I’m not going to spend much time today speculating on what will happen with Brandon Marshall’s trade request and possible holdout. Plenty has been and will be written about the situation, which is probably a long way from being fully resolved.
Instead, let’s assume Marshall plays for the Broncos at some point this season and project how he’ll do in a brand new offense. Josh McDaniels will cater to Marshall’s strengths. The offense should fit him, too. New England wasn’t a long-strike offense last year – the Patriots averaged fewer yards per attempt than the Broncos last year – and Marshall is mostly a possession receiver. He has 206 catches the past two years with an average of 12.6 yards per catch – which is well behind other elite receivers like Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Marshall’s catch total could drop some this season, considering the Broncos are unlikely to be in the top three of the league in passing attempts, as they were last year. And Marshall’s holdout might affect his production. He has not practiced once this offseason in McDaniels’ complicated offense, and also hasn’t practiced with quarterback Kyle Orton, as he recovers from hip surgery. If Marshall’s holdout drags deep into preseason or even into the regular season, it might take a few weeks after he reports to feel comfortable. Still, Marshall is one of the most gifted receivers in the NFL and it wouldn’t be a shock if he went back to the Pro Bowl, depending on when he reports.
The player who continues to benefit the longer Marshall stays away is Jabar Gaffney. He has been the starter opposite Eddie Royal during minicamps, and knows the offense well from his New England days. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers with the Patriots, but is only 28 and could have a nice season with extended playing time. Even if Marshall plays with Denver this season, Gaffney could be the third receiver, which has a lot of value in the offense.
Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley are a couple of holdovers at different points in their careers. The Gaffney signing for four years and $10 million probably wasn’t good news for Stokley. Stokley is reliable as they come, but the new regime doesn’t have the same loyalty or ties to him as they do Gaffney. However, Stokley’s ability and McDaniels’ desire to spread the field might mean the team finds a niche for the longtime veteran.
Royal has been compared to Wes Welker, and that could prove to be accurate. Welker worked underneath, often from the slot, in New England’s offense and compiled 233 catches in two years, albeit with a 10.5-yard average. Royal had 91 catches last year and could have a similar, or better, season this year. He could also surpass 1,000 yards for the first time. He seems poised to have an excellent second season in McDaniels’ offense.
The Broncos have 12 receivers on the roster, and any could make the team with a great camp and preseason. That has happened many times over the years. Three receivers in particular, however, stand out as interesting players to watch during camp. Fifth-round pick Kenny McKinley had a productive college career at South Carolina, but had injury issues. He’s an intriguing player if he can prove he can stay healthy. Chad Jackson seemed to get more reps as minicamps went along, and the former second-round pick probably realizes he might be running out of chances if he doesn’t make the team. Veteran Brandon Lloyd was picked up late in the offseason, but has worked with Orton and has been a starter in the NFL. He just turned 28, so he should still have some good years left.