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  • Broncos roster review: Royce Freeman
    by Joe Mahoney on July 11, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports Is there room for Royce Freeman in the backfield with Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay? Royce Freeman got more touches in his second year, but he still was RB2 behind Phillip Lindsay in 2019 just like he was in 2018. Lindsay (224) and Freeman (132) combined for all but one of the carries by a running back for the 2019 Broncos. Andy Janovich had that one carry. If you count Andrew Beck as a FB, then he had one carry as well. Royce Freeman was a third round selection by the Broncos in 2018 (71st overall pick). RUNNING BACK#28Experience: 3 yearsHeight: 6-0Age: 24Weight: 238 lbsCollege: Oregon Freeman missed time during his rookie campaign because of an ankle injury and he appeared to never fully recover from that in 2018. He touched the ball 144 times in 2018 and 175 times in 2019. He was much more involved in the passing game in 2019 with 50 targets and 43 catches (compared to 20 and 14 in 2018). His yards per carry went from 4.0 in 2018 to 3.8 in 2019. The average carry in the NFL in 2019 was 4.3 yards. Meaning that Freeman was 0.5 yards below average. The Good Freeman is large running back. He is listed at 238 lbs, but he appears heavier than that to me. There are times when you need a massive running back to run over a defender and gain that extra half of a yard. During his career, Freeman has carried the ball 42 times in short yardage situations (needed 3 yards or less). He has gotten first downs (or touchdowns) on 25 of those carries (59.9%) - including 5 TDs. That sounds pretty good until you realize that the league average on short yardage runs was 64.8% over the past two seasons. So Freeman has been below average in short yardage situations (this includes goalline runs). So how has he compared to Lindsay? Lindsay has converted on 66.1%. That is converting on 39 of 59 short yardage carries - ten of which went for touchdowns. But I guess there are times when Freeman, who weighs roughly 50 lbs more than Lindsay would be useful as a ball carrier. Freeman was much better in the passing game than Lindsay. Not only was he a better pass blocker than Lindsay (see my most recent sack blame article), but he was much more sure-handed (and to my eye, a better route runner). Freeman only dropped two passes in 2019 - on 50 targets. Lindsay dropped six passes on 48 targets. The Bad Royce Freeman has turned into a plodder with limited ability to break tackles or extend runs. His vision appears to have gotten worse and he has not shown much promise in terms of extending runs since his rookie season before his injury. Freeman had one carry of 20 or more yards in 2019. He had 13 carries that went for 10 or more yards. So 10% of his runs went for 10 or more yards, but only 0.8% of his carries went for 20 or more. For comparison Lindsay had seven of 20 or more and 22 of 10 or more. Like Freeman, only 10% of Lindsay’s carries went for 10 or more, but 3.1% went for 20 or more. So in 2019 Lindsay had four times the frequency of 20+ yard carries that Freeman had. FWIW Melvin Gordon had 162 carries in 2019 and only two of his carries went for 20 or more yards (1.2%) while 14 went for 10 or more (8.6%). Gordon is not a good comparison because he was playing behind a different offensive line than Freeman and Gordon held out for part of the year in 2019. That being said, I would not assume that Gordon will be the short yardage back in 2020 just because he is bigger than Lindsay and shiftier than Freeman. My opinion Pat Shurmur generally does not split the carries between two running backs. He is more of an old school play caller in that he likes to give his main RB the lion’s share. He might change his approach with Lindsay and Gordon, but that leaves Royce Freeman out in the cold. If this were a normal year, I would expect Freeman to get showcased in the preseason to increase his trade value. Since there will be no preseason, I doubt Freeman has too much trade value and I would be elated if the Broncos were able to get a 4th or 5th round pick in exchange for him. If we don’t trade him, I do not expect him to make the roster. He did not play special teams at all in either of his first two seasons, so he does not even have that going for him. There are currently six running backs on the Bronco’s roster. In his last stint as offensive coordinator, Shurmur kept anywhere from two to four running backs on the 53-man roster. It would not surprise me if Freeman is traded and Shurmur only keeps Gordon and Lindsay on the 55-man roster, but the roster math may be a little different this year with the pandemic. I do expect whoever is RB3 or RB4 to play special teams. For a larger running back the Broncos also have Jeremy Cox, who the teamed signed to a reserve/futures contract at the end of 2019. Cox is listed at 6-0, 226 lbs.

