The Broncos have been quite busy this offseason. After revamping the coaching staff and overhauling the roster, they have spent the last month or so working out the kinks. They’ve gone through offseason training activities and mandatory minicamp, looking to see if the upgrades they made worked.
The changes for the Broncos are not exclusive to the players. This team has searched far and wide to provide the best coaching staff they can find to turn things around – quickly – in 2019.
Here are the five most-important acquisitions by the Broncos this offseason:
Some might think Joe Flacco would be No. 1 on this list – and for good reason. This team has been struggling at the quarterback position ever since Peyton Manning retired. Like Manning, Flacco is a former Super Bowl MVP that is looking to finish his career with a different team. Unlike Manning, Flacco may not have the ability to post “Star Wars” numbers like we saw in 2013.
That’s okay, Flacco’s role will be much different from Manning’s role in this offense. That’s why he’s not higher on this list.
Flacco is going to be tasked with being a game manager in 2019, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Broncos offense is going to be run-heavy, which in the modern NFL means they will be balanced in their run/pass ratio. That means Flacco won’t have the opportunity to post great numbers as a passer.
If Flacco gets around 3,500 yards passing and 20 to 25 passing touchdowns this season, then it’s what he should do. The offense just won’t ask him to do more. The Broncos want to play with a lead, run the ball and play great defense in 2019.
Yes, Flacco is an upgrade over Case Keenum; I think it’s preposterous to suggest otherwise. However, the team doesn’t need him to throw 50 touchdowns in 2019 (although wouldn’t that be nice?). Instead, the Broncos want Flacco to manage the game, take what the defense gives him and run the offense as designed.
Even though Flacco may not be the same quarterback he used to be, that role is something he can perform at a high level.
4. Noah Fant
It’s been quite some time since the Broncos had an impact tight end. We have to go back to Julius Thomas in 2013 and 2014 to find a one that was a difference-maker on offense. No offense to Thomas, but a lot of his success can be credited to Manning and it’s easy to make the argument that Thomas would not have been as productive had the quarterback not been with the Broncos.
Enter 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant. He’s here to upgrade the position in a big way. While Thomas was a converted college basketball player just learning the position, Fant is well-nuanced in the responsibility of playing tight end. Hopefully, that experience gives him a head start.
Fant is what scouts call a “seam ripper” because he has the speed to get down the middle of the field in a hurry. Linebackers aren’t fast enough to stay with Fant down the seam, and safeties aren’t big enough to guard him on a well-placed throw. Fant creates a mismatch almost every time he steps onto the field, and that’s something the Broncos should take advantage of in 2019.
We should see Fant become a favorite target of Flacco this season. In fact, during OTAs and minicamp, Fant has already caught the eye of his quarterback and gathered in quite a few big catches during the last month or so of practices. Flacco is known to pepper his tight ends with targets early and often, a huge benefit for a rookie like Fant.
Flacco’s last full season as a starter (2017) saw him target then 37-year-old veteran tight end Ben Watson a whopping 79 times. Watson snared 61 of those passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns. To indicate how many targets that is, Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman has had 84 targets in three seasons as a pro.
Needless to say, Fant is in line to get a lot of work early on for the Broncos.
The Broncos got one of the most=versatile secondary players in the league when they added Kareem Jackson in free agency. During the last two years, the Broncos have lost talented corners like Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. The “No Fly Zone” is no more, but the Broncos may get a taste of their former glory in the secondary in part because of the acquisition of Jackson.
A cornerback for most of his career, Jackson looks to be playing mostly safety for the Broncos in 2019. This comes as a bit of a shock to me, but minicamp and OTAs have borne that out. When Jackson was first signed, I thought, “Great! He’s going to be a great starter at corner opposite of Chris Harris Jr.”
Now, after a month of workouts, that’s simply not going to be the case. Instead of playing corner and sometimes playing safety, the opposite is true for Jackson. He’s going to play safety for the Broncos and then likely to move to slot corner in nickel packages this season.
Jackson is versatile enough to do that, but it still comes as a bit of a surprise to me. His versatility is a hallmark of his game, and that is a great addition for a revamped Broncos defense. Where Jackson is lined up could easily confuse an opponent who will have to decipher before the snap whether or not his responsibilities are as a corner or a safety.
His aggressiveness is a great addition, too. Jackson is known as a tough competitor who does not back down from any challenge. He’s physical when he tackles and wants an opponent to know when he’s been taken down. Jackson loves to intimidate and gives a strong Broncos defense even more swagger in 2019.
2. Vic Fangio
Like Flacco, there are many who would imagine Vic Fangio at the top of the list – and for good reason. Fangio is about as opposite as you could get from Vance Joseph, even though both gentlemen were first-time head coaches when the Broncos hired them. While Joseph was younger and seen as a player’s coach, Fangio is a long-time coach with a more no-nonsense approach.
The Broncos are hoping that approach turns things around in 2019. Fangio isn’t one to try and motivate his players with over-the-top positivity and praise. Instead, Fangio expects players to play at a high level – especially his superstars, like Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris Jr. This type of tough love has seen the players respond in a positive way.
Fangio treats every player the same way. He’s not going to break his arm patting guys on the back, but he is going to be fair and have high expectations. Fangio is a teacher and he takes his time when showing a player how he wants things to be done. The veteran coach doesn’t expect perfection, and he will allow for mistakes to be made. However, Fangio does demand excellence of his players and the Broncos defenders seem to be responding the way he wants them to.
This honesty that Fangio brings to the table is quite refreshing. Joseph seemed to have favorites within the locker room, and there were certainly players – cough, Aqib Talib, cough — that didn’t care too much for the young coach. Fangio is not looking to play favorites. Instead, he is looking for football players who can help his team win.
Fangio’s hire alone should be worth at least a couple of more wins this season.
1. Mike Munchak
The Broncos stole offensive line coach Mike Munchak from the Steelers earlier this offseason. I feel he is the single most-important acquisition for the Broncos this offseason because the offensive line is in need of the most work. Munchak brings Hall of Fame credentials and former head coaching experience to the Broncos, and these players had better get in line with what he has to teach.
Munchak’s biggest project has to be left tackle Garett Bolles. Can Munchak get through to Bolles? That’s the biggest question for the veteran coach now that he’s with the Broncos. Bolles has been heavily penalized each of his first two seasons starting in the NFL. That’s the first thing that Munchak has to improve, but it’s not the only problem in need of repair.
Bolles has a tendency to shy away from coaching. There were times during training camp in 2018 when Bolles was getting guidance from a coach and merely walked away. He’s got to listen to his coach and know that the staff has his best interests at heart. If Bolles is better, it’s better for the Broncos – and for Bolles who could get his fifth-year option for 2021 picked up this upcoming offseason if he plays well in 2019.
Munchak has done this type of yeoman’s work before. When he was first hired by the Steelers as their offensive line coach in 2014, their line was a mess. They ranked in the mid-20s when it came to run-blocking grades and they allowed nearly the most sacks in the NFL regularly (see old clips of Ben Roethlisberger running for his life). The very first year Munchak took over, the Steelers had the sixth-highest grade for run blocking and they cut their sacks down by almost 15.
Could he have that sort of impact in Denver this season? If the team gets back to the postseason in 2019, a large credit will likely have to go to Munchak for the work he does up front. Hopefully, we see a turnaround of the Broncos offensive line like we saw with the Steelers under Munchak years ago.