Mile HIgh Sports



Five takeaways from Denver’s road win in Dallas over Mavericks

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) and Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) fight for the loose ball during second quarter at the American Airlines Center.

The Nuggets had an eventful All-Star weekend with their entire coaching staff taking on the responsibilities of coaching in the Celebrity All-Star game, the Rising Stars game, and also the All-Star game itself — the same game that Nikola Jokic and Team Giannis lost to the Michael Malone-led Team LeBron just a day after Jokic participated in the Skills Challenge.

With the All-Star festivities behind them, the Nuggets turned their attention to the final 25 games of the regular season with their sights set on home-court advantage in the playoffs. They took their first step toward accomplishing that goal with their 114-104 road win over the Dallas Mavericks.

No Nuggets player scored more than 19 points, but seven different players scored in double digits including all five starters as Denver used a full team effort to come away with a hard-fought win in Dallas. There were many narratives to dive into from Denver’s 40th victory of the season, so with that being said, here are five takeaways from Denver’s 10-point win over the Mavericks.

Denver played with terrific energy all night on both ends of the floor

The biggest storyline of the Nuggets win over the Mavericks was the relentless energy that Denver played with on both ends of the floor.

Every player that logged minutes in Dallas gave maximum effort on each possession. Jamal Murray was the definition of a pest on defense (more on that later) as he managed to get into passing lanes, was physical in the post and in pick and rolls, and also had a massive block on a corner 3-point shot after he saved a pass from going out of bounds on the opposite end of the floor in the opposite corner. Just look at Murray come flying into the video below.

 

In addition to Murray’s endless energy, Gary Harris’ return brought a heightened defensive intensity, Paul Millsap was the same stingy defender he has always been, Jokic was getting under Salah Mejri’s skin every chance he could get, Will Barton was getting into passing lanes, Isaiah Thomas was constantly applying pressure to Dallas’ defense, and so on. Every member of the Nuggets roster gave everything they had when they were on the floor.

Denver won every hustle category and out-worked the Mavericks in Dallas. When Denver plays with that much urgency, it is nearly impossible to beat them.

Jamal Murray’s offensive struggles continue after the All-Star break

While most players on the Nuggets’ roster looked rejuvenated and refreshed after the All-Star break, Murray did not. He looked tired and less explosive than he usually is. He did come alive in the third quarter, but for the rest of his 33 minutes of playing time, things did not go particularly well.

If you take out his eight-point flurry in the third quarter that happened in just over two minutes of game time, Murray was only 2-of-11 shooting from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range for four points in addition to some shaky decision making in the other 31 minutes of action.

It is fair to wonder if one of his many ailments could be bothering him. Murray has had contusions to his right forearm and left shin, tightness in his left hamstring, and issues with both ankles — particularly his left ankle — all season. Even worse, Murray ended up getting his legs taken out by former Nuggets guard Devin Harris and he came up holding his left ankle in the second quarter; the same ankle that kept him out for six games earlier this year.

To Murray’s credit, his effort was fantastic all game on both ends of the floor. Just look at this sequence that he had in the second quarter.

 

He may have struggled converting his shots, but he defended at a very high level because of how hard he was playing. Murray was flying around and giving his all from buzzer to buzzer as usual.

Gary Harris’ defense was badly missed

Since January 1st, 2019, the Nuggets are 22nd in defensive rating with an awful 111.9 mark after being a top-five defense for the first two months of the season.

Many have searched for the reasoning for Denver’s drastic defensive downfall, but it seems that the cure to their defensive ailments was sitting on the bench the entire time.

With Harris on the floor, the Nuggets are a significantly better defensive team. Harris came off the bench and was on a minutes restriction in his first game back after an adductor injury kept him out seven games leading up to the All-Star break, but for each and every one of his 20 minutes, Harris was reminding everyone how direly important he is to the Nuggets’ success.

When Harris has been on the floor for the Nuggets this season, they are posing a defensive rating of 104.4, which would being the third-best defensive rating in the league. When Harris is off the floor, that number jumps to 108.9 which would be 15th in the league. Simply stated, Denver is mediocre defensively without Harris and they are elite with him.

Seeing Harris be so productive defensively in his first game back is a great sign for Denver’s defensive upside as they march toward the playoffs.

Paul Millsap thrives in ugly games

The Nuggets were ice cold in the first half offensively. Even when they generated good looks, their shots were not falling. The frustration was mounting, but Millsap kept Denver even-keeled and calm as he found ways to manufacture points when Denver needed it most.

Millsap was not hyper-efficient as a scorer in Dallas, but no one was. The battle between the Mavericks and the Nuggets was a sloppy and ugly game. Denver needed to find a way to produce regardless of how clunky the game was if they were going to find a way to come out with a victory.

Millsap answered that call on both ends of the floor.

Some people get frustrated with Millsap’s post-ups or his fallaway jumpers in the paint, but in ugly games, that style of play can be effective even when the rest of the offense is not. Yes, Millsap was able to hit a 3-pointer and score within the offense, but where he truly shined was when Denver’s offense stagnated and lost its flow. That is when Millsap began to feast as an offensive rebounder, began getting to the foul line, and creating points in any way he could. Without Millsap’s ability to score in a one-on-one setting, Denver’s first half could have been significantly more detrimental.

It is games like this where Millsap’s skill-set becomes so incredibly valuable.

Nuggets win a defensive game on the road to begin the final push towards the playoffs

As the Nuggets look to battle their way to home-court advantage in the playoffs, they will need to accomplish two things: win games on the road and get back to being a strong defensive team.

In Dallas against the Mavericks, Denver accomplished both.

Denver held Dallas to just 104 points on 40.5 percent shooting from the field and 24.4 percent from 3-point distance while also forcing 15 turnovers. The Nuggets also had 21 more rebounds than Dallas including seven more defensive rebounds. At every turn, the Nuggets were contesting every possible shot, were running 3-point shooters off the line, and most importantly, they were communicating the entire game on the defensive end of the floor.

Denver also logged its 15th road win of the season — the same number that Denver had all of last season. The Nuggets are now 15-14 on the road with another 12 road games remaining.

If Denver can keep winning games on the road like they have all year and defending with intensity like they did in Dallas on Friday night, it will go a long ways towards securing a top-four seed in the Western Conference.

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Five takeaways from Avs’ gutsy 5-3 win over Chicago

In a battle of two teams looking to fight their way into a playoff spot, the Colorado Avalanche went into Chicago and stole a 5-3 victory away from the red-hot Blackhawks.

What did we learn from this game?

  1. Semyon Varlamov, who has historically owned the Blackhawks in Chicago, put on another show, stopping 41 of the 44 shots that came his way, including some big-time glove saves in the second period. He’s really hit his stride the last two weeks and after two months of the Avs goaltending failing them, it’s nice to see them get bailed out again.
  2. Carl Soderberg is really having a special season. With two more goals tonight, he’s now put up five points in his last two games and sits at 21 goals on the year. He had a monster game at both ends of the ice this evening, and for good measure, won 10 of his 15 face-offs.
  3. Matt Nieto blocked a slapshot in the first period and while he tried to play on it for a little bit, he missed the entire third period. Nieto has been a valuable bottom 6 player this year and any replacement will likely be a downgrade in the lineup, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
  4. The new line setup that the Avs have is a bit of a mess at times, particularly since MacKinnon really hasn’t gotten going at even strength. But the unconventional lineup is working, as it’s spreading the talent over three lines and forcing the other team to defend differently. The big three are still getting their ice time, as all of them played over 20 minutes, but they’re helping bring out the best in everyone on the forward corps.
  5. J.T. Compher, like most non-star forwards, is a bit of a streaky scorer. With two goals and an assist tonight, he’s now got seven points in his last eight games. Prior to this run, he had only four points in 15 games. After Soderberg, he’s probably their most important depth forward, so a little bit more consistency would be huge down the stretch.

The Avs don’t get much of a rest, as they now head to Nashville to take on the Predators on Saturday afternoon. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. MT.

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Avalanche outlast Blackhawks in 5-3 victory

Whenever the Avs and Blackhawks get together, dramatics ensue, but with valuable points towards a tight playoff race on the line, this game meant that much more.

After trading blows, the Avalanche outlasted the Blackhawks 5-3.

Colorado brought the momentum from their last game into the first period, pressuring the Blackhawks early and often. Seymon Varlamov saved every shot he faced in the frame, keeping Chicago off the board in the period.

No save was bigger for the Avalanche than Varlamov’s save on Patrick Kane at 3:59 of the period, which broke Sven Andrighetto out of the zone.

Andrighetto found Alexander Kerfoot breaking on the near side, who sprung Carl Soderberg on a breakaway. Soderberg beat Blackhawks goalie five-hole to break the tie and send the Avalanche into the first intermission up 1-0.

Chicago came out firing to start the second period, but Varlamov and the Colorado defense kept the puck out of the net for the first half of the period.

Tyson Barrie took a high sticking penalty on Brandon Saad, putting the Blackhawks on the powerplay, which has been hot as of late. Dylan Strome took advantage of shot wide of the net, that hit the end boards and popped into the slot right onto Strome’s stick.

After going 0-for-3 on the powerplay, JT Compher found the top left corner off a set faceoff play. Mikko Rantanen got the assist on Compher’s powerplay goal, once again giving Colorado the one-goal lead.

With just under 30 seconds left in the period, Johnathan Toews found Kane in front for a wide open net, sending the two teams tied into the second intermission.

There was clear urgency in both teams from the first puck drop, as the hitting and speed increased. After a hard-fought shift from Compher, forcing a turnover, the Avalanche found the back of the net to break the tie yet again. Gabe Landeskog rifled a shot to the far top right corner.

Rantanen was called for holding, allowing Alex DeBrincat to capitalize on a rebound shot from the point, tieing the game at 3-3 with half the period to go.

After some sustained pressure from Chicago and a few big saves from Varlamov, Patrik Nemeth intercepted a pass and found a streaking Compher on a breakaway. Compher hit the crossbar on the first try, but the puck bounced off of Collin Delia’s left skate and into the net, for his second of the game.

Carl Soderberg would add a shorthanded empty-net goal to finalize the score at 5-3. Varlamov finished the game with 41 saves of the 44 shots he faced.

The Colorado Avalanche return to action again tomorrow on the road against the Nashville Predators. Puck drop is set for 3:30 p.m. MT from Bridgestone Arena.

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Nuggets use complete team effort to stomp Mavericks for 40th win

Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) and forward Mason Plumlee (24) defend against Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell (7) during second quarter at the American Airlines Center.

