Faceoff: Eddie Royal
Jeff Pasquino: The Denver passing game is going to be an interesting one this season. Brandon Marshall is gone and two rookies were added to the mix (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker). At the moment the depth chart reads Jabar Gaffney and then a big question mark at both WR2 and WR3 for the coming year. Will it be one of the rookies or will it be Eddie Royal as WR2 in 2010?
Last year Kyle Orton completed 336 passes, 219 of which went to the wide receivers as the top three wideouts grabbed 192 catches in 2009. Without Brandon Marshall in the mix, someone has to step up and help with this projected workload for the coming season. More than likely the Broncos will work in the two rookie receivers slowly as they get used to the speed and talent level of cornerbacks the NFL currently has, especially in the AFC West. This leaves the majority of the work to fall to the top two veterans in Denver - Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal.
It is no secret that Royal struggled last year under Josh McDaniels' system. Royal was asked to read the coverage and adjust on the fly to open areas from the defense, something he was not used to in the past. Royal excelled both in college at Virginia Tech and in his rookie season by running crisp routes that were pre-defined before the snap. Royal is a smart player that can learn quickly, but reading NFL defenses and adjusting last year was too tall an order. With a full season under his belt Royal should be up to the challenge much more in 2010.
The other benefit to Royal this year is that he is an ideal slot receiver. Working in Thomas as a deep threat that can line up outside of Royal on passing downs gives two benefits to Denver. First, Royal can run underneath routes to give Orton a solid target over the middle, something that will be lacking without Tony Scheffler this season. It also eases pressure on Thomas who likely will run deep routes to stretch defenses from the flanker position, adding more space for Royal to work against opposing secondaries. Expectations are low for the Denver passing game right now, but the veterans of McDaniels' passing system are excellent value draft picks.
Andrew Garda: Can Eddie Royal bounce back from a terrible sophomore season?
First of all, he needs opportunity and he might not have it. This is a team who would like to run the ball often so they can control the clock. Denver won't be tossing the rock like it was last season, especially without Brandon Marshall there.
They very much want second year back Knowshon Moreno to be more effective on the ground and grind the clock out more. Ball and clock control appear to be the order of the day in Denver and Moreno (along with veteran Correll Buckhalter) will be counted upon to move the chains and sap the clock in order to keep the opposition's offense off the field and wear down their defense.
Royal's inability to be a consistent receiver last year isn't going to give the team any confidence in his ability to move the chains, not when guys like Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Stokley can be counted on to run the right routes and make catches when they need to.
Add to that Orton's inability to throw the ball deep downfield effectively - where Royal might be more productive - and even the opportunities he might get will not be as good as he got his first year when Cutler threw the ball.
It's not an accident that Royal's struggles happened when Cutler left and McDaniels/Orton came in. The offense changed along with the personnel and royal began to backslide. Certainly that contributed to what appeared to be Royal's lack of confidence and his slide backwards. He could never get a grasp on the myriad of things he needed to do for the new schemes.
Of course, the other thing is that defenses finally got enough of a read on him watching tape that they were able to effectively counter Royal. Combine those two things and it's no shock that Royal's targets, catches and production dropped precipitously - in the case of the last two, by more than half.
Facing guys like Nnamdi Asomugha doesn't help, and if Antoine Cason and Brandon Flowers continue to develop or rookie Eric Berry can step up, it isn't going to get easier on Sundays.
A final issue is the fact that there is someone who knows the offense more completely than Royal. While Royal struggled all season long, Gaffney was able to get into synch with Orton.
I mentioned Gaffney a short time ago as a reliable option to move the chains. We saw he could contribute in this offense when he compiled the second most targets and receptions by far in the Broncos wide receiver corps. He's definitely got the confidence of Orton, while Royal has not.
I have no doubt that Gaffney is looking at a very good season, one which will eat away at Royal's overall numbers.
Royal may once again become a solid receiver - but the odds are stacked against him being an option fantasy owners can count on in 2010.