2020 NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos

2020 NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Denver Broncos

It's time to turn the corner. After enduring a series of heartbreakers as 2019 unfolded, Denver went 4-1 down the stretch with Drew Lock at quarterback. The offseason was spent surrounding the second-year pro with playmakers. John Elway is going all-in on Lock. If he's right, the Broncos could sneak into the playoffs.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions

The 6-1, 215-pound back averaged 11.8 TDs over the past four seasons.

Biletnikoff Award winner scored 24 touchdowns over the last two campaigns.

The burner averaged 16.9 yards per catch in two seasons in Happy Valley.

Brings inside rush after posting five-plus sacks in seven straight years.

Key Losses

The last remaining member of the No Fly Zone heads to a division rival.

Had a career-high seven sacks in 12 games before suffering an elbow injury.

Drew Lock's teammate at Missouri now will snap it to Sam Darnold.

A career-high 65.3 completion percent but just six TDs in 2019.

A Look Under the Hood

Head Coach: Vic Fangio (Year 2)

Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur (Year 1) - West Coast Offense

Defensive Coordinator: Ed Donatell (Year 2) - 3-4 scheme

2020 Vegas Projected Wins: 7.5 (T-20th)

  

2019 Record: 7-9

2019 Points Scored: 282 (28th)

2019 Points Allowed: 316 (10th)

2019 Point Differential: -34 (21st) 

2019 Run-Play Rate: 42.9 percent (9th)

2019 Situation-Neutral Pace: 31.45 seconds per play (21st)

2019 Offensive Snaps: 954 (29th)

2019 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 12

Full 2019 Team Stats

  

Projected 2020 Depth Chart

QB: Drew Lock / Jeff Driskel

RB: Melvin Gordon / Phillip Lindsay / Royce Freeman

FB: Andrew Beck

WR1: Courtland Sutton / Diontae Spencer

WR2: Jerry Jeudy / Tim Patrick / DaeSean Hamilton

WR3: KJ Hamler

TE: Noah Fant / Albert Okwuegbunam / Nick Vannett / Jeff Heuerman

O-Line: LT Garett Bolles / LG Dalton Risner / C Lloyd Cushenberry / RG Graham Glasgow / RT Ja'Wuan James   (RotoWire Rank: No. 13)

Kicker: Brandon McManus

Full 2020 Depth Chart

Top Storylines

Management, Coaches in Lockstep on Explosive Offense

After some conservative play calling last year, coach Vic Fangio, who favors a foot-on-the-gas offense, made a coordinator change. Pat Shurmur has come in to up the pace and mentor sophomore signal-caller Drew Lock. The Missouri product won four of his five rookie starts, and his 89.7 passer rating was better than each of the three quarterbacks selected ahead of him in the 2019 draft.

The offseason was spent providing Lock with more artillery. Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant are holdovers. Sutton took big strides in Year 2, finishing eighth in the NFL with 18 catches of 20 or more yards. Fant's 562 receiving yards, buoyed by monster games against Cleveland and Houston, led rookie tight ends.

Denver also added receiver Jerry Jeudy, who led Alabama in receptions in both of the past two seasons, in the first round of the draft and KJ Hamler, a sub-4.3 speedster from Penn State, in the second.

Rounding out the passing game are Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton. A whopping 87.5 percent of Patrick's catches in 2019 went for first downs, which was second in the league among receivers with at least 15 catches. Meanwhile, Hamilton struggled with drops but built a rapport with Lock down the stretch.

The Broncos haven't ranked in the top half of the league in points scored since 2014. They may finally have the firepower to get over the hump.

For Running Game, Flash in the Plan

If the Broncos are to improve on the measly 17.6 points scored per game from 2019, they must do better on third downs and in the red zone. Denver finished 30th in third-down percentage and 28th in red-zone TD conversion rate last season.

Enter Melvin Gordon, a strong receiver out of the backfield with a nice combination of power and finesse. Gordon averaged 2.32 yards after contact per carry over the past two seasons as compared to Royce Freeman's 1.67 mark. Expect Gordon to replace Freeman as the thunder to Phillip Lindsay's lightning. Lindsay showed that he was more than an outside-zone back in 2019, averaging a broken tackle every 7.7 carries, nearly three times his 2018 rate.

Pat Shurmur's power-gap scheme and more weapons on the outside should spell open lanes for the duo. The line hopes to improve after an injury-riddled 2019. Left guard Dalton Risner returns after a promising rookie year. Left tackle Garett Bolles, often a punching bag for fans, was Pro Football Focus' second-rated tackle for the final quarter of the season.

Graham Glasgow at right guard represents the team's big-ticket free-agency purchase to pair with last year's splash, right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who played all of 63 snaps on a balky knee in 2019. Third-round pick and 2018 second-team All-American Lloyd Cushenberry should slot in at center from Day 1.

Trades, Chubb's Return Retool Defense

It's the end of an era on the Broncos defense. Two of the three remaining members of the Super Bowl 50 defense, Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe, departed in the offseason.

Rather than bidding on free agents, Denver replaced them with a pair of shrewd trades, nabbing A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey for fourth- and seventh-round selections, respectively. If Bouye approaches his 2017 All-Pro form, the moves could be a net upgrade.

Bryce Callahan and De'Vante Bausby return to the secondary after missing all or most of 2019 due to injuries. They'll be joined by safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons, the latter of whom was franchise-tagged. Simmons ranked fourth among safeties with four picks last season, and Jackson managed a pair of interceptions himself.

In the front seven, Shelby Harris, who posted six sacks and nine passes defensed in 2019, is back on a significant discount. Plus, Todd Davis will quarterback the defense after ranking third in the NFL with 9.6 tackles per game.

The return of Bradley Chubb, who missed 12 games with a torn ACL, should revitalize Von Miller's pass rush. Miller's sack total dipped from 14.5 in 2018 to eight in 15 games last season. The Broncos finished 10th in scoring defense while testing their depth in 2019. If healthy, the unit should best that mark in 2020.

Von Miller is eyeing his eighth double-digit sack season in 10 years as a pro.

Barometer

⬆️ Rising: LB Alexander Johnson

Johnson didn't log a defensive snap until Week 5 but managed to become a darling of analytics sites with 93 tackles, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and an interception. He could become a star with another year in the scheme.

⬇️ Falling: RB Royce Freeman

Freeman disappointed in Year 2, averaging 3.8 yards per rush overall and – despite his large frame – just 1.0 yard per carry inside the 10. Melvin Gordon figures to replace him in Denver's two-headed rushing attack.

😴 Sleeper: TE Albert Okwuegbunam

Denver took "Albert O" in the fourth round after he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at 258 pounds. The Broncos are deep at tight end, but expect Drew Lock to eye Okwuegbunam in the red zone after tossing 17 TDs his way at Mizzou.

🌟 Pivotal Player: Courtland Sutton

Sutton established himself as a bonafide No. 1 wideout in 2019 but struggled some following the Emmanuel Sanders trade, averaging one fewer catch and 18 less yards per game. The additions of Melvin Gordon and two early round receivers make for a much-improved supporting cast and should free Sutton up to pick on opposing corners 1-on-1.

Courtland Sutton will seek to stiff-arm his way to the elite tier of wide receivers in 2020.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andy Segedin
Andy is a business and sports writer residing in South Philly - home to the world's greatest sandwiches. He is a lifelong fan of your Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos, a fact that he enjoys bringing up in conversation - especially when speaking with Bostonians.
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