10 takeaways from the Broncos’ 2022 season

The Denver Broncos wrapped up the 2022 season on Sunday with a 5-12 record, marking the second-straight year the team has finished in last place in the AFC West and the seventh-straight year Denver has missed the playoffs.

After a sixth-straight losing season, the Broncos plan to make big changes this offseason, most notably by bringing in a new head coach. Before we completely turn our attention toward the future, though, we’re taking a quick look back at the 2022 season.

There were a few bright spots, but it was mostly a forgettable year for Denver. Here are ten takeaways from the Broncos’ season.

Nathaniel Hackett wasn’t the right man for the job

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That is an obvious statement, but it’s the biggest takeaway from the year. Hackett was hired after three previous stints as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and while he’s liked by players, he was not ready to be a head coach in the NFL. Hackett struggled with game management and seemed to be too slow to make needed changes throughout the year. Hackett will likely get another opportunity as an assistant coach in the NFL sometime down the road, but his time in Denver won’t be remembered fondly by fans, especially after the team played so much better after he was fired.

Russell Wilson took a step backward

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Wilson had the worst season of his career, throwing a career-low 16 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, tied for the second-most in his career. Wilson was also sacked a career-high 55 times. Some of the blame for those sacks falls on the offensive line, but Wilson also often onto the ball too long in 2022. Wilson also made poor decisions more often than one might expect from an accomplished 11th-year quarterback. Denver seems unlikely to cut Wilson this offseason because of the potential “dead money” salary cap hit that would create, so the QB likely has at least one more year with the Broncos. Wilson will have to show a lot of improvement under a new coach in 2023 if he wants to keep the job beyond next season. The good news: Wilson played well in the team’s final two games.

George Paton might be on the hot seat

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The Broncos have a new ownership group that inherited Paton, who helped hire Hackett and then traded for Wilson last offseason. New co-owner/CEO Greg Penner backed Paton when he fired Hackett, but the GM might not have much room for error going forward. Penner did not hesitate to fire Hackett on performance-based merit, and he might decide to do the same with Paton if the GM does not quickly get the team back on track in 2023.

The offensive line was a disaster

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One of the most puzzling moves Hackett made last year was parting ways with accomplished offensive line coach Mike Munchak and replacing him with unproven coach Butch Barry. Denver’s offensive line went on to have a dismal season, and it’s possible that left tackle Garett Bolles and guard Quinn Meinerz might be the team’s only regular starters to keep their roles in 2023. There is some good news — Munchak took a break from coaching in 2022, and the team’s might next head coach might be able to convince him to return.

Injuries decimated Denver

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Plenty of blame for the Broncos’ struggles in 2022 falls on Hackett, Wilson and Paton, but some of it also boils down to just bad luck. Denver placed a total of 28 players on injured reserve last season, the second-highest total in the NFL. By the end of the year, the Broncos’ list of starters on IR included Bolles, C Lloyd Cushenberry, CB Ronald Darby, TE Greg Dulcich, OLB Randy Gregory, LB Jonas Griffith, DE Dre’Mont Jones, WR Tim Patrick, G Dalton Risner and RB Javonte Williams. Denver can only hope for better luck on the injury front in 2023.

Brandon McManus had an off year

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McManus converted 28-of-36 field goal attempts this season, marking the third-worst field goal percentage (77%) of his career. McManus also missed two extra-point attempts. McManus will likely remain with the team in 2023, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos hold a kicker competition at training camp this summer.

The Broncos need more from their pass rushers

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After signing a five-year, $70 million contract in March, Gregory went on to miss most of his first season with injuries. Gregory totaled two sacks in six games this year. Baron Browning showed promise as a first-year starter, but his five sacks could be improved on as well. Denver’s second-round pick, Nik Bonitto, was especially disappointing with just 1.5 sacks in his rookie season. After trading away Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in back-to-back seasons, the Broncos need more production from their pass rushers in 2023.

Denver’s backfield outlook is uncertain

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After losing Javonte Williams to a season-ending knee injury and parting ways with Melvin Gordon, the Broncos had their backfield led by veteran journeyman Latavius Murray in 2022. Murray deserves praise for coming in and doing a good job, but he’ll turn 33 later this month. He might not return in 2023, and Mike Boone is set to join Murray in free agency. Chase Edmonds is under contract for next season, but he’ll have a base salary of $5.66 million. If he’s going to remain in Denver, Edmonds will likely be asked to restructure his contract. Some fans might ask why the backup options matter much if Williams is going to be the guy going forward. Williams tore his ACL and LCL, which is a complicated injury that’s difficult to recover from. There’s no guarantee that Williams will be ready by Week 1 next season, so the Broncos will need a capable RB2 who can start if needed. With that being the case, Denver will likely select a running back at some point during April’s draft. Perhaps Tyler Badie could be a dark horse to watch as well.

Offense will have weapons in 2023

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Even with the backfield depth chart still to be sorted out, Wilson will have plenty of weapons to work with in 2023. Tim Patrick will return from a knee injury that sidelined him for all of the 2022 season, and promising tight end Greg Dulcich will return from a hamstring injury. Additionally, Jerry Jeudy will be coming off the best year of his career, Courtland Sutton will be entering his sixth season, KJ Hamler will return from a hamstring injury, and Albert Okwuegbunam will be looking to build on his promising finish to the 2022 campaign. With fewer injuries and better coaching, Denver’s offense could take a big step forward next season.

The defense is still a bright spot

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The season overall was a dismal year for the Broncos, but the defense certainly wasn’t to blame. Ejiro Evero’s unit kept the team in nearly every game in his first season as defensive coordinator. Justin Simmons stood out with a career-high six interceptions (and three forced fumbles), and Pat Surtain earned a Pro Bowl nod in his second season. Denver’s defense has a bright future, and if the team’s next coach can get the offense clicking again, the Broncos could get back on track quickly.

Story originally appeared on Broncos Wire