After watching last Monday’s preseason game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, three things became quite apparent: our starting defense looks pretty good, our starting offense needs a little work, and the team lacks some serious depth.

Preseason football is basically meaningless, as most coaches only play their starting units for a handful of series, fearful of injuries that could derail the regular season.

Which got me to thinking as the 49ers steamrolled through Denver’s backups in the second half. Who can the Broncos least afford to get injured this season?

  • Joe Flacco – Generally, the recipe for avoiding injuries at the quarterback position does not include trading for a quarterback who is almost 35 years old, has 11 seasons of wear and tear on his body, lacks mobility in the pocket, and is coming off a hip injury that cost him seven games and his starting job. Whether Flacco can still play at a high level is questionable enough, especially with a suspect offensive line and a new system. But if Flacco were to go down, the backups are Kevin Hogan and rookie Drew Lock. Neither is ready to lead this team and defenses will salivate as they load the box against the run and come after jittery quarterbacks with endless blitz packages.
  • Emmanuel Sanders – Without Sanders there is no Denver offense. Since arriving in Denver five seasons ago, all Sanders has done is averaged 75 catches and 1,000 yards a year with 121 targets. He plays the slot receiver, has the speed to go deep, makes big plays, and doesn’t drop the ball. When the 32-year-old receiver went down with a torn Achilles injury last December, Sanders was coming off a 10 catch/135 yards/1 TD performance in a win against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, the Broncos failed to win a game. Second year receiver Courtland Sutton may be ready to be the new number one, but keep this in mind: Sutton has never had a 100-yard receiving game, and in 13 of his 16 games last season, he failed to catch more than 3 passes. If Sanders goes down, Sutton will get the other team’s best coverage man and will rely heavily on the other receivers to come up big. That’s DaeSean Hamilton, who’s currently fighting for the third receiver spot against Tim Patrick. And that’s problematic.
  • Noah Fant – The first-round draft pick out of Iowa needs to stay healthy for a plethora of reasons. The most obvious is that the Broncos haven’t had a productive tight end since Julius Thomas in 2014. The second is that the Denver depth chart at the tight end position includes the always injured Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, and the often invisible, Jeff Heuerman. And the third is that not only did John Elway pass on an inside linebacker in choosing Fant, but it will also mean that three of the last four first-round picks in the Elway regime have included Fant, Garett Boles, and Paxton Lynch. Even Elway doesn’t have that much job security.
  • The offensive line – Okay, that’s more than one player, but it’s all related. With the lack of depth and always questionable health of right guard Ron Leary (played in only six games with torn Achilles tendon), they can’t afford to lose anyone. Ja’Wuan James cost the team a fortune, rookie Dalton Risner is arguably their best lineman, Connor McGovern basically has no backup, and if Boles goes down, we’ll never know if he’ll ever improve and learn to stop holding.
  • Drew Lock – After injuring his hand in the 49ers game, it looks like the quarterback is going to be okay. But let’s say that Lock gets his bad thumb caught in a clipboard, or slips on water near the therapy pool while bringing the veterans their beer. Denver needs to know as soon as possible whether Lock is their future at quarterback, and Lock needs to be healthy to show it. Waiting too long for players to develop didn’t work for Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, or Lynch. If Lock isn’t the answer, it’s time to Tank for Tua.

 

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Alan Tapley is an educator, author, and blogger who has lived just outside of Boulder for the last twenty years.  His published work includes two novels, two children’s books, a series of cartoons in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and multiple sports related articles. His love for family and the state of Colorado is only matched by one thing, his passion for sports.  The first baseball game he ever attended was at Wrigley Field, before there were lights.  At the final Bronco game at the old Mile High, he allegedly cut out a piece of his seat in the South stands.  But regardless of being here for the Avalanche’s last Stanley Cup, the Rockies only World Series appearance, and all the Broncos’ Super Bowl Victories, his wife never fails to remind him that he wasn’t at the University of Colorado in 1990, like she was.  The year the Buffs football team won the National Championship