With the NBA All-Star break now come and gone and all of the festivities in the rear-view mirror for the Denver Nuggets, they have now turned their attention to the final 25 games of the regular season and their path to the playoffs began in Dallas against the Mavericks on Friday night.

As every team wants to do, the Nuggets were looking to begin the unofficial second half of the season on a positive note. They were well on their way to that outcome before the game even started because Luka Doncic, the Mavericks Slovenian phenom, was ruled out due to an ankle issue prior to the opening tip. Additionally, the Nuggets came into their matchup with Dallas as healthy as they have been all year. Only Michael Porter Jr. and Trey Lyles were ruled out for Denver.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets used an explosive third quarter to propel  them to their 40th win of the season. Denver defeated the Mavericks 114-104 in their first game after the All-Star break thanks to the Nuggets playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends of the floor from start to finish.

The first quarter was eerily reminiscent of the Nuggets from before the All-Star break. They were letting the Mavericks score at will to begin the game and they fell behind early. Their defensive energy was strong, but their execution was not. Thankfully, their energy did not waver and Denver began to string together stops. Still, it was not enough as the Nuggets trailed 30-25 at the end of the first quarter.

Denver’s offense was generating tons of open looks, but their shots were not falling. The Nuggets shot a measly 28.6 percent from the field in the first quarter. Their only saving grace was the fact that the Nuggets shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets freshly-minsted All-Star, was his typical productive self over the first 12 minutes of the game. He was inhaling rebounds, dishing out assist after assist while also scoring when the opportunity presented itself. Jokic’s aggression has not dwindled over the All-Star break which was a very welcomed sight.

The Nuggets, who trailed for nearly every minute of the game, battled their way back to a 37-37 tie with eight minutes left before halftime to begin the second quarter despite being ice cold from the field. From that point forward, Denver slowly started reclaiming some positive momentum.

Denver’s defense and 3-point shooting kept them alive in the first half as the rest of their shots continued to miss their mark. Denver did not fold even though they were missing shots and they were eventually able to finally string together a couple buckets which allowed them to take and hold onto a lead going into halftime.

Still, even after getting a few shots to fall, Denver shot a bitter cold 36.5 percent from the field in the first half, but found a way to take and carry a 52-51 lead over the Mavericks in Dallas. Paul Millsap was the Nuggets unsung hero in the first two quarters of play because he was able to manufacture points when Denver’s offense stalled. After two quarters, he finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

The Nuggets came into the second half with absurd amounts of intensity and urgency. They began the third quarter on a 14-4 run as their offense slowly began to show signs of life and their defensive effort continued to hold strong. In addition to Denver’s improved execution, Denver also was getting down and dirty as they began winning all of the hustle categories. They were abusing the Mavericks on the offensive glass, managed to accumulate 10 steals by the end of the third quarter, and were selling out in order to hold onto their lead.

Then their offense went from ice cold to a blazing inferno as they put up 39 points in the third quarter on 53.8 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent shooting from 3-point range. Murray caught fire and poured in a quick eight points and was a +16 in his 10 minutes of action in the third period.

All of Denver’s effort managed to transform their one-point halftime lead into a 91-74 advantage after three quarters. Denver held the Mavericks to just 23 points in the third quarter on 38.1 percent shooting from the field. Denver also forced six turnovers in the third frame.

The fourth quarter served as a glorified five-on-five session. Isaiah Thomas was able to log significant minutes and get in a rhythm while Denver continued to nurse their lead until time ran out for the Mavericks. Denver eventually came away with a 114-104 win in Dallas for their 15th road win of the season — the same number they had all of last year.

As it has been all season, Jokic led the Nuggets with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 7-of-16 from the field. Paul Millsap thrived in the more sluggish style of play of Denver’s matchup with the Mavericks and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes. When Denver’s offense became stagnant, Millsap found a way to produce. Beasley also continued his hot-shooting and finished with 13 points while hitting 3-of-7 3-pointers. Additionally, Isaiah Thomas had a strong performance in his second game back with 16 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.

Next, the Nuggets will head back to the Mile High City to begin a four-game homestand starting with the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. That game will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3pm MST within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center.

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Mile High Sports mock draft version 1.0: Lock, White or Williams at 10?

Drew Lock. Credit: Chuck Cook, USA TODAY Sports.

We are almost two months away from the 2019 NFL Draft, making it the perfect time to release our first mock draft.

This year’s selection process will be a busy one for Denver Broncos fans, as the team is riddled with holes that need to be filled this offseason. Luckily they have seven picks to do so.

Neither Joe Flacco nor Case Keenum inspires much confidence as the quarterback of the future, and the defensive backfield is stacked with question marks, as is the offensive line. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall, Domata Peko, Shaquil Barrett and Matt Paradis will most likely suit up for one of the other 31 franchises in 2019.

So, let’s just dive in.

Round 1: 10th pick overall.

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: This mock draft will focus on what we think the Broncos will do and not what they should do. Never will that be more evident than here. Drew Lock fits John Elway‘s preferred quarterback mold; an athletic quarterback with a live arm and stocky build. Lock is raw and will need time to fix his footwork, accuracy and develop behind Flacco.

He doesn’t have the high-end upside, ceiling or athletic abilities to match raw prospects of the past like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz. The comparison for Lock would be Jay Cutler, as they both have a well above-average arm, an awful tendency to throw off their back foot, and their measurables are almost identical.

Other Possibilities:

Devin White, LB, LSU: If the Broncos decide to kick the quarterback problem down the road until the loaded 2020 quarterback draft class, then Devin White would make tons of sense here. White is a quick, rangy and explosive linebacker who isn’t afraid to hit. He’s also been described as someone with off-the-charts leadership abilities.

Most analysts consider him to be a top-five player in the draft, but because of the devaluation of off-the-ball linebackers, it’s likely that he’ll be on the board when the tenth pick comes around. White is incredibly comparable to Myles Jack in terms of athleticism, size, playing style and the fact that they both played running back, though White has a much cleaner injury report on his side.

White would not only start at linebacker from Week 1, but would he would be a considerable upgrade on what the Broncos have had in recent years. Matt Miller put it best, “Devin White is the ideal linebacker prospect for today’s NFL. He’s running-back fast, linebacker tough and has the range of a safety.”

Greedy Williams, CB, LSUMuch like Drew Lock, Williams would be more a pick of need than a pick of value. Williams has fantastic length, man coverage abilities and great ball skills. His stats don’t blow you away, but that’s because college quarterbacks refuse to throw his direction. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s out of LSU, often dubbed “DBU” for their tendency to produce great defensive backs. He’d also be a perfect fit for Vic Fangio‘s scheme and would start from Day 1.

The Broncos could likely trade back if they wanted to take Williams, as most draft analysts don’t regard him as a top-ten prospect and three quarterbacks are almost guaranteed to go ahead of him as well. Scouts worry about Williams’ speed and his physicality, as NFL refs are often more strict on pass interference than college refs, making some wonder if he can hang with NFL receivers. Our comparison for Williams would be Richard Sherman, though Sherman plays with much more grit and toughness on the field.

Round 2: 41st pick overall

Dalton Risner, RT, Kansas State: Since his stellar showing at the Senior Bowl, the Colorado kid has been flying up the boards and would make perfect sense for the Broncos if they take a quarterback with the tenth pick. Even if the Broncos don’t take a quarterback in the first round, Risner would be a great selection here.

The Broncos could have a hole to fill at center, guard and tackle this offseason and Risner has the versatility to play all three at a high level. Plus, given Flacco’s immobility in the latter stages of his career (especially in comparison to Keenum) the Broncos will need a stable offensive line.

Risner’s toughness is superb, and it almost got him into a fight with Boston College’s defensive lineman Zach Allen, making him a perfect fit for the Broncos’ new identity. Risner also had the lowest percentage of pressure allowed among Big 12 centers in guards in 2018.

Round 3: 71st pick overall

Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt: Joejuan Williams is a cornerback similar in style to LSU’s Greedy Williams, and Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson. Both are long corners with great ball skills, but Joejuan will require some more development, especially in man coverage.

What really excites about Joejuan Williams, though, is his toughness and was how productive he was against the best receivers in college football. Going up against the nastiest one-two punch in Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, he was at his absolute beast, breaking up four passes and intercepting another.

Round 4: 125th pick overall

David Long, LB, WVU: West Virginia’s David Long is one of the biggest sleepers in this draft class. He’d be a great fit next to Josey Jewell at linebacker and would fill a need if the Broncos don’t take a linebacker early.

Long has high-end athleticism, length and coverage abilities similar to White but Long doesn’t have the same level of consistency on tape. Long also lacks the off-the-charts intangibles that White has.

Long would be a developmental prospect with high upside who could sit behind Todd Davis for a season before eventually taking the job.

Round 5: 148th pick overall

Austin Bryant, EDGE, Clemson: Bryant was the fourth wheel on Clemson’s stacked defensive line, which was headlined by Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. He would be a great pick to help replace the rotational edge rushing presence of Shane Ray and Barrett, with the help of Jeff Holland. Bryant has a low ceiling but a high floor, and shouldn’t require much development.

Round 5: 156th pick overall

Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia: Isaac Nauta is the best tight end prospect that no one is talking about in this year’s draft class. Nauta was a highly recruited tight end out of the IMG Academy in Florida, who was often a victim of Georgia having too many mouths feed across their skill positions. He could certainly give more effort as a blocker, but if he was on a different team that gave him more opportunities and targets, I’m confident he would be a Day 2 pick instead.

Round 6: 182nd pick overall

Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State: Williams is a high-risk, high-reward prospect, who the Broncos can’t let get out of the Centennial State. The need at wide receiver currently isn’t dire, but Emmanuel Sanders could be on a different team sooner rather than later.

Preston Williams’ body is very reminiscent of Julio Jones‘ when he was coming out of Alabama. Williams is raw and has off-the-field issues that the Broncos’ front office will have to take into account, but he could very well be the player in this year’s draft that leaves fans going, “How on earth did that guy go in the sixth round?”

Round 7: 237th pick overall

Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson: The second offensive lineman we have the Broncos taking is Mitch Hyatt. Much like Risner, Hyatt has the flexibility to play either guard or tackle at the next level. A little more than a year ago Hyatt was considered a first or second round tackle, but his stock has fallen after his play regressed over the past and a half. If the Broncos have faith in Mike Munchak to fix the problems recently plaguing Hyatt, he could be an excellent value.

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The future of the Broncos defensive line

The Denver Broncos for the past couple of years have had a strong presence in the middle of their defensive line in Domata Peko, but a potential change could be incoming.

