The Denver Broncos wide receiver corps is a strong group, with quality depth. I don’t expect the Broncos to carry more than five this season, which leaves a lot of quality players on the outside looking in. Under Gary Kubiak, with the focus more on running the ball, it isn’t necessary to carry more than five receivers.
No. 1: Demaryius Thomas
The top receiver is a no-brainer. It is going to be Demaryius Thomas. Thomas was franchise-tagged by the Broncos, with hopes of a long-term deal getting done. At this point, neither side has engaged in negotiations, and they are unlikely to do so for a couple more weeks.
While he is tagged, he has not signed the tender and is not technically under contract. Thus, he is not obligated to attend any offseason workouts, voluntary or mandatory. Don’t expect him to attend, either. As long as he remains as a tagged player without the tender signed, he won’t participate in team activities, which he shouldn’t in the first place.
Thomas is a top-end receiver talent in the NFL. He has big-play capabilities in a variety of forms. He can take quick screens and break free, or make the tough catches, or go get the deep ball.
He has a very well rounded skill-set, which makes him such a dangerous player. He unfairly gets called a horrible run blocker, due to one play. He isn’t necessarily a great run blocker, by any means, but he is adequate.
Stat Prediction: 100 receptions, 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.
No. 2: Emmanuel Sanders
The guy behind Thomas is going to be Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders broke out in his first year with the Broncos, but fans may not see him be as impactful in his second year.
In 2014, when the Broncos had a bigger focus on the running game, Sanders saw a decline in his numbers. Over the last six games, Sanders caught 32-of-51 passes thrown his way for 371 total yards, which is 61.8 yards per game. Compared to what he was doing before that, it was a big step backwards, where he was averaging just under 100 yards per game.
So, I wouldn’t be expected a 100+ catch season for 1,400+ yards, like his first year in Denver. However, he will still have a role to play and it will be a big role, even if he doesn’t get big numbers. Sanders is quick and shifty as a receiver, which makes him hard to cover. Thomas is the top guy, with Sanders behind him, but at times it may not seem that way, due to various personnel groupings.
Stat Prediciton: 75 receptions, 900 yards and four touchdowns.
No. 3: Cody Latimer
The third guy is someone the Broncos traded up in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft to get—Cody Latimer. His rookie season saw Latimer limited, partially due to the coaches’ lack of faith in rookies.
John Elway found this lack of faith disturbing, which is partly why there is a new coaching staff who isn’t afraid to play young guys. Expect to see Latimer on the field more often.
Stat Prediction: 60 receptions, 500 yards and three touchdowns.
No. 4: Jordan Norwood
Last year, Jordan Norwood was great in preseason and training camp and earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster, until he suffered an injury and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
He won the spot not only because of what he did as a receiver, but what he did as a punt returner as well. If he is healthy, this spot is hit to lose. The only caveat to Norwood securing the No. 4 spot is if he hasn’t fully recovered from his knee injury. Health will play a role.
Stat Prediction: 25 receptions, 150 yards.
No. 5: Bennie Fowler
The fifth and final receiver is Bennie Fowler—a 2014 undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Fowler has built up great chemistry with Brock Osweiler in just a year. During his (2014) rookie preseason and training camp, Fowler was really impressive.
He was fluid and showed good hands. As the fifth receiver, he won’t see much time, outside of someone getting hurt, or starters getting pulled, due to a big lead.
Stat Prediction: 10 receptions, 50 yards.
That leaves a lot of receivers who don’t quite make the roster. Andre Caldwell was signed to an extension last year, but finds himself on the outside looking in. When he first signed with the Broncos, expectations were high, but he has just never been able to meet them. He may be able to grab hold of the fifth spot, but with the new coaching staff unafraid of young players, I just do not see it.
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Then you have Isaiah Burse, who made it as the punt returner last year, after Norwood went down. Burse had a very rough year as a punt returner, before he was waived from the 53-man roster. Later, he was brought back on the practice squad. This year, as long as Norwood stays healthy, Burse is a long shot, but he may be destined for the practice squad.
The rest of the receivers who didn’t make it are Nathan Palmer, Solomon Patton, David Porter, Jordan Taylor and Kyle Williams. I was considering a couple of these guys when looking at the fifth spot—mainly Taylor. Palmer and Patton are both entering their third year in the NFL. Neither have been able to show enough to be kept around, though Patton is new to the Broncos, which can change things.
Porter and Taylor are both undrafted rookies. They both may be looking at the fifth spot, but I have them fighting for a practice squad position, with both potentially getting a spot. Finally, Kyle Williams is in his sixth year and hasn’t shown anything to justify keeping him around. From what I have heard, he hasn’t been impressing anyone in the offseason training program.
Stay tuned for the next projection. Next up are the tight ends for the Broncos.
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