For the Denver Broncos, the 2019 offseason has proved to be of the busier ones they have experienced since 2014 which saw them bring in Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders to help them in their push towards winning a Super Bowl. However, this time, the Broncos focused on overhauling the offensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, the following players at these positions are projected to make the final offensive roster. I’ll take a look at what some of the strengths and weaknesses are for the Broncos 2020 offense.
How big of a leap will Drew Lock take in year two at quarterback?
2020 figures to be a huge year for the Broncos’ second-year quarterback. Lock started his NFL career off on the right foot, going 4-1 and improving Denver’s offensive production across the board in his limited playing time. The Broncos offense will go as far as he takes them in 2020.
For Lock, keep an eye on him building and improving his pocket awareness, footwork, and decision making. Having a plethora of talent around him will help protect him from having to carry the load offensively.
Although he’s far from one of the flashier backup quarterbacks in the league, Driskel has a surprising amount of starting experience in the National Football League. Those experiences haven’t gone particularly well with an overall career record of 1-7 as a starter, but he’ll be critical for the Broncos if an emergency situation arises.
The Broncos quarterback position isn’t yet a strength
The Broncos’ quarterback position is solidified for the first time in what feels like years, but that doesn’t mean it’s a strength of the Broncos’ 2020 offense just yet.
Lock remains unproven as a long-term starter, and although his five starts last season flashed a lot of promise, he wouldn’t be the first young quarterback to experience a sophomore slump. Surrounding him with an arsenal of weapons makes the idea of a slump seem less likely, but Lock will still have to take a considerable leap to make the Broncos contend for a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, Driskel’s history indicates he’ll likely be an average, to slightly-below-average backup quarterback. However, he is a significant upgrade in comparison to Brandon Allen who started three games for the Broncos last season. Still, with Cam Newton available and Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton signing backup deals at a cost-efficient value, it’s easy to wonder if the Broncos could’ve found a more reliable option behind Lock in case of emergency.
Could Denver’s running back room be one of the NFL’s best?
Despite already having an established starter in the backfield with Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos have established one of the league’s most potentially dynamic one-two punches out of the backfield after signing Gordon to a two-year contract worth $16 million in free agency. At the very least, Gordon should give Denver an upgrade in the passing game and in short-yardage situations.
Lindsay continued to cement his status as Denver’s best undrafted-free-agent discovery since Chris Harris Jr., by churning out yet another 1,000-yard season and finding the endzone more often than any other player on the roster. He’ll now have his work cut out for him as he’ll compete with Gordon in training camp. For Lindsay, it will be a much more difficult task than beating out Royce Freeman last offseason.
The Broncos third-round pick experienced various struggles with injuries and consistency in the run game last season. Freeman hasn’t been able to quite match the type of production he experienced as an Oregon Duck. With Khalfani Muhammad nipping at his heels and Gordon on the roster, Freeman will need to perform well this summer to hold on to his roster spot.
The most controversial move of the Broncos’ offseason was their decision to sign Melvin Gordon. After coming off of the second-worst season of his career, Gordon has a lot to prove, but the recent history of running back performances after signing a second contract of their career will serve as a measure for him.
If Gordon can return to form after a shaky 2019, he could end up being one of the league’s best running backs. He could make the backfield one of the biggest strengths for the Broncos 2020 offense, but if his play declines, it could end up as one of the more questionable moves in the Elway era.
Lindsay will try to maintain his spot atop Denver’s depth chart at RB, but it won’t come easy considering the guaranteed money the Broncos doled out to Gordon. Last season Lindsay struggled with his effectiveness on third down. Freeman managed to out-perform him last year as both a blocker and receiver, while Lindsay was the more effective rusher on the team.
Speaking of Freeman, he’ll enter 2020 with his own obstacles competing for third RB spot against Muhammad, Jeremy Cox, and LeVante Bellamy, who are all finding themselves in a position for that final spot.
The path for both Bellamy and Cox to make the roster is to outperform Freeman as a power back in camp. Muhammad on the other hand is hoping to turn enough heads with his ability as a flashy runner, and contribute on special teams to make the final 55 man roster.
What should the Broncos expect from their revamped wide receiver room?
Sutton emerged as one of the biggest stars for the Broncos in 2019. The second-year receiver quickly cemented himself as one of the best playmakers in the league at his position, reeling in 72 receptions for over 1,100 yards, 6 touchdowns, and a handful of jaw-dropping plays, despite having three different quarterbacks throwing to him.
