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2023 NFL West Preview: Payton Renewing Hope in Denver

The new head coach brings a proven track record of success in New Orleans to the Broncos

Posted on August 18, 2023


  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

Preseason expectations were high in Denver last August, then things went south in a hurry.

The offense was a hot mess, and the Nathaniel Hackett era was over before it even got done with the opening season.

Enter Sean Payton and excitement once again, albeit in a different form.

Payton brings a proven track record to Denver and enough past success in New Orleans to once again energize the fans and expectations.

Payton also stirred things up by laying out exactly how much of a hot mess things were a season ago in the Mile High City.

With any coaching change comes some new energy and belief amongst the fan base, but with Payton running the ship and Russell Wilson at QB the excitement in Denver is high.

The question is, should it be?

I look at the Broncos’ upcoming season below with an analysis of the team’s offense, defense, and 2023 season outlook in the second of eight NFC and AFC West Division previews.


Offense
There is no denying Russell Wilson has had a great career and the 2022 season is clearly the worst of his illustrious career.

The QB rating of 84.4 was the lowest of his career as were the 16 passing TDs and 55 times sacked were the most he has ever experienced.

It was the first time he finished a season with a rating below 92 and the first time he failed to throw at least 20 TDs in a season.

The question is will a new head coach and new scheme on offense make a huge difference?

One would expect the numbers and play to certainly be better. But perhaps it might just be that, at 34 years old, time is catching up to him.

The reality of it is there are too many weapons surrounding the QB to have a complete repeat of last season.

Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy | Jack Dempsey, AP

The offensive line added Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey to what should be a strong unit. The receiving unit is led by Jerry Jeudy who is a star in the making.

Cortland Sutton has a chance to be one of the better number two receivers in the league and Marvin Mims was selected in the second round and the former Oklahoma Sooner has a lot of talent and speed to burn will play in the slot.

Javonte Williams should be the starting running back to begin the season, provided he is fully back from his knee injury.

It’s worth noting Sean Payton declared on August 10th that the back is 100%, just 10 months after the tear to his ACL and reportedly other knee ligaments ended his 2022 season early.

The Broncos have a good option behind him this season as well in Samaje Perine.


Defense
The defense had a key signing in Zach Allen on the end to play opposite Frank Clark in their 3-4 set. Allen followed his defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph, to Denver after spending the last four seasons together in Arizona.

The linebackers are deep. Randy Gregory will play on the edge with Jose Jewell, Alex Singleton and Drew Sanders joining.

Sander was the third-round choice last April of the team and could prove to be a huge value get at that stage of the draft. Sanders could end up being a playmaker on the defense.

The star of the defense will once again be Pat Surtain II.

Denver CB Pat Surtain II | Mark J. Rebila/USA TODAY Sports

Entering his third season he just might be the best CB in the NFL. According to an ESPN poll of players, coaches, and executives, he can claim that title.

Surtain played 533 coverage snaps in 2022 with a target rate of 12.5%, the lowest of any player in the league with at least 200 snaps.

Teams just don’t throw his way. He still managed to intercept a pair of passes in his second season.

Add in Justin Simmons, Kareem Adams, Riley Moss, and Damarri Mathis and the Broncos have a very formidable backline on defense.


2023 Outlook
So, the question comes back to this: Where the expectations should lie with this team in 2023?

I think it is safe to say they will be better than the five wins from last season. How much better, we will see. They need to improve on the 1-7 mark away from Denver.

Could they transition from worst to first this season? Probably not, but that has more to do with the talent in the AFC West (see Kansas City Chiefs) than the Broncos themselves.

The eight-win mark is certainly attainable and the Broncos will be playing games in December with playoff implications.




—More from Stephen Vilardo—