The Denver Broncos have a combined 11-21 record the last two years; it certainly hasn’t gone as well as they had hoped. The offense dried out, and the defense was not good enough to prop the team up, while the offense was in a transition period. What do I believe are some keys to success for Vic Fangio’s group in 2019 and who will have to step up?
Keep the pressure on
Von Miller has been the NFL’s best and most consistent pass rusher over the last eight years. He has amassed 98 sacks in his time with Denver and only once failed to reach double-digit sacks, a season in which he only played nine games due to injury. He has helped keep the Denver defense as one of the best in the game, and with the addition of Bradley Chubb last offseason, Denver looks to have the best edge-rushing duo in the entire league.
It is crucial that Denver keeps the pressure on. Expect Miller and Chubb to once again be at the top of the sacks charts as a duo in 2019. Players like Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris should also help create pressure up the middle. If Miller and Chubb can create pressure and get turnovers with a very talented back end, it should give Phillip Lindsay and the young Broncos offense more opportunities to score
Get Sutton the ball
In the 2018 draft, Denver selected Courtland Sutton with their 2nd round pick. The goal? For Sutton to eventually become the Broncos #1 receiver. With the injury to Emmanuel Sanders and the trade of Demaryius Thomas, Sutton got his first chance to be the focal point of the passing game in 2018. Sutton ended up starting nine games and finished his rookie year with 704 yards and four touchdowns. It was a very successful year and a great learning experience for the young receiver.
Sutton should continue to be the focal point going forward. Sutton is a huge mismatch at receiver, standing at 6’3″ and almost 220lbs. While he specializes in the red zone and jump ball situations, he also has the ability to create separation, which will be critical going forward. As he gets more experience, he should only get better as a route runner, fine-tuning his skills. I expect 2019 to be the season where Sanders passes the torch to the SMU alum, with Sutton becoming the new #1 receiver for Joe Flacco and the offense. He has the talent to become one of the better receivers in the NFL.
Be yourself, Denver
While the Broncos didn’t find much success in the win column in 2018, they did find a lot of success in the run game. Rookie running back Lindsay burst onto the scene, rushing for over 1,000 yards in just his rookie season. Lindsay and the run game should be the focus of the offense. Denver’s Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker also provide a great rotation of backs behind Lindsay.
With an improved offensive line led by o-line specialist Mike Munchak, the run game for Denver should be able to get up and running. Fresh legs rotating in and out and a beefed-up line should also help Flacco, creating more space behind the line and assisting the play-action passing game. At the end of the day, this offense will ride or die with the run game and Lindsay. If Denver can pound the ball, the offense and team will have a much more successful 2019.
With the 20th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Broncos selected Noah Fant, a tight end out of Iowa. Fant was used primarily out of the slot for Iowa, almost playing a “big receiver” role. While Fant is a solid blocker, which should help the Denver run game, he specializes in being a downfield vertical threat. Fant lit up the combine, putting up the best overall numbers for the tight end group. He was faster and jumped higher than many of the receivers, posting a 4.50 40-yard dash and jumping an insane 39.5 inches.
In his sophomore season for the Hawkeyes, Fant scored more touchdowns than any other tight end in the country. If Denver can utilize Fant’s skills as a vertical and red-zone threat, it should make the offense that much more dynamic. That is precisely the word I would use for Fant, dynamic. He isn’t just a regular in-line blocker and a check down option, he is a lethal weapon for any offense. Get Fant the ball and Denver will be sure to have a more efficient offense this coming season.
Let Lock learn
Enter the new face of the franchise, Drew Lock. Coming out last season, most figured Lock would be taken in the first round; many projections had him going #10 overall to Denver. The Broncos kept to their board and waited until the middle of the second round before trading up for the Missouri quarterback. He is extremely talented, but 2019 isn’t his season. Ultimately this season is about the future, and it is important to be patient with Lock and let him learn behind Flacco. It’s in the best interest of the franchise if Lock waits until he is ready, if the Broncos can help Lock improve, it will be a success in 2019.
While I am sure fans will be chanting his name at the first sign of struggle in 2019, it is in Denver’s best interest to let Lock learn. His biggest struggles in college came due to his mechanics and mental processing. If he can put it all together, he has the arm talent and potential to be Denver’s next great signal-caller. Lock is known for his whip of an arm and athleticism. It is key for Denver’s future to give Lock as much help as they can for him to become the best he can be. In 2019 that may mean to sit the year.