Denver Broncos training camp will look entirely different this summer as first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson headline the new faces in town. The Broncos play in the toughest division in the NFL, and their hunt for their first AFC West title since 2015 begins now.
5 storylines for Broncos training camp
General manager George Paton spent his first year in Denver evaluating his club’s roster and ex-head coach Vic Fangio’s performance before opting to bring in Hackett and Wilson. The Broncos are much improved — at least on paper –, but have they done enough to become Super Bowl contenders in a conference with strong competition like the Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, and Bengals?
After the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in 2011, they posted 50 wins over the next four years and walked away with a Lombardi Trophy. Now that they’ve acquired another future Hall of Fame quarterback in Wilson, Denver is hoping for similar results.
How do Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett mesh?
The Broncos sent a package including two first-round picks, two second-round picks, quarterback Drew Lock, and tight end Noah Fant to the Seahawks in order to land Wilson. After being stifled for years in a Seattle offense that lacked any hint of creativity, Wilson now finds himself in a scheme — and with a play-caller — that helped revitalize Aaron Rodgers’ career in Green Bay.
However, let’s not forget that Rodgers had a down year (at least, by his standards) in his first season in Matt LaFleur and Hackett’s offense. But after Rodgers broke through that learning curve and fully bought in, the veteran quarterback won back-to-back MVP awards.
At age 33, Wilson could be in for a similar late-career uptick. Still, we don’t know if Denver’s offense will mirror Hackett’s approach in Green Bay or if the Broncos will rely on Wilson’s out-of-structure genius that allows him to shine when plays break down.
The best outcome likely lies at the intersection of those two methods. When Gary Kubiak became Denver’s head coach, he was forced to adapt to Manning’s preferred style of offense. Bruce Arians did the same when Tom Brady arrived in Tampa Bay. If Wilson and Hackett can mold a partnership combining the best of both worlds, the Broncos’ offense could be one of the best in the league.
Will Javonte Williams be a workhorse back?
Denver moved up five spots in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft to land Javonte Williams, and the North Carolina product was effective in his first pro campaign. Paired with veteran Melvin Gordon, Williams managed 903 yards on 203 carries (4.4 yards per attempt) and scored four touchdowns. He also contributed in the passing game with 43 receptions — 13th-best among RBs — and three more scores.
Fantasy managers were surely hoping Gordon would land with another team over the offseason, but the Broncos didn’t pass on the chance to re-sign the 29-year-old. Gordon’s base salary is only $2.5 million, a team-friendly rate for a back who posted 918 yards and eight touchdowns on 203 attempts.
“He’s a spectacular running back, and he’s been a great running back in this league for a long time,” Hackett recently said of Gordon. “You can’t have too many good running backs at that position.”
Still, Williams is the future in Denver. While Gordon should continue getting plenty of opportunities in an improved offense, Williams should transition into a lead role in 2022. Instead of a 50-50 split in workload, expect Williams to become the 1A option for the Broncos.
Who is the Broncos’ No. 1 WR?
Wilson made hay with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in Seattle over the past three seasons. While he may not have a Metcalf-level talent in Denver, he will be throwing to a deeper and more well-rounded receiving corps.
6’4″, 216-pound Courtland Sutton is the favorite to fill that Metcalf role, and he’s likely welcoming the change at quarterback following a lackluster 2021 campaign. Sutton showed what he’s capable of in 2019 when he put up a 72-1,112-6 line with a Lock/Joe Flacco/Brandon Allen trifecta throwing to him. Still only 26 years old, Sutton will be the X receiver for Wilson.
Meanwhile, the Broncos hope that 2022 will be Jerry Jeudy’s coming-out party. The 2021 first-round pick missed seven games last season due to an ankle injury, but he’s the favorite to lead Denver in receptions while lining up both outside and in the slot. Tim Patrick is a reliable No. 3 option, while KJ Hamler may benefit from Wilson’s deep-ball ability.
How will Denver’s offensive line shake out?
Garett Bolles will be the Broncos’ left tackle, but every other spot along the offensive line has at least some level of competition. Throughout offseason sessions, Denver used a front five of Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Quinn Meinerz, and Calvin Anderson from left to right. But aside from Bolles, none of those players are locked into starting roles.
Veteran Graham Glasgow is still an option to play on the interior. Anderson will have to fend off Billy Turner (who received $2.2 million guaranteed this offseason) and Tom Compton at right tackle. Whoever wins that competition will become Denver’s 10th different Week 1 tackle in 10 years.
Is Randy Gregory healthy?
Randy Gregory was the Broncos’ big free agent fish, as they inked the 29-year-old edge rusher to a five-year, $70 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. However, the former Cowboy underwent rotator cuff surgery at the end of March, and it’s unclear where he stands health-wise. It remains to be seen if Gregory can participate in training camp, but he’s not expected to play any preseason games.
New NFL rules would require Gregory to miss only four games — instead of six in previous years — if he’s placed on the physically unable to perform list. Denver would heavily rely on fellow pass rushers Bradley Chubb (who missed 10 games with an ankle injury in 2021), Malik Reed, and second-round rookie Nik Bonitto if Gregory isn’t ready for the start of the season.