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Football forecast: Predicting the Broncos' offensive and defensive rookies of the year


As the Broncos' 2020 season approaches, we'll spend the next few weeks looking at which Broncos players could play major roles this year.

Over the next several weeks, we'll poll our reporters and members of the local media to predict which members of the team would win a series of awards.

We'll pick an MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and winners in several other categories.

We previously identified Bradley Chubb as the consensus pick for the team's Comeback Player of the Year award, Noah Fant as the team's Breakout Player of the Year and Jurrell Casey as the Broncos' top veteran offseason addition.

We continue with picks for the Broncos' Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The Broncos used six of their 10 picks on offensive players and used the other four picks to shore up the defensive side of the ball.

In our projections, first-round pick Jerry Jeudy earned 13 of 19 votes to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and third-round pick Michael Ojemudia garnered 14 of 19 votes to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year nod.

Read on to hear from our panel of media members.



(Individuals polled: Matt Boyer, Aric DiLalla, Sydney Jones, Phil Milani, Alexis Perry, Ben Swanson)

WR Jerry Jeudy: 5 votes

Boyer: "Tough to pick anyone other than the guy Nick Saban had to scold for working out too much on his own time. In an offseason where rookies will be training and studying away from team facilities, I like Jeudy's chances at being a factor on offense from the first day of training camp."

Jones: "Some experts say the Broncos acquiring Jeudy at 15 was a steal and that he's potentially one of the best receiver prospects in years. In an offense where Courtland Sutton will be the No. 1 wide receiver, it will allow Jeudy to take advantage of some mismatches, especially when defenses will have to worry about Sutton, Noah Fant and KJ Hamler."

Milani: "I almost went Lloyd Cushennberry III with this pick because I think he will play more snaps than any other rookie. But guess what? I'm not in the business of hedging, so I'm all in behind Jerry Jeudy for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He might even win that award for all of the NFL. Jeudy was anointed the best route-runner of all the wideouts coming out of college this year. To me that means his game is the most ready to adjust to the pros. And I don't think enough people talk about his speed. He might not be Aric DiLalla fast, but he did run a 4.45 at the Combine. I see 50-60 receptions and around six touchdowns for Jeudy as a rookie."

Perry: "Alabama's No. 1 wideout has the kind of speed and route-running ability that will embarrass some of the league's best corners, and his talent on the field isn't even his best attribute. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in an interview with Broncos TV that he had to monitor the amount of extra work Jeudy was putting in during the season. Jeudy is a masterful route-runner with a relentless work ethic that even surprised one of the most assiduous coaches of all time. That's a lethal combination."

Swanson: "The Broncos needed another top receiver to pair with Courtland Sutton, and they got one in Jeudy. He's got the speed, the technical skill and the hands to immediately contribute at a high level — and with all the other offensive weapons also deserving attention from opposing defenses, he should have opportunities to do so."

C Lloyd Cushenberry III: 1 vote

DiLalla: "Where's the love for Lloyd? Jeudy should make a big impact, but with all the weapons on offense, I wouldn't be shocked if his numbers aren't too crazy. I'm thinking in the area of 600 yards and five touchdowns. Besides, there's just too many variables. Jeudy's numbers will be dependent upon how much the Broncos throw the ball, how Drew Lock plays and how defenses cover the Broncos. The safe choice is to give the Offensive Rookie of the Year nod to Cushenberry, whom I suspect will be the Day 1 starting center. The tough, intuitive player should be on the field for every snap, which increases his odds to make an impact. By the end of the year, we could be talking about the interior of the Broncos' offensive line — Dalton Risner, Cushenberry and Graham Glasgow — as one of the major strengths of this team."


(Individuals polled: Nicki Jhabvala, The Athletic; Lindsay Jones, The Athletic; Ryan Koenigsberg, DNVR; Brandon Krisztal, KOA; Mike Klis, KUSA; Jeff Legwold, ESPN senior writer; Steve Levy, ESPN/KUSA; Dave Logan, KOA News Radio; Ryan O'Halloran, Denver Post; James Palmer, NFL Network; Troy Renck, KMGH; Peter Schrager, NFL Network; Michael Spencer, CBS Denver)

WR Jerry Jeudy: 8 votes

Jhabvala: "The No. 15 overall pick will settle in immediately as the 1B to Courtland Sutton's 1A, and he should see plenty of action in Pat Shurmur's offense."

