The Broncos have a new coaching staff in place with the plan to get back to their winning ways. After back-to-back losing seasons (the first since 1972), Denver had to make changes and that’s why head coach Vic Fangio and his staff are here.
With a new staff comes a fresh start for a certain group of players. These players have come to the team in various ways, but they have so far disappointed in their time with the Broncos. The slate has to be wiped clean for these guys as they now get to prove whether or not their failures are on them or the former staff.
Who are the top players to take advantage of their second chance with the Broncos? Let’s take a look.
3. DeMarcus Walker
The Broncos made Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and then they knocked his career off course by standing him up to play outside linebacker as a rookie. Walker did not look natural rushing the passer without his hand in the dirt, even though he lost weight to play outside linebacker. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie and played a total of 101 snaps, compiling 7.0 tackles and 1.0 sack.
In 2018, Walker was moved back to his natural position of defensive end – but the change yielded even fewer results for the Broncos. Walker was mostly a healthy scratch all season, appearing in only three contests, playing 21 snaps, compiling 2.0 tackles and 1.0 sack.
This season, Walker is still at defensive end and is listed at 280 pounds. He has made a positive impression during offseason training activities and last week’s mandatory minicamp. Walker seems to have some of his swagger back as a pass-rusher.
During his college days at FSU, Walker was known as a hustle player who didn’t have to come off the field (he played 90 percent of defensive snaps in 2016). Walker used his quick burst off the line of scrimmage and non-stop motor to compile 16.0 sacks in his final year with the Seminoles, a mark that ranked second in the FBS.
During the last month, I’ve seen Walker make plays and get pressure on the quarterback working inside. His best moves are inside where he can use his quickness, rip and swim moves to get by would-be blockers. Now, some of his highlights this offseason have come against Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles, but Walker is beating his man to the point some times.
If Walker continues to impress in training camp, he could finally start playing up to his potential. Walker could be a rotational part of this defensive line and give them a boost for the interior pass rush on passing downs this season.
2. Su’a Cravens
You might actually put Broncos safety Su’a Cravens on a third-chance team. The Broncos added Cravens via offseason trade with the Redskins in 2018, but he didn’t do much in limited action with his new team.
Cravens got a second chance with the Broncos because there was buzz about him retiring from football after only one season with the Redskins. A second-round pick for Washington in the 2016 NFL Draft, Cravens played 11 games as a rookie, compiling 23.0 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 interception and 5.0 passes defensed. He looked good, like he did in college at USC, but a concussion ended his season prematurely.
Leading up to the 2017 season, Cravens was reportedly contemplating retirement. Washington ended up having to put him on the non-football exempt list after he left the team. Cravens tweaked his knee during Washington’s first preseason game that year then left the facility, leading the Redskins to eventually put him on the Reserve/Left Squad list.
The Broncos decided to take a chance on Cravens in the spring of 2018, but the injury bug that followed him with the Trojans and the Redskins followed him to the Mile High City. Another knee injury put Cravens on Injured Reserve for the Broncos to begin the regular season, but he was picked as a “designated to return” player last October.
Cravens made his Broncos debut in Week 9 last year, but only made it through five games. During that time, Cravens played 117 snaps and compiled 11 tackles. However, his 2018 season ended mysteriously on the bench during the final three weeks of the regular season as a healthy scratch.
Now, Fangio gets to see what he can do with a talent like Cravens. He won’t be in the starting lineup, as those safety spots are taken up by free agent addition Kareem Jackson and fourth-year pro Justin Simmons, but Cravens might be able to prove that he’s a valuable sup-package player for the Broncos. The way that safeties play under Fangio, there’s a good chance that we’ll see the best from Cravens in 2019 – if he can stay healthy.
1. Brendan Langley
It’s easy to see that this is a make-or-break season for Broncos cornerback-turned-wide-receiver Brendan Langley. He asked Broncos general manager John Elway for a chance to play wide receiver this season after two failed seasons of trying his hand at cornerback. Elway obliged, and Langley is now working on the offensive side of the ball in practice.
Nobody on the team is surprised by Langley’s speed or athleticism. They knew he was athletic when they selected him the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of tiny Lamar College. Langley’s athleticism and speed is what got him originally recruited by the Georgia Bulldogs, where he played both receiver and corner.
The Broncos know that Langley is tremendously gifted athletically, so they are trying to find out if he can play wide receiver at the pro level. The results have been mixed for Langley at OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
I’ve seen Langley make crazy catches near the sideline or the back of the end zone. These catches feature such incredible body control and concentration that only a few on the team can make those type of grabs. I’ve also seen Langley use his speed to burn defenders and get open deep for a beautifully thrown pass from Drew Lock. Langley does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder.
However, Langley is not refined as a route runner. He’s quick enough to get open on tight coverage, but sometimes he will round off his route or lean the direction he’s going before he makes his break. I’ve seen Langley run the wrong route more than once, only to have the ball fall harmlessly to the ground where he should have been. I’ve also seen Langley look down at his feet too much when making a crazy sideline or back-of-the-end-zone grab. This is a faux pas for wide receivers and one that takes his concentration off the ball.
Langley is going to find it tough to make the 53-man roster as a wide receiver. He’s incredibly fast and athletic, but not nuanced at the position. If he’s going to make the final roster, Langley will have to get his second chance with the Broncos as a special teams player.