DENVER — K.J. Wright never shied away from rolling up his sleeves. Carving out an 11-year NFL career as a fourth-round draft pick testifies to his commitment. So, it seemed fitting Tuesday morning, he required a few seconds to catch his breath and wipe off his forehead before starting a Zoom interview. He had just finished his workout.
He remains fit, and in his blossoming career in media, he provides keen insight. He spent 15 minutes with Denver7 discussing a wide-range of topics, from the top of this year's draft — he believes Seattle could take Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker with the fifth pick — to facing Sean Payton's offense — "he does a great job of keeping you off balance" — to whether his former teammate Russell Wilson can bounce back in his second season in Denver.
Wright knows Wilson well. They played together for a decade, winning a Super Bowl and contending annually. Wilson made nine Pro Bowls in Seattle. Given what he observed in games and practice, Wright believes Wilson will rebound under Payton.
"I know his makeup. Playing with him all those years, there are not too many people as competitive as Russell Wilson. I know he’s very upset about what he put on film last year. He’s gotta get it right this year. He will get it right. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. And Russell understands that," Wright said.
"He’s a phenomenal quarterback. He’s a phenomenal player, and I know that with Sean Payton, that they gotta go back and say, ‘Russ you are not a pocket quarterback. We are not going to be do a bunch of three-step drops and dicing people up. That's not your style. We are going to use skills that maximize this offense, and that’s running the ball and chucking the ball downfield.'"
Payton boasts a reputation of offensive prowess. His team regularly ranked in the top five of scoring for 15 years. Drew Brees proved critical in making the engine run, but he wasn't a Hall of Famer before Payton coached him. Facing his attacks, Wright sees Denver establishing an identity on the ground.
"He did a great job of keeping you off balance. The run game complemented the pass game really well. Facing Drew Brees, (tight end) Jimmy Graham, (receiver) Marques Colston, there was never one guy you could dial in on," Wright said. "Payton will be creative and explosive. He’s going to have a run game that will open up stuff down field. He is innovative. It won’t be what we saw with Drew Brees. It will be a new offense with Russell Wilson, and I can’t wait to see it.”
The Broncos, even with their dramatic free agent makeover, are not a finished product. They need more talent, additional depth. A chance to boost the roster arrives Friday with the third round of the draft. The Broncos own picks 67 and 68. While landing an impact player will be a challenge, selecting a contributor who develops into a starter in his second or third season remains possible.
Wright lived it. He went in the fourth round from Mississippi State, saying, "I came in upset with a chip on my shoulder because I couldn't believe some of the guys picked ahead of me. I used it as motivation."
"So, they can absolutely find the right guys. It's all about your formula, what are you trying to bring to the team? When I look at holes, there's not many. They did a great job in free agency. They brought in coach Sean Payton," said Wright, who just started his own podcast KJALLDAY, and can be found on social media channels at KJ_Wright34.
"When I look at the Broncos, they are in position to sit and wait. I would go defense and add that piece to the puzzle."
But will it be enough? The Broncos went 5-12 last season, arguably the worst in franchise history given the expectations. They are 6-18 in their last 24 AFC West games. The Broncos must improve in conference and in division to regain relevancy.
"It's going to be really hard. I say a wild-card spot. They will be right around that seventh and eighth spot all year," Wright said. "It's always hard beating the Chiefs and (coach) Andy Reid, and the Chargers have a really good team. The Broncos, though, they have some guys. A good head coach. Russ is a on a mission to come back. I do believe they are going to sneak a playoff spot."