Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos finished 5-11 last season, "earning" a top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. And yet, their Super Bowl window is wide open. Which is kind of cool. Especially since we are sitting here as witness to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers going at it again in the NBA Finals. A matchup as fresh as a WWE PPV with Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.
Look, I'm not totally shading the NBA, because I enjoy it very much. But just a handful of cities have a legitimate chance at the Finals. Not so here in the NFL. The Broncos are definitely in the mix. But if they are going to take advantage of that window, they need to make the playoffs. Here are five reasons why they will do so.
1) The Broncos still have Von Miller, right?
I just wanted to make this clear. Because I hear a lot of people (haters, really) saying that the Broncos' defense isn't what it used to be. And they are sort of right, because there are new players. But Denver's defense is still pretty good -- and No. 58 is still an elite game wrecker. It's crazy to think people have become so desensitized to Miller's greatness that they look at his 10 sacks last year and offer a collective yawn. Like they have awesome-defensive-player fatigue. The same way a lot of those haters on Twitter just watched "Solo: A Star Wars Story" and somehow walked away unimpressed. Are you kidding me? That movie had a lot of heart. And it was an enjoyable film. Likewise, Miller is still playing the best football of his life, and you need to recognize.
2) And they stole Bradley Chubb
Yes, it takes more than one player to make a defense great. The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 with a collaborative effort on defense. I get that. But this team still has a great all-around unit. One that only got better with the fifth overall pick in April's draft ...
Defensive coordinator Joe Wood said he nearly passed out when Bradley Chubb was gifted to Denver in Round 1. The Broncos ended up with the player some considered the top prospect in the draft. This is like when the Spurs landed Tim Duncan in the draft after ... Ah, shoot -- guess I already used that analogy in the Giants piece. Fine. This is like when the geniuses at Taco Bell were like, Tacos are good. But what if we made this taco shell out of Doritos?? It's like that. (And does everybody realize the Browns are basically that dude in your fantasy draft who inexplicably passes on a stud right before your pick? I just did a mock where I got Todd Gurley at No. 4 and had the same feeling Denver must have had.)
Chubb gives the Broncos the kind of dynamic presence opposite Miller that they've missed since DeMarcus Ware joined NFL Network. They also have Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett and Derek Wolfe on that front. And they nabbed Su'a Cravens, who appears to be recommitted to football. Aqib Talib is gone, but his protege, Bradley Roby, is going to surprise a lot of folks. I know a lot of people believe the Broncos' defense from a few years ago is not walking back through that door. But this reboot looks pretty great.
(UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Shane Ray will require wrist surgery and is expected to miss three months.)
3) Denver did a nice job with the other draft picks, too
I really like this infusion of youth in the Mile High City. Chubb was an absolute lock once he fell to them. But second-round selection Courtland Sutton is a nice player who produced at SMU despite meh quarterback play for much of his college career. I mean, shoot: He would have felt right at home with Brock Osweiler. Sutton could end up pushing Emmanuel Sanders into the slot (which is actually a more natural fit for the veteran). Another enticing slot option: fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton. I'm also quite bullish on third-round pick Royce Freeman, who will end up being the workhorse back, and fourth-rounder Josey Jewell, who's a tackling machine at linebacker.
Overall, this was a fine haul for John Elway.
4) John Elway didn't draft a quarterback
I know that sounds a little weird, but stick with me here ...
We can debate whether Case Keenum's 2017 campaign was an aberration or not. But what can't be debated is that the Broncos did the best thing for him when they didn't draft a quarterback. This signals to Keenum -- and the team -- that he's the starting quarterback, for better or worse.
Could you imagine the pressure on Keenum if the Broncos had selected Josh Rosen? Half of the fans would've demanded Rosen start the season at quarterback. And the first errant Keenum pass would swing the other half. Well, not the entire other half. I figure, like, 19 percent of Broncos fans would have backed the starter no matter what.
The point is, Keenum doesn't have to look over his shoulder every time something goes wrong. He's The Dude, and that goes a long way for everybody involved.
5) This is a legit win-now group
If you're a reporter covering the team's offseason workouts, it's nearly a requirement to seek out the player who is willing to throw out the most early-season tropes. You know the ones: Culture changes. Best shape of their life. We're built to win right now.Shelby Harris got us at a recent OTA.
"I like the vibe. It's a sense of urgency," Harris told reporters. "Everyone has something to prove."
So, glad we got that covered.
Honestly, though, this sentiment does fit these Broncos. They have enough veteran mettle -- with Miller, Keenum and Demaryius Thomas, among others -- to not only compete for the AFC West, but make a deep run in the playoffs. I feel like a lot of folks are foolishly dismissing this team because Denver lost a few pieces. But these Broncos look pretty darn stout to me.