General manager John Elway committed to overhauling the offense this season, and one of the more important moves in doing so was selecting Jerry Jeudy with the 15th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Jeudy is a ready-made No. 1 receiver due in part to his elite route-running, and his unique ability to create separation on his routes. Jeudy should thrive if Sutton continues to draw the primary attention of the opposing team’s secondaries.
If Hamilton can look like the receiver he was during Denver’s final five games of the season, he could easily find himself as a key player and potentially the team’s starting slot receiver. However, if he struggles like last offseason and the beginning part of 2019, he could find his roster spot in jeopardy.
Patrick has an opportunity to compete with Hamilton and others to be one of the team’s starting receivers out of 11 personnel, especially if the coaching staff decides to utilize Jeudy primarily from the slot. Patrick has flashed the potential to be a quality starting possession receiver through his first two seasons on the team but has yet to become a go-to guy.
If everything breaks right for Hamler, he could find himself as high as third on the depth chart, starting alongside Sutton and Jeudy, but considering how the shortened offseason should affect the rookies more than the veterans, it’s safe to assume he’ll enter the season lower on the depth chart with the ability to rise up quickly.
The battle for the final receiver spot on Denver’s roster is sure to be hotly-contested, but Cleveland could be the early favorite to win the job. With Denver investing a pick on him in the 7th round of the draft, he can be an asset on special teams from day one. His physical attributes will be hard to ignore.
Drew Lock and the Broncos are excited to utilize this revamped receiver room, and with good reason. The overall combination of size, speed, athleticism, and talent will help Denver improve in key areas of the field like the red-zone and on third down, two areas where they were bottom-ranked in 2019.
If Sutton continues on the trajectory he’s currently on, and Jeudy develops into the star receiver most draftniks have him penciled down to be, Denver’s top-two receivers could end up transforming into the next generation of what the NFL world saw with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in the past.
For the first time since the Broncos record-breaking 2013 offense, they have a considerable amount of depth behind their lead pass-catchers.
DaeSean Hamilton and K.J. Hamler are two options for the slot who both bring different elements to the offense with their combination of speed and route-running ability. Having that dynamic should help exploit the opposing defense’s flaws. Both Tim Patrick and Tyrie Cleveland will add extensive value as key special teamers who can also assist in the receiving department.
Fighting for a roster spot, receivers Juwann Winfree, Fred Brown, Trinity Benson, Kelvin McKnight, Diontae Spencer, Zimari Manning, and Kendall Hinton will have their work cut out for them to stand out among this loaded group.
It is worth noting, however, the overall youth at the position is a concern, especially considering the potential long-term effects quarantine may have on their development. Denver’s receiving core quickly went from one of the biggest weaknesses to one of the biggest strengths of the Broncos 2020 offense.
Can Noah Fant become an elite tight end in year two?
The Broncos’ decision to pass on Devin Bush and trade back for Fant wasn’t a popular move at the time, but by the end of last season, many of those detractors were silenced as Fant had a rookie season comparable to those of Zach Ertz and George Kittle. If he can take a big leap in year two, like we often see for tight ends, he could quickly become one of the league’s toughest to guard players with his rare combination of size and speed.
If the Broncos signing of Melvin Gordon was the most-controversial, Vannett’s signing was the most befuddling. There are many concerns coming into this season about how his role will look in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Choosing to allocate cap space for a primary blocking tight end with other players like Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt already on the roster, seems questionable.
Okwuegbunam had a hard time staying on the field at times at Mizzou, but when he was healthy, opposing defenses had a very difficult time attempting to cover him. How the Broncos will utilize Okwuegbunman is yet to be seen, but his quickness and size exceeds that of Fant.
Pat Shurmur’s offense hardly utilizes a fullback, which is why the Broncos opted to trade away fan-favorite Andy Janovich. However, with that said, Denver’s offense will utilize an h-back and Beck is a favorite to do just that. When mixing his prowess as a blocking tight end, and ability to receive, he has a chance to find his way onto the final roster.
The tight end position has been difficult for John Elway to replace ever since Julius Thomas departed following the 2014 season. After investing a first-round pick on Fant in last year’s draft, there is hope that it changes this season.
Fant’s rookie campaign got off to a slow start, but he was able to pick up steam after Joe Flacco exited the starting lineup in Week 8. According to Pro Football Reference, in the second half of the season, he accumulated 67.1% of his yardage production, hauling in two of his three scores and becoming the No. 2 target behind Sutton. If Fant can carry that momentum over into this season, the physical mismatch advantage Denver will have at TE will be one of the strengths of the Broncos 2020 offense.
Besides Fant, the only TE’s on the team whose roster spots are virtually guaranteed are Vannett and Okwuegbunam. It wouldn’t make sense for the Broncos to burn a fourth-round pick by cutting Okwuegbunam. They’d also lose $2.5 million in dead cap if they were to cut Vannett.
