You don’t have to look up the stats from the past three NFL seasons to know that the Broncos offense has been, to put it nicely, ineffective. The visual of Denver’s offense continually failing to score or move the ball has become a tough watch for Broncos Country.
This lack of scoring has kept the Broncos our of the playoffs for four straight seasons. With the Chiefs and their high-powered offense in the Broncos division, it was clear heading into the offseason that the Broncos needed to add weapons to their offense if they wanted to try to gain ground on the Super Bowl champions. That is why they drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first and second rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
For the Broncos to make a return to the playoffs, they are going to need both Jeudy and Hamler to contribute. If both players can make an immediate impact, the Broncos could be looking at a return to relevancy.
There was another time the Broncos needed to build depth at a single position to improve their ability to compete with the elite teams in the NFL. Just like 2020, they turned to two rookies and the result was one of the most-exciting teams in Broncos History.
The 2003 and 2004 editions of the Broncos both made the playoffs, but they were eliminated at the end of both seasons in the first round by Peyton Manning and Colts, falling by scores of 41-10 and 49-24. It was terrible.
It was clear that if the Broncos were going to make the transition from first-round loser to serious Super Bowl contender, they would need help in the secondary.
In the 2005 NFL Draft, the Broncos used their first three picks on the secondary. Cornerback Darrent Williams, defensive back Karl Paymah and cornerback Dominique Foxworth were all drafted to combat the Broncos postseason deficiencies. The Broncos secondary already featured superstars Champ Bailey and John Lynch in addition to the returning and firmly established Nick Ferguson. As good as those three were, they needed help.
In their rookie seasons, Williams and Foxworth made an immediate impact. Williams would start nine games, have two interceptions and 50 solo tackles. Foxworth would start seven games, and also have two interceptions and 65 solo tackles.
Keep in mind, as rookies, they were taking the field with a prime Champ Bailey. Opposing quarterbacks were going to target both Williams or Foxworth whenever they were on the field. This was going to be a big challenge for both players and neither flinched.
I spoke with Ferguson about Williams and Foxworth. Specifically, what characteristics allowed them to come in and play key roles for the Broncos in 2005.
“The temperament of both players,” Ferguson explained. “They were both willing tacklers and that earned (himself, Bailey and Lynch) our respect. It shows in their stats. Respect was not given in that locker room, it was earned. They earned it. They knew they were playing opposite Champ and they wanted to be great, especially Darrent. We knew we had two dogs. One was a Rottweiler and one was a German shepherd.”
Both Bailey and Lynch were named to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and Ferguson absolutely should have been voted in with them. The two rookies kept pace with the three veterans all season as the Broncos would finish 2005 with a record of 13-3, a top-five ranked defense and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. That defense will forever be the first to defeat the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs. After two seasons of first-round exits, the Broncos broke through.
I asked Ferguson if Williams and Foxworth were vital to the team’s success in 2005.
“Oh yeah,” he responded. “When you have depth, right and left corner, and you have somebody to play the nickel it gives your defense versatility. Look at (Bradley) Roby with (Aqib) Talib and (Chris) Harris (Jr.). Roby knew he had to play at their level. Darrent and Foxy knew they had to play up to a certain standard with us and they accepted the challenge.”
The 2020 Broncos are in a similar position as the 2005 Broncos. The team has had trouble breaking through the last few seasons and is looking to get out of the rut. Like they did in 2005, the Broncos used the draft to stack one position group in hopes it will allow them to compete with the best quarterbacks in the league.
In 2005, they prepared to stop Manning and Brady. In 2020, they hope to trade touchdowns with Patrick Mahomes.
The 2005 Broncos needed three top cornerbacks to make the next step and the 2020 Broncos need three wide receiver threats to be able to truly establish themselves as a playoff contender. Opposing offenses in 2005 did everything they could to avoid throwing to Bailey’s side, so the opportunities were plentiful for Williams and Foxworth.
Courtland Sutton is an emerging star in the NFL and is rightfully the No. 1 wide receiver on the depth chart. Opposing defenses will look to shut him down. With the focus on Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler can expect to have opportunities early on. They need to take advantage of their opportunities. Particularly Hamler, who should be able draw mismatches from the slot position.
One of the most interesting things Ferguson said to me about the comparison of Williams and Foxworth to Jeudy and Hamler was what it will take for them to succeed.
“They will only be as good as the wide receiver room,” he explained. “Darrent and Foxy had us to push them. Sutton has to be that guy in the room.”
Once the young guy, Sutton now finds himself the leader and veteran. Sutton’s approach and performance will be key to the success of Jeudy and Hamler. Williams and Foxworth felt the pressure to keep up with Bailey, Lynch and Ferguson. Sutton needs to apply the same pressure to Jeudy and Hamler.
Fair or not, the expectations on Jeudy and Hamler are high. It is up to them to approach their rookie season with a sense of urgency. The Broncos feel if they can score on a more consistent basis, they will once again be a contender.
In 2005, the Broncos felt they needed depth in the secondary to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth proved them right by having two of the best rookie seasons in Broncos history.
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