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Mason's Mailbag: Playing the prediction game

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It depends on the perspective, I don't think they're being "slept on" locally; it seems that most seem to expect some degree of improvement from the team, anywhere from two to five games. (Steve Atwater, who is the most optimistic member of our daily radio show from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. MDT on Orange and Blue 760, goes outside this range; he reiterated his 13-3 prediction this week.)

Nationally, I think whether they are being "slept on" or not tends to depend on one factor above all: the pundit's perspective on Case Keenum. Those who believe he will have a season similar to the one he posted with the Minnesota Vikings tend to believe the Broncos will substantially improve. Those who feel that his 2017 success was an anomaly have predictions that are less kind.

What I would offer in that equation is this statistic: Last year, Broncos quarterbacks accounted for 26 total turnovers (interceptions and lost fumbles). In 2017, Keenum had just eight giveaways over his 15 games played (14 starts, plus relief work against Chicago). Even if Keenum has a few more turnovers than he did last year, that would still represent substantial improvement, which would mean more scoring opportunities for the offense and fewer short fields for the defense, which was left with series that began in Denver territory far too often.

This is why I argue that even if Keenum's performance splits the difference between his Minnesota output and his effort with the Rams, he will still offer substantial improvement for the Broncos' quarterback play -- and, by extension, for the form of the team.

Is there the possibility of Issac Yiadom beating out Tremaine Brock for the 3rd CB job?

-- Zach Russell, via Facebook

The possibility exists, but it isn't a high one at this point. The Broncos are high on Brock's ability to contribute, and Head Coach Vance Joseph has mentioned that Brock could push for the No. 2 cornerback role. At this point, the big competition is likely among four young cornerbacks for the No. 4 role: Yiadom, 2017 third-round pick Brendan Langley, second-year player Marcus Rios and offseason pickup C.J. Smith.

If healthy, yes. The drafting of Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton gives the wide-receiver corps the depth it would need to have effective three-wide formations, and among Devontae Booker, De'Angelo Henderson and Phillip Lindsay in particular, at least one solid, reliable target out of the backfield should emerge for Keenum to utilize.

While I don't know if a single running back will have 51 receptions like then-Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon had last season, it is fair to expect the running backs as a whole to rack up 70-80 catches, which would put them in the range of Minnesota's running backs last year (77 among McKinnon, Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook).

The obvious question, of course, is tight end, because that is stepping into the unknown and relatively unproven. Minnesota's 2017 tight ends -- Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan and Blake Bell -- combined for nine touchdowns and 646 yards on 70 catches. In 2017, Denver's tight ends had 20 fewer receptions and four fewer touchdowns, but 13 more yards, with Jeff Heuerman and Austin Traylor averaging a combined 14.2 yards per reception on 17 total catches.

Even if you take out Heuerman's 54-yard touchdown at Indianapolis last December, their combined average was 11.8 yards per catch. Jake Butt's progress could change the trajectory of the position group altogether, but remember, he's in his first year on the active roster. He looks like he can be effective in the red zone, but expect ups and downs typical of a young player.

Don't discount the ability of the quarterback to make his targets better. If the tight ends step up their quantity of production with more opportunities, I think Keenum will have what he needs.

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