How Can Sean Payton Improve Denver? 

How Can Sean Payton Improve Denver? 
Reading Time: 5 minutes.
Sean Payton is the new Broncos head coach after Nathaniel Hackett’s poor 2022 season. Credit: Sporting News

It’s no secret that the Nathaniel Hackett version of the Broncos were the lowest scoring team in the league. Sean Payton’s reputation as an offensive wizard is no secret either so that will be what he wants to improve. Finding a way to keep Javonte Williams healthy would go a long way to curing what ails the Broncos offence. The 22-year-old averages 4.4 yards per rushing attempt and 6.6 yards per reception in his first two seasons in the league. He’s also scored seven touchdowns in just five starts. 

Improve The Special Teams

But as the Chiefs proved in the Super Bowl the best way to win a game of football is with complimentary football.  

Special teams will provide the platform the offence needs to perform. Football Outsiders ranked the 2022 Broncos’ special teams unit as the 29th best in the league. They were dead last for kickoff returns and third from bottom for punt returns, so a kick returner will help. Their touchback percentage on their own kickoffs was 69.9%, 20.4% lower than the highest in the league. That record belonged to AFC West rivals, the Chargers’ kicker, Dustin Hopkins. 

When it comes to scoring Brandon McManus was the 29th best kicker in the NFL in 2022. His 77.8% field goal success rate was the worst since his 2017 season and while only Justin Tucker attempted more long-range field goals than McManus (and Tucker also missed five of them) McManus also missed three from inside 40 yards (Tucker missed 0). Don’t be surprised if there’s some competition for McManus arriving in Denver this offseason.  

Under Ejiro Evero Denver’s defense made the top ten in most categories. They conceded the 5th fewest passing touchdowns and ended the season ranked 7th for total yards allowed in 2022. Ejiro Evero is now the Panther defensive coordinator though. It looks like he’ll be replaced by Rex Ryan. Not many coaches generate pressure as well as Evero did last season (their 32.9% was just 6.8% behind Wink Martindale’s Giants) but “sexy Rexy” just might. 

What Will Improve the Offence 

The most important players on offense during Sean Payton’s tenure in New Orleans were Drew Brees, The Saints made the playoffs in nine of the 15 seasons that Brees and Payton were together in NOLA.  Marques Colston, although there was a procession of tall receivers catching passes from Brees. Finally Alvin Kamara, or Reggie Bush if you’re old enough. Kamara scored 67 touchdowns under Payton’s guidance though, Bush just 29. Bush’s role as a punt returner was vital for the Saints though.

The Elephant in the Quarterback Room

Denver already have a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Russell Wilson (who is similar to Brees in stature), but opinion seems split on if he can do it again. Payton hasn’t really said anything about who he would like as his quarterback. What he did say was he didn’t see any reason for Wilson’s personal quarterback coach to be at the Broncos practice facility.  

So, the Broncos may be in the market for a new quarterback in the coming weeks. Two new starting quarterbacks in consecutive seasons having to develop new relationships with the existing Broncos would seem to be overly complicating an already tricky situation. Trading Wilson would save them $60 million though and the Broncos do only have five draft picks this year. If Payton is eyeing a big rebuild straight out of the gate it would make sense to try and get some picks for a veteran quarterback. suggests that six NFL teams definitely need a new quarterback and as many as nine others could be looking for a new signal caller. 

A Rare Positive

Whoever ends up throwing the ball in Colorado the Broncos are absolutely loaded with quality wide receivers to catch it. Nine different receivers caught passes for the Broncos in 2022 (and four tight ends).

Courtland Sutton is an almost perfect Marques Colston replacement. One is 1.93 metres tall, the other is 1.93m tall. Sutton ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, Colston ran a 4.50 40-yard dash. Sutton averaged 16.8 yards per reception in his rookie season, Colston averaged 14.8 yards per reception in his rookie season. Colston was far more important to the Saints than Sutton has been for the Broncos though. In New Orleans Colston caught 70 passes in his rookie season finishing his career with 711 catches and 72 touchdowns. Sutton only caught 42 passes in his rookie season and so far, has 239 in total with 14 touchdowns in his five seasons (Colston played for 10 full seasons).

Sutton certainly has the potential to be true number one receiver in a Payton offence. There aren’t many big body receivers in the 2023 draft class but if Payton doesn’t fancy Sutton, he could well take a Brycen Tremayne or Justin Shorter if they’re still available on day three. 

The New Lance Moore?

Jerry Jeudy ended 2022 with 972 receiving yards despite battling injury and only starting 14 games. Jeudy was also ranked ninth for yards per attempt and his 1,012 yards from the line of scrimmage was 20th amongst receivers.  

Arguably the Broncos best receiver Tim Patrick (who is also 1.93 metres tall) didn’t play at all in 2022. Patrick tore his ACL in early August. No The Broncos didn’t actually have a single receiver who played all 17 games last season, in fact only Courtland Sutton and Jeudy started more than five games. 

Denver have some promising pass catching tight ends too, the much-hyped Albert Okwuegbunam had quite a disappointing season though. He played in eight games and caught just 10 passes. Rookie Greg Dulcich, however, caught 33 passes in Okwuegbunam’s absence, but he also landed on Injured Reserve. He only played in 10 games and missed out on 22 of the targets thrown his way. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Payton wants to upgrade the tight end options and with Dalton Schultz, Evan Engram and even Mike Gesicki available in free agency. If he’s looking for a very similar tight end to Jimmy Graham who was an unstoppable red zone threat for the Saints, Jody Fortson could be available if the Chiefs decide not to make him an offer. 

Find a Late Round Treasure

Finding someone to fill the Alvin Kamara role would usually be tricky, but this Draft class is loaded with running backs and there are 48 free agent running backs.

Jerrick McKinnon and Tony Pollard have a certain Kamara-esque quality and Boston Scott and Raheem Mostert are also available to add some lightning to go with Javonte’s thunder. 

Any running back needs some quality run blocking and Payton’s biggest challenge by far will be to improve the Broncos offensive line. Fortunately, five of the players who contributed to a unit who ranked 30th for pass protection and 14th for run blocking by Football Outsiders in 2022 are free agents. So, the Broncos have the opportunity to upgrade the unit relatively cheaply in the draft or they could invest in some free agents. Jason Kelce, Mike McGlinchey and Orlando Brown Jr. are all unrestricted free agents in March so there are plenty of options. 

Turning Denver around might seem to be a big job but a few small changes that should make a big and immediate difference. Fixing the spluttering offence may take a while but Payton has reportedly signed a five-year contract so presumably the owners are prepared to be patient. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top
%d bloggers like this: