With the first wave of NFL free agency in the books, GM John Elway and the Denver Broncos have decided to take a breather to evaluate their next move. The team is likely taking another hard look at its roster for weaknesses before diving back into the free-agent fray.
The Broncos may stand pat and wait for the draft to address those areas. In the NFL, no team has a roster without voids or weaknesses.
The salary cap doesn’t allow for 53 stars on the team. The key is knowing those weaknesses and understanding if they are balanced adequately by the strengths on the team.
How many weaknesses do the Broncos have on the roster? What are their areas of strength?
Analytics will uncover both rather quickly. Earlier this week, we answered those questions on the Broncos' defensive side of the ball.
Today, we once again dive into the analytics using Performance Value, a career average of Pro Football Reference’s AV (a metric that I have used many times in past articles), to identify strengths and weaknesses of each offensive position group currently on the Broncos roster.
Analytics identified the running back group as an area of strength for the Broncos. There are four running backs on the current roster and three of them have an average career Performance Value above the mean for the position.
The one-two punch of Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon is formidable. Both players are significantly above the mean and approaching the 'Star' category in Performance Value.
Waiting in the wings is Royce Freeman. He has not been a stellar RB but can contribute when needed as evidenced by his Performance Value. The final RB, Khalfani Muhammad, is not scored because he has not played any game snaps during the regular season, but he did show skills in preseason last year. Andrew Beck is listed as a FB/TE and he will likely be rarely used.
If the Broncos choose to keep three RBs, 100% of them will have a Performance Value above the mean. That is a strong group and is the best position group on the entire roster. The only concern is Gordon’s age.
RBs typically peak at age 26 and fall into rapid decline after age 28. Gordon’s peak season was at age 25 and he turns 27 in less than a month. It is likely he will continue to produce at an above-average level, but it isn’t a certainty.
Analytics identified the offensive line group as an area of moderate strength for the Broncos. Currently, four of the five projected starters have an average career Performance Value above the mean for the position. None of them significantly exceed the mean as the RBs position group does, but it is still as solid unit.
There are two concerns about this group, other than the health of Ja’Waun James. The depth behind the starters is suspect. Elijah Wilkinson, a key reserve is a below-average player. But the bigger concern is the hole at center if Graham Glasgow is penciled in at guard.
The Broncos will be relying on Austin Schlottmann or Patrick Morris to man that position and both are significantly below the mean in Performance Value. The team is likely counting on a sizable performance jump from at least one of these two.
If the Broncos keep eight offensive linemen as they did last year, 50% will have a Performance Value above the mean.
There is no 'Star' or 'Elite'-caliber players in this position group to make up for the weak links. Although OL is not the most pressing need, the Broncos would be wise to find talent to strengthen the unit.
Unfortunately, the options in free agency are limited. Denver really should look to the draft to get that help they need.
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Analytics identified the Broncos' quarterback position group as an area of concern, but this is where the analytics can fall short of sussing out the truth. The Broncos' starting QB is and will be Drew Lock next season.
Even though Lock's Performance Value is below the mean, we saw with our eyes last year that he has promise. However, he only started five games and his Performance Value is low because of that fact. The Broncos are all-in on Lock and he looks like a player who can take the helm and be the leader the team needs.
The backup QB position is definitely concerning. The Broncos signed Jeff Driskel in free agency, but they hope he will do nothing more than hold a clipboard. His Performance Value is well below the mean.
Driskel hasn’t started many games either, but again our eyes tell us that he does not have the same potential as Lock. Brett Rypien is on the roster, but he has not played any game snaps.
The Broncos will probably stand pat at this position and the reality is, that is probably all they can do right now.
Analytics identified the tight end position group as an area of weakness. Only one player, Noah Fant, has an average career Performance Value above the mean for the position.
The other players on the roster are below average. Fant had a promising rookie season and most think he will continue to grow into a fantastic player.
The concern is the depth behind him. Jeff Heuerman is an adequate option as a backup from a talent perspective, but he has trouble staying healthy. His Performance Value reflects that fact. Heuerman has not had one season at or above the average for his position.
The newly-acquired Nick Vannett has shown that he can be at least an average tight end. He has one season in which he performed at the mean for his position. However, his consistency is suspect since his other three seasons are well below the mean.
The Broncos will likely keep three tight ends on the roster and with their current stable, only one (33%) has a Performance Value above the mean. The Broncos should consider selecting a tight end in the draft to help round out this unit.
Analytics identified the wide receiver position group as an area of weakness. Only Courtland Sutton has an average career Performance Value above the mean for the position.
Sutton is significantly above the mean and with continued growth next season, he is likely going to be in the 'Star' group by Performance Value. The other players on the roster are below average.
The Broncos are in desperate need to find a suitable option opposite Sutton. Unless DaeSean Hamilton takes a major leap in performance, Denver will also need to invest in a third contributor. Every player, save Sutton, in this position group is young and unproven. None of them have even came close to an average season in Performance Value.
As it stands today, the Broncos would enter the season with only one (17%) player out of the six they will likely keep on the roster with an above-average Performance Value. Even if Sutton continues to ascend as projected, that is vastly inadequate.
Why the Broncos didn’t address this position at the onset of free agency is head-scratching. Denver still has some options left, but they're all second or third-wave type players. Even if the Broncos do find a free agent player to bring on board, they will have to attack this position with aggressiveness in the draft.
What it Means
The Broncos have significant question marks on the offensive side of the ball. The wide receiver and tight end position groups are lacking significantly, while the quarterback position has promise, though nothing is proven.
The projections for some of the young players are promising and this offense could be solid, but they have to address their major weakness starting with receivers. The ray of hope is that the strength of the running backs and offensive line will solidify the running game as the young players in the other position groups round into form.
As always, we want to hear your thoughts on the issue of remaining roster needs in Denver. Sound off in the comment section below.