Broncos Country is in great spirits and has its sights set on a return to the playoffs in the upcoming 2020 season. Of course, there is reason to be excited, but fans may want to curtail their excitement, just a bit.
Optimism and Concern for the Denver Broncos 2020 Season
Reasons for Optimism
Finally Have a Quarterback
Super Bowl aspirations and even playoff hopes begin and end with a quarterback. Sadly for the Broncos, they have not had a reliable one since Peyton Manning’s retirement in 2015. Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, and Joe Flacco could not fill the void of “The Sheriff.” Enter Drew Lock.
Lock started just five games in his rookie season, but the Broncos were an impressive 4-1 in those five games. He showed flashes of brilliance with his arm talent, poise in the pocket and ability to galvanize and lead his teammates. He threw seven touchdowns, to just three interceptions. Perhaps most importantly, the offensive line play improved tremendously under Lock. He was sacked only five times, averaging only one a game. For comparison, Flacco started eight games and was sacked 26 times. Lock was able to make quick decisions and get the ball out.
Colin Cowherd has made Drew Lock front-page news. He thinks he is a dark horse candidate for MVP. Now, that may be ambitious, but with his arm talent, poise, confidence, and weapons around him, don’t count him out.
Offensive Skill Positions
Drew Lock is in an excellent position to succeed. The Broncos have built an offense tailor-made for him. Every skill position is filled with talent and explosiveness.
Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon, two Pro Bowl running backs, will be sharing the backfield with Lock. They can both play all three downs, can run between and outside the tackles, and most importantly, can make big plays in the pass-game.
Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler make up one of the best young receiving corps in the NFL. Sutton cemented himself as one of the premier big catch wide-receivers last year and was Lock’s favorite target. The Broncos used this year’s draft to help Sutton. They drafted (stole) Jeudy in the first round and drafted Hamler in the second round. Jeudy, one of the best route runners to come out of college in years, and Hamler, who was arguably the fastest player in the draft, will both help stretch the field and produce big plays in the Broncos offense.
Lastly, Noah Fant, who was quickly labeled a bust, ended up having a very good rookie season. It usually takes a couple of years for young tight ends to emerge in the NFL, so expect a jump for Fant this year. He possesses rare speed for a tight end and will add to an already explosive Broncos offense.
Return of the Defense
The last time the Broncos won a Super Bowl, it was because of their defense. They may not be as good of a defense as they were in 2015, but they are not far off. Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, Dre’Mont Jones, McTelvin Agim, and most importantly, new addition, Jurrell Casey, make up a ferocious defensive line with good depth as well. Harris, Purcell, and Casey will start, but expect significant snaps from Jones and Agim, two young guys ready to make a name for themselves.
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the edge are ready to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Assuming they both stay healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising if as a duo, they lead the league in sacks.
The inside linebackers may be a cause for concern as there is no star player featured, yet. Alexander Johnson will start and if last year was any indication, he may quickly become a household name. The second starter will likely be Todd Davis but expect Justin Strnad, Justin Hollins, and Josey Jewell to all get a chance to prove themselves to start as well.
The No-Fly Zone in the secondary may be making a return. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson make up arguably the best starting safety group in the NFL. The cornerback group still has a lot to prove. The addition of A.J. Bouye and the hopeful health of Bryce Callahan will help lighten the loss of Chris Harris Jr. Bouye will start on the outside and Callahan will start in the nickel. The second outside cornerback position will be a competition between Michael Ojemudia, De’Vante Bausby, and Isaac Yiadom. This secondary is full of playmakers who can make life difficult for opposing receivers.
Why Should Broncos Fans be Concerned
I know Drew Lock was pointed out as a reason for excitement. So, why is he here? Well, he is a young second-year quarterback so success is far from a guarantee. Teams now have five games of tape on Lock and will not be caught off guard. Lock is on every team’s radar now.
Second-year quarterbacks typically make a positive jump in year two, but this off-season has been far from the norm due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Lock has been working out with his receivers, but it has not been in a traditional setting with coaches. Hopefully once training camp begins, he can make up for lost time. With Pat Shurmur running the offense, Lock is learning a new system, and lot may have to be learned on the fly.
Shurmur has had tremendous success with quarterbacks. Most recently, Daniel Jones had a very impressive rookie campaign under Shurmur, and Case Keenum had his best (and maybe only good) year under Shurmur. However, Lock will have to learn a lot quickly and there may be a steep learning curve, so Broncos Country should not expect a Patrick Mahomes type jump in year-two.
The Broncos have shored up the interior of their offensive line with the addition of Graham Glasgow and drafting Lloyd Cushenberry III. Dalton Risner, who was the Broncos’ most consistent player on the offensive line last year, and Glasgow will start at left and right guard respectively, and Cushenberry will be a day one rookie starter at center.
Things get murkier at the tackle positions. At right tackle, Ja’Wuan James returns. He was injured most of last season and was not overly impressive when he did play. At left tackle, Garett Bolles has been less than stellar in his first three years. Bronco fans have the saying “Holding, offense, #72” cemented in their heads from hearing it 20 times in his short career as a Bronco. However, Bolles did not give up a single sack in Lock’s five starts last year and he may have found his stride. Offensive line guru, Mike Munchak, may have finally gotten Bolles over the hump. Still, James and Bolles do not give Bronco fans much optimism. The Broncos still may bring in a veteran tackle to battle for a starting spot on the offensive line, so this “concern” for Bronco fans may not last for much longer.
Overall, Broncos fans have more reason to be excited than in year’s past. Any time a team has a potential star quarterback, the sky is the limit. With the NFL playoffs expanding to 14 teams this year, the Broncos’ chances of returning to the playoffs are good. With a tough schedule ahead though, nothing will be easy. Expect a grueling, but exciting season ahead.