For the past 44 games the Broncos have been leaking oil like a used Daewoo.
However convenient, amid and after the monster Blizzardzilla, the Broncos provided hope rather than hopelessness.
During the first week of free agency, the Broncos’ improvement was Best in the AFC West.
The (up)grade was “B,’’ as in Broncos, and above the Raiders (B-), Chiefs (C) and the Chargers (D). The Broncos signed a value-added quarterback, a right tackle, a slot cornerback and a hybrid corner-safety, and re-signed a serviceable tight end and a rotational defensive lineman.
The Chargers’ major embellishments were a reserve quarterback and an ancient linebacker. Philip Rivers hasn’t missed a start from 2006-18, so Tyrod Taylor will be as worthwhile as an appendix. And Thomas Davis, who was as useful with the Panthers last year as a cocktail umbrella, will be 36 this week.
The Raiders did trade for Antonio Brown, who could be Captain America or the Silver Surfer. Trenton Brown is the most expensive ($66 million), overrated left tackle in the NFL. And Oakland did little to transform the league’s worst defense.
And the Chiefs spent $75 million for Honey Badger and three otters. But the most meaningful development in Kansas City was the investigation of Tyreek Hill on domestic abuse allegations in connection with his 3-year-old son, who suffered a broken arm. Hill was dismissed from the Oklahoma State team in 2014 on charges of domestic abuse against his then girlfriend.
The Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt in November after a video exposed his involvement in a kicking-and-screaming incident earlier last year. Signed by the Browns, Hunt since was suspended for eight games. What in the Hill will happen to Tyreek?
The Broncos have finished 2-4 vs. the other three teams in the division for three consecutive seasons. Before anything else, they must be competitive in the AFC West, and especially with the Chiefs, this year.
Their 2019 schedule is considered the second-most difficult in the NFL (based on last season’s results). They will have seven games against 2018 playoff teams — Chiefs (2), Chargers (2), Colts, Texans and the Bears — and five others against potential postseason participants (Packers, Vikings, Bears, Browns and Jaguars). Out of the remaining four, only two freebies loom.
So, where do the Broncos stand now? A view and a grade by positions:
Quarterback: Joe Flacco, Garrett Grayson. Flacco has won 106 games in 11 seasons. Grayson appeared in one game in four seasons. The Broncos must draft another quarterback. They did meet with Auburn’s Jason Stidham at the Combine. B-
Running back: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Andy Janovich, Khalfani Muhammad. B.
Tight end: Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, Temarrick Hemingway. D.
Wide receiver: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, River Cracraft, Chad Hansen, Fred Brown, Aaron Burbridge, Brendan Langley (converted cornerback). C+.
Tackle: Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James, Elijah Wilkinson, Andreas Knappe. C.
Guard: Ron Leary, Connor McGovern, Sam Jones, Don Barclay, Austin Schlottmann, Nico Falah. D.
Center: McGovern, Jones, Falah. F
Defensive end: Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Zach Kerr, DeMarcus Walker, Caushaud Lyons. C.
Nose tackle: Shelby Harris. B.
Outside linebacker: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Jeff Holland, Aaron Wallace. A.
Inside linebacker: Todd Davis, Josey Jewell, Keishawn Bierria, Alexander Johnson, Joe Jones. D.
Cornerback: Chris Harris Jr., Kareem Jackson, Bryce Callahan, Isaac Yiadom, Craig Mager, Horace Richardson, Linden Stephens. B+.
Safety: Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Su’a Cravens, Jamal Carter, Dymonte Thomas, Shamarko Thomas, Trey Marshall. C+
Kicker: Brandon McManus. C.
Punter: Colby Wadman. C.
Long snapper: Casey Kreiter. A+
On offense, the Broncos deserve a C- on this Sunday. They need starters to emerge at center, right guard and tight end; Leary and Lindsey to return to good health; a fifth wide receiver to develop and, most significantly, Flacco to be the first first-class quarterback to play in Denver since John Elway, Jake Plummer and Peyton Manning.
The defense’s grade is B-. The Broncos are weakest at inside linebacker and safety, and they must supplement with more depth at cornerback, outside linebacker, nose tackle and defensive end.
The Broncos possess one of the league’s worst special teams. D.
Overall, they are completely average — C.
But the Broncos are trending up, and there’s no longer a devastating former coach, Exxon oil spill.