State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Wide Receivers

Mile High Huddle brings you the State of the Broncos series—an in-depth look at the World Champions' roster. Join Analyst Will Keys as he scrutinizes Denver's receivers.

The 2015 Denver Broncos wide receiver corps overcame inconsistent, if not terrible, quarterback play to put up solid numbers on the outside for yet another season.  With new faces at quarterback entering 2016, the continuity on the outside provides some measure of comfort to fans concerned about the passing game.

Demaryius Thomas enters the seventh year of his career and the second year since signing a massive five-year, $70 million deal.  His 2015 campaign has been frequently called a “down year” because of ill-timed drops and a mysteriously absent postseason. 

But while even 105 receptions, 1,304 yards, and six touchdowns was a step down from previous years, those numbers are more than acceptable from a top wide receiver given the play of the quarterbacks.  Another year in Denver for Emmanuel Sanders proved that 2014 was no fluke and the former SMU Mustang has become a seriously improved player since leaving Pittsburgh.  Entering the last year of his current contract, Sanders wants a new deal to keep him in Denver, reportedly asking for $12 million per year. 

Denying him that kind of money would be hard to justify after two extremely productive regular seasons and a team-high 230 receiving yards in the playoffs. 

Although Andre Caldwell joined the Detroit Lions, the Broncos were able to re-sign Jordan Norwood and keep a quick, diminutive target out of the slot.  Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer are each in their third season with the Broncos, and while their respective careers may be taking opposite trajectories, each has the chance to see a good number of targets in 2016. 

Projected Depth Chart

WR1: Demaryius Thomas, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor

WR2: Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer

WR3: Jordan Norwood

When Thomas and Sanders are on, they challenge for the distinction of the best wide receiver duo in the NFL.  Both players complement one another in terms of size and each have the speed to score from just about anywhere on the field. 

Only after the entrenched Thomas and Sanders does the wide receiver depth chart become open to interpretation.  Fowler, after exhibiting his explosiveness in 2015, should be a lock to not only make the team, but also to see significant targets. 

Latimer finds himself in a similar position—the former second-round pick has put up overwhelming numbers in two seasons, but showed enough promise in the second half of 2015 to earn a “prove it” year.  Either Fowler or Latimer can get the chance to start if one of two things happen; Thomas or Sanders are hurt, or if Sanders kicks inside and replaces Norwood. Norwood proved his multi-purpose value with the longest punt return in Super Bowl history to cap a season in which he caught 22 passes for 207 yards, after missing both 2013 and 2014.  The only concern for Norwood is Gary Kubiak’s inclination to trot out twin tight ends or a fullback, reducing the number of eligible wide receivers. 

If indeed the Broncos keep six wide receivers, look for second-year man Jordan Taylor to fill the void.  At six-foot-five, Taylor has ideal length for a guy that the Broncos could post up on the outside if needed.  It’s also worth mentioning that Taylor helped Peyton Manning rehab in 2015, probably learning a thing or two about the finer points of route running in the process. 

Bralon Addison, Kalif Raymond, Mose Frazier, and Durron Neal make up the group of undrafted rookies that will push Taylor for the final spot on the depth chart.  Addison and Raymond’s easiest route to making the cut would be at punt returner if either of them could edge out Norwood for the job. 

Frazier has the advantage of being Paxton Lynch’s top target at Memphis while Neal, a former Oklahoma Sooner, faces an uphill battle and will have to put good reps on tape in the preseason to get noticed. 

Free Agent Options

While the Broncos would be better off promoting from within if one of their top wide receivers went down, there are a couple free agents who could adequately fill their shoes for a stretch of games.

35-year-old Anquan Boldin is still roaming the free agency desert in late June, after putting up with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert last year.  While Boldin has had the speed of a 35-year-old man his whole career, an uncanny ability to get open gives him a shot to be productive even at his age.

Brian Hartline is another solid veteran option.  Despite being a member of the 2015 Cleveland Browns, Hartline still found a way to be effective at times, even catching 30 passes in a four-game stretch. 

If someone like Thomas or Sanders does have to miss games, however, the Broncos would most likely call Bennie Fowler’s number, maybe promote someone from the practice squad, and call it a day.  

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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