Does Jamaal Charles Make the Broncos Super Bowl 52 Contenders?

by Kevin Roberts
on May 4, 2017

The Denver Broncos didn’t love what they saw out of their running game once C.J. Anderson succumbed to injury in 2016. Considering their top rusher has had issues staying healthy in each of the past two seasons and 2016 rookie Devontae Booker didn’t seem prepared to handle a full load last year, the team wisely addressed the issue with the recent signing of longtime rival, Jamaal Charles:

The former Kansas City Chiefs running back was released by the only team he has ever known after last season, thanks to troublesome knee issues. Charles has since been medically cleared to resume football activities, however, and comes to Denver ready to prove his critics wrong.

Eyeing a better ending to his career, Charles at worst can be a solid change of pace option for Denver’s running game, and at best could provide the team with a dominant and reliable option in their offensive backfield.

Whether or not Charles can regain his old form at age 30 is anyone’s guess, but a healthy Charles could be a versatile and explosive weapon if everything breaks just right. Add a chip on the star rusher’s shoulder and two opportunities to prove his former team got it wrong, and the Broncos just might have something here.

At what level, of course, is the real question. Is Charles solid depth, a star, or bench fodder? Does his presence dramatically alter Denver’s 2017 Super Bowl odds, or is this a splash to keep interest in the team during a second straight down season? Let’s consider the angles:

Charles is a Good Get

No matter how you look at the Broncos signing Jamaal Charles, it’s impossible to deny the intent here. C.J. Anderson can be a stud and an every down back when healthy and the jury is still out on the talented Devontae Booker.

However, to this point, Anderson hasn’t been consistently healthy and Booker hasn’t been the guy Denver thought they were drafting. Bringing in a former rival who has an axe to grind is not a bad move. Charles has been one of the most explosive and productive running backs since entering the league back in 2008 and while he was bogged down by injuries the past two years, he could have extremely fresh legs after suiting up for just 8 games over the last two years.

Charles will have said chip on his shoulder, while he’ll have plenty of incentive to enter training camp at 100% and put forth a strong effort. With his deal largely incentive laden and no guaranteed cash attached, Charles will need to impress early to even make Denver’s final roster. If he’s good enough to do that, Broncos fans have every reason to think he can play a big role in the offense turning the corner.

Running Back Isn’t the Problem

As promising as adding a healthy Jamaal Charles is, it needs to be said that Denver’s main issue is not their running game. Anderson is highly capable of dominating and Booker could progress in his second NFL season.

Needless to say, the Broncos already had two talented running backs. Charles is a change of pace option on a low level and if he comes in healthy and thrives, perhaps he unseats Booker temporarily and gives the Bronco and explosive second runner behind Anderson.

No matter what happens at running back, however, Denver has 2-3 quality options to turn to, or they can ride a healthy Anderson for most of the year. Charles isn’t making or breaking this offense as things stand, though. The quarterback position, however, just might.

The Broncos were swept up in Tony Romo rumors ever since last season ended due to inadequate play under center, but with the former Dallas passer now retired, it looks like the Broncos will march into 2017 with either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch under center.

That may not be bad once week one rolls around, but as things stand, Siemian was an average option a year ago and Lynch hasn’t proven he’s yet ready to run an NFL offense.

Regressing Defense

Quarterback is Denver’s biggest issue on offense, but they also need to worry whether or not their once elite defense will be up to par in 2017. The Broncos lost pass rushing help with the retirement of DeMarcus Ware and already started to decline as a unit as the season wore down.

Part of that is on the offense not getting it done, but there are no excuses for a unit that simply wasn’t controlling games down the stretch like they’d done the previous season. Denver still has elite defensive potential, but if they’re not the same aggressive, nasty defense that was the driving force behind their Super Bowl 50 win, whether or not Jamaal Charles is a hit addition or not really won’t matter.

New Head Coach

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Denver will be adapting on the fly with a new head coach. Vance Joseph takes over where Gary Kubiak left off, trying to push a strong defense and balanced offense into another Super Bowl.

That might be a hard sell initially for Broncos fans and NFL experts, alike, as Joseph is taking on his first head coaching job. He did impress as the defensive coordinator of Miami’s defense in 2016, but that was his lone season as even a high level coordinator in the NFL.

A lack of experience could be problematic with Joseph, especially since we can’t know for sure how his defensive chops will allow him to contribute to decision-making on the offensive side of the ball. What we do know is he may not have to dabble on that side of the ball too much with elite OC Mike McCoy back in town, while his defensive expertise could easily play a big hand in keeping Denver’s defense where it is, or even get it when it won a title two seasons ago.

There is promise here and there’s no reason to doubt a big move by John Elway at this point, but Joseph still very much needs to prove himself. The expectations remain high in Denver, so that could obviously be difficult for him going into his first season on the job.

Denver’s 2017 Title Hopes

So, let’s get this straight: Denver has a rookie head coach, doesn’t have an established quarterback, might be losing some ground defensively and are already playing from behind with the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs rising up in the competitive AFC West.

Awesome, right? Maybe, maybe not, but Vegas still seems to like Denver plenty, and it has a lot to do with their once prominent defense and an offense stacked with talent. The Broncos add Charles to a nice stable of running backs, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders lead a high upside passing attack and if Paxton Lynch is who the Broncos drafted him to be, this team could be right back in the thick of it this season.

None of that is a given, though. Denver regressed as the year went on last season and will have to fight all year to make it back to the playoffs – let alone do so while playing elite ball. That’s a lot to ask with a ton of uncertainty, while the addition of an aging veteran who very well could be washed up surely doesn’t do anything to ease any fermenting doubts.

Bovada gives the Broncos +1800 odds to win it all again in 2017, and that is naturally coming off as rather ambitious. Denver comes in 9th in the way of 2017 NFL Super Bowl odds, which puts them ahead of the rival Chiefs, Giants, Vikings, Panthers and many others.

We’re not there yet with the Broncos. If Charles is healthy and as explosive as ever, he’ll surely help this team win some games and provide mismatches. But this is beyond what Charles can do. Denver has a lot to prove before the 2017 season begins and even once it rolls around, these odds feel a bit rich. Of course, if Bovada and the other top NFL betting sites back down and provide more playable odds for Denver, we could embark on an entirely different conversation.

For now, we see the Broncos as a team somewhat in transition with a murky future. They’re on the brink of a playoff return, but betting on the Broncos to win Super Bowl 52 feels like a reach.

Disagree and think the Broncos are destined to win it all this year? Tell us why in the comments below!

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