June 13, 2024

Remodeled Broncos turn to Wilson to end long playoff drought

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson watches play from the bench during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


New faces: Ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, his daughter, Carrie Walton Penner, her husband, Greg Penner; HC Nathaniel Hackett, QB Russell Wilson, OLB Randy Gregory, ILB Joe Schobert, OL Billy Turner, DL D.J. Jones, TE Eric Tomlinson.

Key losses: WR Tim Patrick (ACL), QB1 Teddy Bridgewater, QB2 Drew Lock, CB Kyle Fuller, DE Shelby Harris, TE Noah Fant, CB Bryce Callahan, CB Mike Ford.

Strengths: Both backfields. At running back, Javonte Williams moves ahead of Melvin Gordon III in his second season and success in the team’s new zone running scheme would open things up for Wilson and his playmakers who are trying to make up for the loss of Patrick to a knee injury in camp and the trade of Fant to Seattle last spring. The spine of Denver’s defense is second-year CB Patrick Surtain II and S Justin Simmons, whose lock-down and big-play abilities should aid a retooled front seven that features the return of pass rusher Bradley Chubb from ankle injuries and the arrival of free agent OLB Randy Gregory from Dallas.

Weaknesses: The Broncos’ offense has been stuck in neutral going back to 2015, and the loss of Patrick to a torn ACL could have huge implications on the field and in the locker room. The Broncos will miss his leadership and his sure hands and his loss puts an even bigger onus on WR Jerry Jeudy to finally start living up to his first-round status in his third year in the NFL. Jeudy has just three TD catches, none last year. The Broncos also are hoping their run blocking and run defense show up better in the season than they did in the summer.

Camp Development: Second-year pro Baron Browning has successfully and quickly transitioned from inside linebacker to outside linebacker. His bendability and play disruption are reminiscent of Von Miller’s. Along with rookie Nik Bonitto, Browning brings depth to the pass rushing group behind Chubb and Gregory, both of whom have a history of injuries keeping them sidelined.

Fantasy Player to Watch: While KJ Hamler works his way back from hip and knee surgeries and Jeudy tries to salvage his career, Courtland Sutton should serve as Wilson’s safety valve, especially early in the season. He’s another year removed from his 2020 ACL surgery and he and Wilson have worked long hours after work refining their rhythm.

Expectations: With the feuding Bowlen ownership family no longer in the picture, old-school Vic Fangio stripped of his head coaching duties and the seven-year search for a worthy successor to QB Peyton Manning finally fruitful, the Broncos expect to end their six-season playoff drought and return to the postseason party this year even if realistic Super Bowl hopes are probably a year or two away.

FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl 17-1. Over/under wins: 9½.