  • Broncos roster review: Defensive back Duke Dawson, Jr
    by Adam Malnati on July 10, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Duke Dawson JrDefensive Back #20Experience: 3 yearsHeight: 5-foot-10Weight: 198 poundsAge: 24College: Florida When the 2019 season began Duke Dawson was on the roster primarily to add depth to the defensive backfield. When the Broncos traded for Dawson the thought was that Bryce Callahan would be the starter, and Isaac Yiadom would get the lion’s share of playing time off the bench. When Callahan went down for the season, a rotation of Dawson, Yiadom, De’Vante Bausby, and Devontae Harris was used to fill the hole in the defense. For Dawson, it was a chance to get playing time outside of special teams. From Week 4 to Week 12, Dawson figured prominently in the defensive backfield. His play in Week 9 and 11 earned him a start in Week 12, but a concussion sidelined him during the game, and he struggled to get back on the field. Broncos most pleasant surprises at the bye:1. Alexander Johnson 2. Davontae Harris3. Brandon Allen4. Mike Purcell5. Duke Dawson Jr#9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) November 4, 2019 With a small sample size from Dawson, it is hard to tell where he will fall on the depth chart. It looked like he had made a good impression before his concussion, but after he cleared concussion protocol he was primarily used on special teams. The Good Dawson was a second round draft pick for a reason. The skill set and athleticism is there. He has shown the ability to compete at the NFL level, and will likely improve with a full offseason under his belt with the Broncos. The defensive backfield is still seen by many as a potential weak link in Denver. While Dawson is not a current starter, the need for depth at the position makes him an important piece of the puzzle for Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell. The Bad The fact that Dawson had ample opportunity to play his way into a prominent role in the DB rotation and didn’t is cause for concern. After several weeks of registering about a third of the defensive snaps, Dawson disappeared in the final weeks of the season. From Weeks 14-17 Dawson played a total of 7 defensive snaps. Even more telling, he only played 16 snaps on special teams. His inability to really impress during a stretch of consistent playing time during the 2019 season does not bode well for Dawson becoming much more than a depth piece. Final Word A need of depth in the defensive backfield should help Dawson stick on the roster. He may not find much playing time on defense, but could figure prominently on special teams. Dawson is also a player that could benefit from the potentially expanded rosters in 2020. There will be a need for depth at all positions, and this should open up a secure spot on the roster.

  • Report: Broncos’ safety Justin Simmons accepts his franchise tender
    by Tim Lynch on July 10, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images With the July 15th deadline approaching, Justin Simmons has decided to accept his franchise tender. There will be no holdout for safety Justin Simmons in 2020. He intends to formally sign his franchise tender with the Denver Broncos this weekend. Broncos’ safety Justin Simmons officially has accepted his franchise tender and is expected to sign it this weekend, per sources. It’s just a formality now.Four franchise players now have not signed their tender: Yannick Ngakoue, Shaq Barrett, Chris Jones and AJ Green.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 10, 2020 While this doesn’t preclude the team and Simmons getting a deal done before the July 15th deadline, it likely signals that the two sides are not close to a deal at this time. Simmons will play out 2020 on his $11.441 million franchise tag and, hopefully, it will mean a long-term deal can be worked out next offseason. If Simmons doesn’t sign a long-term deal by the deadline, it will be the first time during John Elway’s tenure that he wasn’t able to get a deal in place by the deadline on a player he uses the franchise tag on. The previous four - Matt Prater, Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas, and Von Miller - all signed new long-term deals the year they were tagged. Broncos safety Justin Simmons informed Broncos earlier this week, he will sign $11.441 million franchise tag tender, per source. Although Simmons has till Wednesday to reach long-term deal, new economy across league may make it very difficult. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) July 10, 2020 It is highly likely that the uncertainty around COVID-19 is at play here. With the salary cap status an huge unknown for executives, putting down a long-term deal in place is a huge risk. Maybe not as huge as committing half a billion dollars to a player, but its still a roster-building risk that Elway seems unwilling to take with Justin Simmons. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a long-term deal in the future, but we’ll just have to wait and see on that front.

