Another season and another year with the Denver Broncos sitting at home watching the playoffs, rather than competing for the Lombardi Trophy. January football is something the city of Denver has missed since Peyton Manning and the historic 2015 defense made that phenomenal playoff run that culminated in Super Bowl 50.
In the salary cap era, where players come and go yearly, it is nearly impossible to keep together championship teams completely in football. Players get older and lose a step, get injured and never fully recover, or leave for more money or better opportunities.
While many may feel the Broncos are different, special even, not subject to regression to the mean that all other teams must face, that is not the case. Since winning Super Bowl 50, many bad decisions have been made that have led Denver to where they are right now — a sub-.500 team without any clear direction — but three blunders in particularly stand out as to why the Broncos are in their current sorry state of affairs. To wit:
Picking the wrong head coach
The first and perhaps most obvious mistake has to be the hiring of Vance Joseph to be head coach. After being hired by John Elway following the 2016 season, things have gone from bad to worse for the Broncos on the field, and in the locker room. Joseph was hired after a season as defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins to come in to Denver and be ‘a leader of men’.
While being a strong leader in the locker room and commanding the respect of your players is important, its only one part of the job of being head coach. His area as a ‘leader’ has been a mixed bag, but is coaching during games can only be described as ‘poor’.
From his absolutely horrible challenge success rate, to challenging the wrong plays and not challenging the right plays,to his time management at the end of either half, or his decision making in when to go for it on fourth down, Joseph has failed completely to manage the game and has cost the Broncos games in this department.
Vance Joseph has also failed in surrounding himself with the proper coaches. While this isn’t 100 percent on him as it takes the front office as well, Joseph has not done a good job in bringing in complimentary offensive developers and play-callers.
This is easy to see given the last two offensive coordinator hires. Mike McCoy was abysmal last season in Denver and has already been fired in Arizona this season, and while Bill Musgrave has brought a solid rushing scheme to town, his pass scheme and how he utilizes Case Keenum has been poor.
Not everything that has gone wrong for this team can be put on Joseph, but he has consistently put the team in poor position in games and not surrounded himself with the right people to get the most out of his players. Add to it his constant cliches and lack of self-awareness in his press conferences, and rumors of Von Miller and other players turning on him after he called out Von’s off-sides penalties following Week 14, and Vance Joseph is out at the end of the season.
Drafting Paxton Lynch, the mega bust
Nothing really sets a team back like not having a franchise quarterback. While not having a good-to-great quarterback under center can keep a talented team from reaching the playoffs and maximizing on the talent on the roster, the one thing worse than not having ‘the guy’ is going up and getting ‘the wrong guy’. The Broncos did just that in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Guys like John Elway and Peyton Manning don’t just grow on trees. They are generational talents. However, there is some middle ground between those Hall of Famers and the quarterback levels Denver has seen following the Super Bowl victory.
While Trevor Siemian and Case Keenum have undoubtedly held the team back, they haven’t set the franchise back like the selection of the absolute bust Paxton Lynch. Whether it was Lynch’s lack of work ethic, desire, and/or mental ability, two seasons later, Lynch isn’t even on an NFL roster.
Meanwhile Nathan Peterman was just picked up by the Raiders. The selection of Lynch set many things into motion. For starters, the Broncos missed out on first round talent such as DL Chris Jones in the 2016 Draft to trade up and select Lynch.
The what ifs and potential alternative timelines that could have played out if Denver didn’t select Lynch will always leave many questioning what could have been, but in the end Denver selected the least successful first-round quarterback prospect since Johnny Manziel, and the team is still feeling the ramifications of missing so spectacularly on a first round quarterback.
Elway and the Broncos cannot be too gun-shy moving forward, because until they find their quarterback this team will piddle in mediocrity. But there is no doubt Lynch shoulders a huge portion of blame for the Broncos’ current state of football ineptitude.
A sorry 2017 Draft class
Many in Denver are extremely excited about the Broncos’ 2018 rookie class. Bradley Chubb looks like he may very well be a future All-Pro level playing the second most important position in football outside of quarterback.
Courtland Sutton has shown flashes and potential of being a No.1 receiver. Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay make the best rookie running back tandem in the NFL. And there is hope and potential yet with DaeSean Hamilton, Josey Jewell, Isaac Yiadom, and Troy Fumagalli.
While the 2018 class has earned the Broncos’ front office some favor, they should be sitting on net zero ground because of how poor the 2017 class is stacking up. Not even two seasons removed from the 2017 draft, only one player of that season’s class is making any sort of impact for the team — Garett Bolles.
Bolles, especially since the bye week, has been playing the best football of his career and the Broncos may have actually got that pick right by finding their young blindside blocker. However, the rest of the class is a complete abomination.
DeMarcus Walker was called out by many at here Mile High Huddle as a massive reach by the Broncos in the second round, causing many of us to wonder whether the front office made a Draft day mistake. Walker has been a total non-factor. Despite his pass rush flashes, Walker is an extremely limited and stiff athlete without a true position.
While not twitched, bendy, or explosive enough to play edge rusher, Walker is too weak to hang as a 4 or 5 technique or play 3 technique besides in pure pass rush situations. It would be surprising if he is on the roster next season.
In round three the Broncos selected WR Carlos Henderson, who was busted for marijuana earlier this year and is now not playing for any team, and CB Brendan Langley, a raw prospect many considered a mid-to-late day-three talent that has shown no ability in coverage.
Day three in 2017 the Broncos selected a plethora of other players who are not making any impact on the 2018 team. Jake Butt was selected in the fifth round after he suffered an ACL injury in Michigan’s Bowl Ggame, and had this season cut short by another ACL injury, the third of his career.
To add insult to injury, Niners’ TE George Kittle was selected just one pick after Butt. While Butt will end the season on injured reserve, at least he is still in Denver. None of the other day three selections in 2017 are even on the team — WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie, who is making plays with creative usage in Buffalo (wow what a concept!), RB De’Angelo Henderson, and QB Chad Kelly.
Missing on some day three players won’t make or break a franchise, but none of the Broncos’ day two players have stepped up nor project as an impact player for this team, and not a single day three player is playing meaningful minutes. Thank goodness for Garett Bolles playing at a serviceable level recently, otherwise the team might have been better just forfeiting the entire 2017 class.
The 2018 Draft has this team going in the right direction, but in reality they are just covering for the ineptitude of the 2017 class. Elway and company must absolutely nail the 2019 Draft like last season if Denver has any hopes of turning things around quickly.
Elway must learn from these mistakes
The Broncos are on the precipice of suffering losing records over back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1972 and while there is plenty of blame to go around from top to bottom, some reasons stand out more strikingly than others. The Broncos got the head-coaching hire of 2017 wrong by selecting Vance Joseph, they put their eggs in on the wrong quarterback prospect when selecting Lynch in 2016, and had an absolute blunder of a draft in 2017.
Due to these football mistakes, the Broncos are once again on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. The team is trending in the right direction from last season to this one, but the team is not close yet to returning to competing for Super Bowls and it may take years still for Denver to overcome these three big blunders.