In the 2020 draft, John Elway focused on getting the young Drew Lock weapons to fully develop as an NFL starter. And they did just that, taking two receivers and a center in the first three rounds. However, Lock’s play did not progress as Elway had hoped. The abysmal quarterback play completely ruined the Broncos’ chance of putting together a competent team as they went 5-11. This Broncos offseason should focus on acquiring a new signal-caller to utilize the talent put together.
Roster Needs: QB, CB, EDGE, LB
The crop of receivers added to the offense during the past few years makes Denver a quarterback away from being a high-scoring squad. In a division with Patrick Mahomes, that will be more than needed to keep up. Drew Lock’s play has been nothing short of dreadful. Lock had a league-worst 57.3 completion percentage among quarterbacks that started more than four games. He also led the league in interceptions, even though he only played in 13 games. Lock was given the opportunity to prosper in a strong offense and flopped. New personnel, and almost certainly a quarterback, give confidence when looking at this offense going forward.
There are several ways Denver can go about adding a new quarterback. Free agency offers few options, but veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick showed he still has plenty left in the tank with impressive play in Miami despite their lack of playmakers. The ninth overall pick in the draft means they may reach on Senior Bowl standout Mac Jones. His pinpoint accuracy will be a night and day difference compared to Lock. Do not be surprised for Denver to jump at any quarterback that may be falling as they could trade up to acquire Lock’s replacement. The Deshaun Watson rumors have died down in recent weeks, but his expressed frustration with the organization makes a trade likely. Denver is reported to be one of Watson’s preferred destinations. The generational talent of Watson would immediately turn this offense into a powerhouse.
Looking ahead to 2021, stud pro-bowler Courtland Sutton will be back from an ACL tear he suffered in Week 2. Rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will be more developed as they go into their second season. Noah Fant boasts 4.5 speed making him a true mismatch at the tight end position.
The Broncos boasted a strong offensive line despite injuries. Drew Lock was sacked 5 times, tied for fifth-lowest among starting quarterbacks. Garett Bolles’ ascension to being one of the top tackles in the league was a bright spot. Denver will also get their starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James back next year who opted out of the 2020 season.
Running back Melvin Gordon proved to be a solid free-agent addition, totaling 1,114 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. Gordon’s success means Denver may not have to shell out money to re-sign impending free-agent Phillip Lindsay this offseason.
Vic Fangio’s defense was subpar in 2020. Being without Von Miller and Bradley Chubb led to an inconsistent pass rush. The cornerback group struggled in coverage as Denver forced a lowly 10 interceptions, ranking 28th in the league. Bryce Callahan was the lone bright spot, excelling in the slot. On the outside, AJ Bouye began to show signs of decline as he enters his thirties. Bouye has since been cut to free up cap space. Rookie corner Michael Ojemudia flashed promise and can grow into a solid defender. However, that leaves a hole remaining on the boundary.
If Denver decides to forgo quarterback in the draft, they will likely have their pick of top corner prospects, Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain in the first round. Farley has the ideal size, length, and speed of an NFL corner. Surtain is the most pro-ready cornerback, locking down SEC receivers in his time at Alabama. The $28 million in cap space means they can go after top free agents too if they do not end up trading for Deshaun Watson.
William Jackson from Cincinnati is the lone free agent who can be put on an island and lockdown opposing number one receivers. His sophomore season in 2017 had Jackson slated to be the next best corner in the league. His next few seasons did not live up to the lofty expectations but displayed incredible coverage skills giving him the potential to be one of the best. If anyone can get Jackson back to his 2017 form, it is the defensive guru, Fangio.
The edge position will be helped by stud Bradley Chubb, but Von Miller’s sudden disappearance that involves the police leaves Denver lacking their patented pass-rushing stud. With Justin Simmons and Shelby Harris being a priority re-sign, limited cap space must be used on the rest of the defense. Current edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu will likely leave in free agency, and Malik Reed is a rotational player at best. The draft features solid edge rushers that may fall to the second round. Joseph Ossai out of Texas may be a target for Fangio, as his combination of rushing ability and dropping back into coverage fits the mold of their 3-4 defense well.
If Denver decides to pay up for a premium edge rusher to replace Von Miller, Yannick Ngakoue would be the young athletic pass rusher they need. Limited in other alignments, Ngakoue can stick to a strict edge role. Per PFF Ngakoue graded as the 8th best at pressuring the quarterback since coming into the league in 2017. The 25-year-old would make an exceptional running mate to Bradley Chubb.
A more win-now decision would be opting to go after the recently cut JJ Watt. Watt is entering his 11th season but is not slowing down. He put durability concerns aside after playing over 1,000 snaps in 2020. Watt could come in and fill the void left by Miller.
The linebacking corps is the last position needing to be addressed. Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson were both solid in coverage but played the run poorly. Consequently, the Broncos were gashed by the run game all season, giving up the 8th most rushing yards and 4th most rushing touchdowns. A middle linebacker who can proficiently and instinctively fill running lanes is the ideal mold for the defense. One such as Denzel Perryman. The thumper out of LA has his shortcomings in coverage but is electric in stopping the run. His speed and power are a menace to opposing running backs.
Note- If Von Miller is cut this Broncos offseason, $20 million extra in cap space will be opened up. At the same time, if Von Miller remains with the team, they no longer need to address the need of another edge rusher.