Broncos get decent grades at midseason

It’s a bye for the Denver Broncos and time for midterm grades — a week late, but who’s counting?

Let’s start at the top:

General Manager John Elway passed his first big test when he opted not to bring back Brock Osweiler as starting quarterback.

Then, he decided to let running back C.J. Anderson seek out greener pastures. Anderson did, discovering Miami and causing Elway to backpeddle and open his pocket book far wider than might have been the case at an earlier date. A small oopsie.

Months later, Elway re-signed superstar linebacker Von Miller after a much bickering. Another vet starter re-signed was starting linebacker Brandon Marshall.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Elway did OK in re-signing his own free agents, but flunked badly when he went outside to sign two offensive tackles, Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson. Okung has improved of late, Stephenson is becoming dead weight on the bench. Another signee, defensive lineman Jared Crick, has been mediocre.

Elway’s draft was wonderful: quarterback-of-the-future Paxton Lynch, safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, running back Devontae Booker, fullback Andy Janovich and punter Riley Dixon all have contributed. Defensive lineman Adam Gotsis, taken in the second round, has played little.

Trades? Tight end A.J. Derby was acquired from New England and is just starting to see action. But Denver is roughly $9 million under the salary cap and badly needed to address the offensive line, especially Stephenson’s spot. Nothing was done.

Elway overall: B-, maybe a C+.

Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff: The team is winning despite injuries (DeMarcus Ware, Anderson, Marshall, Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe) and poor play from the offensive tackles.

Kubiak and the staff also had to cover the brief loss of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — high marks for flexibility.

While the defense is once again among the best, Kubiak’s offense has been brutal. Denver rates near the bottom of the league in passing … and running. Bad combination.

Still, coaches overall get a B+. Somehow, the team is 7-3.

Now to the defense, starting with the strength, the secondary: Until he went down to a back injury, Talib might have been the best corner in football. If he wasn’t, Chris Harris was. The leading tackler on the team is strong safety T.J. Ward, and free safety Darian Stewart just came off a two-interception, one fumble recovery game. Add corner Bradley Roby and those two young safeties, Simmons and Parks and …

Secondary grades out at A+.

Linebackers: Miller’s $19 million this year was worth it; he should be the Defensive MVP. Ware and Shane Ray have been good and Shaq Barrett impacts, always. Inside, Marshall has been good vs. the pass, Todd Davis has stopped the run. Corey Nelson is an experienced backup to either.

Linebackers overall: A.

Defensive interior: This unit needs help with Wolfe down. Crick, Sylvester Williams and Billy Winn rank near the bottom of the league according to Pro Football Focus.

Defensive interior: C-.

Now, the offense, starting with quarterback: Virtual rookie Trevor Siemian has survived and gets an A for effort despite being demolished repeatedly. The second-year pro has proven he can play in this league. Rookie Paxton Lynch has stepped in twice, good in one game, bad in the other.

Quarterbacks get a B-. It could be much worse.

Running backs: Anderson went down to a knee injury, rookie Booker and practice squad vet Kapri Bibbs have stepped in — and it’s mediocrity to the max. Domination via the run, something that was hoped for, is nowhere in sight.

Still, because they can’t run through walls, running backs get a B-.

Receivers and tight ends: Demaryius Thomas is good when he catches it. Sanders moves the chains. One problem: No one else is worth mentioning other than tight end Virgil Green, a super run blocker.

Receivers and tight ends: C.

Offensive line: This is our “Ahaa Moment” and the crux of the problem.

Center Matt Paradis, playing in just his second full season, is the best in the league. Guards Max Garcia and Michael Schofield are tolerable.

The tackles, however, have been terrible.

Okung has played the last two games without incident after numerous holding calls. Stephenson was pulled against New Orleans, replaced by Ty Sambrailo. No other choice.

Offensive line gets a D-, a passing grade only because of Paradis.

Special Teams: Rookie punter Dixon supplanted high-priced vet Britton Colquitt and ranks near the top of the league. Place kicker Brandon McManus is stellar. And last week’s win came on a return of a blocked extra point. Coverage has been great, returns, such as they are, OK.

Special Teams earn an A.

Add it all up and it’s a B-.

The Broncos are now, and likely will be, a playoff team. Notice I didn’t say Super Bowl winner.


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