‘Sky’s the Limit’ for Broncos’ Virgil Green


The tight end position saw a little bit of an overhaul for the Broncos this offseason.

The Broncos let two-time Pro Bowler Julius Thomas go to Jacksonville.

They responded swiftly, adding a two-time Pro Bowler of their own in Owen Daniels and Dixie State product Joe Don Duncan, who’s expected to play some fullback/H-back as well.

Speaking of H-backs, the Broncos signed James Casey a month later.

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But perhaps most importantly, the Broncos were able to re-sign four-year tight end Virgil Green to a three-year, $8.4 million contract.

Looking at what Green’s done in his four years in Denver may make this move seem insignificant. However, it appears that bigger things are on the horizon for the 2011 7th round pick.

Green’s had a pretty weird career arc to this point. He was the second of two tight ends the Broncos drafted in 2011, along with Thomas.

In his rookie year, he earned enough for the coaches’ trust to be used on 222 snaps, 148 of those used to run block, according to Pro Football Reference. And since this was the year of the famous Tebow option offense, Green only saw five passes thrown his way.

In 2012, the Broncos brought in more reinforcements at tight end. With new quarterback Peyton Manning signing in Denver, his old buddy from his Colts days, Jacob Tamme, followed him. The Broncos also signed former Colorado State Ram Joel Dreessen. Green saw just 179 snaps and six targets in 2012, while Tamme and Dreessen were targeted a combined 143 times.

In his third year as a pro, Green saw a boost in his playing time. However, draftmate Julius Thomas finally broke out, keeping Green from doing so himself. While Green played a career high 323 snaps – again, an overwhelming amount as a run blocker (because he’s been damn good at it) – Thomas was the one seeing all the targets, and deservedly so.

It was more of the same last year, though Green was able to get catch the first touchdown of his career on just six targets (albeit in garbage time in week 17 against the Raiders).

Oh, and for some reason he saw two carries in 2014 as well. On a no-so-random note, that coaching staff is no longer in Denver.

Now Julius Thomas is gone and Green is in a new offensive system in which his new coach loves tight ends. While he shares the top spot with Daniels, fans should look for Green to be more productive in the passing game as the season and his career progresses.

Even Daniels expressed how happy he was to watch Green in live action against the Seahawks for the first time as his teammate.

"“It was fun to see Virg go out there and play fast and have fun and get opportunities to make plays. He’s an athletic guy, he’s gotten a ton better even from OTA’s until now. He’s continuing to improve. Sky’s the limit on the type of player he can be.”"

Daniels continued, “I’m here to help him. He’s a heck of a player and he’ll make plays as you guys can see.”

For those who don’t realize how athletic Virgil Green is – and there shouldn’t be any shame in that considering he’s been used almost exclusively as a blocker each of his four years – according to Mock Draftable, Green’s combine measurements on his broad and vertical jumps are in the 98th and 99th percentiles, respectively, of the combine tight ends since 1999. This means only 2% and 1% of the combine tight ends have gotten a better measurement in these respective areas.

In addition, he’s in the 94th percentile in speed as well. If Green’s called upon to run a pattern, he has the athleticism to get enough separation and go up and make tough catches.

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Virgil Green (right) is pursued by San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Some fun facts about Virgil Green’s six targets from last year:

  •             All six were converted into catches.
  •             Five of the six either went for a first down or a touchdown.
  •             Except the one-yard touchdown, all of them went for at least a seven-yard gain.

Along with Daniels, expect Green to be used as a safety valve in the passing game when the Broncos need a first down. While it’s a small sample size, Green’s showed he has secure hands (two drops in his career, according to PFF) and has ability to run after the catch.

Even if Green turns out to be this top tier receiving tight end at some point in his career, it’s more than reasonable that he was given so much responsibility as a blocker. Per PFF, Green’s attained a positive run block grade each of the last three years. He topped out at 5.5 last year, fourth in the league among all tight ends.

And for what it’s worth, Green graded out overall at 5.7, the 11th best tight end and two spots ahead of Julius Thomas on over 300 less snaps.

The Broncos’ Pro Bowl tight end is gone, but they have enough talent to at least get the job done in Gary Kubiak’s offense. Virgil Green will be an important part of that this year and for years to come.

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