After registering consecutive double-digit loss seasons for the first time since 1967, general manager John Elway pulled the plug on Vance Joseph, replacing him with Vic Fangio as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Former Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco joins Fangio in an effort to make the Broncos competitive again. In Fangio and Flacco, Elway is now on his third head coach and fourth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning led Denver to a Super Bowl Championship in 2015.
Looking ahead to 2019, Denver should be a competitive team that challenges for a record around .500. While Fangio and Flacco could stabilize the performance of the team on the field moving forward, Denver isn’t anywhere near ready to compete with the Chargers or Chiefs in the AFC West.
Let’s examine my 2019 Broncos’ preseason superlatives.
Breakout Guy: WR Courtland Sutton
Hauling in 42 receptions for 704 yards and four touchdowns, Sutton sorta already broke out in his rookie season. My top-rated receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, I am excited about Sutton's ceiling and how much more productive he can be starting in 2019.
A prototypical x-receiver, Sutton is an impressive blend of route running prowess, post-catch ability and ball skills that wonderfully complements his alpha mentality. Paired this season with a quarterback in Joe Flacco that likes to push the ball down the field and is eager to prove he's still a legit NFL starting quarterback, Sutton is primed for a big year.
Comeback Kid: G Ronald Leary
Leary signed a four-year, $36 million contract prior to the 2017 season and unfortunately suffered season-ending injuries in both years so far in Denver. In 2017, Leary started 11 games before a back injury ended his season in Week 12. Leary only started six games last year before suffering a torn Achilles.
When healthy, Leary is a starting-caliber blocker with exceptional power at the point of attack. Denver had a reasonable opportunity to get out of Leary’s contract had they released him by March 17th when $5.35 of his $8.15 million base salary for 2019 became guaranteed.
Leary was limited in OTAs but took the field for mandatory minicamp earlier this month. The coaching staff raves about Leary and all indications point to him being the starter at right guard for Denver. If he stays healthy, he will help stabilize an interior offensive line that was decimated with injuries in 2018.
Rising Star: DE Bradley Chubb
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Chubb had a terrific rookie season. Registering 12 sacks in his first season, Chubb recorded the most sacks of any NFL rookie in the last seven years, just 2.5 off Jevon Kearse’s rookie record of 14.5
A balanced defender, Chubb figures to be even better moving forward, especially with the hiring of Fangio at head coach. Chubb appears primed for a long career of harassing quarterbacks.
Don’t Forget About: Mike Munchak
Arguably the best offensive line coach in football, Munchak’s arrival in Denver is significant. With a proven track record of developing offensive linemen, Munchak has some exciting young talents in Garrett Bolles and Dalton Risner to groom while big things are expected from Connor McGovern who takes over at center in a contract year. Denver committed big money to Ja’Wuan James to anchor the right tackle spot and his best football very well could be in front of him with Munchak in Denver after a solid run in Miami.
Muchak’s arrival inspires the belief that Denver will get the most out of its offensive line group.
Needs to Rebound: QB Joe Flacco
While none of money remaining on Joe Flacco’s contract is guaranteed, he’s the guy in Denver. Passing on numerous quarterback options in the first round of the last two drafts, Denver at least has some inkling in its belief to compete with Flacco.
One of the most debated passers in recent memory, Flacco is hungry to prove he is still a legitimate starting quarterback, especially after seeing the team he won a Super Bowl with draft his replacement in the first round and get replaced due to injury while his successor went 6-1 as the starter to close the regular season to make the playoffs.
Elway can’t afford another failed attempt at finding a quarterback and Flacco has a lot to prove.
Dark Horse MVP: Defensive Perimeter
The strength of Denver’s roster is the perimeter of its defense. Chubb and Von Miller form an exceptional pair of edge rushers and Kareem Jackson and Chris Harris combine to give Denver an outstanding tandem of experienced corners. With Ed Donatell and Fangio engineering the defense now in Denver, you can expect a whole lot better than the No. 22 ranked unit this season.
Under the Radar: WR DaeSean Hamilton
Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, the young running backs and a few pieces on the offensive line steal the hype when it comes to the young offensive nucleus in Denver, but don’t sleep on 2018 fourth-round pick DaeSean Hamilton.
Hamilton only caught a total of five passes through the first twelve games of the 2018 season, but he emerged over Denver’s final four contests. Averaging 6.25 receptions per game over that span, Hamilton hauled in his fist two career touchdown receptions. An exceptional route runner, Hamilton is primed to take a big step forward this season with a better situation around him and a year of experience under his belt.