View Full Version : 2009 Position Previews: WR/TE

07-23-2009, 07:58 PM
Editor's Note: In the days leading up to training camp, DenverBroncos.com will examine several key areas on the Broncos roster to give fans an idea of what to look for as the season approaches. Fourth in the eight-part series: wide receivers and tight ends.

By Gray Caldwell

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A talented group of wide receivers can make or break an offense. And a solid group of tight ends can break open a game with mismatches downfield and powerful blocking at the line of scrimmage.

With training camp just a little more than a week away, it looks as if the Broncos will have solid depth at both positions.

"It's great competition out there," Eddie Royal said. "Every day you've got to come out and prove yourself. Nobody's spot is guaranteed out here, so you've got to come and compete every day."

Here's a closer look at how the two groups shake out.


Head Coach Josh McDaniels came to the team from the New England Patriots, and Jabar Gaffney was soon to follow. The eighth-year receiver joined the club just a couple days into free agency and will look to continue with his solid statistics under McDaniels.

He hauled in a career-high five receiving touchdowns and had 36 catches for 449 yards for the Patriots in 2007, helping the team post the first 16-0 regular-season record in NFL history and advance to Super Bowl XLII. In addition, his career in New England saw him become the first player in NFL history to post consecutive 8-catch, 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs with his effort during the 2006 postseason.

It's that kind of production Gaffney and the team hope he can continue. It's a safe bet, as he has appeared in all 16 games and totaled at least 400 receiving yards in six of his seven NFL seasons.

Another free agent receiver with a tie to a current Bronco is Brandon Lloyd. The seventh-year veteran played with Kyle Orton in Chicago last season, connection for 26 receptions, 364 yards and two touchdowns. He has totaled 156 catches for 2,253 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first six years in the league.

Lloyd said it wasn't just Orton that attracted him to Denver -- it was the entire package.

"The excitement of having Coach McDaniels here and an explosive offense, the new-look defense, just the whole thing," he said. "It was very refreshing. Of course Kyle factored into it, too -- that was pretty much the icing on the cake."

But free agency wasn't the only place the team went to find productive wide receivers and tight ends. Richard Quinn and Kenny McKinley were picked up in the second and fifth rounds, respectively, of April's draft. Both players impressed McDaniels and are looking to make an impact in their first season after both signed with the team on Thursday.

Quinn was widely regarded as one of the top blocking tight ends at the college level, earning him his lofty draft position. But even with his strength in the running game, McDaniels said Quinn isn't just a one-dimensional player. He snagged 12 catches for 124 yards at the University of North Carolina, but that had a lot to do with the system and the fact that the school had three wide receivers chosen in the 2009 NFL Draft.

"He didn't catch a lot of balls at North Carolina, but that wasn't because he can't catch," McDaniels said. "They didn't use him that way very much in their system, in their scheme, but he showed very good hands during the course of the spring."

The rookie tight end said he's glad he joined a team that has such a deep corps of tight ends to learn from.

"I always try to pay attention to what the veteran guys are doing first so when it's time for me to go up, I know exactly what to do," he said. "Just try to minimize my mistakes as much as possible."

McKinley is another rookie trying to make his mark and limit his mistakes. He already made his mark at the University of South Carolina, leaving the school as the record-holder for for receptions and receiving yards in a career.

"He can really run and he's got very good hands," McDaniels said. "He's a guy that can play more than one spot in the receiver alignments. Adding a player that has sub 4.4 speed, I think anytime you add a skill player with that kind of speed, it's a good thing."

McKinley is one of only five players in Southeastern Conference history with over 200 career receptions and one of only 12 players in conference annals to amass more than 2,700 receiving yards. He said nothing but hard work and diligence can help him achieve those kind of statistics at the next level. The first step was OTAs. Next up, training camp.

"I think training camp is when you separate yourself from other guys on the team," he said. "I'm going to go out there and do my best, do whatever I can do to contribute to the team so I can get (on the field) this season."

Other players looking to separate themselves in camp are the two undrafted free agent receivers and one undrafted free agent tight end. Nate Swift, Lucas Taylor and Marquez Branson all joined the team after the draft, and the rookies are looking to prove that they have what it takes to succeed at the next level.

Swift, a University of Nebraska product, left school as the record-holder with 166 receptions and ranked second in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 2,476 yards and 22, respectively. He earned honorable mention All-Big 12 Conference accolades as a senior in 2008, even returning a punt for a touchdown.

