2020 NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
The Broncos started the season with a 3-8 record with Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen under center. After handing QB duties to rookie Drew Lock, they closed out the regular season by winning four of the final five games.
The team from Mile High City compiled a 59-21 record from 2012 to 2016. Since then, they have gone through three straight losing seasons.
Head coach Vic Fangio hopes to right the ship in his second year as the Broncos’ head coach.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Broncos fans have reasons to be optimistic. They might have found their franchise quarterback.
Drew Lock started the last five games of the regular season and he helped the team post a 4-1 record in that time frame.
Prior to the 2019 draft, he was viewed as an erratic QB since his play at Missouri was marred with turnovers. His arm strength was never questioned, but his accuracy was a source of concern.
In his five starts, he threw 7 TD passes versus 3 picks. He averaged 204 passing yards per game.
He also displayed an ability to run. He said in an interview that his main focus during the offseason will be to improve his speed. He wants to be more agile to avoid the pressure and run when holes open up in front of him.
Joe Flacco is off the team and the team signed Jeff Driskel who started three games for the Lions last year. The former 6th-round pick did some damage with his legs, but didn’t do well in the air. Driskel is currently the favorite to win the backup job behind Lock.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
The Melvin Gordon signing was a bit of a head-scratcher considering Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman had done a very fine job in the backfield.
Gordon had a pretty bad 2019 season. His PFF grade was 66.0, which made him the #41 back out of 58 guys.
When you look at the numbers, he was effective in only one season out of five. He averaged 5.1 yards per rush in 2018 versus only 3.8 last year, 3.9 both in 2017 and 2016 and a meager 3.5 in his rookie season. He kept racking up touchdowns with the Chargers, which is why many people probably overrate him.
As a comparison, Phillip Lindsay averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season, down from a whopping 5.4 the year before. In both cases, he topped the 1,000 rushing yard mark. He has scored 16 rushing touchdowns over those two seasons. If I were him, I’d be very upset over the Gordon signing.
Royce Freeman accumulated close to 500 rushing yards while also catching 43 balls last year. However, his role clearly diminished as the season went on. During the first half of the season, he had 10 carries or more in seven of eight games. After that, he never received more than 9 carries in any of the remaining eight matchups!
The signing of Melvin Gordon clearly relegates Freeman to the number three role. From a depth perspective, that’s a good spot to be in for the Broncos.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
Outside of Courtland Sutton, the team was very thin at the position. Emmanuel Sanders was traded to San Francisco last year. DaeSean Hamilton didn’t do much for the second straight season. The 2018 fourth-round pick may be running out of time.
The team also gave a chance to Tim Patrick. He caught 16 passes over eight games. He is 26 years old and has yet to have an impact in the NFL, so he’s on a short leash too.
At least the team found its go-to guy. Courtland Sutton burst onto the scene with a spectacular season. He caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and 6 TDs. Keep in mind he still had a satisfying rookie season with 704 receiving yards.
He seems to be the real deal, not only from a numbers’ perspective but also from game film. He dominated some corners and brought an impressive physicality. He also forced several pass interference penalties.
In order to boost the position, the team selected a couple of wideouts with their first two draft picks last April. Smart move. You need to give your young QB some help!
With the 15th overall selection, the Broncos grabbed Jerry Jeudy out of Alabama. He was the best route runner of the draft; he is a technician and he tracks the ball very well.
Jeudy faced tough competition in the SEC and yet he posted 68-1315-14 and 77-1163-10 receiving lines in his last two years with the Crimson Tide. He may need to get stronger to become a dominant receiver in the NFL, but otherwise he doesn’t have many flaws in his game.
In the mid-second round, Denver picked K.J. Hamler from the Nittany Lions. He is a game breaker that makes you hold your breath every time he catches the ball because he can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. I love the pick, not only for his potential, but also because he complements perfectly Sutton-Jeudy as a very shifty weapon in the slot. The big knock on him has been the high number of drops.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
Noah Fant was picked as the #20 overall selection in the 2019 draft. Did he have a good rookie season? The answer isn’t a clear “yes” or “no.”
