“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” NFL teams across the league exemplify Martin Luther King Jr.’s words as they go through free agency and the draft every year, trying to improve upon their existing foundations.
However, in a salary-capped league full of short-lived careers, it is easier said than done. The 2018 Broncos are no exception, although it cannot be argued that general manager John Elway did everything that he could to make his team better as he has tweaked every position group on the team over the last few months.
Most And Least Improved Positions For 2018 Broncos
Least Improved: Offensive Line
A team’s offensive line is the backbone of their offense. If one’s line cannot create holes for runners or give enough time for their quarterback to throw, the entire offense becomes stuck in the mud, no matter who else is on the roster. The Broncos’ line has been a core weakness for the last few years and the pattern looks to continue into 2018.
Offensive Line Was Offensive In 2017
The offensive line ranked 23rd out of 32 teams in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. They gave up the 31st-most sacks and 29th-most pressures in addition to ranking 30th in pass-blocking efficiency. Garett Bolles gave up the second-most penalties in the NFL among offensive tackles. Overall, the line was easily the worst part of the team in 2017.
Offensive Line Will Be Offensive To Watch In 2018
That being said, the Broncos’ line is not completely devoid of reasons for optimism in 2018. Bolles will be in his second year in the NFL and should perform better. Center Matt Paradis has been solid for the Broncos since he was drafted in the sixth round in 2014. Finally, the Broncos have guard Ron Leary, an ex-Cowboy and easily the best player on the line. That is where the optimism ends.
Sure, the Broncos have Leary, but he’s 29, about the age that players tend to start to decline in the NFL. To be fair, not every player regresses at the same rate and some players don’t visibly decline for another half-decade. However, the majority of players simply start declining at 29. It is not entirely unfeasible that Leary takes a step back in 2018.
The Broncos did sign a veteran with a decent track-record in tackle Jared Veldheer, but his career is riddled with injuries. At 31, it seems more likely that Veldheer will continue to slip out of the football field and onto the Injury Reserve.
The second guard position is a question mark at this point as a battle between every remaining non-starting lineman will rage for the rest of the offseason. The favorites to take the starting position are Sam Jones, a sixth-round draft pick and Connor McGovern who played 15 games and started five in 2017.
Overall, an already well below-average line picked up an injury-prone tackle in Veldheer and a sixth-round pick in Jones, both of which could struggle in 2017. Quarterback Case Keenum should keep up on his cardio this offseason because it seems that he will be running for his life for most of 2018 just like his predecessors did in 2017.
A New Hope
The writing is on the wall for the Broncos regarding their line. However, it’s not too late for the team to seek out free agents and trades. The most realistic options for the Broncos to plug their holes at tackle and guard using outside help are guards Marshal Yanda of the Baltimore Ravens and Kyle Long of the Chicago Bears. Both have had recent injuries that could have diminished their value into an affordable range and both teams could be open to some new blood in the form of a player or a draft pick.
Also, at 34 and 29 respectively, Yanda and Long would be good stop-gap measures that could bridge the gap between now and the draft/free agency period where the Broncos could truly invest in the future of a rapidly decaying line.
Most Improved: Quarterback
If a team’s line is their backbone, the quarterback is their heart. Without a solid signal caller, interceptions and incompletions ruin the chances of winning for the other 52 players on the roster. Luckily for Broncos fans, the change at quarterback was about as drastic an upgrade as could be.
The Tale Of The Tape: 2017
Trevor Siemian showed poise early in his second season as a starter with six touchdowns and two interceptions. But, he imploded soon after, finishing with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He did not finish the season.
When it was clear that the Broncos were going to miss the playoffs by a mile, head coach Vance Joseph started to look to the other quarterbacks. Brock Osweiler wasn’t much better, throwing five touchdowns to five interceptions.
2016’s first-round pick Paxton Lynch got a shot as well but it wasn’t hopeful after he posted two touchdowns and three interceptions. Fourth-stringer Chad Kelly spent most of the season on Injured Reserve and didn’t make the game-day roster in 2017.
The Future Of The Tape: 2018
Both Osweiler and Siemian have found new homes in Miami and Minnesota respectively. Lynch and Kelly will battle for the backup position behind the biggest Broncos signing of the offseason: Case Keenum.
Keenum threw 22 touchdowns to only seven interceptions in 2017 and reached the NFC championship as a Viking in 2017. Pro Football Focus has the ex-Vike ranked as the 9th-best quarterback going into 2018. Compared to a 36th-ranked Trevor Siemian, 38th-ranked Brock Osweiler, and an unranked Paxton Lynch, he should move the offense in a good direction. Keenum could even be good enough to overcome the line’s deficiencies as well. Pro Football Focus has Keenum ranked as the league’s 8th-best quarterback under pressure and the 11th-best versus blitzes.
Luckily for Broncos fans, the change at quarterback was about as drastic an upgrade as could be.
In The End, Does It Even Matter?
Even with the long-standing issues on the line persisting into 2018, the Broncos have gotten better during the offseason. The upgrade at quarterback puts the Broncos in position to flip 2017’s 5-11 campaign on its head. Will it happen? The line’s performance will decide the outcome.