Taylor was a similarly versatile player at the University of Tennessee. He totaled 113 receptions for 1,433 yards and six touchdowns in his career, but also averaged 21.0 yards on kickoff returns and 6.2 yards per punt return. He even threw for two touchdowns -- a 56-yarder and a 48-yarder. He received second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors as a junior.

Branon earned All-Southland Conference recognition as a senior in 2008, leading all FCS tight ends in receptions and touchdown catches. He played 23 career games in two seasons at Central Arkansas after transferring from East Mississippi Community College, and durnig that time totaled 82 career receptions for 1,236 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 18 touchdowns rank fifth in Central Arkansas history.

The most recent free agent receiver to join the team was C.J. Jones. The third-year wide receiver spent time on New England's active roster last season, and has also spent time on the Patriots' practice squad along with Cleveland's active roster and practice squad. He also spent some time in NFL Europa and the Canadian Football League. In college at the University of Iowa, Jones was a two-year starter, totaling 72 catches for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a senior, he set an Orange Bowl record when he returned the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown against the University of Southern California.


As Royal said, plenty of new additions to the team mean plenty of competition, but the returning crop of Broncos pass-catchers are no slouches.

Royal himself is back for his sophomore campaign after earning all-rookie honors from Pro Football Weekly/PFWA and The Sporting News with his 91-catch, 980-yard, five-touchdown performance in 2008. All three statistics set Broncos rookie records, and the 91 catches mark the second-most by a rookie in NFL history.

He put together five plays of at least 50 yards for the team last season, and became the first player since the 1970 NFL merger to record his team's longest run (71 yards), reception (93 yards), kickoff return (95 yards) and punt return (36 yards) in the same year.

Those kind of numbers could make a first year player pretty comfortable heading into the following season. But with Royal, that's never an issue.

"You can never get comfortable in this league," he said. "You can't be complacent -- you've got to come out and try to get better every day. It was a good year last year, but there is always room to grow."

That might be a scary statement for opposing defensive backs. But that's not the only frightening part of the Broncos' receiving corps. With 91 catches, Royal didn't even catch the most passes on the team last season. That distinction belongs to Brandon Marshall, who passed the century mark in catches for the second consecutive season.

Marshall's 104 catches, 1,265 yards and six touchdowns earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl as a starter, and made him the only receiver in the league to register at least 100 catches and 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons. His season got of to a tremendous start when he tied for the second-most receptions in a game in NFL history with a team-record 18 catches for 166 yards and one touchdown in the team's thrilling win against San Diego in the home opener.

The fourth-year receiver has been absent thus far from offseason team activities, but McDaniels said he has no doubt when training camp rolls around Marshall will have plenty of time to build a rapport with new quarterbacks Kyle Orton, Chris Simms and Tom Brandstater.

"Well, there are 40 practices before our first game starting in August," McDaniels said. "He's a smart player and I'm sure he'll be able to learn whatever he needs to learn to be able to play successfully if he's here at training camp. So I'm not concerned about that."


07-23-2009, 07:58 PM
There's no concern about eighth-year veteran Daniel Graham, either. The two-time Super Bowl winner enters his third year with the team, and first year back with McDaniels, who was with the Patriots during part of Graham's stint in New England.

When Graham and McDaniels have been together, the results have been fruitful -- 11 playoff games, nine victories, two Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl trophies.

"It's good just reuniting, getting back in this offense," Graham said of McDaniels. "It's been a lot of fun since he's back here."

Graham said he's excited about the new offensive system and the role he feels the tight ends can play.

"We’ve got some good depth on this team," he said of the position. "Everybody has a certain strength that we all bring to the table. As a group, we're pretty good."

Tony Scheffler is one of the tight ends that makes up the group, and his strength is almost certainly his pass catching ability.

The fourth-year veteran leads all NFL tight ends with a 13.8 yards per reception average and ties for seventh among his position group in receiving touchdowns since entering the league with the Broncos in 2006.

He registered a career-high 645 receiving yards last season en route to a Broncos single-season record for tight ends with a 16.1 yards per reception average. But even though he feels his numbers can improve even further, that's not the main thing on Scheffler's mind entering this season.

"I'm going into my fourth year -- time flies by -- and I'd like to go to the playoffs," he said. "That's my number one goal -- I think we're all trying to put individual stuff behind us and concentrate on the team."

