As the Denver Broncos prepare for the 2021 campaign, the state of their roster demands younger players take that next step in their development. With one of the youngest overall rosters in the league, the Broncos must rely upon the wealth of veteran experience on the coaching staff to facilitate this step. After filling holes through free agency and the draft, the heart of the team is mostly in place. Resultant of this, players like Dre’Mont Jones, K.J. Hamler, and Noah Fant are serious Denver Broncos breakout candidates for the 2021 season. These three players, however, have to take the present opportunity to advance more than just one step in their development.
2021 Denver Broncos Breakout Candidates
The Denver Broncos selected Noah Fant 20th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Since then, Fant has played in 31 of 32 possible games, starting 25 of them. In his two seasons with Denver, the University of Iowa alumnus accrued 102 receptions for 1,235 yards and six touchdowns. While steadily improving his catch percentage in 2020, Fant still has some work to do in order to reach the productivity levels of even former Denver tight end, Julius Thomas.
When healthy, Fant appeared to be one of Drew Lock’s favorite targets in 2020, especially with Courtland Sutton on injured reserve. If, as the odds suggest, Lock remains the starting quarterback, the chemistry between these two will become paramount.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will be responsible for creating mismatches in coverage by utilizing Fant’s versatility and athleticism to his advantage. With the speed and skill of the receivers on the roster, Fant likely won’t command too much of a focus in coverage. If Fant can continue to improve as he has through his first two seasons, not only could 2021 be a breakout year for Fant, but the Broncos offense as a whole.
It is true, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy will likely receive the considerable majority of targets if healthy. It is also true the receivers behind these two on the depth chart—namely K.J. Hamler and Tim Patrick—will compete with one another for the remaining targets. With Noah Fant and presumably running backs from the backfield receiving a share of the targets as well, there is not much to go around. Nonetheless, K.J. Hamler is in a prime position for a breakout year in 2021.
In 2020, Hamler played his rookie year at around 170 pounds. At a mere 5’9”, that frame may have been sustainable at the collegiate level. It certainly is not at the professional level, however. As such, Hamler reportedly bulked up to over 180 pounds for the upcoming season. He contends he feels both stronger and faster. As he joined the team already one of the fastest players on the roster (if not the fastest), an increase in his speed could yield serious dividends for the receiver.
With a more competitive frame and the mentality of feeling stronger and faster, Hamler could very easily overtake even Tim Patrick on targets. Hamler is a far more explosive receiver who can line up in the slot, allowing Sutton and Jeudy to feast on the outside. If Hamler is truly one of 2021’s Denver Broncos breakout candidates, the entire passing offense will need to take that next step. Should the offense take said step, Hamler should be able to take countless other developmental steps of his own.
Perhaps the most exciting possibility, Dre’Mont Jones steps into a starting role for the first time as a professional. Jones appears on this list of Denver Broncos breakout candidates because he has learned behind some of the league’s best edge defenders for his entire career. With only nine starts under his belt (eight of which came in 2020), this is the best chance yet for Jones to begin the next chapter of his career as a starter.
Since the Broncos drafted Jones 71st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, Jones’s production has been limited largely due to his position on the depth chart. He has accrued 55 tackles, 10 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 17 hits on the quarterback, 22 pressures, four pass deflections, and even an interception. With prominent defenders in the front seven returning from injury for the 2021 season, Jones should rarely face double-team blocks on his way to the quarterback. His 6.5 sacks in 2020 suggest he can thrive as a pass rusher, meaning these one-on-one opportunities would bolster his production.
Projections depict six of seven starters in the defensive front will return as starters in 2021. Jones is the lone exception. While he did start eight games in 2020, his starts came in relief of players with injuries, most notably Jurrell Casey. If Jones can prorate the production of his eight starts last year into the full 17-game season, Jones could establish a foothold in the Denver defense’s future. Jones has the best chance of anyone on the defense to have a true breakout season, especially working with Denver’s experienced coaches for the defensive front.
After five years of mediocrity, the Broncos need to change their fortune. The 2021 team is the most complete roster Denver has had since the Peyton Manning era, setting the stage for countless breakout years. If players like Dre’Mont Jones, K.J. Hamler, and Noah Fant can transition from Denver Broncos breakout candidates to true breakout stars this year, the sky is the limit for the boys in orange and blue.
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