MILE HIGH MONDAY

Unlike last year’s first-round QBs, Nix won’t struggle as a rookie

Jul 8, 2024, 7:01 AM

The Denver Broncos are on vacation, and so am I as I travel around the country in the early portions of July. Before long, Broncos training camp will begin as the team prepares for the 2024 season.

I like traveling before the start of training camp. It’s my final bit of getting away before I’m locked into the NFL season.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep Wrangler TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Nothing But Impressive

Broncos rookie quarterback Bo Nix has been good this offseason. I believe he’s been good – but not great – during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. I’m okay with the rookie going through some struggles as it’s just part of the game. After covering this team for 20 years, I can say that Nix has looked better earlier in his career than any other rookie passer I’ve seen come through Denver during that time. Now, reports have surfaced that Nix has been nothing but impressive to the Broncos’ coaching staff.

Watching Nix is going to be a treat for fans at training camp. Broncos head coach Sean Payton seems like a kid in a candy store when talking to the media this offseason. I believe much of that enthusiasm comes from Nix running his offense true to design. Nix is not just a robot, but he’s also like another coach on the field. He quickly processes information, and that’s something that cannot be coached. Nobody is perfect when it comes to quarterback evaluation, but I believe that having a fast processor is paramount when predicting success at the position.

Nix has looked good in the offseason, but the first test for him comes in the preseason. The joint practices against the Green Bay Packers will also be important, but Nix needs to play the best in game situations if he wants to beat out Jarrett Stidham for the starting job. If Stidham begins the regular season as the starter, then Nix will be the backup in waiting. When Stidham struggles, the team can turn things over to the rookie. However, they might just go with Nix from day one as experience is the best teacher. Nix can learn more from playing than he can from holding a clipboard.

As we often say on “Orange and Blue Today,” all roads lead to Nix. He’s going to be the starter, and I want him to start at least 12 games as a rookie. How quickly he earns the starting job will depend on how he performs in camp and the preseason.

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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Understanding history will help create expectations for Nix in 2024. A look at last year’s top-two quarterbacks reveals something interesting. Carolina Panthers Bryce Young (21.5 percent) and Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud (19.9 percent) did not share much in common during their rookie seasons, but the top two picks in the 2023 NFL Draft ranked first and second, respectively, in the league in bad-throw percentage last year, according to Pro Football Reference. Keep this in mind when considering what Nix can do as a rookie.

Stroud looks like a superstar in the making, while Young has a ton of questions about his game entering his second season. I chart every play for every game in the league, but I didn’t expect Stroud and Young to be back-to-back in off-target percentage. Throwing a catchable pass is an acquired skill, and many times a rookie will struggle with the speed (and discipline) of the defenders they face. Stroud and Young have arm talent, but this league humbled them – as it will the rookie class from this season.

I believe Nix’s on-target percentage will look better than both top rookie quarterbacks from a year ago. The best part of his game is his accuracy, but it goes beyond that. Nix is proven when it comes to pass placement – think of it as hyper-accurate passing. He knows how to lead his receivers properly so they can maximize the yards after the catch on a per play basis. Not only that, but Nix can also be an accurate passer while throwing on the run – something that Payton will use to his advantage.

Nix is going to look good this season. Nix is going to also look bad at times this season. Get ready for a bumpy ride, but one that leads to better play (and a playoff run?) in 2025.

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Planning a Pittsburgh Backfield

With a rookie quarterback under center for most (if not all) of the 2024 season, the Broncos need to have a strong rushing attack. In fact, I think they need a backfield like the Pittsburgh Steelers had last year. Steelers RB Najee Harris led all players with 618 yards after contact last season, according to Pro Football Reference. His teammate in the backfield, Jaylen Warren, averaged a broken tackle once every 5.5 carries last season, which was easily the best mark among qualified runners in the league. The next closest player was Arizona Cardinals RB James Conner at 7.7 (a former Steelers back as well).

We know Javonte Williams is great after contact – or at least he used to be before the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2022. That wasn’t the case in 2023, as Williams averaged almost 20 carries (19.7) per broken tackle. That’s a mark that ranked No. 34 in the NFL last season. He simply needs to be better in 2024. The Broncos could lean heavily on Williams this season, but he’s not the only player they can turn to when it comes to punishing opponents and picking up yards after contact.

How does rookie RB Audric Estime fit into this backfield? Payton has said earlier this year that Estime is seen as a first- and second-down runner. That means Denver has two options for that position with Jaleel McLaughlin and Samaje Perine working on passing downs. Estime is a power player like Williams, but he might be better when it comes to breaking tackles – especially since Williams may never be the player he used to be. I like the way Estime runs to daylight – and he’ll run you over if you get in his way. Williams looks for contact, but he needs to start running for daylight like the rookie.

We’ll see plenty of power from the Broncos’ backfield with Williams and Estime leading the way on the ground. Who gets the most touches will be established when the team is in training camp. With a good camp and preseason performance, Estime could win a larger-than-expected job in 2024.

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Fun at Fan Expo

Before I headed West, I had to enjoy some time at the Denver Fan Expo. Formerly Denver Comic Con, the Fan Expo is the annual event where nerds like me get together to celebrate our fandom. I’m there for the comic books, and I’m there to promote my independent comic book company – Smokin Gun Comics.

Fans of football are also fans of pop culture, comic book movies, and anime – all of which is on full display at the Fan Expo! I ran into quite a few fans that know me from my on-air presence with Denver Sports, but I also had fans of my comic books approaching me as I worked through the crowd. It’s fun to see people geek out about sports and comics. These are two worlds that weren’t always joined, but now with the popularity of Marvel movies this has become the mainstream.

I have been to a few large comic book conventions, and my goal is to be a featured artist at the Fan Expo someday. I’m biased because I love the Mile High City, but Denver Fan Expo did a great job this year! The organization was great, the crowds (which were large) had plenty of room, and they had great guests to meet. Being a nerd used to be difficult (I used to hide my love of comic books), but now we can all put on our nerd gear (whether just a shirt or full-blown cosplay) and proudly support art that we love!

Were you in attendance for Denver Fan Expo? Hit me up on social media and let me know!

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