committed to a guy with 61 career receptions — a guy stuck firmly behind ex-first-rounder Noah Fant, a guy on his third team in five years, a guy who brings less to the table than Jeff Heuerman — could have been put to better use.
5. Melvin Gordon | RB: Until he proves me wrong, I'm perfectly content dying on this hill. $16 million ($13.5 million guaranteed) for a rival who has fewer 1,000-yard seasons than the homegrown incumbent, Phillip Lindsay, they refused to pay, and severely pissed off in the process, screams "reach" by a perpetually star-chasing front office. The Broncos view Gordon, who missed five games last year over a failed contract holdout, as a true three-down workhorse, using the former Charger's pass-catching ability to justify the designation. Excuse me if I'm not doing cartwheels over Gordon's career 4.0 yards-per-carry mark (Lindsay averages 4.9 YPC), 14 fumbles (Lindsay's never fumbled), and just one 16-game campaign under his belt (Lindsay completed a full season in 2019). Gordon has yet to congregate with his new teammates in Denver, whereas Lindsay is enjoying pitch-and-catch sessions with franchise quarterback Drew Lock. Pandemic aside, it's about want-to, and, for now, Gordon would rather clap back at radio personalities than hit the grass. But, hey, his presence alone flipped an alpha switch in Lindsay, who's determined to make the Broncos regret Gordon's signing. God help Elway if the $750,000 back outshines the league's seventh-highest paid rusher for 2020. Which is entirely possible — if not probable.