The fourth and likely final tight end spot will be up for grabs at training camp next month. With Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, and Beck entering as the early favorites eyeing that last spot, they will also compete with Austin Fort and Troy Fumagalli. With two receiving threats in Fant and Okwuegbunam, it’s likely the Broncos invest in a player who is a hybrid blocking-receiving type.
That, in conjunction with the fact that the money they could save by cutting Butt and Heuerman ($825,000 and $3.9 million against the cap, respectively) is much more than they would save by cutting any of the other tight ends competing for that last roster spot (cutting Beck, Fort and Fumagalli would save Denver a combined total just under $2 million).
Did John Elway do enough at the tackle position this offseason?
James was one of the Broncos’ biggest additions from the last offseason, both in terms of importance and stature. James however didn’t play more than 63 snaps in his first season with the team due to a knee injury. If healthy, he should solidify a right tackle position which has become a perpetually-spinning turnstile over the past half-decade.
The various struggles of Bolles over the last few seasons have been well documented in terms of penalties and consistency. With that said, despite the penalties, Bolles showed some signs of improvement in his first season under offensive line coach Mike Munchak. This upcoming season, he’ll have to take an even greater leap to cash in on his upcoming free-agent window.
After James went down with an injury, Wilkinson proved to be a serviceable plug-and-play sixth man along the offensive line. His ability to play both inside and outside will be useful if a guard or tackle suffers an injury. He’ll be competing with Bolles at camp to be the starting left tackle.
Rodgers was able to secure playing time late last season for the Broncos. As a developmental player, he’s got the chance to be an insurance policy on the line. During two games last season, he struggled in reps as a starter, but with more reps and development he could benefit from Munchak’s tutelage.
Over the course of the last few seasons, the Broncos method of addressing the tackle position has often been under the microscope.
This offseason, the Broncos declined to pick up the 5th year option on Bolles contract, likely indicating their patience may be running out with him. It comes at a critical time where Denver is building around the team’s young quarterback. However, if Bolles can play well in 2020 and James can remain healthy, the Broncos could find some relief at the tackle position.
However, even after this season, the tackle position will be one of the Broncos needs in the 2021 draft.
The Broncos interior offensive line could be among league’s best
The offseason addition Glasgow brings the Broncos a sense of stability at the right guard position. Glasgow’s durability and toughness show that the Broncos can rely on him week-in and week-out. Last season, he was amongst a group of linemen, Zack Martin and Quenton Nelson as the only guards to draw three penalties or fewer without allowing a single sack.
Lloyd Cushenberry III
The Broncos ability to draft Cushenberry at 83rd overall in the 2020 NFL draft could prove to be one of the more notable steals. With his experience in LSU’s pro-style attack, Cushenberry is the early favorite to be the day-one starter at center. His anchor in pass protection will be impactful for helping keep Drew Lock upright.
Risner turned in a very productive and consistent season in 2019. He would quickly become the team’s most consistent offensive lineman and with continued development, he could be one of the team’s best long-term options on the interior.
The Broncos went out on a limb and drafted Muti in the 6th round of this year’s draft. When you look at his game-tape, his athleticism and strength noticeably stand out. However, concerns about his injury history are something to keep an eye on. His playstyle fits very well with Munchak’s blocking scheme and he’ll have a chance to become a key depth player.
In a similar vein to Jake Rodgers, Schlottman saw action as a starter for the Broncos in 2019. He’ll enter training camp looking to compete against both Cushenberry and Patrick Morris for the team’s starting center job. It’s worth noting that the Broncos have viewed Schlottman as a developmental prospect who could grow into a bigger role down the road.
Entering the off-season, Morris was the only center on the Broncos roster after Connor McGovern departed for the New York Jets in free agency. Munchak and the Broncos had an interest in him last season, claiming him off of waivers after the Steelers released him. He’ll also compete for the starting center job at training camp, but there is a strong likelihood he’ll be the team’s backup at the position.
The offensive interior became one of the Broncos’ biggest areas of focus this offseason with the overall inexperience and depth they had in 2019. Elway’s effort to sign Glasgow to a 4-year deal and the selection of Cushenberry in the third round indicate that. If Risner, Cushenberry, and Glasgow succeed in Munchak’s blocking scheme, the Broncos could be very dangerous offensively.
The Broncos appear to have gotten stronger on the interior where they hope to help Denver’s rushing attack generate success. If Denver can keep their core together inside, and add another starter or two at tackle, they could quickly rebuild the line into one of the league’s sturdier groups.