Can the Denver Broncos return back to a competitive state with quarterback Drew Lock in 2020? Lock led Denver to a 4-1 finish after the team sat at a 3-8 record in 2019 prior to him starting. The expectations are high for the Broncos hopeful franchise quarterback entering this season.
To kick off our Broncos coverage here at PFN, we’re introducing the first installment of what will be our Weekly Mailbag Series. I will be answering Broncos fan’s questions every Thursday as well as bringing you analysis on the latest news and happenings around Dove Valley. If you would like to send in your mailbag questions for next week’s mailbag, you can email me at [email protected] or send it to us on Twitter: @BroncosPFN
PFN’s Denver Broncos Mailbag
How much pressure is on Drew Lock to succeed in 2020?
Drew Lock has some added pressure in my opinion to succeed in 2020, but that’s not a surprise considering the destination and the demand that is brought on by the position itself. Entering the off-season, the talk surrounding the Broncos was to surround the young quarterback with some explosive weapons at wide receiver. The team went out and did that by drafting Jerry Jeudy 15th overall, and then double-dipping at the position by selecting Penn State’s speedy burner in KJ Hamler.
With Pat Shurmur taking over as the team’s offensive coordinator, the expectations for the offense as a whole to succeed grow bigger as the rest of the AFC West got better in the offseason. Certainly adding a versatile route runner in Jeudy, a speed weapon in Hamler will help boost their productivity on paper and hopefully in your fantasy football league.
Various national media personalities have hopped onto the Lock train ahead of the 2020 NFL season. Heck, one even made the bold prediction that Lock would lead the Broncos on to win the AFC West this season. While the traits of Lock are exciting, he still has a lot to prove on the field in terms of being the Broncos’ potential franchise quarterback.
My personal belief as a coach, analyst, and a former player is that Lock takes things one week at a time. The overall vacuum of the NFL puts the quarterback position under a tremendous microscope as is. With Mike Shula as his quarterback coach, I believe that Lock will receive the best possible coaching to help him evolve week to week.
Am I saying he’s going to light it up every week? No, but I do think that he’s demonstrated in five games that he has the capability to keep adapting to what NFL defenses throw at him on a weekly basis.
How will the tight end position work out for the team in the regular season?
Ahead of training camp, the Broncos tight end unit is very interesting to look at. As of today, there are eight players in that position room and three of them are guaranteed pieces for 2020. The team’s first-round pick in 2019, Noah Fant, found his stride at the midway part of last season and developed some valuable chemistry with Lock. He’ll be Denver’s primary tight end.
John Elway made a very surprise move this offseason by bringing in free agent tight end Nick Vannett who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They signed him to a two-year deal and I expect him to play more of an in-line blocker role for the team. Another surprise occurred in the 2020 NFL Draft when the team selected Albert Okwuegbunam, Lock’s former teammate and favorite target at Mizzou in 2017 and 2018.
Those three additions provided Denver with three guarantees ahead of the regular season, but it presents a bigger question as to whether or not the team will carry more than three tight ends.
I personally believe they will carry four into the regular season which means that training camp next month will warrant competition for that spot. Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Andrew Beck, Austin Fort, and Jake Butt will all likely compete for that final spot on the team’s active roster.
It makes sense to me that Heuerman, Beck, and Butt will be the odds-on favorites who may gain final consideration for the fourth spot. Heuerman is coming off of a season behind the spotlight of Fant, but he’s been a consistent blocker and flex option for them behind Fant. Beck filled in as the team’s hybrid fullback/tight end after Andy Janovich suffered a dislocated elbow in Week 12 and displayed a level of versatility that could be ideal for Shurmur’s offensive scheme.
Butt is a wildcard player due to the fact that the Broncos haven’t seen much from him since they drafted him in 2017. He’ll be entering his fourth season as a Bronco after coming off a knee injury that placed him on IR in 2018 and 2019. Butt is widely rumored to be one of the best receiving tight end options on the team when healthy, which will be a key storyline to follow at training camp next month.
What are your overall thoughts on the Broncos 2019 season leading up to today?
I think the Broncos experienced one of the craziest starts to the 2019 season than any other team in the league. Joe Flacco entered the season as the team’s starter after Elway traded for him in the 2019 offseason. Key free-agent acquisition Ja’Wuan James got injured in Week 1 and only played 63 total snaps last season.
Bradley Chubb tore his ACL in Week 4 and was placed on IR. Emmanuel Sanders was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Flacco went on season-ending IR after suffering a herniated disk, which led to Brandon Allen starting three games for Denver.
They had one of the tougher league schedules last season and were two bad calls from potentially starting 2-2 rather than 0-4. That could have been the difference between a 7-9 football team and a 10-6 football team.
There were many things that didn’t go their way, but I’d like to highlight some of the positive takeaways from last season. Phillip Lindsay fought his way to every inch of a consecutive thousand-yard rushing season. Courtland Sutton took over as the team’s number one wide receiver and reached 1,000 yards receiving with three different quarterbacks throwing to him.
The defense found new life after the emergence of Alexander Johnson at inside linebacker, but more importantly, the team never folded when things got tough for them. Denver had a successful off-season in my opinion in free agency by adding Melvin Gordon at running back, trading for Jurrell Casey by sending the Titans a 7th round pick, and trading for AJ Bouye to be the team’s CB1 on the outside.
We talked about the team’s Draft additions of Jeudy, Hamler, and Okwuegbunam on the offensive side of the ball. The excitement is growing in Denver, but I do urge fans to be cautiously optimistic considering that the Broncos have one of the youngest offense’s in the NFL as of today.
They do however have a very experienced coaching staff, which brings me more comfort than anything. Lock will take his bumps and bruises in 2020, but with a strong team around him, with strong coaches, the Broncos could be one of the teams that sneak up on the league.