The Denver Broncos Are Ready to Take Off
On the surface, the Denver Broncos 7–9 record last year may not garner much hope for the upcoming season. But take a deeper look, and you’ll see Denver is flooded with optimism for next year. The main reason: Drew Lock. After missing much of last season after being placed on IR, the rookie QB started the final five games of the 2019 campaign for Denver. What followed should cause excitement. Lock led the Broncos to a 4–1 record over the final five games of the season. Denver defeated the Chargers, Texans, Lions, and Raiders; while their only loss came against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs in Kansas City. Lock played well in those final five contests, completing 64% of his throws for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns, and just three interceptions. While those numbers alone should give Denver hope, there’s still more. In the game at Houston, Lock made NFL history. He became the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start.
Lock proved he’s a starter in this league last season. This year, he and the Broncos should only be better. Denver’s skill position players were solid last season. Courtland Sutton is a good number one receiver. His second NFL season saw the receiver breakout for 1,112 receiving yards (19th in the NFL) and 6 touchdowns. Those numbers also earned Sutton his first Pro Bowl selection. Rookie tight end Noah Fant also had a solid first year in the league. He had 562 yards and three touchdowns. Not spectacular numbers, but good for a rookie campaign nonetheless. Running back Philip Lindsay finished his second NFL season with his second straight 1,000 yard season, finishing the year with 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite all off that however, Denver decided to get their young quarterback even more help.
The Broncos had a clear need for a number two wide receiver. Following the draft, that was no longer an issue. Denver used their first round selection on Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy, who had 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games last season. Denver didn’t stop there however, using their second round selection on Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler. Hamler finished last season with 904 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games played. The Broncos continued to help their young QB in the draft, by selecting speedy Missouri tight end, and former teammate of Lock, Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth round.
For other teams, drafting two receivers and a tight end may have been enough help for their young quarterback. Denver however, thought otherwise, and decided they were going to go all in for Drew Lock. The Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon to pair with Philip Lindsay. Despite a down year in 2019, Gordon is still capable a playing a pivotal role in an NFL offense. He has 36 rushing touchdowns over the last four seasons, and will be a nice one-two combo with Lindsay.
All of those weapons are good for nothing if Lock doesn’t have time to throw however. That won’t be an issue for Denver this upcoming season. According to Pro Football Focus, Denver’s offensive line was ranked the 12th best at the end of last season. That didn’t stop the Broncos from making improvements though. According to PFF, Denver was named the fourth most improved offensive line unit this offseason.
With plenty of time to throw, and new playmakers galore, Lock could be positioned to make a surprise MVP run as well. I know it would be a longshot (his MVP odds are +6500 on FanDuel), but the past two MVPs were longshots at the start of their respective MVP campaigns. Patrick Mahomes (+10000) and Lamar Jackson (+8000) had higher odds than Lock at the beginning of their breakout seasons. Lock even put up similar numbers as Jackson during their rookie years (1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in five games for Lock, compared to 1,201 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions in seven games for Jackson). Along with the talent surrounding him, Lock also plays in a division which contains weak defenses. Both the Raiders and Chiefs finished last season in the bottom-half of the NFL in terms of yards allowed per game. So while it would be a longshot, crazier things have happened. The sky’s the limit for Lock this season.
Just because he has a talented offense surrounding him, doesn’t mean it’s all on Lock to win games this upcoming season either. Denver’s defense is still a major strength of their team. They allowed the 12th fewest total yards per game, the 11th fewest pass yards per game, and the 10th fewest points per game last season. That’s with star pass rusher Bradley Chubb (12.0 sacks his rookie season) missing 12 games. Chubb will be back causing havoc alongside Von Miller in 2020. The loss of Chris Harris will hurt; but Denver used their third round selection on Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia to help fill the void. Defensive minded head coach Vic Fangio will have Denver’s defense ready to go yet again next year.
So what should the expectations be for Denver this season?
With the addition of a seventh playoff team this upcoming year, the Broncos have no excuse to miss the playoffs. They are the second best team in their division. The Raiders have issues on defense; and the Chargers will be starting either journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor, or rookie Justin Herbert. Facing the Chiefs twice a year is challenging. But if the Broncos can split the season series 1–1, they’ll gladly take it. Denver may also have an advantage no other team will this upcoming season. The possibility of no fans at games due to the COVID-19 pandemic would eliminate most team’s home field advantage. But not the Broncos. Denver’s elevation will still be there with or without fans. The Broncos have the upper hand in every home game due to them practicing in the elevation. Last season Denver had a 5–3 record in home games, a mark which would most likely improve with Lock starting all eight home games.
If Denver doesn’t win at least ten games this upcoming season, it would be somewhat disappointing. There’s not one truly weak area on the roster. The offensive weapons are there, the defense is still above average, and the home field advantage will be there no matter what. Drew Lock and the Broncos are about to take the league by storm.