Three numbers that tell the story of Broncos-Jaguars
Hope for the Broncos’ passing game doesn’t simply rest on the idea that Russell Wilson can eventually return to his previous form.
It also finds its genesis in the play of three receiving targets whose form is on the rise in recent weeks. The numbers reflect that.
That is Greg Dulcich’s average per-game receiving yardage figure since he made his debut. He has 182 yards over the last three games. His 87 receiving yards Sunday paced the Broncos, with a 38-yard reception setting the Broncos up for their second touchdown of the day.
Here’s what that number means, with historical data provided by pro-football-reference.com:
- If he maintains that pace the rest of the season, he’d finish with 728 receiving yards. That would be a Broncos rookie record for tight ends, previously set by Noah Fant (562 yards over 16 games in 2019). So, if Dulcich plays the remaining nine games, he needs only to average 42.1 receiving yards a game to break that record.
- In the common-draft era (1967-present), no third-round tight end has ever had even 600 receiving yards in a rookie season. The current record belongs to Ferrell Edmunds, who notched 575 yards on 33 receptions as a Miami Dolphins rookie in 1988.
- So, if Dulcich plays the next nine games, he needs an average of 43.8 yards per game to become the most productive third-round rookie tight end in the modern (common-draft) era. Even reaching 465 yards for the season — which requires just 282 more yards — would place him in the top 10 of third-round rookie tight ends in the era.
- With 182 yards, Dulcich already ranks 29th of 103 Round 3 tight ends in the common-draft era in rookie receiving yardage. And, again — he did this in just three games! Another game at his current per-game rate would take him into the top 25 of Round 3, common-draft tight ends.
- Dulcich’s per-game average so far would have him on a 1,000-yard pace — 1031, to be exact — if he played a full 17-game season.
Much of this is predicated on Dulcich staying healthy.
But all of this is to prove a point: The Broncos might have found an exceptionally special player who could rewrite the standards for players in his area of the draft.
Take some time to appreciate Dulcich. His start is the most blistering for a rookie tight end in team history.
That is the receiving-yardage tally accumulated by Jerry Jeudy in the past four weeks.
This is the most productive single-season four-game stretch of his career since he amassed 303 yards in a four-game stretch midway through his rookie season two years ago.
Of course, those four games in 2020 all came without Courtland Sutton. He missed the final 14 games of 2020 due to a torn ACL.
And as Jeudy and Dulcich get more run, Sutton’s targets slide. He has just 50 receiving yards in the three games heading into the bye. He has 655 receiving yards in the last 16 games — which is lower than his rookie-season, 16-game total (704).
But what is most concerning are the long-term trends. Before his ACL injury two games into the 2020 season, Sutton averaged 16.1 yards per catch and 4.8 touchdowns per 16 games. In 25 games since then, his averages are 13.4 yards per catch and 1.9 touchdowns per 16 games. His receptions per game are up — from 3.54 to 3.72 — but his per-game receiving yardage is down, from 57.0 to 49.7.
If Jeudy, Dulcich and KJ Hamler see increased use, Sutton’s chances could remain scarce.
That is the yardage per attempt allowed by the Broncos since Week 4. So, yes, it’s not all smiles and sunshine after the win.
In the last five weeks, the Broncos have the following defensive ranks against the run:
Yards per carry allowed: 5.12, 26th
First-down rate: One every 3.512 attempts, 25th
Rushing yards per game allowed: 147.4, 25th
In the loss to Las Vegas, the Raiders spread their receiving targets out to pull linebackers and defensive backs wide. Then, Derek Carr handed the football to Josh Jacobs, who feasted off the open space once he reached the second level.
Three games later against the Jets, RB Breece Hall ripped off the longest run allowed by the Broncos in just over three years. The Jets racked up 155 rushing yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. They kept the ground game going with a variety of methods, including slot receiver Braxton Berrios ripping off a 25-yard gallop and an 18-yard Zach Wilson scramble.
Sunday, Jaguars RB Travis Etienne averaged 6.5 yards per carry en route to a 156-yard day. Jacksonville finished the game with 6.0 yards per carry as a team, which, when contrasted with their meager 3.45-yards-per-pass-play rate, begs the question, “Why didn’t they run more?”
The Broncos can be thankful that they didn’t. Jacksonville had particular success running to the edge, and over the course of the game moved the chains once every 2.67 attempts.
Given that the first two games after the bye feature Titans RB Derrick Henry and Jacobs, Denver’s defense needs to rediscover its early-season groove against the run.