In the NFL world, few provide better analysis than The Athletic's Robert Mays. As an NFL writer and the host of The Athletic Football Show, Mays covers the league on a national scale. While Mays and the NFL world prepare for Super Bowl LVI, DenverBroncos.com caught up with Mays to get a closer look at the Broncos.
From Radio Row in Los Angeles, Mays shared his thoughts about the Broncos' new head coach, how the offense could benefit and where the Broncos still must find some answers.
Aric DiLalla: How do you feel about the hire of Nathaniel Hackett and how that could change the Broncos' offense?
Robert Mays: "I feel good for you, because it's going to be really fun. Very few people I've ever met have more enthusiasm for football and more enthusiasm as a human being than Nate Hackett. I think it's going to be a jolt of energy, I think it's going to be very, very different than what it's been like with Vic [Fangio] for the last few years. It's funny, because I remember talking to Nathaniel this summer, and we were talking about big-picture scheme shifts in the league, and we were talking about the offense they run in Green Bay. And he had never run that offense before. His dad and where he comes from, it's true-blue West Coast offense. So he had never been a part of that Shanahan system, whatever you want to call it. He said, 'I knew it worked, but I didn't know why. And then you get around it and you're like, "Oh, that's why it works."' His background is more varied than that, so you want to just instantly graft the Packers' offensive ideas onto what the Broncos are going to do, but I wouldn't necessarily go that far. I think he obviously knows that system well, but I think that he's going to have more flexibility when it comes to that. I'm excited about that. Obviously I think [the hire of Klint Kubiak as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach] is an indication that they'll do a lot of that, because his last name is literally Kubiak. I think it's going to be really interesting. Klint obviously has a pretty detailed background of understanding that. And [with Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten, Denver has hired] guys who are fluent in that system, which is going to be really exciting. It's a cool idea. ... On a broad level, it's going to be very different than what they've run, and I think it will be very exciting."
AD: From a personality standpoint, he's different than a lot of head coaches. How do you see that working?
RM: "I think players want to understand that coaches are invested in them. I think on a broader level, if you have somebody that has that level of energy, you can get burnt out on it sometimes, but I think if it comes from a genuine place, then people appreciate it. You start to feed off of it rather than it grating on you. That's always how he's come off to me in the conversations that we've had two or three times before; I've always appreciated that about him. Everything about the way he is and the way he exudes who he is, it feels genuine. I think that people can see that. If it's not a put-on, then I think people are going to respond to it. I truly believe with him, it's not a put-on at all."
AD: The Broncos have a lot of young offensive talent: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, Javonte Williams. Who do you think benefits the most, or who are you most excited to see in this new offense?
RM: "That's a great question — I'd probably say Jerry Jeudy, just because his route-running ability and just the strengths of what he can do offensively. I think how consciously they did stuff for Davante Adams in Green Bay, I think [that] bodes well for a guy that has Jerry Jeudy's particular skill set. But I also think that it bodes well for everybody. I just think it's the right type of offense if you want to manufacture production in today's NFL."
AD: How confident are you that the Broncos can maintain their defensive success?
RM: "If they bring in [reported defensive coordinator candidate and Rams secondary/pass game coordinator] Ejiro [Eviro], it makes a ton of sense, because the DNA of what they do with the Rams is very, very similar to what Vic would want to do. Ejiro worked for Vic. He has total background knowledge and fluency in what that defense should look like. I think that it makes sense. The transition makes total sense. I think players will be comfortable with it. I think if you're going to hop from one system to another, this is the most natural transition you can possibly make."
AD: I don't know how much you got to see of Pat Surtain II, but how impressed were you?
RM: "Oh, he's incredible. It's so fun. This entire top 10, you had this idea of what those guys would be as prospects, but it never works out that way, typically. But you dropped all these guys into these individual situations, [and] all of them are amazing. Him, Kyle Pitts obviously, Ja'Marr Chase, Rashawn Slater, Penei Sewell. All these guys for the most part were what we thought they would be. They're really, really high-level prospects. That's what [Surtain] looks like. He looks like a fifth-year corner that happens to be a rookie. He checks every single box that you would want to. I'm very, very excited to see what Year 2 looks like, because typically corners, it's not a microwave position. You don't walk in and be successful right away, just because there's so much knowledge necessary in order to play the position at a high level — what you're seeing, what you're recognizing — and that requires time. For him to be as good as he was that early, literally limitless is what he can be as an NFL player."
AD: Other than quarterback, what's the biggest question about the team that they're going to have to answer?
RM: "I think pass rush is probably the spot that I would go. Obviously you have [Bradley] Chubb, but that's been uneven to say the least, right? He's missed a ton of time. Now, obviously Von [Miller] is gone. What that's going to look like has to be a really big question. Safety wise, Kareem [Jackson] is a free agent, so that's something you have to think about. … [Bryce] Callahan is a free agent. There are more holes than you'd think there would be, considering what their roster looked like at this time last year, but they also have a ton of financial flexibility. They've re-signed a couple guys, but they're in a position to kind of remake their roster how they want to. Right tackle is a question. There are a lot of them, but I also think they're set up well to make that happen. They have an extra second-round pick, they have an extra third-round pick. I think the way [George] Paton has built this thing so far and the job he's done, I think it's really solid. Quarterback is obviously the huge question, but they have resources, they have the financial flexibility. They can go a lot of different directions. I think they're in a really good spot."
AD: If they upgrade production at the quarterback position in some measurable way, are they ready to be back in contention?
RM: "I think they're a potential playoff team. I think those holes that we talked about, I think you still have to answer that. It also depends on the quarterback. The quarterback covers up holes. If it's Aaron Rodgers, I'm a little less worried about who the right tackle is. If it's Jimmy Garoppolo, I'm a little bit more worried about who the right tackle is. That's just naturally how it works."