The Denver Broncos have a talented roster, and they have improved depth through the work of general manager George Paton and the scouting staff. Through free agency and the draft, the Broncos have more talent and improved depth on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos defense is much improved compared to last year. They’ve got one of the best defenses in the league – on paper. If the players come through for the coaches, then this defense could be special in 2021.
The Broncos are on a break right now, but they’ll return in late July to get to work. During the break, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has some plans to get away – but not too far away from preparations for an incredibly important season.
“We want the coaches to get away, but in this day and age with iPads – that I’m sure they’ll take – you’ll spend some free time doing stuff. Me personally, I’m going to be on about six plane rides during the break, and I plan on doing work on the plane with the computer, plan on doing work wherever I’m at when I have down time. So, we want everybody to get recharged, get refreshed, but I’m sure they’ll all be thinking about it and doing some stuff along the way,” Fangio said.
Here are three under-the-radar offensive players who could play significant roles for the Broncos in 2021.
Kendall Hinton, WR
Every team is looking for a player like Kendall Hinton. Last year when the Broncos were without a quarterback for a game against the Saints, Hinton stepped in and did his best at the quarterback position. However, it’s his work as a receiver that is making him a standout player in offseason workouts.
I couldn’t help but notice Hinton during mandatory minicamp. He is a quick player who does a great job of getting open on underneath routes. Hinton seemed to show great timing as a receiver and showed well when catching passes from Teddy Bridgewater. He’s got the speed to take a short pass and turn it into a long gain.
Fangio went out of his way to praise Hinton when asked to name a player who has impressed him during offseason work.
“The guy that has had a really good camp from the start of OTAs until now has been Kendall (Hinton). He’s really looked good as a receiver, and he’s improved a lot. He’s in the hunt for one of those spots,” Fangio said.
It’s going to be tough for Hinton to make the 53-man roster. The Broncos have a jam-packed receiver room, and Hinton is competing for one of the final spots in that room. Hinton has been a standout to me at mandatory minicamp and obviously Fangio has been impressed. He’s doing everything he can to make the team and could surprise if given a chance to showcase his receiving talent on the field.
Eric Saubert, TE
The lack of depth at the tight end position concerns me. Sure, the Broncos have one of the best young tight ends in the league in starter Noah Fant, but behind him, there are a ton of question marks. Albert Okwuegbunam is the top backup, but he’s still recovering from the knee injury that cut his rookie season short last year and may not be himself until halfway through the 2021 season.
That’s one of the reasons why the team went out and added Eric Saubert in free agency. He was a fifth-round pick out of Drake in 2017 by the Atlanta Falcons and his tight ends coach was Wade Harman – the current tight ends coach for the Broncos. Now, the two are reunited in Denver and the team needs Saubert to earn a spot on the roster.
Saubert is a smooth athlete, and I liked watching him during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game back in 2017. He shows good hands and concentration as a receiver and can create mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Saubert is a good all-purpose “Y” tight end who can help as a move blocker as well.
During mandatory minicamp, Fant was asked about the recovery of Okwuegbunam.
“He’s doing good. He’s still on the rehab and doing all that stuff. He’s progressing as he should, and he’s been working. I’m excited for him. I’ve grown to get close with him and he’s a good dude and a good kid. I’m excited to play with him. Our whole tight end room is pretty good this year. We just picked up Eric (Saubert), who has been doing some really good things also. I’m really excited to play with these guys and excited to get on the field with them. Like I was touching on before, (we want to) progress as a team and do good things altogether. So, I’m excited,” Fant said.
With Okwuegbunam on the road to recovery, Saubert can give the Broncos much-needed veteran depth behind Fant. In fact, he may be the No. 2 tight end for the Broncos to begin the 2021 regular season.
Mike Boone, RB
The Broncos have a strong running back room. Melvin Gordon remains from last year and should be the top back to begin the season for the Broncos. In the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos moved up to select Javonte Williams – my No. 1 running back in this draft class. However, it’s their free agent pickup of Mike Boone that might be underrated by fans and the media.
Boone was undrafted out of Cincinnati in 2018 and signed with the Minnesota Vikings where he stayed for three seasons. With Paton coming from the Vikings, he was familiar with Boone’s game and decided to sign him in free agency. Boone is more than just a special teams player, when he was given the opportunity with the Vikings on offense he thrived. He didn’t get a ton of work on offense, but there was one game (Week 17 in 2019) where Boone had 17 carries for 148 yards and one touchdown.
I feel like Boone is a better runner than some give him credit for. He makes good decisions with the ball, wastes little motion and can get to and through the hole in the blink of an eye. Boone is quick, fast, agile and tough to get a bead on by pursuing defenders. In addition to what he can do as a runner, Boone could thrive as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
Fangio was asked if Gordon was the starter or if Williams could push for the top spot – and during his answer he couldn’t help but toss in some love for Boone as well.
“Well, I think there’s enough work to be had for everybody if everybody proves they’re worthy. I think you have to throw Mike Boone in that when you talk about that position too. All three of them just need to come back. We’ll carve a role for them. Obviously, Melvin is an established back in this league, played good for us last year, and we like him. We obviously like (Javonte) Williams and we like Boone. So, you never have enough backs, and I’m confident that there will be enough work for all of them,” Fangio said.
Boone is so dangerous with the rock. He’s especially dangerous when he’s in space and makes a great complementary back to Gordon and Williams. If thrust into a larger role, Boone would have no trouble producing at a high level.
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