With his contract up it appears that the Broncos are ready to move on from Peko — or at least push pause on the situation — during the early stages of free agency with the veteran lineman.

This doesn’t mean that Peko absolutely won’t be a Bronco in 2019, however, as the Broncos could bring back Peko in the future later in the free agency period if he’s still available and willing — keyword ‘early stages of free agency’ — it just means that he won’t be plan A.

So who is ‘plan A’ for head coach Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and the Broncos defensive staff? Broncos Blitz podcast host Ronnie Kohrt dives into the possibilities between free agency and the draft.

Click here to listen to the full Broncos Blitz podcast with Ronnie Kohrt.

You can follow Ronnie Kohrt on Twitter for more news regarding the Broncos by clicking here and catch up on latest conversations about the Broncos, or listen to the podcast below.

Click here to listen to past episodes of the Broncos Blitz podcast and access the Broncos Blitz archived vault.

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Pioneers finding consistency in Devin Cooley, Filip Larsson

Photo courtesy JJ Seaward/ Mile High Sports

With college hockey’s regular season winding down, the youthful No. 7 Denver Pioneers have been able to find a reliable goaltending play from sophomore Devin Cooley and freshman Filip Larsson.

Fresh off of being announced as the NCHC Goalie of the Week, Cooley continues to enjoy a strong season for himself. He earned that award for his performance last Saturday in the Pioneers 1-0 shutout victory over No. 4 Minnesota Duluth, and Cooley currently sit in third place in the NCAA with a .934 save percentage and is eighth in the NCAA with a 1.93 goals against average.

“Honestly for me, it’s not that big of a deal,” Cooley said. “We only had four teams playing so that is four out of five teams maybe, and I only played one weekend. The award doesn’t mean that much. But it is a better feeling to be able to help my team come away with a win knowing that I did everything I could to make sure that we are winning because these points at this time of the year are very important.”

After playing only three games in his freshman season with the Pios, Cooley has truly utilized an opportunity to prove himself this season following the departure of former DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet.

“I would stay just being a student of the game,” Cooley said about his largest improvement from last season to this season. “Just knowing exactly what I am going to do in specific situations, studying the team, studying the film. Studying my old film and finding my own mistakes, whether it led to a goal or not and doing everything that I can to fix that.”

“Overall, I am just feeling a lot more comfortable and confident because I know for certain plays that I am going to make the save every time,” Cooley explained. “I know exactly what I need to do so I am not wasting any time thinking, but just playing the game.”

Despite missing the first 11 games due to injury, Larsson has not missed a beat this season as the Detroit Red Wings prospect holds an impressive 7-3-3 record, with a .923 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average.

“I pretty much just let it run its course,” Cooley said of his advice to Larsson. “I saw him come back and in the first couple of practices since he came back it seemed as if he wasn’t even gone. He is that talented, and he is good. So for him I kind of just let him do his thing. I would tell him, ‘Good luck,’ and to stay calm and do your thing and he has done a pretty good job at that so far.”

Naturally, with both goaltenders playing strong hockey, they are bound to get high praise from Pioneers head coach David Carle, who is in his first year as Denver University’s head coach this season.

“Both have been phenomenal for us, and both have been able to grab the ball when the other has been hurt and been able to step right in and be really good for us to give us a chance to win every night,” Carle said of his dynamic duo of goalies. “We are really proud of both of them and we feel comfortable with both of them in net.”

With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Pioneers will get back to work when they host the Miami Redhawks (10-16-4) this Friday and Saturday at Magness Arena with opening faceoff scheduled for 7:07 p.m. MT.

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2018 Season Review: Should Broncos target safety Adrian Amos in free agency?

The Denver Broncos have plenty of holes to plug on defense this offseason, including cornerback, linebacker and safety.

Despite the hemming and hawing that initially followed his replacement of T.J. Ward in the lineup, Justin Simmons has been a solid starter for the Broncos at safety. During his second season as the No. 1, Simmons led the defense in snaps played and tied Chris Harris for the team lead in interceptions. With Vic Fangio now in town, the Broncos are only expecting that production in the secondary to increase.

This makes sense, especially considering Fangio’s recent work with Eddie Jackson. Under Fangio, Jackson had a strong rookie season but made the leap to being an elite player in Year 2. Pro Football Focus assigned Jackson an overall grade of 93.2 and a coverage grade of 94.7, the best among safeties in either category by a healthy margin.

While Fangio is working on improving Simmons, John Elway may need to find a new strong safety to go alongside him. Darian Stewart, who started last year, is on the decline. Su’a Cravens was incredibly disappointing last season as well, as he earned the lowest defensive grade of anyone on the roster.

2016 sixth-round pick Will Parks is currently the Broncos’ best option. In fact, Pro Football Focus awarded Parks the highest grade of any Broncos safety to play at least 50 snaps in 2018.

Do the Broncos choose to roll with Parks and Simmons, or could they make a splash this offseason to shake things up?

Alternatives:

Unfortunately for the Broncos, the 2019 crop of free agents, while being stacked at free safety, is unfortunately very shallow at strong safety, Denver’s position of need. The best safeties the Broncos could likely target and play at strong safety are Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins and Adrian Amos.

Mathieu AKA the “Honey Badger,” as well as Landon Collins, are naturally free safeties, but they should still work in Fangio’s defense and the fits are too fun to not talk about. Since entering the league, Mathieu’s versatility has separated him from the pack. Mathieu plays everywhere, from a down-in-the-box, run-stuffing safety, similar to how Ward liked to play, to a nickel corner. This versatility could help the Broncos alleviate both their need at corner and at strong safety.

Now, Landon Collins doesn’t have the same versatility, but the best part of his game comes in tackling and defending the run. Plus, Collins has more than enough talent to play at strong safety. If Collins isn’t tagged by the Giants, the Broncos should consider jumping on him in a hurry as safeties aren’t that expensive in today’s NFL and he has the talent to be a foundational building block of a defense.

The far more likely alternative though is Adrian Amos. Amos played next to the aforementioned Eddie Jackson under Fangio’s scheme in Chicago and was excellent in his own right. He is a young, athletic safety who excels in coverage but is nasty in the run game as well, and was among Pro Football Focus’ top-10 safeties of 2018. Amos also seems fairly interested in reuniting with his former coordinator, as Rich Kurtzman wrote about.

The draft doesn’t present many options that could potentially be an upgrade on Parks. The only two players potentially better at strong safety are Taylor Rapp and Johnathan Abram. Rapp is an excellent leader with a high football IQ that can lay a runner out when he has to, but there are worries about his high-end athleticism and the Broncos have too many needs to target Rapp at the top of the second, which is where he will likely go.

Abram is right out of the Steve Atwater, Kam Chancellor mold. If there is a harder hitter or a player that enjoys delivering them as much as Abram at the college level, he’s yet to be seen. However, Abram wouldn’t be worth the necessary assets to get him, and his style of play may not fit in today’s NFL.

What Should the Broncos do?

The Broncos should stick with Simmons and Parks, while either cutting Cravens or moving him to linebacker.

Yes, there are players out there that could be a good upgrade on Parks or Simmons, but that upgrade should be far down the Broncos’ list of priorities. Both Parks and Simmons are young and talented with plenty of potential to grow into well above-average starters in Fangio’s scheme.

The Broncos are fine on cap space, but they’ll have to be smart on how they maximize that space to address the most holes possible. Upgrading on Parks, who is already starting-caliber is not how you maximize that space, with Mathieu potentially being the exception.

Sticking with Parks and Simmons will also allow the Broncos to potentially pursue an elite linebacker, cornerback or offensive lineman in free agency, all of which are more pressing positions of need than safety. It will also allow them more flexibility with their assets in the draft in case they have to trade up for a quarterback

The post 2018 Season Review: Should Broncos target safety Adrian Amos in free agency? appeared first on Mile High Sports.



Report: Broncos to go after NT Johnathan Hankins

Johnathan Hankins, Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

New regime, new defense, new players.

In the Mile High City, the Broncos are likely moving on from Domata Peko — as well as Brandon Marshall — as changes are happening quickly while the team looks to reload for a playoff run in 2019.

If Denver does cut ties with Peko — our Eric Goodman says the two sides are still negotiating — then the team will need a new, beefy defensive tackle to fill the gaps and stuff the run. According to Benjamin Allbright, Fangio’s team will pursue nose tackle Johnathan Hankins, formerly of the Raiders, Colts and Giants.

Hankins is a sixth-year pro, meaning the team would be getting much younger at the position compared to 13-year veteran Peko. At 6’2″ and 325 pounds, Hankins is a massive man, someone who can control two blockers at once while Denver’s defensive ends and those incredible edge rushers get after the quarterback.

And while he struggled through a down year with Oakland in 2018, Hankins is a very good run defender. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out at 66.5 overall with a 73.1 run defense grade last season. But, those were both down compared to his 2017 season with Indianapolis, earning a 79.7 overall grade and an 88.1 in run defense.

When he’s on top of his game, Hankins creates pressure on the quarterback, too. He had seven total pressures last year, but enjoyed 20 in 2017, including two sacks. Back in 2016, his final year with New York, he had six sacks, while his 2014 season total of eight sacks is a career-high.

Peko played well for the Broncos his last two seasons in Denver, but the younger Hankins can likely replicate and possibly improve upon what the veteran was doing in the middle of the defensive line.

Signing Hankins would mean getting younger, and likely cheaper at that defensive tackle position, while getting a player who has the potential to out-perform what Peko was doing in Denver.

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Mile High Sports High School Rankings XVI

HIGH SCHOOL RANKINGS XVI

Mile High Sports’ annual list of the top places for prep sports in Colorado

This story originally appeared in the February issue of Mile High Sports Magazine.

After 16 years the formula is the same, but “The List” is always different. And The List never lies.

As we do each year, the staff at Mile High Sports Magazine sat down at the beginning of the calendar year to compile our annual list of the best high school sports programs in Colorado.

Thanks to our unique, one-of-a-kind, quasi-scientific formula, all of the schools in the state can be compared head to head. (Hey college football, call us anytime!) Due to the equalizing factor of the “total sports participated in” denominator, we’re able to put every prep program in Colorado on an equal playing field. It allows us to pit big versus little, mountain versus plains, city versus country. And every sport – from football and basketball to field hockey and spirit – counts.

The Formula

(Here’s how we rank ‘em, showing no bias to any single sport, school, girl or boy – whether they play in the plains, the mountains or the heart of the city, and whether they’re running, swimming, shooting or swinging, we love ‘em all.)

