LONDON -- The Broncos' offense hasn't played the way most hoped or expected, punctuated by Denver being the lowest-scoring team in the league at 14.3 points per game.
Beyond the issues with quarterback Russell Wilson or coach Nathaniel Hackett, one of the most unexpected problems has been the lack of involvement from their five tight ends. As the Broncos have gravitated toward Wilson playing in the shotgun formation with a three-wide receiver grouping, the tight ends have seen their contributions dip.
"Versatility in that position is key for this system and just building off of that, their athletic ability and their ability to learn everything," said offensive coordinator Justin Outten.
But the Broncos are a long way from that versatility.
Rookie tight end Greg Dulcich missed most of training camp as well as the Broncos’ first five games of the season with a hamstring injury, and yet he leads the team’s tight ends in catches (eight) and has one of the two touchdown receptions the tight ends have made thus far this season.
And while that’s good for Dulcich’s progress, it’s a fairly strong indicator that in an offense with few bright spots, the tight ends are not what the Broncos need them to be.
Wilson fretted on some close calls he had on scoring plays to tight ends in the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks: “[Eric Saubert] almost made a great catch on one and then [Eric Tomlinson] on the one where I kind of rolled out right. His foot was supposedly out of bounds. That would’ve been a touchdown. I had a little flip to [Andrew] Beck [negated by penalty] -- that’s another touchdown."
Beck had 52 yards receiving in the opener and now has had just three targets to go with one catch over the last six games. Tomlinson has just four targets in the last six games and Saubert has only been targeted twice in the last two games. That’s still better than Albert Okwuegbunam, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, who has gone from five receptions in the opener to three targets in the last six games combined as well as the fact he was a game-day inactive in the last two.
Dulcich, a third-round pick in this year's draft, has certainly moved the needle some however over the last two weeks. He had his first career touchdown in his first career game -- a 39-yard catch-and-run against the Chargers -- to go with a six-catch, 51-yard effort against the Jets this past Sunday.
“It doesn’t really surprise me because of the way he was trending when he was first with us,’’ Hackett said. “I think I am a little bit blown away at how he hasn’t skipped a beat. Just shows, a testament to him, even with the injury and the time he was how hard he worked to pick up this system.’’
Okwuegbunam, whose role as the best athletic matchup among the tight ends for the Broncos in the passing game has been essentially filled by Dulcich’s return, has been one of the names floated around the league as a potential trade target. The league’s trade deadline is Tuesday and general manager George Paton has repeatedly said he is on the hunt for additional draft picks for 2023 if he can acquire them “in something that makes sense.’’
Hackett, with an offense that has scored just eight touchdowns overall in seven games, knows there are plenty of things that need attention. But when asked if Dulcich and the others can carve out a bigger slice of production, he has simply said “we’re going to need everybody on this team … we have to dig ourselves out of this.’’