After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In just a couple of weeks, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at the Broncos' tight ends.
HOW WILL THE BRONCOS USE ALBERT OKWUEGBUNAM AND GREG DULCICH?
The Broncos' biggest loss in their blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson may well have been Noah Fant, the team's 2019 first-round pick.
A dynamic athlete, Fant consistently contributed as a top 10 tight end during his three seasons in Denver. Though he never reached the ranks of Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller — a group he often said he hoped to join — Fant was a solid option for the Broncos. At his best, he was a force to bring down in the open field and could take off for long scores.
As the Broncos move forward, they'll have to find a way to replace that athleticism and big play-making ability — and they believe they have that answer.
Third-year tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has shown flashes of great potential during his first two seasons since the Broncos selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A big-bodied weapon with 4.49 40-yard dash speed, Okwuegbunam has shown the ability to catch the ball in space and take off for big gains. He's also demonstrated his knack as a red-zone target, as he's able to box out smaller defenders for scores. That was on display during the Broncos' offseason program — just as it was against the Chargers in 2020, when he caught one touchdown pass and drew a pass interference call to set up the winning score. Okwuegbunam must find consistency in his play, but his athleticism is evident.
The Broncos, though, weren't content at the position. After selecting Nik Bonitto in the second round, the Broncos used their third-round pick on another athletic receiving tight end in Greg Dulcich. The UCLA product was the second-ranked tight end on The Athletic's list of draft prospects, and he posted 10 touchdowns and more than 1,200 receiving yards across his last two seasons in college.
"With my receiver background, the separation I get, it wasn't around with any of the other tight ends in this class," Dulcich said after being drafted. "That's something that makes me stand out, and that's something I'm going to contribute at the next level."
Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett has praised both Dulcich's ability to stretch the field and his "soft hands" that are quarterback friendly.
Okwuegbunam and Dulcich join Eric Tomlinson, Eric Saubert and Andrew Beck in the Broncos' tight end room, but it's clear the first two players should emerge as Denver's top receiving threats at the position.
In training camp, we'll start to understand how Hackett plans to use the two players. Okwuegbunam seems likely to head into the season as the starter, but Dulcich made a push to earn reps during the offseason before he suffered a minor injury that caused him to miss some time. If Dulcich has a strong training camp and preseason, it's quite possible he could earn early playing time and targets.
Then, of course, there's the possibility of using both on the field at the same time. A year ago, only Miami used 12 personnel — one running back, two wide receivers, two tight ends — more than the Green Bay Packers. Hackett is expected to introduce many of those same offensive principles in Denver. Wilson, too, has familiarity with the grouping, as Seattle was among the top 10 teams in using 12 personnel.
With both Okwuegbunam and Dulcich on the field, the Broncos could have quite the advantage. Add, say, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy to the mix, and opposing defenses will have to deal with four dynamic weapons with varying builds. Linebackers may not be fast enough to keep up with Dulcich and Okwuegbunam — and safeties may not be big enough to stop them.
The Broncos, with either or both of those players on the field, will have an edge. Soon enough, we'll see how they use it to their advantage.