A 40-562-3 stat line for a rookie TE is fairly good. It’s his inconsistency that worries the team. He showed an ability to make big plays, but the coaches would like him to be more effective in the short and intermediate field to help its young QB.
For your information, Fant graded as the number 58 tight end out of 66 qualifiers by PFF. Who finished in 65th place? Nick Vannett, whom the team acquired in free agency.
Vannett’s lone season with the Steelers wasn’t a success, albeit having Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges are your QB doesn’t help. Still, Vannett’s best season came with the Seahawks in 2018 when he caught 29 passes for 269 yards and 3 TDs.
He will back up Fant, along with Jeff Heuerman. He provides a very slight improvement at the position.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
Center Connor McGovern signed with the Jets. Denver filled the void by acquiring Graham Glasgow, who played four very decent seasons with the Lions.
The Broncos decided to let go guard Ronald Leary. He made 12 mediocre starts with the Broncos last year. His play has been declining in each of its past three seasons, according to PFF grades. Now 31 years old, the Broncos decided to move on from him.
The team has three guys returning: Garett Bolles (18th out of 81 tackles), Dalton Risner (29th out of 81 guards) and Elijah Wilkinson (59th out of 81 tackles). The performance of the rookie Risner was particularly encouraging.
Third-round pick Lloyd Cushenberry has a good shot to start right away in the NFL. He was a two-year starting center for the LSU Tigers, so it’s unclear whether he or Glasgow will be at the pivot (the other one is likely to play right guard). He has a great attitude and was a team captain. His size and athleticism are good, so he’s likely to have a nice pro career.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
Melvin Gordon was a sexy acquisition, but I don’t believe the hype. He’s not as good as what most people think. Also, the RB position did well last year with the Lindsay-Freeman duo; will it really improve in 2020?
Adding TE Nick Vannett doesn’t have much of an impact. On the offensive line, replacing McGovern and Leary with Glasgow and rookie Cushenberry seems like a wash.
The team benefited from having Emmanuel Sanders for seven games; he left a huge hole at the WR #2 position. However, the team added a couple of promising rookies: Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. I like those acquisitions, but let’s temper expectations; they might need some time to adjust to NFL speed.
There is also a potential progression from Drew Lock. And perhaps Noah Fant too!
The Broncos offense scored the 5th lowest points last season. I believe the organization took big steps in order to improve this group, but the results may not be great right away.
Many core players are extremely young, which bodes well for the future. I was torn between a “small” or “moderate” upgrade from 2019 to 2020; I wish I could go in-between. I predict they’ll go from 28th place in points scored last year to the 14th-19th range this season.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
Shelby Harris is an interesting story of perseverance. He was selected in the 7th round of the 2014 draft. He did not play more than 7 games in any of his first three years in the NFL. During that time, he was waived several times.
Then, the Broncos took a chance with him in 2017. In the season opener on Monday Night Football, he saved the game by blocking a 44-yard field goal with one second left to give Denver a 24-21 win over the Chargers. Harris ended up playing all 16 games while racking up 5.5 sacks.
He never looked back and also played 16 games in 2018 and 2019. Last year he notched six sacks, a career-high. He ranked as the 17th-best DL in the NFL out of 114 players.
He tested free agency, but once again few people believed in him so he re-signed with Denver for $2.5 million. How can you not root for this guy?
Mike Purcell is another unbelievable story. He has joined seven NFL teams in his career. Heck, he even joined the Salt Lake Stallions from the Alliance of American Football. Last year, he obtained the highest grade for defending the run as a DL with a 91.0 mark, just a bit above Aaron Donald and Cameron Heyward. Unreal!
Derek Wolfe has been a very decent player on the interior of Denver’s defensive line for eight seasons. He topped his season-best by generating 7 sacks last year. Unfortunately, he left for Baltimore.
This position won’t take a dip, though, considering the Broncos acquired Jurrell Casey from the Titans. He’s been one of the best run-stuffers for a long time in this league. At 31 years old, he probably has some gas left in the tank. He has also posted at least 5 sacks in 7 straight years!