(Team State Qualifiers / Total Sports Participated In) x 25
+
(Team State Runner-Up Finishes / TSPI) x 75
+
(Team State Champions / TSPI) x 200
+
((Individual State Champs + First-Team All-State Athletes) / TSPI) x 20
=
TOTAL SCORE

The Top 50

#1  Kit Carson Wildcats
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 33
Score: 108.33
Last Year: 1 (-)

#2  Heritage Christian Academy Eagles
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 91
Score: 93.75
Last Year: 12 (+10)

#3  Valor Christian Eagles
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,094
Score: 74.58
Last Year: 4 (+1)

#4  Regis Jesuit Raiders
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 1,650
Score: 71.04
Last Year: 24 (+20)

#5  Cherry Creek Bruins
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 3,654
Score: 66.92
Last Year: 8 (+3)

#6  Yuma Indians
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 224
Score: 65.00
Last Year: 92 (+86)

#7  Grandview Wolves
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 2,781
Score: 64.38
Last Year: 27 (+20)

#8  Colorado Academy Mustangs
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 411
Score: 62.06
Last Year: 26 (+18)

#9  Niwot Cougars
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,204
Score: 59.50
Last Year: 52 (+43)

#10  Kent Denver Sun Devils
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 485
Score: 55.25
Last Year: 17 (+7)

#11  Windsor Wizards
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,485
Score: 52.86
Last Year: 63 (+52)

#12  Dawson School Mustangs
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 257
Score: 49.62
Last Year: 33 (+21)

#13  The Classical Academy Titans
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 653
Score: 49.38
Last Year: 3 (-10)

#14  Peetz Bulldogs
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 60
Score: 47.86
Last Year: 18 (+4)

#15  Highland Huskies
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 267
Score: 46.82
Last Year: 37 (+22)

#16  Caliche Buffaloes
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 73
Score: 45.00
Last Year: 80 (+64)

#17  Shining Mountain Waldorf Lions
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 70
Score: 44.29
Last: 104 (+87)

#18t  Paonia Eagles
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 150
Score: 43.64
Last Year: 2 (-16)

#18t  Fossil Ridge Sabercats
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 1,944
Score: 43.64
Last Year: 20 (+2)

#20  University Bulldogs
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 599
Score: 43.57
Last Year: 139 (+119)

#21  Bayfield Wolverines
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 379
Score: 42.86
Last Year: 23 (+2)

#22  Peak to Peak Pumas
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 589
Score: 42.67
Last Year: 10 (-22)

#23  Lyons Lions
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 227
Score: 42.50
Last Year: 7 (-16)

#24  Aspen Skiers
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 547
Score: 42.17
Last Year: 44 (+20)

#25  Sedgwick County Cougars
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 104
Score: 41.25
Last Year: 5 (-20)

#26  Limon Badgers
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 135
Score: 40.00
Last Year: 128 (+102)

#27  Mountain Vista Golden Eagles
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 2,320
Score: 39.35
Last Year: 15 (-12)

#28  Lutheran Lions
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 525
Score: 36.47
Last Year: 34 (+6)

#29  Crested Butte Community Titans
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 208
Score: 35.50
Last Year: 218 (+189)

#30  Cheyenne Mountain Indians
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,255
Score: 35.21
Last Year: 9 (-21)

#31  Stratton-Liberty Eagles
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 44
Score: 34.44
Last Year: DNQ

#32  Resurrection Christian Cougars
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 304
Score: 33.08
Last Year: 106 (+74)

#33  Hoehne Farmers
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 116
Score: 32.86
Last Year: 109 (+76)

#34  Holy Family Tigers
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 619
Score: 32.50
Last Year: 82 (+48)

#35  Longmont Trojans
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,287
Score: 31.84
Last Year: 224 (+189)

#36  Strasburg Indians
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 314
Score: 30.71
Last Year: 21 (-15)

#37  Denver Christian Thunder
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 144
Score: 29.17
Last Year: 41 (+4)

#38  South Baca Patriots
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 14
Score: 29.00
Last Year: 142 (+104)

#39  Palmer Ridge Bears
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,185
Score: 28.86
Last Year: 13 (-26)

#40  Wray Eagles
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 171
Score: 28.64
Last Year: 124 (+84)

#41  Meeker Cowboys
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 198
Score: 28.18
Last Year: 65 (+24)

#42  Kim Mustangs
Class: 1A
Enrollment: 121
Score: 28.00
Last Year: DNQ

#43  Cherokee Trail Cougars
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 2,953
Score: 27.61
Last Year: 76 (+33)

#44  Eaton Reds
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 545
Score: 27.14
Last Year: 14 (-30)

#45  Loveland Indians
Class: 5A
Enrollment: 1,631
Score: 25.48
Last Year: 66 (+21)

#46  Alamosa Mean Moose
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 596
Score: 25.29
Last Year: 122 (+76)

#47t  Vail Christian Saints
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 148
Score: 25.00
Last Year: 51 (+4)

#47t  Pinnacle Timberwolves
Class: 3A
Enrollment: 520
Score: 25.00
Last Year: 123 (+76)

#49  Soroco Rams
Class: 2A
Enrollment: 99
Score: 24.44
Last Year: 55 (+6)

#50  Silver Creek Raptors
Class: 4A
Enrollment: 1,359
Score: 23.81
Last Year: 126 (+76)

To see the rankings from 51+, check out the digital edition of

Mile High Sports magazine by clicking below.

***

The post Mile High Sports High School Rankings XVI appeared first on Mile High Sports.



Domata Peko will hit the open market after Broncos opt not to re-sign the veteran

Domata Peko will officially be an unrestricted free agent.

There have been contradicting reports throughout the week regarding the 13-year NFL veteran’s future in the Mile High City, but according to Mike Klis, the Denver Broncos do not plan on re-signing the 34-year-old defensive tackle.

Peko has spent the last two seasons in Denver, after spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals. In two years with the Broncos, Peko made 30 starts and recorded 69 combined tackles.

While Peko technically could return to the Broncos on a value contract, it does not seem likely at this point in time.

The Broncos front office will now likely turn their attention to Shelby Harris. Harris, 27, is coming off of a career year, and was Denver’s best defender last season according to Pro Football Focus.

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MHS Roundtable: With 25 games left, how will Denver finish out their strong season?

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reacts with guard Jamal Murray (27) after a play in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Pepsi Center.

The Denver Nuggets currently reside as the second-best team in the Western Conference with a record of 39-18, which puts them just two games behind the Golden State Warriors for first place in the West.

After a tremendous first 57 games, the Nuggets are officially primed to end a five-year postseason drought as they have an eight-game lead over the eighth seeded Los Angeles Clippers. A playoff berth is just the start of what could be an extremely exciting run for this Nuggets team, but it is going to take a strong finish to the regular season in order to make it happen.

So, the scribes at Mile High Sports got together to examine that and more in our latest roundtable on what to expect from Denver to close out the regular season.

With 25 games remaining, what is the worst and best case scenarios for the Nuggets? 

Brandon Ewing: The obvious best-case scenario for the Nuggets is to secure home court in the first round of the playoffs. In order to do that, Denver has to finish as a top four seed in the Western Conference, which right now seems like a very real possibility. A lot can change in 25 games, but the Nuggets currently hold a seven-game lead on Portland for the fourth-seed and an eight-game lead over Houston for the fifth-seed. It would take a major collapse for Denver to fall that much in the standings, which means the Nuggets should just have to play above .500 basketball in order to secure home court in the first round of the playoffs. 

Duvalier Johnson: The best-case scenario for the Nuggets is that not only do we get to see the original starting five finally get to play together, which has not happened since the second game of the season, but that Denver also stays relatively healthy for their impending playoff push. The Nuggets are at the point that it would take an epic collapse to miss the playoffs so securing a playoff spot as early as possible and re-integrating players back into the rotation is paramount.

The worst case scenario is that the Nuggets suffer yet another injury and start losing games which would lead to Denver falling into a lower seed. Injuries have plagued the Nuggets all season and the team finally seems to be mostly healthy again, they just have to make a push and continue to win games. A matchup with the Houston Rockets would not be ideal. The Nuggets cannot afford any losing streaks.

Jena Garcia: In a best-case scenario, the Nuggets return from the All-Star break healthy and refreshed. In addition to being healthy, winning all 12 home games would also be a part of a best-case scenario. With the best home record in the NBA, this would be an accomplishment that is not out of reach. If they also were to split their remaining road games, Denver would end the season with a 57-25 record which would tie the franchise record for most regular season wins in a single season.

If we are being as pessimistic as possible, the Nuggets final 25-game stretch would include more losses away from the Pepsi Center. Denver still has 13 roads games left. If they were to drop all 13 games, which is very unlikely based on their road record this season, the Nuggets could find themselves in a tough spot. Losing a lot of games on the road would set Denver up for an less ideal opponent in the first round of playoffs.

Luke Zahlmann: The best-case scenario for the Denver Nuggets is well outside of their control. For the team to truly encompass their utopian final stretch, Golden State needs to fall apart to a degree. Of their final 25 games, the Nuggets can bypass the Warriors if they match records with the defending champs and also win their two games against Golden State. Taking control of the top seed and ensuring home-court advantage would be the ideal case for a team that is 25-4 at home, but only 14-14 away from the Pepsi Center.

The worst-case scenario is a nightmare for the Nuggets because the one thing that could hurt Denver the most is the same issue they have been dealing with all year — injuries. As a team that has been without Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap and even Jamal Murray for stretches, the Nuggets have fought their way through the year, buoyed by their depth. The feat is highly unlikely to continue in the postseason, with many of their opponents fielding full-strength lineups.

The Nuggets could have many members of their organization up for awards at the end of the season. Nikola Jokic could be in the running Most Valuable Player, Michael Malone should be near the top of the list for Coach of the Year, Tim Connelly could win Executive of the Year, Malik Beasley could sneak into the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation, and Monte Morris may win Sixth Man of the Year if he keeps playing the way he has been? Which player, coach, or executive is most likely to win an award?

Brandon Ewing: An extremely tough question considering how many players, coaches, and executives deserve an award for the success Denver has seen this season. I’ll go with the man that built it all though in Tim Connelly for Executive of the Year. 

With how big of a part free agency plays in the success of NBA teams today, it is seldom that teams are formed via draft picks that stay with the same franchise for an extended period of time. But, that is exactly what Tim Connelly has built in Denver. Most of the Nuggets roster is filled with home grown talent. Whether it is second-round gems like Nikola Jokic and Monte Morris, or drafting Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Malik Beasley in the first round, the Nuggets now have a roster built for sustained success.