Jones: "Easy pick here. Rookie WRs have a steep learning curve but Jeudy's route tree is already well developed so he should be able to contribute immediately."

Klis: "His game seems pro-ready."

Levy: "I hate chalk but it's Jerry Jeudy. I'd be surprised if everyone doesn't have him in this spot. I tried to go off the board a little bit but couldn't. He was such a standout at 'Bama which is as close as you get to an NFL program in college. He does everything well."

Logan: "Lot of opportunities on the opposite side of Sutton."

Renck: "He was the best route-runner in the draft. He has tireless work ethic. He is pro-ready. I don't know if he reaches 1,000 yards. But 850 with six touchdowns will do."

James Palmer and Peter Schrager also selected Jeudy for the award.

WR KJ Hamler: 3 votes

Koenigsberg: "With [my vote for] the Offensive Player of the Year award going to Jeudy, that opens the door for Hamler to take home this honor. Hamler is lightning fast and you can bet Pat Shurmur is already putting together a package of plays just to get the ball in his hands, but what intrigues me the most about Hamler, much like Jeudy, is his route-running ability. On top of the gadget plays, Hamler is going to be able to rack up touches in more traditional ways, which will really increase his instant impact."

O'Halloran: "Hamler should capitalize going against backup cornerbacks who cover the slot and the possibility of having the deep middle of the field open for him if the safeties are shaded outside to Sutton/Jeudy. Hamler averaged 16.9 yards per catch in college, which would have led the Broncos in each of the last nine years."

Spencer: "This was a toss-up between Hamler and first-round pick Jerry Jeudy, but I give the edge to Hamler because I think teams will focus more on taking away Jeudy and that will open things up for the speedster out of Penn State. The Broncos have been desperate for speed and someone who can take the top off the defense and Hamler has the ability to do that and that's why he gets my nod here."

C Lloyd Cushenberry III: 2 votes

Krisztal: "Centers don't often win awards, and rookie centers, even less frequently. But, Cushenberry will be the exception. He's likely going to come in and start from Day 1. If he isn't the starter when the team first takes the practice field, it will only be a formality. The Broncos drafted the LSU captain to start right away and anchor the center of the O-line, hopefully, for years to come. Cushenberry possesses all of the traits you want in a center. He's smart, has great leadership qualities, he's a good communicator and he wants to get better. Pair him with Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow next to him, and Hall of Famer Mike Munchak coaching him up, and odds are he'll mimic what Risner did a year ago, and that's make everyone forget that he's a rookie very quickly."

Legwold: "Jerry Jeudy should have some nice numbers and significant impact if things go as the Broncos hope, but in terms of down-to-down degree of difficulty and number of snaps played with starters by season's end, Cushenberry should lead the way among the rookies on offense."



(Individuals polled: Matt Boyer, Aric DiLalla, Sydney Jones, Phil Milani, Alexis Perry, Ben Swanson)

CB Michael Ojemudia: 5 votes

Boyer: "The Broncos have entrenched veterans all over the defense, so (barring injuries) it will be tough for any defensive rookie to earn a starting spot. Based on how much depth the Broncos needed to use in the secondary last year, Ojemudia seems like an obvious choice."

DiLalla: "It wouldn't surprise me if McTelvin Agim racks up several sacks — think Dre'Mont Jones in 2019 — but Ojemudia clearly has the most opportunity. I think he'll get on the field sooner rather than later, in no small part because of his physicality. If there's one thing that's non-negotiable on a Vic Fangio defense, it's the ability to tackle. Ojemudia checks that box."

Jones: "Ojemudia is a physical, fast corner that can lock down a receiver in man coverage. I think he has a lot of talent that can be very useful in nickel and dime situations."

Perry: "I don't just want Michael Ojemudia to be the Broncos' Defensive Rookie of the Year; he has to be. In Coach Fangio's system, Denver needs a guy that can play both zone and man coverage, and while Ojemudia played almost exclusively zone coverage at Iowa, he tested like a man corner at the combine. Not only did he lead his team in passes defended (12) and interceptions (three) in 2019, he only drew one interference penalty throughout the season. Translation: Ojemudia is a versatile, discipline defensive back who I think will hold his own opposite of A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan in the slot."

