After an 0-4 start in which the Denver Broncos lost several heartbreakers, the beginnings of hope had begun to creep back to the Mile High City. Back-to-back victories over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Tennessee Titans had the Broncos in position to contend for a playoff spot in a weak AFC if they could pull off a third consecutive win at home against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.
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Then, in a 10-6 game, Patrick Mahomes went down with a knee injury, and it quickly became clear that injury would sideline him for at least the remainder of the game. It’s not something that any football fan wants to see—Mahomes is the biggest breath of fresh air that the league has to offer—but it gave the Broncos a golden opportunity to steal an important divisional game against a superior team.
The Broncos proceeded to lose that important game, 30 to 6.
Joe Flacco was utterly helpless against the Kansas City pass-rush, and at 2-5, it is now apparent that the Broncos aren’t going to contend for anything except a top-10 pick in this year’s draft. That makes several valuable veteran players—namely Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris Jr.—sensible options to offload for a Denver team that is an all likelihood heading towards a rebuild behind Missouri product, Drew Lock. There won’t be a shortage of contending teams calling for players of their caliber, and these are several of the potential suitors that make the most sense.
Why should other teams be interested?
Coming into the season, Harris Jr. had the highest coverage grade of any cornerback to see 250 or more targets since the PFF era began in 2006. For an undrafted cornerback out of Kansas, that’s not too shabby. He has made a name for himself in the slot, playing over half of his snaps in there prior to 2019. This year, however, that has been flipped on its head. Harris has played 379 of his 442 defensive snaps wide this season, easily the highest rate of his career.
Playing out wide hasn’t slowed Harris, though. He may have been beaten by Tyreek Hill for a 57-yard touchdown last night, but he is still very much a cornerback worth investing in, and he is on his way to another productive season. Among the 96 cornerbacks with 150 or more defensive snaps this season, Harris ranks 20th in overall grade, at 73.0, and his 11 coverage snaps per target rank sixth among cornerbacks with 100 or more coverage snaps. He commands respect from opposing quarterbacks, and simply put, he is one of the top players at one of the most important players in today’s NFL.
Which teams make sense?
Anyone who watched Kirk Cousins carve up the Eagles secondary last week can tell you that secondary help isn’t going to be turned away in Philadelphia. The Eagles have shown the ability to make plays at the catch point and break up passes on the back end, but they’ve also been beaten repeatedly for big plays. Through the first six weeks of the season, they have allowed 1,214 receiving yards to opposing wide receivers (the second-highest total in the NFL) and 11 receiving touchdowns, more than any other team. Whether in the slot or out wide, Harris would immediately add an injection of much-needed secondary talent to a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
The Vikings already have a good defense, posting the seventh–best EPA allowed per play in the NFL through the first six weeks, but their weakness on that side of the ball is pretty clearly at cornerback. Trae Waynes has never quite lived up to his first-round draft position, particularly in coverage, where his career-high grade on significant snaps came in at 64.6 last season. Meanwhile, Xavier Rhodes has quietly been among the worst cornerbacks in the league over the past year or so. Since the start of 2018, his coverage grade of 54.1 ranks seventh-worst among 68 cornerbacks with 500-plus coverage snaps in that span. The addition of Harris could be the tipping point that takes the Vikings from a good to a great defense as they push for the playoffs.
Harris is certainly no stranger to Kansas City. Over his career, he has amassed a 90.2 coverage grade on 619 coverage snaps against the Chiefs, allowing a passer rating of just 78.4 on throws into his coverage. A Chiefs defense that has been trotting out Bashaud Breeland and his 42.5 coverage grade for significant snaps this season would be happy to have that player on their side of the matchup going forward. It doesn’t seem like trading Harris within the division would be at the top of the Broncos’ list, but from a football sense, it makes sense for the Chiefs. That holds especially true with the extra pressure that will be put on their defense should Mahomes miss significant time.
Why should other teams be interested?
Sanders has picked up a receiving grade of 80.0 or higher in five of the last six seasons, consistently serving as a legitimate No. 1 receiving option on a passing offense that has been stagnant since Peyton Manning’s brilliant stretch to open his stint with the Broncos. That includes this season (80.3 receiving grade) despite coming off an Achilles injury. His production has been down a little bit due to the situation he’s in, but Sanders is very capable of being a game-changer as a member of a contending team’s passing attack. Those guys hold plenty of value in today’s NFL.
Which teams make sense?
It’s looking like Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard and the recently inked Ryan Grant could be the top wide receivers for the Packers heading into next week, with Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison all dealing with injuries. None of the injuries to their top three options at wide receiver appear to be overly serious, but they could still use a top-level option to compliment Adams once he returns from his turf toe injury. Adams leads the team with 2.57 receiving yards per route run. Their next closest receiver in that metric is Valdes-Scantling, at 1.37 (56th among 90 wide receivers with 100 or more routes). Sanders would give Aaron Rodgers another proven veteran receiver to potentially take their passing game to another level.
It wasn’t so long ago that the collective NFL world was losing their mind over a core group of three wide receivers in Foxboro: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown. That lasted all of a week before Brown promptly escorted himself out of the league. Gordon, Edelman and Phillip Dorsett are all dealing with injuries at the moment, and the Patriots' passing attack has looked significantly more “mortal” of late. The rookie Jakobi Meyers has done well with his chances, catching four passes for a career-high 54 receiving yards last week against the New York Giants, but they could still use a player like Sanders to round out their weapons at receiver for Tom Brady. Since the start of last season, Brady is fourth in yards per attempt when targeting players in the slot, at in-line tight end or out of the backfield (8.5). That drops to 7.8 yards per attempt when throwing out wide (20th in the NFL). The potential addition of Emmanuel Sanders would only help bring that number up.
The Raiders might come as a surprise on this list. They aren’t necessarily considered real contenders to push for the playoffs despite sitting above .500 at 3-2. They are also in the Broncos' division, something that always sticks out as a red flag when discussing trade scenarios. That being said, they do make some sense as a destination for Sanders. They aren’t simply going to roll over in an AFC that is wide open for the most part, and they have a definite need at wide receiver. The Antonio Brown risk did not pay off in the slightest, and their other key acquisition at wide receiver – Tyrell Williams – has been held out of practice with a plantar fascia injury that could potentially hold him out of play for an extended stretch. Despite that, Derek Carr has quietly put together his best season since his career year in 2016, holding the seventh-highest grade among qualifying quarterbacks (78.1) through six weeks. Sanders would give him a true No. 1 receiver to help maintain that momentum.