Connelly has been pulling the right strings for awhile now and Executive of the Year would give him the recognition he truly deserves.

Duvalier Johnson: The most likely member of the Nuggets to be up for an award is head coach Michael Malone. The Nuggets have been knocking on the door for multiple years now and it is now looking as if they have finally figured it out; they are winning games, getting national attention and are near the top of the Western Conference standing. One of the biggest reasons for that is Malone.

He has come in and set high standards, changed to outlook from a national perspective, is highly respected, and is coming off of coaching the Team LeBron in the All-Star game. In addition to being an All-Star coach, Malone is also going to continue his streak of Denver improving each season that he has coached them.

Malone has to be the favorite for Coach of the Year at this point. I fully expect for him to take home Coach of the Year honors; especially if Denver finishes strong.

Jena Garcia: The Nuggets have many strong candidates for various awards, but the one I think stands out the most this season is Monte Morris for Sixth Man of the Year. Not only has he been the most consistent point guard on the roster, but he has also been one of the most efficient in the league. He ranks second in the league for assist-to-turnover ratio and is also hitting 43.1 percent of his 3-point shots. Aside from his stats, Morris has stepped up in big-game moments as a facilitator and as a scorer. Morris deserves to be in the conversations for Sixth Man of the Year. 

Luke Zahlmann: For the Nuggets, the most likely member of the franchise to take home hardware this year is head coach Michael Malone.

Prior to the year, according to ESPN, the Nuggets were projected to go 47-35, a mere one-win increase from last year. Through 57 games, they’re already at 39 wins, on pace to easily bypass their projection. Making the playoffs, with over 50 wins, despite the gluttony of injuries, should put Malone towards the top of the frontrunners.

In a loaded MVP race, Nikola Jokic is unlikely to garner the favor of national media, while Pascal Siakam and Lou Williams are looking like better candidates for their respective awards as well. Tim Connelly’s draft picks are beginning to rear their head, leading the team in the face of injuries, but the lack of an impact addition in the offseason or during the season likely knocks him out of the running as well.

Malone’s chances are very real though.

Time for final predictions. With 25 games remaining, what record and seed will the Nuggets finish the season with and why?

Brandon Ewing: I still do not think the Nuggets have garnered the respect in NBA circles that they deserve. Teams are expecting Denver to eventually have a decline this season and it just has not happened yet. Even with a tough remaining schedule, this Nuggets team has shown they are mentally tough enough to overcome different challenges and obstacles that are constantly thrown their way.  

With 25 games remaining, the Nuggets will finish the regular season 17-8, which will be good second place in the Western Conference (56-26). Jokic will have an incredibly strong finish to the regular season, which hopefully provides Denver the momentum to walk away victorious from a first-round playoff series. Locking up the second seed also allows the Nuggets to bypass the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals, where the Nuggets would have a fighters chance if they make it that far.

Duvalier Johnson: I think that there will be a slight decline from the Nuggets with them trying to get players back up to speed. Malone will be tasked with having to work back in Isaiah Thomas, who finally came back after a 11-month hiatus and looked good in his few minutes, along with a player in Monte Morris who has been better than expected at the same position. Will Barton and Gary Harris have both also missed time due to injury and have to continue getting in the swing of things. The defense still has so many questions that need to be answered. With that being said, I expect the Nuggets to go 15-10 which puts their overall record at 54-28 to close out the season and also drop into the third seed.

Jena Garcia: My final prediction for this last stretch of the season is that the Nuggets take seven of 13 games on the road and only lose to Golden State twice, Boston, Houston Oklahoma city and Indiana. I also have Denver winning all but two of their 12 home games. That would leave the Nuggets with a 56-26 record at the end of the regular season and would lock them into the second seed in the Western Conference.

Luke Zahlmann: For the final stretch, I believe the Nuggets defensive woes are going to begin to take a toll. A pair of road matchups in Golden State and road games in Oklahoma City, Houston, Boston, Indiana and Portland will also play a role.

They will still finish with a top-four record in the Western Conference, with a scorching Paul George-led Oklahoma City squad passing them down the stretch.

Their final span will yield a 14-11 record, bringing their season total to 53-29, tied for their sixth-best record in franchise history and good for the third seed in the West.

For their sake, the Nuggets need to get whatever seed allows them to avoid Houston in the first round, otherwise known as their worst nightmare with a healthy Clint Capela and James Harden leading the way.

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Offense comes alive for Colorado in 7-1 victory over Winnipeg

The Colorado Avalanche (25-24-11) defeated the Winnipeg Jets (36-20-4) for the second time in a week Wednesday night. In the 7-1 home victory, Colorado recorded 46 shots on goal and consistently pressured Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

Since Jared Bednar’s decision to shake up the lines last week, the Avs have won three-of-four games and outscored the competition by nine goals (14-5). Colorado has looked particularly impressive as of late, winning the last two contests by respective scores of 3-0 and 7-1.

In Wednesday night’s victory over Winnipeg, the Avs had five different players record at least two points. Tyson Jost and Carl Soderberg each paced the Avalanche with three points apiece.

Jost, 20, has been skating with extreme confidence since be recalled from the Colorado Eagles. On Wednesday, the young forward had arguably the best game of his young career with two assists and one goal.

Along with the offensive explosion, Semyon Varlamov was phenomenal between the pipes for a second consecutive night. On the heels of a 40-save performance against Las Vegas, Colorado’s veteran goaltender was able to stop 26-of-27 against the Jets.

Colorado will have a crucial two-game road trip, beginning Friday night at Chicago. The Avs will then shoot over to Nashville for a Saturday afternoon contest against the Predators.

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Denver Nuggets Daily: Pre All-Star break grades for all 17 players

Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley (25) and guard Jamal Murray (27) celebrate a score in the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Pepsi Center.

For the newest Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast, T.J. McBride and friend of the show Brenden Vogt of Denver Stiffs went down the Nuggets roster and gave grades to each player.

Topics for the newest Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast include a deep look at all 17 players, the good and bad of their seasons’ thus far, as well as what each player needs to improve on.

Click here — or listen below — and be sure to rate the podcast, use the comment feature to leave any feedback, and subscribe through iTunes.

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Should Denver be interested in Le’Veon Bell?

Reported Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will not be retaining all-pro running back Le’Veon Bell and he is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Should Denver consider the bell cow back? Broncos Blitz podcast host Ronnie Kohrt dives into the discussion of Bell in the Broncos backfield.

Kohrt talks about the intrigue of pairing Bell with Lindsay, even at the high price tag and what Bell would do to transform the Broncos offense.

Click here to listen to the full Broncos Blitz podcast with Ronnie Kohrt.

You can follow Ronnie Kohrt on Twitter for more news regarding the Broncos by clicking here and catch up on latest conversations about the Broncos, or listen to the podcast below.

Click here to listen to past episodes of the Broncos Blitz podcast and access the Broncos Blitz archived vault.

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Bears safety Adrian Amos: Denver ‘obviously would be a fit’

Adrian Amos returns an interception. Credit: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports.

With Vic Fangio becoming the Denver Broncos new head coach, the possibility of signing former Chicago Bears players who thrived in Fangio’s defense abounds.

Bryce Callahan — slot cornerback extraordinaire — is one player we’ve said the Broncos should go after, especially considering corner is Denver’s biggest weakness. But, considering Darian Stewart’s underwhelming 2018 season, could the Broncos also upgrade that defensive backfield by signing a big-time safety?

Adrian Amos, who just finished his rookie deal with the Bears, was the eighth-best safety in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus (82.7 overall grade). He’s a hard hitter, a solid tackler, can rush the quarterback and he enjoyed three interceptions in 2018 with five pass breakups.

Amos, on SiriusXM radio said,”I want to be back in Chicago. Chicago has been talking back and forth, they want me back. But we’ll see how things shake out. Nothing is certain right now. It’s still a little early. Over the next couple weeks, I guess we’ll find out a lot more.”

But, when asked about other destinations he could land outside of Chicago, and if Denver could be a fit for him because he’s played in Fangio’s defense, he agreed.

“I don’t know, but obviously that would be a fit where I know the defense and things like that,” Amos said on SiriusXM. “But it’s not something that I’m pinpointing like, ‘Hey, I want to go there,’ or anything like that. I’m just keeping all options open. First and foremost, I’m a Bear right now, so that’s a main focus early on. But if that doesn’t work out, then I have to explore what team fits me best, what team gives me the best opportunity to take care of my family as well as progress on the football field.”

It’s not just that Denver signed Fangio as head coach, but new Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was Amos’ DB’s coach with the Bears, too.

While Amos is a blossoming star, Stewart has never graded higher than a 77.9 (in 2015) and his grade last year by PFF was a sad 59.6. His coverage grade was only slightly higher, at 60.8, with Amos being an 85.5 in coverage, the seventh-best for a safety last season.

Without a doubt, Amos would be an upgrade over Stewart, who played free safety from 2014-17 before switching to strong safety in 2018.

And, there’s a potential out for Denver in Stewart’s contract, as well. The Broncos could cut him and take a $2.8 million dead cap hit, but they’d save $2.2 million. Considering Amos will likely be offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-7 million per year, Denver would have to pay an additional $4 million from their cap to sign Amos.

Playing Amos alongside Justin Simmons would give the Broncos much-needed versatility in the defensive backfield. Both Simmons and Amos possess the speed to cover, and Amos can crowd the line at times, if the Broncos choose to send him on pressures.

Imagine a defensive backfield of Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby outside, Callahan in the slot, with Simmons and Amos as the safeties. Denver would instantly possess one of the best defensive backfields in the game again — along with one of the best pass rushes — and with Fangio calling the plays, the Broncos would likely be a top-5 defense in 2019.

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Where he’s hot, and not: Joe Flacco’s best and worst areas of the field

Joe Flacco. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports.

Like it or not, Joe Flacco is the Broncos quarterback in 2019.

Broncos fans, and likely the front office too, are hoping Flacco is a better gun-slinger than Case Keenum was in his one-year shot behind center in the Mile High City. And, we’re here to tell you, Flacco will be better than Keenum when looking at certain throws. Specifically, the Broncos new quarterback is more versatile than the former one.

