Please give a warm welcome to Joe Rowles at Mile High Report, who was kind enough to answer five questions from us ahead of tonight’s Hall of Fame Game. If you’re curious about how the Broncos look this year, this is the place to learn more.
Dave Choate: Without the starters in this game, by and large, who are you most looking forward to seeing from the Broncos? Any standouts who have a strong chance of pulling down starting jobs or at least real roles on this team?
Joe Rowles: Vic Fangio mentioned after Monday’s practice that the depth chart is a bit of a farce at the moment. He mentioned to the local media that we know who has been working with the first team and how every position after that is a free for all. So I’m pretty intrigued by how they’ll utilize a few guys:
- Justin Hollins: the former fifth round pick came out of Oregon as an Edge prospect but has been playing both inside and outside linebacker spots. He was my favorite draft pick and fits what Fangio looks for in linebackers to a T.
- Malik Reed was an undrafted rookie out of Nevada that the Broncos gave a big signing bonus to. He’s currently buried on the depth chart but everything out of camp suggests he’s been lighting it up.
- Juwann Winfree was the Broncos last draft pick after an injury marred career at Colorado. He’s gotten rave reviews out of camp and looks like he’s all but locked up a roster spot, with some even predicting he’ll earn time with the starting offense early in the year.
- Austin Fort is kind of the deep sleeper at tight end behind Noah Fant and Jeff Heuerman. Denver looks like they’ll be utilizing a lot of two tight end sets this year and he’s been a very reliable pair of hands since OTAs.
Dave Choate: Speaking of young players, is Drew Lock the future at quarterback in Denver, or just an intriguing prospect? How many years does Flacco stick with the Broncos?
Joe Rowles: One of the unsung areas where Joe Flacco represented an upgrade over Case Keenum is the length and flexibility the remainder of his contract carries. Since Denver picked him up via trade, there are no guarantees, so they could cut him tomorrow and create a clean $18.5 million in cap space. I doubt they’d do it this year, but where Keenum’s previous deal put pressure on the Broncos to figure out what they have in Lock now Flacco gives them the relative stability to bring him along slowly if need be.
Having studied Lock since the reports of Elway’s infatuation with him emerged last winter, the potential to slow cook him is huge. He came out of Missouri a four year starter with many of the same bad habits that made Jay Cutler such a roller coaster ride. Lock probably has the most natural arm talent out of the 2019 class, but he needs time to refine his lower body mechanics. If he can do that I see a player who could give Denver the long term franchise quarterback they’ve been looking for since Elway retired. Flacco buys the coaching staff time to do that, so long as he can stay healthy.
“The Broncos have a lot of questions on offense that could hold them back, specifically receiving and along the offensive line. If both can provide Flacco the support he needs, Denver’s a dark horse playoff team in the loaded West.”
Dave Choate: I ask this one for the many fantasy footballers in the readership: Is this Phillip Lindsay’s job to lose, does Royce Freeman have a chance to unseat him, or does this loom as more of a timeshare for the 2019 season?
Joe Rowles: I’d bet on Freeman and Lindsay becoming something close to a true timeshare. Some in Broncos Country took issue in May when I mentioned that Royce Freeman may be the starter with Lindsay in a 1A type role behind him. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello compared the two to what Atlanta had with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in how they compliment each other. One thing that could excite your PPR players is how it’s looking more and more like the Broncos will better utilize both backs as receivers this year. They combined for almost 200 career receptions during their collegiate careers, and Scangarello said backs on linebackers is one of the easiest mismatches to create.
Dave Choate: It’s the Hall of Fame game, so it seems worth asking: Is Von Miller a slam dunk Hall of Famer someday? Any reasons to think he’s slowing down heading into his age 30 season, or is he going to challenge the all-time sack record someday?
Joe Rowles: I think he could make it in if he had to retire today, so yeah I think he’s a slam dunk. There has been some argument this summer about whether he or J.J. Watt were the best player out of that insanely deep 2011 draft. While I hope Miller can challenge for the all-time sack record, that looks an awful lot like the defensive version of Jerry Rice’s all time receiving records. Bruce Smith averaged close to 10 sacks a season between 30 and 40.
This isn’t to say that I’ve seen anything to suggest Von has begun his decline, mind you. He had 35.5 pressures last year by Sports Info Solution charting, which is right in line with his production in 2015 and ’16. What could help him going forward is that Bradley Chubb also had 34.5 as a rookie, and the pair forced protections schemes to pick their poison last year.
Dave Choate: Finally, what are you looking for from this Denver team in 2019? Is it a contender in a strong AFC West, a team finding its way, or one that you’re not counting on much from? Do you have a record prediction?
Joe Rowles: Denver looks like they’ll hover around that 8 win mark this year, give or take a win. This may not be the year it all comes together, but Elway’s draft classes the last two seasons lays a promising foundation for the long term. What could help them in 2019 is that Scangarello’s system is a direct descendant of Gary Kubiak’s, which helped Flacco to a career year in 2014.
The last time Vic Fangio took over a defense with this much talent he turned the San Francisco 49ers into a defensive behemoth. The Broncos have a lot of questions on offense that could hold them back, specifically receiving and along the offensive line. If both can provide Flacco the support he needs, Denver’s a dark horse playoff team in the loaded West. If neither do, or the injury luck that plagued the 2018 Falcon’s strikes Denver’s D? They’ll wind up with another top 10 pick.