  • Jerry Jeudy reacts to release of rookie Madden ratings
    by Tim Lynch on July 10, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    Rookies are never given much love in Madden ratings, so Jerry Jeudy wasn’t pleased with how poorly he showed up in some key areas. View this post on Instagram CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, & Tee Higgins A post shared by EA SPORTS Madden NFL 21 (@eamaddennfl) on Jul 10, 2020 at 6:57am PDT We don’t normally do too many Madden ratings here on Mile High Report, but once I saw the above video between Chad Ochocinco and various rookie wide receivers - including Denver Broncos first round pick Jerry Jeudy - I knew I had to share it. It was too funny. Madden is notorious for giving rookies very poor ratings and it doesn’t matter how great they were coming out of college. Things were no different for Jerry Jeudy. First, he laughed at his zone coverage rating of 31. Jeudy, who is known for his superior route running skills, excels at finding holes in the zone. It’s one of the primary reasons Denver drafted him in the first place, so that rating is definitely cause for some chuckles. Then when Ochocinco broke the news that his overall was to be 75, Jeudy got up and walked away. Hey, whatever gives one motivation. It was a fun video clip to watch. A lot of fans don’t really care about Madden ratings, but this type of thing is meant to be seen with a light heart. Besides, after a few months of watching Jeudy’s highlights, this time next year I am sure he’ll be working his way up to the 90s. Madden NFL 21 will be available worldwide on August 28, 2020. Keep an eye out for the ESPN and Madden NFL ratings week from 7/13-7/17, highlighting Madden’s 99 Club and additional player/team ratings.

  • What should we expect from Noah Fant in 2020?
    by Joe Mahoney on July 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports Noah Fant had a decent season as a rookie. Using the average improvement from recent rookie to second year TEs let’s see if we can predict what he might do in 2020. Noah Fant finished his rookie campaign with 40 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns. Among rookie tight ends since the merger his 40 catches is tied for 31st, his receiving yards are 15th and his touchdowns don’t even put him in the top 50. There have been 56 rookie TEs in the past 30 NFL seasons to catch 30 or more passes. Of those 56, only 39 had 30 or more catches in their second season. This was somewhat surprising. I guess there have been many rookie TEs who either lost their jobs in their second season or who were injured and did not produce in their second year. Four of those 59 were in 2019 - Noah Fant (40 catches), Irv Smith Jr. (36 catches), T.J. Hockenson (32 catches) and Kaden Smith (31 catches). I would expect all four to have at least 30 catches in 2020 (assuming we have a 16 game regular season). Interestingly enough, in 2018 both Chris Herndon (39 catches) and Ian Thomas (36 catches) surpassed the 30 catch mark as rookies, but neither was able to repeat the feat in 2019. Herndon was hurt most of the year and Thomas only had 16 catches as Greg Olsen (52 catches) was able to stay healthy for most of the year and was the main receiving TE for the Panthers. Olsen was limited to 9 games and 27 catches in 2018. Here is a look at what those 39 “recent” tight ends did as rookies, as second year players and how much they improved (or regressed) in the second year relative to their rookie season. Eric Green and Jim Price played long enough ago (1990) that target data was not kept yet. Player Year Tm TGT yr 1 REC yr1 YDS yr1 TD yr1 TGT yr2 Rec yr2 Yds yr2 TD yr2 TGT %D Rec %D Yds %D TD %D Jimmy Graham 2010 NOR 44 31 356 5 149 99 1310 11 239% 219% 268% 120% Jason Witten 2003 DAL 54 35 347 1 122 87 980 6 126% 149% 182% 