Using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, we can see where Flacco excelled and struggled in 2018, here:

Joe Flacco's passer rating compared to NFL average in 2018. Credit: NFL's Next Gen Stats.
Joe Flacco’s passer rating compared to NFL average in 2018. Credit: NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

When looking at his chart from last year, a few things jump out. First, Flacco is very good throwing the ball to this right, except for that 10-20 yard area, weirdly. Second, outside of that same area, Flacco is quite efficient from the line of scrimmage to 20 yards, which are the majority of throws a quarterback is asked to make. And finally, when he wants to attack deep Flacco is the best outside of the right hash marks, enjoying an 88.0 passer rating with plus-20 yard throws there.

Interestingly, that was Keenum’s favorite area to throw deep, too, with a crazy-good 130.4 rating last season. However, the rest of Flacco’s plus-20 yard throws were better than Keenum’s, as evidenced by the passer ratings (left: 56.8-28.8, between the hashmarks: 39.6-17.5). And, Flacco’s four “red” areas below the league average were less than Keenum’s six such areas, making Flacco more versatile.

What can we ascertain from the chart above in terms of what the Broncos will likely do this year?

Flacco’s bread and butter is in that 0-10 yard range, in the middle and right side of the field especially, so expect to see slants, quick outs, screens and bubble screens there. When Denver runs a bit deeper routes, like corners and deep outs, they’ll likely want Flacco to throw to his left. And deep balls will most often come on the right side of the field, though, he’s not terrible on the left side, either.

Two more Next Gen Stats Broncos fans should like about Joe Flacco: Aggressiveness percentage and expected completion percentage.

Aggressiveness percentage rates how much of the time a quarterback throws into tight windows, with the defender within one yard of the receiver. Flacco’s was 17.2 last year, making him more aggressive than Keenum was (16 percent). Being aggressive isn’t always smart — forcing throws could result in more interceptions — but aggressiveness at the right time is important. Here’s hoping Flacco uses his breadth of knowledge and experience to pull the trigger on tight throws at the right times in 2019.

Last year, Flacco’s 61.2 completion percentage was his worst in five years and 30th in the NFL. But, his expected completion percentage was 64.1. Next Gen Stats uses completion probability, which factors in how open the receiver is, how close the nearest defender is to the QB and more, and then plugs that into every passing play. Simply, Flacco was making more accurate throws than his completion percentage shows, and his receivers were dropping the ball.

To wit, Michael Crabtree’s nine drops were third-most in the NFL while John Brown dropped six passes and Willie Snead had five drops.

So, Courtland Sutton (seven drops last year), Emmanuel Sanders — if he’s retained — and DaeSean Hamilton have to bring their collective A-game every week next year to help Flacco thrive. Of course, much hope also rests on the shoulders of new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and that he can design an offense which benefits not only Flacco’s playing style, but all of the Broncos offensive personnel.

Will Flacco be better than Keenum? The simple stats say “no” but the Next Gen Stats say otherwise.

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2018 Season Review: Should Denver Broncos retain Bradley Roby or let him go?

It wasn’t long ago that Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby was viewed as one of the more exciting, young, up-and-comers at cornerback in the NFL. The general consensus was that the Broncos had three starting-quality cornerbacks with Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Roby, which is why the “No-Fly Zone” was so effective.

It was this belief that led John Elway to move on from Talib before the 2018 season and promote Roby. In his first opportunity as a starter, it was hoped Roby would become the lockdown corner Broncos fans had seen glimpses of since being drafted in 2014. However, he did not match expectations, and with his contract expiring this season the Broncos will be faced with a tough decision.

Do the Broncos re-sign Roby? He disappointed in his only season as a starter, and will likely demand more money than a No. 3 cornerback on the depth chart deserves. On the other hand, Roby has tons of potential and it’s possible the coaching staff and scheme were partly to blame for his failure in 2018. If Denver does decide to let Roby walk though, where can they turn to patch a secondary already riddled with holes?

Alternatives

With Tramaine Brock likely on the way out as well, the Broncos are going to have to add multiple cornerbacks this offseason, either through free agency or the draft.

In free agency, the Broncos could easily find a veteran number two cornerback who could plug-and-play while Brendan Langley, Isaac Yiadom or a 2019 draft pick develops. A few of the names that could pique the Broncos’ interest are Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan and Jason Verrett.

Darby and Verrett are the most talented of the potential free agent corners when they’re at their best, but neither has been able to stay on the field.

Verrett played in only six games his rookie season because he was rehabbing multiple tears in his left shoulder. Then, after a marvelous 2015 season that earned him a Pro Bowl nod, he tore his ACL in the fourth game of 2016, ending his season. In 2017, Verrett appeared to be on the mend, but partway through the Chargers’ Week 1 game at Denver his knee started to act up which once again landed him on IR and ended his season. In 2018, he was sidelined before the season could start after tearing his achilles in training camp.

Darby’s injury history is nowhere near that concerning, but his torn ACL suffered in Week 10 last year should raise the eyebrows of a few teams. The Broncos would be taking a big swing on either Darby or Verrett, but if it works out the “No-Fly Zone” would return muchsooner than expected.

If Darby and Verrett are like going all-in on black, then Bryce Callahan is like investing in Apple. Callahan seems like a dream fit for the Broncos. He’s young, has steadily improved every year of his career, has a minor injury history, and most importantly he’s been successful in Vic Fangio‘s scheme. The one concern around Callahan would be his potential fit with Harris, as both are naturally slot corners.

If this year’s free agent crop isn’t Denver’s cup of tea they could instead invest in the secondary through the draft. At the tenth pick, the Broncos could take Greedy Williams, the No. 1 cornerback in this year’s draft. Williams would be a perfect scheme fit for Denver; he possesses excellent size, length and instincts that can’t be taught, as well as being the best man coverage corner in the draft. When watching him, one can’t help but think of Richard Sherman.

Other cornerbacks like Rock Ya-sin and Julian Love, possibly even Trayvon Mullen could be steals at the top of the second round if the Broncos decided to take a quarterback with the tenth pick.

What should the Broncos do?

The Broncos should sign Callahan in free agency or re-sign Roby and then supplement the secondary with a high draft pick.

Callahan is a better player than Roby, but if he’s too expensive it would make more sense for the Broncos to keep Roby, who could realize his star potential in Fangio’s scheme.

If the Broncos get Callahan, then there’s less pressure to invest high in the draft, but they still should as Harris is nearing the end of his career. If Williams is available at the tenth pick, and he should be, that should be the Broncos’ selection.

Greedy Williams may never reach the elite status of Richard Sherman but is far more likely to be a high-end starter in the league for five-plus years than any of this year’s quarterbacks.

In a perfect world, the Broncos could have Roby and Williams locking down the outside with Harris maintaining his dominance between the hashes for years to come.

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Is Antonio Brown worth the drama for Denver?

The Denver Broncos could look for a home run in the offseason in the form of the pro bowl star wide receiver Antonio Brown but after the drama that’s played out in public and Twitter between Brown and the Steelers, is Brown worth the potential drama he could create in Denver?

Broncos Blitz podcast host Ronnie Kohrt gives his opinion on what Brown on the Broncos would look like and says, bank on the young talent that Denver does have and forget about investing into a luxury piece. Particularly one that may cause drama off the field.

Click here to listen to the full Broncos Blitz podcast with Ronnie Kohrt.

You can follow Ronnie Kohrt on Twitter for more news regarding the Broncos by clicking here and catch up on latest conversations about the Broncos, or listen to the podcast below.

Click here to listen to past episodes of the Broncos Blitz podcast and access the Broncos Blitz archived vault.

 

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How San Diego signing Manny Machado affects the Rockies

Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) during seventh inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field.

It took until the start of Spring Training, but one of baseball’s prime free-agents finally has a new home. Manny Machado is signing with the San Diego Padres.

Machado’s deal is reportedly the biggest free agent contract in American sports history — 10-years, $300 million — as the Padres look to make a splash in the National League West race. Signing Machado could be just the beginning for San Diego as they also seem primed to make a run at free agent Bryce Harper.

The signing of Machado could have a massive affect on the Rockies moving forward. Not only will the Rockies play Machado and the Padres 19-times this season, but this deal also has a ripple effect on Nolan Arenado’s future contract. The Rockies and Arenado were able to avoid arbitration just a few weeks ago, but that is just a short-term fix.

Arenado is scheduled to become an unrestricted free-agent next offseason. Colorado and Arenado are still talking about a potential extension, but the bar has now been set by San Diego. Machado is one-year younger than Arenado, but many would argue that the Rockies’ third baseman is a better player than San Diego’s new shortstop.

The proof will be on the field and the scoreboard, but the Padres are sending a message to their fans that want to win now. The Rockies now sit in a tough position. Not only do they have to worry about the Padres in the division, but they now have a benchmark when determining Arenado’s contract moving forward.

Whether or not the Machado deal has an affect on the Rockies’ success and Areando’s contract remains to be seen. On the surface though, the dots are too easy to connect. This is a solid baseline for what Colorado is going to have to pay for Arenado’s services next year and beyond.

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Emmanuel Sanders, set to make nearly $13M, doesn’t want a contract restructure

Emmanuel Sanders. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.

Can the Denver Broncos keep Emmanuel Sanders on the cheap?

According to his twitter account, that simple answer is “No way, Jose.”

Sanders, who just finished the his fifth year with the Broncos, has a team option going into 2019, but he’s not willing to take a pay-cut to stay with the orange and blue. Back in 2016, Sanders signed a three-year deal for $33 million, including a $10.75 million signing bonus. The fourth-year option for this upcoming season would mean paying the star wideout $10.25 million and his cap hit would be $12.94 million.

Those are massive numbers for a ninth-year wide receiver coming off a torn achilles tendon.

However, Sanders has been the best wide receiver on the Broncos since his arrival on the team in 2014, putting up 374 receptions for 4,994 yards and 26 touchdowns. That’s good for a 13.4 yard per reception average, and he’s regularly been seen diving and laying out for deep passes down the sideline, too.

Simply, Sanders is both a big-play threat as well as a go-to guy for a quarterback; he’ll certainly benefit Joe Flacco in 2019 if Sanders is retained.

But, do the Broncos want to give him 6.57 percent of the total cap for this year? Even Sanders may not be worth that pretty penny considering he’s on the back end of his prime coupled with the emergence of Courtland Sutton as Denver’s legitimate No. 1 receiver.

Sutton, as only a rookie, caught 42 passes for 704 yards and four scores. His 16.8 yards per reception made him the seventh-biggest play threat in the entire NFL last year. Denver traded away Demaryius Thomas last year, handing the reins over to Sutton as No. 1, and they also drafted DaeSean Hamilton to be a fellow outside receiver.

Hamilton’s rookie season (30 receptions, 243 yards, 2 TDs) was less impressive than Sutton’s, but still solid for a first crack at the NFL.

