Russell Wilson, Broncos poised for rebound year in AFC West

We asked a Broncos expert to dive into the team's offseason plan and tell us what we should know about Denver's chances in the AFC West in 2023.

August 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes
August 19, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs fans, we would do well to not get too ahead of ourselves this year.

When your favorite team defeats an opponent 15 consecutive times and owns the division for seven successive seasons, it can make things relatively easy to overlook the AFC West like an older sibling tolerates younger brothers and sisters as something to have to work around in order to get to where you really want to go in the house. In a way that's what the Denver Broncos have been.

But a new year brings new hope and the Broncos have a respectable new head coach for the first time in a while in Sean Payton. They also have a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is hoping for a rebound season, one in which he might just help his team surprise the K.C. Chiefs at least once this year as the division rivals will meet again for two games on the '23 slate.

Instead of just assuming the Broncos are a bunch of also-rans, we wanted to get real insight into Denver's offseason and to check the pulse on what those who follow the team are thinking at this stage. We asked Broncos expert Lou Scataglia to dive into the team's offseason plan and tell us what we should know about Denver's chances in the AFC West in 2023.

Sean Payton was the obvious big grab this offseason, but is it possible to overstate how much of a difference the coaching change will make for this Broncos roster?

Lou: I think it's always possible, but it's not like Denver has a bad roster... I wouldn't even say it's average.  Where does the team have a glaring weakness?  Paton spent over $200 million in free agency to shore up the weakest points, so yeah, the team's roster isn't in the same tier as the Eagles, Niners, or Bengals, but the Broncos had a playoff roster last year and Nathaniel Hackett drove that roster into the ground. People are hesitant to talk about Denver, I think, because of the Russell Wilson variable.

One year after the trade, what do you make of it? What would you say is the ceiling there for Russ?

Lou: One year after the trade, I'm in the "cautious optimism boat."  I think a lot of people who weren't Broncos fans or didn't watch them much would say that Russell Wilson was the primary reason for the lack of success. However, Wilson was playing 15 pounds heavier than he normally does, had a bad hamstring, and a partially torn lat. 

I personally don't think Wilson dropped off from 2021 to 2022 like some think.  I have a hard time believing the supposed decline was this aggressive, and I have genuine faith he'll bounce back. 

As for the ceiling, it's hard to say. I think for 2023 at least, Wilson tops out at 25-28 touchdowns and 6-10 interceptions. He probably gets close to 4,000 yards but doesn't hit it.  If he's got some "Seattle Russ" left in him, then I think his ceiling can be as good as he was from 2012-2021. If he is a bit declined, his ceiling is probably Kirk Cousins.

What has been the biggest frustration for Broncos fans this offseason in terms of moves made or not made?

Lou: What I've seen a lot is many fans being disappointed that the team didn't do more along their defensive front. Signing Zach Allen to replace Dre'Mont Jones was basically an even swap, and the only reason Frank Clark got signed was because Baron Browning needed surgery. Players like Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, and Shelby Harris would have made a ton of sense for Denver, who couldn't at all get to the QB last year, but they again sat on their hands. 

I think we're also a bit annoyed that the team didn't do much in response to both Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler going down. The WR room has been a sore spot with injuries for years and you'd think that after more injuries happen this offseason, the front office would look to bolster that unit.

What aspects of the Broncos are the most overlooked in terms of their chances for success in '23?

What I'd say has been overlooked is the pass rush, honestly.  On paper, they don't have many big names or elite players, but the unit appears to be very deep, especially with Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper having great offseasons. Denver couldn't get to the QB last year and they hardly made any changes to that unit. With Baron Browning returning at some point early in the season, Denver might have a lethal pass rush. 

I'd also argue that people are not taking Russell Wilson seriously anymore.  He's had a great camp and has gradually gotten better within this offense. If the Old Russ is still present, the Broncos are going to be a good team.

And I do think the opinion on Sean Payton has gotten a bit cooler.  I just get a sense that Payton isn't being viewed as an elite coach like he was for a decade and a half in New Orleans.  Maybe I'm wrong there, but I think the year off didn't help his reputation.