Brandon Marshall is gone, and everyone knows that’s a major hole in the Broncos offense. After all, over his last eight games with Denver, he caught 68 passes. Nobody else caught more than 19 in that span.
The Broncos have not added any receivers (yet, anyway), so let’s take a look at what they have to look forward to, post-Marshall:
Jabar Gaffney: Unless the Broncos draft Dez Bryant – we’ll get to him in a bit – Gaffney looks like Denver’s new No. 1 receiver. And, he is a great candidate for a good season. Gaffney blew up in the final two weeks with Eddie Royal out. In the final week without Royal or Marshall, he had 14 catches for 213 yards against the Chiefs. That explosion was intriguing. He has never been a No. 1 receiver, and the concern has to be that he has never put up numbers that indicate he could be a lead dog. But he has a great chance. He knows the offense and if he plays anything like he did in the final two games, he’ll put up good numbers.
Eddie Royal: The team has said all offseason they want to get Royal more involved, that his anemic numbers last year happened because he wasn’t integrated in the offense more. If you buy that, Royal could be in for a big turnaround season. I just don’t know that you can depend on someone coming off a 345-yard, no-touchdown season to be the top receiver (for comparison, in Gaffney’s last two games alone he had 282 yards and two touchdowns). Whether Gaffney or Royal becomes Orton’s top target, the Broncos clearly need Royal to be more productive now that Marshall is gone.
The others on the roster: Brandon Stokley and Brandon Lloyd had their moments last year, and Kenny McKinley showed promise in training camp. McKinley is coming off a knee/leg injury and had no catches last year, so he has a way to go. Stokley and Lloyd could be solid contributors, but the Broncos need depth.
Those not on the roster: A veteran could be added, but there isn’t an instant impact player who comes to mind (I can’t imagine the Broncos getting involved with the Terrell Owens circus after just trading Marshall). That leaves the draft. Oklahoma State’s Bryant is the one player good enough to come in and be Denver’s top receiver right away. He has that talent. No other receiver is such a sure thing, talent-wise. Bryant has some off-field questions, after being suspended by the NCAA last year, but they seem a bit overblown. The problem is, Bryant might not last to the Broncos’ first pick, which is 11th overall. How many targets Gaffney and Royal get this season could be affected greatly if Bryant is picked in the top 10, or if the Broncos surprise everyone and pass if he’s available at No. 11.
Denver will also be in play for a receiver in the second round, now that it has the 43rd and 45th picks. But the track record of rookie receivers is not great, especially if they last until the second round. Denver couldn’t rely heavily on an Arrelious Benn or a Golden Tate to be a go-to guy right away, though the Broncos could use a receiver like that to contribute in 2010. And, it’s not unheard of for a second-round receiver to be an instant star: Anquan Boldin was and immediate hit for the Cardinals.