So, the Broncos find themselves at a crossroads with Sanders. Do they pick up his option for nearly $13 million and keep him as a key component to their offense? Or, does Denver cut Sanders for a $2.67 million cap hit and go out and sign/draft other young receivers?

One player some are high on is Golden Tate, but he’s expected to make $10.2 million in 2019, meaning the Broncos would be better off sticking with Sanders for the continuity at the same price. There’s no shortage of free agent wide receivers, so if Denver decides to part ways with Sanders, their next decision has to revolve around either leaning on those two youngsters they have in house and bring in a role-playing receiver, or going out and landing a bigger-priced free agent.

Either way, expect the Broncos to supplement their receiver room with a rookie or two this year, too.

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2018 Season Review: How do the Broncos move on from Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray?

Shaq Barrett celebrates a sack. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.

The Broncos have been gifted the luxury of having three, arguably four, high-end edge rushers in Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray, when few other teams even have two.

That luxury appears to be one the Broncos will be unable to keep as they focus on rebuilding this offseason. Miller was his typical self in 2018, racking up 14.5 sacks, good for fourth-best in the league. Miller also helped Chubb record 12 sacks during his rookie year, a franchise record and the fifth-most all time.

At this point, Ray and Barrett, will be free agents this offseason unless they are re-signed by the Broncos. The odds of either returning seem slim at best. Ray has been disappointing for the most part since being drafted in the first round of the 2015 Draft. Often sidelined by injury, and not productive enough when healthy, the Broncos will likely let Ray walk.

Barrett, on the other hand, is an edge-rusher the Broncos would love to retain, but he’s made it clear that he’ll be in search of greener pastures and a starting role, “There’s no position for me on the roster…with Von and Chubb right there. You put two and two together and it’s looking like that, but you never know what could happen in the future.”

So, with Ray and Barrett on the way out, how will the Broncos maintain their deep stable of edge rushers?

Alternatives

Luckily for the Broncos, this mass exodus of pass rushers from the roster couldn’t be happening at a better time. They already have Jeff Holland, who made the roster as an undrafted college free agent like Phillip Lindsay, coming off a solid rookie year that saw him take Ray’s spot in the rotation by season’s end. They also have a sea of free agent alternatives this spring.

The group of edge rushers set to hit the open market this year is among the best in recent memory. Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, and Dee Ford will be the hottest names, but Cameron Wake and Clay Matthews are worth mentioning too.

The Broncos likely won’t target any of these bigger name free agents at edge-rusher because they need depth instead of starters, but the abundance of talented pass rushers should help Denver find that depth at a discount. Guys like Jeremiah Attaochu and Pernell McPhee could excel in rotational roles for the Broncos and likely wouldn’t be expensive, allowing the Broncos to focus elsewhere in the draft.

Despite the free agent market, the draft may be the best place for the Broncos to find their replacements for Ray and Barrett. The 2019 draft class is flush with pass rushers. In Daniel Jeremiah’s latest mock draft for NFL Network, he had an edge rusher go first, second, and third overall. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller slotted three of the first four picks as edge rushers, and six of the first 13.

This draft isn’t top-heavy either. In fact, Matt Miller believes the strength of this draft lies in its depth. There should be plenty of options available for the Broncos on day three to find a rotational pass rusher if they so choose, whether it be Clemson’s Austin Bryant, Wyoming’s Carl Granderson, or even TCU’s Ben Banogu.

What Should the Broncos do?

The Broncos’ top priority this offseason should be adding high-level talent wherever they can throughout the roster. With limited cap space, the Broncos should spend their draft picks and big free agent money on positions of greater need.

If the Broncos are able to sign a linebacker, a cornerback or two, and an offensive lineman in free agency, drafting an edge-rusher at some point on day two or day three of the draft would be a fantastic option. However, if the Broncos are only able to fill one or two of their needs in free agency, then they should target a cheaper pass rusher in order to maintain their rotation.

The Broncos should also give Jeff Holland the opportunity to win the number three job behind Miller and Chubb. He showed great potential in his first season and it is worth determining quickly if he can build on it.

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Re-sign or let walk? Examining what it will take to keep Broncos top-5 free agents

Matt Paradis. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Exciting times are upon us in the Mile High City.

The Broncos, fresh off three straight non-playoff seasons, are looking to jump back into the postseason immediately. That “win from now on” mentality from John Elway began when he signed Vic Fangio at head coach and continued last week with the trade for Joe Flacco at quarterback, and it will likely continue through free agency and into the NFL draft in early April.

And while Flacco was a splash trade, the Broncos will need to make some more splash signings when free agency begins at 2 p.m. MT on Mar. 13. Exactly how many big-time signings Denver has to make depends on what they do with their current free agents, which there are 26 of all together.

Pro Football Talk and Sports Illustrated each put together their list of the top 100 free agents in the NFL, and combined, there are five Broncos on the list: Matt Paradis, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, Bradley Roby and Brandon Marshall. We rank the importance of re-signing them here:

  1. Matt Paradis – Paradis is the most important, and best, player on the offensive line in Denver and it’s not close. Not only is he the center, snapping the ball to the quarterback on every play, he also makes calls at the line for blocking assignments and is Denver-grown. The Broncos picked him in sixth round of the 2014 draft and he was a certain diamond in the rough. Considering John Elway’s rough draft history, keeping Paradis is important both because he’s the best and most crucial offensive lineman on the team, but because it shows Denver can foster growth in their players, too. Unfortunately, the cat’s out of the bag on Paradis: Many teams are interested in signing him and it could cost the Broncos around $10-11 million per year to re-sign him per Over the Cap.
  2. Bradley Roby – After Paradis, the rest of the list is much less important. It’s possible Denver loses the last four names, and if a team comes in with a huge number, Paradis, too. But, for the sake of argument, Roby is the second-most important on the list. He’s entering his sixth year and has been with the Broncos his entire career. He looked to be developing into a sure-fire starting, outside cornerback but regressed in that role last year. Denver should use that evidence — his down season — as a way to get him to re-sign for a team-friendly deal and either give him another shot opposite of Chris Harris or draft/sign another corner and move Roby back into the slot.
  3. Brandon Marshall – Marshall is all but gone, although, the Broncos and the linebacker are open to restructuring his contract. He’s been hurt two of the last three seasons, but when healthy is a tackling machine and a solid leader on the defensive side of the ball. He communicates play calls to defensive teammates and losing him could create some bumps in the road for Denver’s new defense as 2019 kicks off.
  4. Shaq Barrett – Barrett would be No. 2 on this list if it were more possible the Broncos could re-sign him. From practice squad standout to special teams ace to should-be starter in the NFL at edge rusher. Barrett — the former Colorado State University star — has earned a starting role and starter’s money, but he knows with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in front of him, it’s unlikely he’s re-signed in Denver. Although, he’s still hopeful the Broncos do offer him a new deal.
  5. Shane Ray – Ray is one of the biggest busts during the John Elway Era in Denver. From first-round pick to the oft-injured outside linebacker who was eclipsed with ease by Barrett. Not only is he ineffective on the field, he’s a distraction off the field, too.

Honorable mention: Shelby Harris. Harris was a top-10 interior defensive lineman last year per Pro Football Focus and should be re-signed by the Broncos at all costs. He’s a disruptive force inside and that interception off Ben Roethlisberger sealed the deal in a huge game for the Broncos last year, keeping them in the playoff hunt.

If Denver can re-sign Paradis and Harris, it would be a win. Paradis is key, and it’s possible he even improves with Mike Munchak now the offensive line coach. Munchak’s lines with the Steelers improved annually thanks to cohesiveness, and that can’t be missed with re-signing Paradis, either. And Harris is a blossoming, under-the-radar star which was paid only $750k last year, meaning the Broncos could re-sign him with a raise, but not such a massive one he breaks the bank.

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Denver Nuggets Daily: All-Star festivities, plus a breakdown of Denver’s remaining schedule

Team Giannis center Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (15) during NBA All-Star Game practice at the Bojangles Coliseum.

For the newest Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast, T.J. McBride recaps All-Star weekend from the Nuggets’ points of view and also looks ahead to the final 25 games of Denver’s season.

Topics for the newest Denver Nuggets Daily Podcast include Monte Morris and Sue Bird coaching the Celebrity All-Star game, Wes Unseld Jr. and parts of the Nuggets coaching staff coaching the Rising Stars game, Nikola Jokic’s performance at the Skills Challenge, the battle between Jokic and Michael Malone in the All-Star game as well as an in-depth look at the rest of the Nuggets regular season schedule.

Click here — or listen below — and be sure to rate the podcast, use the comment feature to leave any feedback, and subscribe through iTunes.

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Takeaways from Monday night’s shutout victory over Las Vegas

In desperate need of a win at home, the Colorado Avalanche came out on fire and never let up, shutting out the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-0.

What did we learn from this game?

  1. Tyson Jost looked as good as he ever has in an Avs uniform. The effort he gave on the forecheck during the game-opening goal was the type of play many Avs fans expected to see more of when he was drafted 10th overall in 2016. He continued that effort all evening, and the Avs controlled 63 percent of the shot attempts with him on the ice. He was helped by a new linemate in Gabriel Landeskog, who makes everyone around him better.
  2. Semyon Varlamov is starting to find his rhythm in net, as he posted a 40-save shutout in this one. A lot of those shots seemed to come from a distance, and his best work was probably in the second period when Las Vegas was firing the puck at will. If the Avs get even average goaltending down the stretch, they can make it into the playoffs.
  3. Jared Bednar completely blew up the lines tonight, separating everyone from the top line and spreading them out evenly over the top three lines. It would be surprising if the changes lasted for the rest of the year, but the Avs need anything they can get right now to produce some wins.
  4. Andrew Agozzino, the 28-year old AHL veteran who is currently fourth in the league in scoring, got his first callup of the year yesterday and wasted no time helping the team. Agozzino scored his first NHL goal in the contest and then later added an assist in the third period. It’s always nice to see veterans who have put in the work get rewarded and Agozzino, at least for one night, gave the Avs a boost.
  5. Somehow this team is only one point out of a playoff spot after tonight. It feels impossible given how they have played since the start of December, but it really wouldn’t take a lot for this team to get in. Colorado certainly has the talent to do it, and if they put in the effort like they did this evening, they should keep winning.

The Avs welcome the Winnipeg Jets to the Pepsi Center next on Wednesday evening. The game starts at 6:30 PM MST.

