The Broncos are hoping for better results this year. That’s why they went out and traded for quarterback Joe Flacco. It’s why they maneuvered through the salary cap to bring in top free agents like right tackle Ja’Wuan James and corner/safety Kareem Jackson. It’s also the reason why they worked countless hours to build the best 2019 draft board they possibly could and then executed that plan during the process.
General manager John Elway has kept some key veterans in an effort to make another run at the postseason. The Broncos now have an interesting blend of youth and experience on this roster. This mixture has been evident during offseason training activities and minicamp this offseason.
Mandatory minicamp wrapped up last week at UC Health Training Center. After watching this team in practice for over a month, I’ve got a pretty good feel for who we should see at the top of the depth chart at each position for the Broncos.
Thus, it’s time to predict what the Broncos starting lineup will be on offense.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
This one is super easy. Flacco is the clear-cut starter for the Broncos and if healthy, there’s no reason to take him off the field. He still has a big arm and is incredibly calm under duress. Flacco knows what it takes to be a starter and can still be an effective starter in the league. He’s struggled with injury during the last two seasons (2017 back, 2018 hip) and was limited to just nine games last year. Now healthy, Flacco is ready to prove the doubters wrong and show that the Ravens made a mistake getting rid of him.
Reserve to Watch: Drew Lock
We’ll see how 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock develops as a rookie. He has tools to be an effective starter one day, but he is not ready now. Lock needs time to learn how to operate from under center and needs to clean up his footwork to help his accuracy. He should only see the field if Flacco is hurt.
Running Back: Phillip Lindsay
The Broncos really have two starting running backs in my opinion. Phillip Lindsay is going to be the lead back, but Royce Freeman is likely to be the “1B” to Lindsay’s “1A” in 2019. The Broncos should use Lindsay more as a receiver out of the backfield this season. His speed and explosiveness makes him a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. You get an added bonus as using Lindsay in space could keep him away from some of the big hits he can get inside the tackles. A wrist injury shortened his rookie season in 2018 and Lindsay still hasn’t participated in practice drills as he’s working his way back, but the team does expect him to be ready at some point in training camp.
Reserve to Watch: Royce Freeman
As aforementioned, Freeman isn’t really a backup, but rather could be a co-starter with Lindsay. Freeman has the size to wear down an opponent and I think he’s a rhythm runner who gets stronger as the game goes on. The Broncos are going to be a run-heavy offense in 2019, so having Freeman lead the team in rushing wouldn’t be a bad thing. Something like 1,100 yards for Freeman and 900 yards for Lindsay on the ground sounds right. Lindsay would be the leading receiving back and have more all-purpose yards.
Fullback: Andy Janovich
We could see more from fullback Andy Janovich on offense than ever before. He never really has played that much on offense, but that could be changing with new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello running the show. In 2018, Janovich played just 239 snaps on offense, rushing two times for five yards and catching eight passes for 112 yards and one touchdown.
Compare that to what 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk did in 2018. Juszczyk played almost three times the snaps as Janovich. He played 662 snaps, ran the ball only eight times for 30 yards, but caught 30 passes for 324 yards and one touchdown.
Janovich may not quite match those numbers, but he should be used more in 2019 by the Broncos – at least as a receiver out of the backfield.
Reserve to Watch: None
The Broncos should only keep one fullback for the 2019 season. Apologies to D-Mac, but rookie fullback George Aston (you know, the kid with no neck) is highly unlikely to make the Broncos 53-man roster.
Wide Receivers: Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders
There is a changing of the guard at the wide receiver position this year. Courtland Sutton is poised to take over as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Broncos in 2019. Sutton has the size and speed to be a force down the field and in the red zone. As a rookie in 2018, Sutton looked good, but was not quite ready for a starring role. That seems to have changed this offseason. Sutton is more nuanced as a route-runner while still retaining his speed and “my ball” mentality.
That makes Emmanuel Sanders the No. 2 receiver for the Broncos this season. At 32 years old, Sanders isn’t quite the same player he used to be. However, he is poised to once again prove doubters wrong. In 2018, Sanders was lost for the season with an Achilles’ injury after just 12 games. He’s been working diligently to return from the injury this offseason. I’ve seen him running and working out off to the side of Broncos practice at OTAs and minicamp. Sanders is back to showing great speed and still looks to have great burst out of his breaks.
Reserve to Watch: DaeSean Hamilton
The Broncos should not use three-WR sets that often in 2019, but when they do, their third wideout will be Hamilton. As a rookie in 2018, Hamilton had some struggles. He is a nuanced route runner and can get open with guile. Earlier this offseason, Hamilton revealed that he wants to be the top receiver for the Broncos. That’s a great mindset to have, but Hamilton will have to work his way up the depth chart from the No. 3 spot.
Tight End: Jeff Heuerman
Earlier this offseason, the Broncos made somewhat of a surprising move by re-signing free agent tight end Jeff Heuerman. It was a bit of a surprise as Heuerman was able to hit the open market, but didn’t get any interest. Instead, the Broncos brought him back with a two-year, $9 million contract with $2 million in guarantees. He’s never played a full 16-game season and even though Heuerman is coming off career-best numbers in 2018 (31 catches), he should struggle to duplicate that success in 2019. Heuerman is a blocker primarily, but with Flacco’s propensity to target tight ends, Heuerman will get some receiving work. How much he’s used as a receiver actually isn’t up to him but a dynamic rookie added to the roster.
Reserve to Watch: Noah Fant
We could see 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant take over as the starter at some point this season. In fact, there is a chance he wins the top spot coming out of training camp. Fant is a receiving threat first and foremost. He has the speed to attack the deep middle seam of a defense and creates mismatches every time he’s on the field. Fant is an “effort blocker,” but that’s not the best part of his game. The Broncos should make the rookie the leading receiver at the position and projecting Fant to catch 40 or so passes is not outlandish whatsoever.
Offensive Line: Garrett Bolles (LT), Dalton Risner (LG), Connor McGovern (OC), Ron Leary (RG), Ja’Wuan James (RT)
The play of the Broncos offensive line will largely determine the team’s success in 2019. That’s why getting the starting five right, healthy and playing at the highest level possible is priority one for the team’s coaching staff (primarily offensive line coach Mike Munchak).
Left tackle Garett Bolles is Munchak’s biggest project, although he does have the athleticism necessary to shine in the wide-zone system the Broncos are implementing in 2019. In the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Broncos selected Dalton Risner from Kansas State to play left guard, where he can use his aggressiveness and strength to dominate. Inside at center, we will see Connor McGovern again and he’s got plenty of experience from 2018 when he started at the position for about half the season. Right guard will once again be Ron Leary, the same position he played in his first season with the Broncos back in 2017. Right tackle is now the league’s highest-paid player at the position in Ja’Wuan James, who was signed on the open market.
Reserve to Watch: Eli Wilkinson
Before the 2019 NFL draft, I thought we could see Eli Wilkinson emerge as a starting left guard for the Broncos in 2019. Instead, they selected Risner and pushed Wilkinson to a reserve role. He’s got the ability to start for the Broncos if they need him to. Wilkinson is a swing tackle who can play on either side, but he’s also a swing guard where he can start inside.
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