Welcome back to another edition of ‘The Super Bowl Race In The Perspective Of Chase’, a close to daily NFL article previewing your favorite teams season! The Denver Broncos were one of if not the most disappointing team in football last year, as after trading for future Hall of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson, Denver won just five games and finished last in an AFC West division they were supposed to be competing for! But will things change this year for Denver?
Javonte Williams is healthy. Wilson has a whole other offseason to get used to Denver’s offensive scheme. And they now have a good head coach at the helm, Sean Payton. Will this be enough for Denver to get into postseason contention? Or was last year just the end of an amazing, successful career from one of the greatest QB’s of the last decade? Here is everything you need to know about the Denver Broncos going into the 2023 season!
It has to be answered: Can Sean Payton turn this team around?
Last year, Denver wanted to finally contend in a very tough AFC West division. So, they gave up a very hefty package for Wilson. The Broncos traded three players and four draft picks for the 8x Pro Bowl. Those draft picks turned into starting left tackle Charles Cross, developing talented pass rusher Boye Mafe, All Pro cornerback Devon Witherspoon and Derrick Hall, a pass rusher from Auburn who had 11.5 sacks and ran a 4.55 40 yard dash. In return, Denver got a five win season and very little production from Wilson, who threw a career low in touchdowns and near a career high in interceptions.
Denver’s offense was just a mess as a whole. Javonte Williams, the Broncos’ expected breakout running back in 2022, only played four games before tearing his ACL and LCL, an injury that sidelined him for the final 13 games of the season. So, Denver’s backfield conceded of a 33 year old Latavius Murray, Melvin Gordon, who had the worst season of his career and Chase Edmunds, who didn’t even rush for 200 yards for the Broncos.
And the passing game just wasn’t good enough to make their offense, even serviceable. No receiver on Denver reached the 1,000 yard mark, and despite nice seasons from three year pro Jerry Jeudy and veteran Courtland Sutton, Denver’s third leading receiver when it comes to receiving yards was tight end Greg Dulcich with 411. So with all of this being said, Denver’s offense was historically bad. Denver scored an NFL low 16.9 points per game, the only team in the NFL to score under 17 points per game. Not to mention they got sacked more than any team in football, getting brought down in the backfield 63 times!
The sad part is, the defense was very good. They were 7th in total yards allowed, and allowed only 21 points per game. Yet, the margin for error was so slim due to Denver’s lack of offensive production. However, Denver had some monster defensive players.
For starters, Pat Surtain may be the best cornerback in football. He was a 1st team All Pro cornerback in 2022, had 10 passes defended, and had the second highest PFF rating among all cornerbacks with 86.8, just behind Sauce Gardner and ahead of 3x All Pro Jalen Ramsey. He also had an 86.7 rating in just coverage, only behind Gardner. And obviously he’s joined by Justin Simmons in the secondary, who had six interceptions and seven passes defended in 2022.
But in the front seven, Denver also had some studs. Alex Singleton was fifth in the entire NFL in total tackles with 163, 101 of them as solo tackles. Bradley Chubb had 5.5 sacks before being dealt to Miami at the deadline last year. DeShawn Williams had 4.5 sacks, and Baron Browning had five. And with almost all of those players still on the team, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a ton of these players improve in 2023.
So, it’s clear Denver has talent. They just haven’t executed with that talent. So Denver’s going to give it one more shot with Wilson and this core of players. In the draft, Denver didn’t have their first round pick (it went to Seattle because of the Wilson trade), but they still made some good moves.
They drafted Marvin Mims in round two, a 1,000 yard receiver with 20 yards per reception at Oklahoma. He will add some needed depth to this Broncos wide receiver core. Their second pick of the draft was linebacker Drew Sanders at pick 67. Sanders had 103 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 passes defended and three forced fumbles at Alabama in 2022. Denver got significant value landing him in the third round, and he should be an immediate impact player for them next season.
So after a really good draft, Denver had some work to do in the offseason. They signed Samaje Perine to add depth at running back. They re-signed Singleton after a monster season, and re-signed Kareem Jackson. They signed Kyle Fuller back after a one game stint in Baltimore in 2022, before suffering a season ending injury. It wasn’t too long ago though that Fuller led the NFL in interceptions and passes defended, so we’ll see how much more the 31 year old has left in the tank.
They improved to the defensive line after losing Williams to Carolina by signing 3x Pro Bowler and 2x Super Bowl champion Frank Clark. On the offensive line, they signed guard Ben Powers to a $51 million dollar deal over four years after an exceptional breakout season with Baltimore in 2022. And with Tim Patrick going down for the season for the second straight year, Denver signed wide receiver Marquez Callaway, who had close to 700 yards and 6 touchdowns in New Orleans in 2021.
But their biggest move of the offseason was not any player they signed. It’s their coach. Nathaniel Hackett was considered one of the worst head coaches in football last year. Now, he’s being replaced by a coach that was considered one of the best in football before taking a year off. Sean Payton has won over 63% of his games in the regular season, and is a Super Bowl winning coach with a winning record in the postseason. Not many coaches have that kind of experience and execution. Payton should be able to turn this offense around, with his Saints scoring the second highest points per game in the league in his time as their head coach.
It was a very busy offseason for Denver this year. But after the offseason, there is many reasons to believe this Denver team could actually be a postseason team this year. They improved to their offensive line. They brought in some more depth and options at wide receiver, which with another offseason to see Dulcich develop, is very important. Their defense is still young AND was improved this offseason. They added more depth and now health and running back. And obviously, they brought in Sean Payton to improve the team as a whole. So with all of these things occurring, Wilson shouldn’t play the way he did last season. And if that’s the case, Denver should have a nice season. But there are many questions.
What if the receiving game just isn’t good enough? What if the defense can’t play at the same level as last season? What if Sean Payton just isn’t enough of a difference maker to turn this team around? What if Javonte Williams never evens returns to his 2021 form, let alone a higher level that he was expected to reach in 2022? And the biggest one of them all, what if Russell Wilson has just regressed, and can’t be even a shell of his old self?
While these questions are valid, and deserved to be asked, I think Denver will have a nice season, with Sean Payton bouncing back this offense. I expect significant improvement from Russell Wilson, good play defensively, and a very competitive football team in 2023!
Prediction: Russell Wilson bounces back, and the Broncos have a nice season, possibly squeaking into one of the final Wild Card spots!