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Broncos load up in offseason to try to keep up with AFC West Arm's Race

Hackett: “This game is about how the quarterback plays and how you affect the quarterback. The end."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Never in the history of the NFL has there been an offseason where an entire division made so many quarterback-centric moves.

The San Francisco 49ers can be all about its running game. Baltimore can build its foundation around its running quarterback and defense. The New England Patriots can be a solid, three-phase team and master of only Belichick.

The AFC West is all about the Arms Race. Patrick Mahomes II, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr.

"It is, it’s kind of crazy," Broncos general manager George Paton said in his sit-down interview with 9NEWS following the draft Saturday evening. "It’s fun. We embrace it. We think it’s the best division in football. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be fun."

The Raiders’ big moves were adding receiver Davante Adams and pass rusher Chandler Jones.

The Chargers’ major additions were adding cornerback J.C. Jackson and pass rusher Khalil Mack.

The Chiefs lost star receiver Tyreek Hill but compensated by adding receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency, then spent their first three draft picks on cornerback Trent McDuffie, pass rusher George Karlaftis and another receiver, Skyy Moore.

All were impact players at positions that directly impact the quarterback.

"That’s how it is. I mean that’s the game," Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said Saturday in his sit-down interview with 9NEWS. "You want to be able to affect the quarterback as much as you possibly can.

"It’s a talented division and I’m very excited to be part of it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s going to be a lot of really, good games. I mean, all the guys are fired up and in the end, it’s about your division. You’ve got to win the division to get to the playoffs and that’s what we want to do."

The Broncos were even more direct with their offseason moves, acquiring the quarterback Wilson in a blockbuster trade, adding pass rusher Randy Gregory as their biggest purchase in free agency and another pass rusher in Nik Bonitto with their first pick in the draft.

Credit: AP
Oklahoma outside linebacker Nik Bonitto participates in a drill at an NCAA college football pro day, Wednesday, March 9, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

That great Denver Defense of 2015 had two waves of four pass-rushers – Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray. The remodeled 2022 Denver D has three waves of six pass rushers – Bradley Chubb and Gregory; Bonitto and Malik Reed; Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning. Look for NASCAR packages of three edge rushers to be part of Ejiro Evero’s defensive game plan. And look for a constant rotation of pass rushers in and out to keep their motors revved and legs fresh.

"In the end, this game is about how the quarterback plays and how you affect the quarterback," Hackett said. "The end. If you can affect the quarterback you’re going to have a good day on defense. So I think for us to have as many people that can get to the quarterback is going to be critical. We want to get a lot of sacks."

RELATED: Broncos take CB Mathis, DT Uwazurike, returner Washington to highlight final draft day

The best attribute Hackett has as a first-year head coach? He’s 0-0 vs. Chiefs. Undefeated.

It’s the team he now leads that has all that bad baggage behind him with 13 losses in a row. The Chiefs’ average margin of victory during their 13-game win streak against the Broncos is 12.3 points – an average score of 28.7 to 16.4.

The Bronco's skid against the Chiefs has been so long, that it goes back to the team’s second meeting of 2015. That was when it became clear to all that the great quarterback Peyton Manning was pretty much washed up. Manning set the NFL’s all-time passing yardage record that day but the accomplishment was marred by the worst single-game performance of his illustrious career – 5 of 20 for 35 yards with 4 interceptions. He was pulled midway through the third quarter.

Being the warrior he is, Manning returned two months later to rally the Broncos to a second-half comeback victory against the Chargers in the season finale, then played well in two postseason wins before Von Miller bailed him out to win Super Bowl 50.

But beneath the Lombardi Trophy, the skid against the Chiefs was simmering. Alex Smith was the Chiefs’ quarterback during the first four games of the streak and the incomparable Mahomes has won the last 9. Oh, and before getting too giddy about the Broncos’ draft picks over the weekend, keep in mind the Chiefs made four selections before Denver made its first.

The rich get richer.

Still, the Broncos now have Russell Wilson. They have six-count ‘em six–pass rushers. And they have two of the NFL’s best secondary players in cornerback Pat Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons. Are the Broncos finally ready to beat the Chiefs?

>>Video below: George Paton and Nathaniel Hackett react to Broncos draft

RELATED: A look at Broncos' 13 undrafted rookies

"I think we’re ready to match up against anybody we’ve got to face," Hackett said. "We’ve got a long way to go, like I said. It’s going to be a long ways, we’ve got training camp, we’ve got a lot of things to learn and to grasp and understand. But I think once we get that we’ll be very competitive. It’s the best division in football. And I think we all embrace it, we all love it and we’re going to do everything we can to win every game."

Want to beat the Chiefs? The Broncos will have to go from scoring 16.4 points a game to having the capability of scoring 30. That’s a big leap even with Russell Wilson.

"It’s about having one more point than the opponent," Hackett said. "It’s just about winning the football game any way you possibly can. It is about the three phases. But we’re always going to have that mentality that we want to score a lot of points. As many points as we can. That’s just our mentality. That’s Russ’ mentality, my mentality, the whole offense’s mentality. But it is about complementary football. We’ve got to do what’s right for the entire team."

True all that. But to simplify, there’s this: The Chiefs have won six consecutive AFC West titles; the Broncos have missed the playoffs six consecutive years.

"We have a long way to go," Paton said. "I always say that. It starts Monday. It’s a long process. I feel good about this football team. I know we’ll be competitive and we’ll be better than we were last year and hopefully take that next step: The playoffs. Being competitive in our division. We haven’t been good enough in our division. We haven’t been good enough at home and hopefully we’ll take that next step."

"Listen, in the end, it’s about getting after it every week," Hackett said. "It’s one week at a time and getting to the playoffs. You get to the playoffs you’ve got a chance to be able to move forward and that’s what we’re going to be focused on."

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos new starting quarterback Russell Wilson, center, is flanked by head coach Nathaniel Hackett, right, and general manager George Paton during a news conference Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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