2017 Broncos Season, Wide Receivers
As we approach the 2017 season, there's plenty of questions for the Broncos. Over the next couple weeks I'll be looking at different position groups, beginning with the wide receivers.
On the Roster:
* Demaryius Thomas
* Emmanuel Sanders
* Carlos Henderson (Rookie)
* Isaiah McKenzie (Rookie)
* Bennie Fowler
* Cody Latimer
* Jordan Taylor
* Marlon Brown
* Kalif Raymond
*Anthony Nash (Rookie)
* Hunter Sharp
A look at 2016: Thomas and Sanders were the top two receivers in 2016, and will undoubtedly be the top two in 2017, too. They're the only locks on this roster, both in terms of being there and their position. Thomas caught 90 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns on 144 targets last year. It was a down year by his standards, but still had him finish WR15 in PPR scoring. Sanders caught 79 passes for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns on 137 targets, good enough to make him WR21 in PPR scoring. The problem was, outside of Sanders and Thomas, the Broncos had nothing going on in the receiving game. The next closest receiver was Jordan Norwood, who had 21 receptions on just 35 targets. Of course, Norwood is gone now.
It's clear the Broncos need some kind of third option. Latimer, now entering his fourth season, has never delivered on his second round draft status. In 2016, he had just eight grabs for 76 yards on 15 targets. Fowler, who was strong in the post-season in 2015, managed 11 receptions for 145 yards on 24 targets while Taylor, a fan and practice favorite, grabbed 16 receptions for 209 yards on 25 targets. So, clearly, no real third target emerged from the group. Now, those three aren't even locks to make the final roster.
Changes in 2017: The Broncos' offense wasn't great in 2016 as a whole (though it did product 570 pass attempts). But 2017 will be a whole new world as Mike McCoy, who served as head coach for the Chargers, steps in as the new offensive coordinator. The Chargers weren't a great team, but they did have a dynamic passing game. Six players on the Chargers in 2016 recorded 35 or more receptions and 50 or more targets. Of those six, one was running back Melvin Gordon and two were tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. The other three were receivers (Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin). And all that came on just 580 attempts, only 10 more than the Broncos.
While I expect improvement, I don't think the Broncos will have a powerhouse tight end (more on that later). Last year a trio of primary backs for the Broncos collected 79 targets, and I expect that to remain about the same. And assuming that Thomas and Sanders each remain around 140 targets, that's about 360 targets. Assuming offensive efficiency improves, the Broncos could have around 585 attempts. That leaves about 225 targets unaccounted for, with around 60-75 going to TEs, that still leaves about 150 targets for other receivers.
But who gets those targets, and who can make an impact? That discussion begins with rookie Carlos Henderson, who played three years at Louisiana Tech. His first two seasons were OK, but as a junior, Henderson caught 82 passes for 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns. His prowess as a receiver and returner led the Broncos to snag him in the third round. And he could well be the answer to stability at the third receiver slot, especially if he has a strong camp.
Regardless, I expect Henderson to make the team. I think McKenzie, another rookie who's a powerhouse return man, will make the team, too. So that realistically leaves a bunch of guys (including the three mentioned above) fighting for two to three roster spots. And, should Henderson not prove ready, either Fowler or Taylor is the most likely to get a crack at the third receiver slot. Though neither did much with chances the past two seasons.
Projecting the Roster: The Broncos kept eight receivers on the active roster last season. I think, given their Special Teams production, the Broncos could well keep seven this fall. Thomas, Sanders and Henderson are locks. That leaves four open slots. I think McKenzie is kept, too. The rest of the roster, I think, includes Taylor, Fowler, and Latimer. If the Broncos cut back to six receivers, the final two from that group will be determined, likely, by Special Teams.