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Young guns provided much-needed energy boost in victory over Las Vegas

Avs fans can breathe again, as the Colorado Avalanche were able to snap a long-standing six-game home losing streak with 3-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

Looking to spark the team, the Avs morning skate was comprised of a few new look lines, something that ended up working well for them against the Knights.

“I looked at a bunch of different things,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said, “To this point of the season we hadn’t played MacK [MacKinnon], Mikko [Rantanen], and Landy [Landeskog] apart on three different lines. We played them apart on two different lines, but we haven’t separated them along all three other lines. As a line, they have not been doing a whole bunch lately.”

In a first period that was mostly comprised of the two teams sizing each other up, the Avs jumped to out to an early lead after Tyson Jost notched his seventh goal of the season (1-0). Colorado’s strong play continued as Avs forward Andrew Agozzino then notched his first career goal to put the Avalanche up 2-0.

“I have been waiting a long time for that moment and its special,” Agozzino said, “It is tough to put into words. There is a lot of emotion after I first saw it go in, and it was pure excitement. I came in the mindset to try to help this team in whatever aspect it was, and I am glad that I was able to do that tonight to help this team get a win and a big couple of two points in the playoff race. It was definitely a special night.”

The strong play continued to play well into in the third period, when veteran forward Matt Calvert knocked the puck out of the air past Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban to give the Avs the 3-0 lead. After recording his first career goal, Agozzino continued to have a strong performance by tallying an assist on the play for his first career two-point game in the NHL.

With the Avalanche clicking offensively, Semyon Varlamov was strong on the backend to come away with a 40-save performance to secure the 3-0 shutout victory.

“He looks confident, and for me, it looks like he has a little bit of his mobility back in his game,” Bednar said, “He is getting side-to-side, and he is getting square to the shooter before he even has the puck. I just feel like there is a whole new level of intensity that and confidence to his game, and that is what he need.”

After beating them in their own stadium on the road for the first time in three years, the Avalanche will close out their three-game homestand against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, February 20th at 6:30 p.m.

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Former Buffs wide receiver T.J. Cunningham tragically killed in parking lot dispute

College Buffaloes

According to multiple local reports, T.J. Cunningham was shot and killed by his neighbor in a dispute over a parking spot over the weekend. Marcus Johnson, a 31-year-old Denver man, has been identified as the lead suspect.

Cunningham, 46, played wide receiver at the University of Colorado from 1992-95 and he briefly broke into the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Most recently, Cunningham served as the assistant principal at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo.

On Monday, Colorado’s AD Rick George released the following statement on Cunningham’s passing:

“We were deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the death of T.J. Cunningham. He was a good family man and had a strong passion for working with young people as evidenced by serving as an assistant high school principal. He was also a good alum, an active alum, and took great pride in being a Colorado Buffalo. Our hearts go out to T.J.’s family on their tragic loss. We will miss him.”

A GoFundMe has been launched to help support the Cunningham family.

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Opinion: Ian Desmond’s move to center field is setting the Rockies up for failure

Ian Desmond celebrates a score. Credit: Joe Camporeale, USA TODAY Sports.

There are many moves the Colorado Rockies have made or failed to make over the past three years. Signing Ian Desmond has proved to be a lackluster move, with a new position serving to compound the mistake in 2019.

According to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, manager Bud Black has the Rockies new outfield alignment set in his mind

Shifting Desmond to center field, in hopes of mitigating the lack of defense provided by Charlie Blackmon, is using a bandaid to cover a baseball-sized hole in the team’s ship.

Last season, Blackmon accounted for the worst mark in defensive runs saved above average (-28) among all Major League outfielders. That hole was compounded by the rangy outfield of Coors Field, notorious for allowing more hits than other parks, as shown by their league-leading park factor by hits (1.233).

Much of the defensive inefficiency was due to a lack of overall speed from Blackmon, with his jumps and recognition still providing some value.

“What Charlie has done, being able to play center field in Colorado and being able to play as many games as he does, is something that’s not an easy task,” Desmond said in an interview with Tom Harding. “I know I’ve got a handful in front of me.”

Without context, the move makes sense.

Desmond is faster than Blackmon and played center field in 130 respective contests for the Texas Rangers prior to signing with the Rockies. The impact of benching Desmond, who is only entering the third year of a five-year, $70 million contract, a pill that would be hard for Jeff Bridich and company to swallow, is also avoided.

An offseason addition of Daniel Murphy to take over at first adds even more ammunition to the proposed switch.

The problem is Desmond’s bat has proved to be mediocre in his stint with the club and he too has a negative DRS mark (-4) in his limited time in center (-4 in 133 games). Though his mark is a slight upgrade, the Rockies are still facing a hole in their most vital outfield spot.

His defense notwithstanding, Desmond also slashed a mere .236/.307/.422 in 619 plate appearances last year. The lone benefit he brought to the lineup was 20 stolen bases, a mark that was second on the club behind only Trevor Story (27). The mark likely would’ve been higher if Desmond didn’t register the team’s worst on-base percentage among their consistent starters.

Relegating Desmond to a utility infielder, albeit one of the highest-priced ones in history, is a better course of action.

Shifting Blackmon to right field as proposed, along with David Dahl manning left field would increase the team’s success. Raimel Tapia taking over instead of Desmond would further their profits.

Tapia, formerly a signee as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic is deserving of a shot at joining the everyday lineup of Black.

In his 239 appearances with the Rockies, Tapia has flashed brilliance, slashing .274/.315/.480, while swiping eight bags and sending three balls into the bleachers. The young outfielder has even shown the “clutch gene,” whether it’s a fallacy or not:

While his major league experience has been good, not great, Tapia has been a very good minor league player, with his slugging reaching a .495 mark last year despite a lengthy slump.

Tapia offers similar, if not better, speed than Desmond, a bat that reigns supreme over the veteran and the upside to breach his past production.

The other problem with bypassing Tapia for an opportunity is the continuation of a troubling trend with the club. After developing Story, Nolan Arenado and Dahl among others in their farm system, the production for the club’s youngsters has stalled.

Ryan McMahon, Tapia and Jordan Patterson, among others, have all had their production and development stunted with their limited big league time. Despite gaping holes in the outfield and first base in recent years, the Rockies have failed to develop their prospects, instead giving extended opportunities to players like Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra.

Though the aforementioned pair found success in stretches, the Rockies have limited their prospects abilities to take over and give long-term solutions to their problems. The franchise has furthered the problem with their of ability to flip those same prospects for established talents.

Instead of acquiring stars like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer or even Jose Abreu, the club has harbored youngsters, without allowing them to grow. Even deals for Kevin Gausman or Zack Britton failed to come to fruition with the club’s focus on keeping their farm system strong.

Scouring the free agent market would have made sense as well, with impact players like Adam Jones and A.J. Pollock available. Instead, the Rockies chose to do nothing, relying on a sunken cost to carry the load.

Given their reluctance to spend, developing their youth and allowing them a long-term shot at success should be the route. Even if the youngsters make mistakes common with novice major league players, it can’t be worse than Desmond’s ground ball obsession with men on base.

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Nikola Jokic falls in Skills Challenge to eventual winner Jayson Tatum

Team Giannis center Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (15) during NBA All-Star Game practice at the Bojangles Coliseum.

In his second time competing in the Taco Bells Skills Challenge, Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic fell just short of reaching the championship round after a semifinal loss to Boston Celtics rising star, Jayson Tatum.

Jokic opened the contest strong with a round one victory over Orlando Magic center, Nikola Vucevic. After Vucevic missed his three-point attempt, Jokic made his first shot from downtown, which moved him into the semifinals. This is the same point in the challenge where Jokic was eliminated by Kristaps Porzingis two-years ago as the Nuggets big man was looking for a different result in his matchup against Tatum.

It was not in the cards for Jokic though as he lost to Tatum in the semifinals. Jokic jumped out to a fairly substantial lead over Tatum, but the there-point shot is what doomed Jokic in the end. After Jokic missed his first shot from distance, Tatum made his shot count as he drilled it to eliminate the Nuggets big man.

With Tatum defeating Jokic, that put him in the championship round against Atlanta Hawks rookie sensation Trae Young. Tatum pulled off an incredible victory over Young after he made a half-court shot to help seal the victory. Young had the first attempt from three, but Tatum made his one shot count to win, which just so happened to be from half-court.

The Skills Challenge was just the start of what will be an extremely busy weekend for Jokic as he will play in his first career All-Star game tomorrow night. Tip-off for that game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be televised on TNT.

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Colorado Avalanche continue to come up flat at the Pepsi Center

The Colorado Avalanche cannot find any kind of consistency on their home ice this season.

After snapping an eight-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, the Avalanche were unable to keep the momentum going on Saturday. The St. Louis Blues came into the Pepsi Center and left with a 3-0 victory, extending their winning streak to nine games.

The home loss is the sixth in a row for Colorado and extends St. Louis’ lead in the season series to 3-0. The Avalanche will have one final opportunity to defeat the Blues when Colorado travels to St. Louis during the final week of the regular season.

In another addition of the “Division Rival Night”, Saturday’s afternoon contest lived up to a playoff atmosphere. Both teams battled for 60 minutes and heading into the third period, the game was up for grabs as neither team had found the back of the net at that point.

The Blues were ultimately able to break the stalemate with two quick goals in the opening minutes of the third period. Vladimir Tarasenko got things started with a wrist shot that beat Semyon Varlamov high and Zach Sanford followed it up with a tip-in goal shortly after. With time winding down in the game, Jaden Schwartz tallied an empty net goal to cap off the Blues victory.

“It’s tough, but it comes with being a professional hockey player,” Mikko Rantanen said. “You have downsides in your season. It’s 82-games, so it can’t be all good luck and stuff, so we just have to keep working and try to learn from this game”

Despite the final result, Varlamov finished the game with 30 saves and was a major reason the Avs were in the game for the first two periods.

“I thought that he was really good,” Head coach Jared Bednar said, “He came up with a couple of big saves on a few different sequences tonight to keep the game 0-0, as did (Jake) Allen. Both of the goalies were very good.”

Although the Avalanche came into the game with a new sense of confidence, Colorado once again struggled on the power play. The Avs were unable to do much on any of their three power play opportunities and it was a big reason Colorado failed to create any momentum on offense.

“I think that the support that we need from each other is not there,” Rantanen said, “I think that we try to create open shots and we try to just shoot the puck. We have talked about it, and that we need to move the puck quicker but I honestly just don’t think it is right there when it used to be.

“We can’t get outworked on the powerplay,” Rantanen continued.” We have that man advantage, so we have that one extra man everywhere. We have to get over that and work through it.”

The Avalanche will continue the homestand against the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

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