500% George Kittle 2017 SFO 63 43 515 2 136 88 1377 5 116% 105% 167% 150% Rob Gronkowski 2010 NWE 59 42 546 10 124 90 1327 17 110% 114% 143% 70% Brandon Pettigrew 2009 DET 54 30 346 2 111 71 722 4 106% 137% 109% 100% Dallas Goedert 2018 PHI 44 33 334 4 87 58 607 5 98% 76% 82% 25% Mark Andrews 2018 BAL 50 34 552 3 98 64 852 10 96% 88% 54% 233% Tony Gonzalez 1997 KAN 54 33 368 2 102 59 621 2 89% 79% 69% 0% Owen Daniels 2006 HOU 51 34 352 5 94 63 768 3 84% 85% 118% -40% Aaron Hernandez 2010 NWE 64 45 563 6 113 79 910 7 77% 76% 62% 17% Mychal Rivera 2013 OAK 60 38 407 4 99 58 534 4 65% 53% 31% 0% Chris Cooley 2004 WAS 63 37 314 6 103 71 774 7 63% 92% 146% 17% Freddie Jones 1997 SDG 69 41 505 2 111 57 602 3 61% 39% 19% 50% Zach Ertz 2013 PHI 57 36 469 4 89 58 702 3 56% 61% 50% -25% Ben Troupe 2004 TEN 54 33 329 1 80 55 530 4 48% 67% 61% 300% David Njoku 2017 CLE 60 32 386 4 88 56 639 4 47% 75% 66% 0% Doug Jolley 2002 OAK 37 32 409 2 54 31 250 1 46% -3% -39% -50% Rickey Dudley 1996 OAK 70 34 386 4 91 48 787 7 30% 41% 104% 75% Zach Miller 2007 OAK 68 44 444 3 86 56 778 1 26% 27% 75% -67% Greg Olsen 2007 CHI 66 39 391 2 82 54 574 5 24% 38% 47% 150% Randy McMichael 2002 MIA 68 39 485 4 83 49 598 2 22% 26% 23% -50% Pete Mitchell 1995 JAX 64 41 527 2 77 52 575 1 20% 27% 9% -50% Hunter Henry 2016 SDG 53 36 478 8 62 45 579 4 17% 25% 21% -50% Will Tye 2015 NYG 62 42 464 3 70 48 395 1 13% 14% -15% -67% Jermaine Gresham 2010 CIN 83 52 471 4 92 56 596 6 11% 8% 27% 50% Jordan Reed 2013 WAS 59 45 499 3 65 50 465 0 10% 11% -7% -100% Ken Dilger 1995 IND 55 42 635 4 60 42 503 4 9% 0% -21% 0% Heath Miller 2005 PIT 52 39 459 6 55 34 393 5 6% -13% -14% -17% Dustin Keller 2008 NYJ 78 48 535 3 82 45 522 2 5% -6% -2% -33% John Carlson 2008 SEA 80 55 627 5 83 51 574 7 4% -7% -8% 40% Eric Johnson 2001 SFO 64 40 362 3 65 36 321 0 2% -10% -11% -100% Tony McGee 1993 CIN 70 44 525 0 70 40 492 1 0% -9% -6% Bubba Franks 2000 GNB 55 34 363 1 49 36 322 9 -11% 6% -11% 800% Alex Smith 2005 TAM 61 41 367 2 53 35 250 3 -13% -15% -32% 50% Tony Moeaki 2010 KAN 73 47 556 3 56 33 453 1 -23% -30% -19% -67% Evan Engram 2017 NYG 115 64 722 6 64 45 577 3 -44% -30% -20% -50% Jeremy Shockey 2002 NYG 128 74 894 2 70 48 535 2 -45% -35% -40% 0% Eric Green 1990 PIT 34 387 7 41 582 6 21% 50% -14% Jim Price 1991 RAM 35 410 2 57 34 324 2 -3% -21% 0% Five guys made huge jumps from year one to year two: Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Pettigrew. Four of those five guys could be in the HoF some day. Witten and Gronk definitely will. Graham has an outside shot and Kittle has plenty of career to left to determine that. Pettigrew was a first round pick of the Lions in 2009 who had some nice seasons before his career fell apart in his sixth year in the league. Averaging the year over year change we find that for these 39 guys in their second year they averaged: 43 percent more targets 41 percent more catches 44 percent more yards 52 percent more receiving touchdowns Applying that to what Fant did in 2019 we find that if he follows the trend, he should have: 94 targets 56 catches 809 yards 5 TDs Those numbers are very similar to what former Bronco, Owen Daniels, did in his second year in the league. Does that sound reasonable to you? Do you think that there will be enough targets for him to get that many with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and our running backs all wanting to the ball in the passing game? Keep in mind that only 6 TEs had 94 or more targets in 2019: Travis Kelce (136), Zach Ertz (135), Darren Waller (117), George Kittle (107), Mark Andrews (98) and Austin Hooper (97). It should be noted that none of those guys was drafted in the first round. They were taken in the third, second, sixth, fifth, third and third rounds respectively.


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