Swanson: "It feels like cornerback must be one of the toughest positions to play as a rookie. Opposing quarterbacks know where to find you and how to exploit your inexperience. Still, I think the talented Ojemudia has the best chance to make an impact among the defensive players drafted — both on defense and on special teams. And given the open competition at the third cornerback position behind A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan, Ojemudia has an edge over McTelvin Agim on the defensive line, Justin Strnad at linebacker and Derrek Tuszka at outside linebacker."

LB Justin Strnad: 1 vote

Milani: "I think it's going to be tough for any rookie to see significant playing time on defense this year, but Justin Strnad has the best opportunity because he brings something to the table that the Broncos need, a safety/linebacker hybrid that can cover tight ends. He was a team captain at Wake Forest and should be able to pick up the playbook fairly quickly. Matt Boyer better learn how to pronounce his name because Strnad figures to play lots of special teams early on, and that could lead to more opportunities elsewhere."


(Individuals polled: Nicki Jhabvala, The Athletic; Lindsay Jones, The Athletic; Ryan Koenigsberg, DNVR; Brandon Krisztal, KOA; Mike Klis, KUSA; Jeff Legwold, ESPN senior writer; Steve Levy, ESPN/KUSA; Dave Logan, KOA News Radio; Ryan O'Halloran, Denver Post; James Palmer, NFL Network; Troy Renck, KMGH; Peter Schrager, NFL Network; Michael Spencer, CBS Denver)

CB Michael Ojemudia: 9 votes

Jhabvala: "Ojemudia will likely be given a chance to start at corner opposite A.J. Bouye. He'll undoubtedly face challenges as a rookie in a complex system with little offseason prep, but he should also see the most playing time of Denver's defensive rookies. Linebacker Justin Strnad also bares watching; his play on special teams and in reserve at linebacker could land him a bigger role."

Jones: "Harder time choosing this one. These awards tend to go to players who rack up stats, so if Ojemudia gets playing time early, maybe he'll have some INT opportunities."

Krisztal: "This may be an easy choice, because he was the highest drafted defensive player this year. But there's a reason the Broncos took him when he did. He's long and rangy. He's smart, real smart. … He has an engineering degree, and his dad is an engineer, so odds are he's smarter than you (he's definitely smarter than me). He was a member of Iowa's Leadership Council, so you know he had his teammates' respect on the Hawkeyes. And, I was told he was a Vic Fangio pick, which means the Broncos' head coach will likely want to get him on the field to show that he was worthy of his investment. He should be on the field a lot early, and prove that he belongs there quickly, thus remaining on the field all year."

Legwold: "His size, speed and on-field awareness should get him some snaps in the some of the specialty packages on defense and he should be a regular contributor on special teams."

Levy: "Less options here since it seems like the majority of the Broncos' upper-end rookies are all on offense. Very talented young man; he too will benefit from a big pass rush and veterans to guide him in the secondary. He should block out Chris Harris comparisons."

Logan: "[He was] drafted at a position [where] depth is an issue, which means opportunity for playing time."

O'Halloran: "If things go as planned, Ojemudia, a third-round pick from Iowa, will take over the No. 3 spot behind Bouye and Bryce Callahan and play as much as 70 percent of the defensive snaps. I also considered defensive lineman McTelvin Agim, whose versatility is intriguing as a situational player."

Renck: "He will have an opportunity to play significant snaps. If he can become a starter or the third corner, he will a significant impact in Vic Fangio's defense."

James Palmer also selected Ojemudia for the award.

DL McTelvin Agim: 2 votes

Spencer: "The Broncos went heavy on offense in the draft, and I think it might take a while for Michael Ojemudia to provide solid production, so Agim gets my vote here. He has the potential to get the most time on the field and therefore have the biggest impact, even if the numbers don't show it, of the Broncos' defensive rookies."

Peter Schrager also selected Agim for the award.

LB Justin Strnad: 2 votes

Koenigsberg: "Strnad's numbers from the combine aren't going to blow you away, especially not his 4.74 40-yard dash, but when you watch him on tape, he appears much faster than that. A little Vic Fangio tutelage could give Strnad the chance to contribute early and often as a coverage backer."

Klis: "Plays fast and tackles well. Gotta chance to get some playing time in second half of season."

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