If the team wants to get to the playoffs, Brandon Stokley could be a vital cog. After winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, he won another with the Indianapolis Colts. Broncos fans might remember Stokley's performance against Denver in the 2003 AFC Wild Card playoff game -- 144 yards and two touchdowns, including an 87-yard score.

"Brandon is certainly a veteran player who has done a lot of great things in this league and fits really well into our system and what we do," McDaniels said.

Known as one of the best slot receivers in the game and clutch on third downs, McDaniels said he envisions an even bigger role for Stokley in 2009.

Another player ready to take on a bigger role is Chad Jackson. He had his most productive season as a professional under McDaniels in New England, when he grabbed 13 catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. Now he hopes he can return to form and produce at a level he knows he can.

"There's a lot of people out there that know what I can do," he said. "I just haven't done it in a while. But once I get the ball this season, I can show everybody what I can do."

He flashed a little of his ability last season, when he caught his first pass with the team for 19 yards in the first quarter of a 34-17 win against the New York Jets. The reception put the Broncos in the red zone and led to a 10-point advantage. He also returned eight kickoffs, something he said he'd be willing to do again if called upon. One thing going in his favor is familiarity with McDaniels and his system.

"I know the offense already," he said. "Knowing all the plays, that's kind of an advantage I have. So I'm thankful for that."

Jeb Putzier might not know the offense, but he's certainly familiar with the Broncos. The eighth-year veteran spent his first four professional seasons with Denver before rejoining the club in December 2008 following stints with Houston and Seattle.

Now that he's back, he's looking to produce the same way that has earned him the third-best career yards per reception average (by a tight end in club history. One thing that might help is McDaniels' system, which Putzier feels fits him well. He also likes the way the coaching staff has been preparing the team to execute it.

"They're putting us in tough situations where we have to think on the move, and it's great," he said. "It's quite a challenge, but if you're not in the NFL to be challenged, you shouldn't be here. Everyone has been excited about it."

Matthew Willis returns to the team as well after spending the final week of the 2008 season on the practice squad. Prior to that he spent time on the practice squad and active roster of the Baltimore Ravens. He entered the league as a college free agent in 2007, recording an 11-yard catch and one special-teams tackle for the Ravens in five games that season.

Wide Receivers

Jabar Gaffney recorded 21 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns in three playoff games in 2006.
Chad Jackson tied the Broncos' single-game record with eight kickoff returns in the 2008 season finale at San Diego.
C.J. Jones caught 10 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown for Cologne in NFL Europa.
Brandon Lloyd is tied for second among all players with three successful two-point conversions since 2003.
Brandon Marshall set an NFL record for catches in a five-game period with 55, dating back to 2007 through the Week 2 San Diego game.
Kenny McKinley even saw brief time on defense in 2007, making a solo tackle and deflecting a pass against North Carolina.
Eddie Royal tied for second in the NFL in 2008 with four 9-plus catch games.
Brandon Stokley led Denver with 21 first downs on third or fourth down in 2008.
Nate Swift set Nebraska freshman records for every major receiving category.
Lucas Taylor caught 73 passes as a junior, marking the second-best season total in UT annals.
Matthew Willis played two seasons of football at UCLA after competing on its track team.

Tight Ends

Marquez Branson recorded a career-high 174 receiving yards on five receptions with three touchdowns against Quincy University in 2008.
Daniel Graham owns 11 games of playoff experience (6 starts), including three AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls.
Jeb Putzier caught a career-high 37 passes for the Broncos in 2005, helping the club win the AFC West title and advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Richard Quinn was named an honorable mention All-American by Scout.com as a redshirt junior, catching eight passes for 97 yards and a touchdown as part of a Tar Heels offense that led the ACC in passing efficiency.
Tony Scheffler owns six receptions of at least 30 yards, including a personal-best 72-yard grab he made on Monday Night Football at Oakland last season.

07-24-2009, 12:30 AM
I think this is one of our strongest positions. If Brandon Marshall quits being a baby him and Eddie Royal could kick some. I'd like to see a mixture of Stokely, Swift, and Gaffney in the slot spot. Tight ends are strong as well, especially at catching.

The record that Chad Jackson broke had me laughing though.

"Chad Jackson tied the Broncos' single-game record with eight kickoff returns in the 2008 season finale at San Diego. "

I think we all could've lived without that record, amirite?