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Von Miller battled through a sprained MCL and finished the season with “just” 8 sacks, which was his second-lowest output in nine years. He has averaged a whopping 11.8 sacks per season since joining the NFL. He is a beast.
Bradley Chubb produced 12 sacks in his rookie before playing just four games last year because of a torn ACL. The former #5 overall pick out of NC State should be back to full health and will make Denver a force in terms of pass rush.
Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu should provide some depth. Neither is a game-breaker.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
Are the Broncos collecting guys with an uncharacteristic journey or what?
A.J. Johnson joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent after playing his college ball with the Tennessee Volunteers. He was accused of rape in 2014 and was acquitted in 2018.
He played just one game in 2018. Last year, he got involved in 15 games and ended up as the #4 rated linebacker by PFF! He was awesome against the run with a 91.4 grade.
Todd Davis led the team in tackles (by far) with 134 of them. He’s not good as a rusher, but does a good job both in coverage and defending the run.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Losing their top corner to a division rival hurts. Indeed, Chris Harris signed with the Chargers. He’s on the wrong side of 30, but he was still a good cover man.
In order to compensate the loss of Harris, the team signed A.J. Bouye who has shared time with the Texans and the Jaguars in his career.
His play deteriorated big time last year. After obtaining grades of 87.4, 84.5 and 75.7 from 2016 to 2018, he was marked 58.4 last year. Ouch! Was it the effect of age (though he’s 29)? Will he rebound? It’s a tough question to answer.
Outside of Bouye, who will step up? Both Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris received poor grades from PFF and finished among the worst cornerbacks. Yiadom has the most upside as a 2018 third-round pick (as opposed to Harris who was taken two rounds later).
Or perhaps Duke Dawson, whom the Patriots picked in the second round of that same draft, but eventually traded along with a 7th-round pick in return for a sixth-rounder? Based on that trade, the Pats weren’t very high on him anymore…
One potential answer is Bryce Callahan. The Broncos signed him to a lucrative contract last year, but he failed to play a single down following a foot injury. The undrafted 28-year old had received very high PFF marks both in 2017 and 2018 with the Bears. GM John Elway said he may not be ready for training camp, though.
This position clearly needed an upgrade, so the Broncos took Michael Ojemudia in the 3rd round in this year’s draft. He has good size and speed, but lacks instincts and physicality. That’s why many experts view him as a NFL backup.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Justin Simmons was an All-Pro safety in 2019; PFF rated him as the second-best at his position in the NFL with a 90.8 grade. The year before, he obtained a 60.9 mark so his performance last season was a surprise. Which player are we going to see in 2020?
Kareem Jackson also enjoyed a great season by finishing as the number seven safety in the league according to PFF (out of 87 qualifiers). He turned 32, so the team hopes he still has some gas left in the tank.
The team lost Will Parks, who played close to 50% of the snaps by splitting time in the slot and at free safety. He has not been very effective, so his loss won’t hurt the Broncos too much.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
Let’s compare the 2019 roster with this year’s expected lineup.
On the interior of the line, we observe a small upgrade (replacing Derek Wolfe with Jurrell Casey). The edge rushers get a huge boost with the return of Bradley Chubb who managed to play just four games last year, and Von Miller being nicked up most of the 2019 season.
A downgrade is expected at the remaining three positions. First, the linebacking corps does not change, but A.J. Johnson is unlikely to perform at the same level as 2019 where he finished as the fourth-best at his position.
At cornerback, replacing Chris Harris with A.J. Bouye is an uncertain move. The #2 CB position is also a pretty big source of concern.
At safety, the Broncos had two players who received much higher than usual marks in 2019. I don’t expect Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson to finish as the #2 and #7 safeties in the NFL once again. That’s a very unlikely scenario for these two guys.
Denver allowed the 10th-fewest points in the NFL a year ago. A small decline is anticipated here.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Denver Broncos are expected to win 7.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Broncos won more or less than 7.5 games.
The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 5th-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.
As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.
The top 10 picks, which includes the Broncos, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!
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