Vic Fangio returns for his second season as the Denver Broncos head coach after running the 49ers and the Bears defenses from 2011 to 2018. He also has 11 other seasons of experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. His success in Chicago in 2018 led to his upgrade in job. The Broncos finished 7-9 in Fangio's first season in Colorado.
The Broncos brought in Pat Shurmur to run their offense after struggling to win as the Giants’ head coach in 2018 (5-11) and 2019 (4-12). He worked as the offensive coordinator over six other seasons for the Rams, Eagles, and Vikings. Shurmur has 22 seasons of experience coaching in the NFL while compiling a 19-46 record as NFL head coach.
Their offense slipped to 28th in points scored (282) and 28th in yards allowed.
Fangio promoted Ed Donatell to the defensive coordinator in 2019. He worked over the eight previous seasons as the defensive backs coach for the Broncos and 49ers. Donatell has 29 years of experience coaching in the NFL, with eight coming as a defensive coordinator.
Denver had a top-four defense in yards allowed from 2014 to 2017 before slipping to 22nd in 2018. Last year, they ranked 12th in points allowed (316) while finishing 13th in yards allowed.
Their defense lost CB Chris Harris to the Chargers. Harris regressed last year, after having a long career of success in pass coverage. Denver added RB Melvin Gordon to upgrade their lead running back position.
The Broncos didn’t re-sign QB Joe Flacco, G Ron Leary, DT Adam Gotsis, CB Cyrus Jones, RB Devontae Booker, LB Corey Nelson, RB Theo Reddick, and DT Billy Winn. All players failed to find a new home.
Denver added G Graham Glasnow after a successful career with the Lions. His game projects well in both run and pass blocking. Their offensive line lost C Connor McGovern after playing at his highest level in 2019.
DT Derek Wolfe found a new home in Baltimore, and S Wil Parks jumped to the Eagles. Wolfe tends to be an asset vs. the run while flashing sack ability at times.
Over the first two rounds in this year’s draft, the Broncos invested in WR Jerry Jeudy and WR K.J. Hamler.
Jeudy worked more as a traditional receiver in 2019, where he relied on his route running to get open. Most catches were in the flat or coming back to the quarterback, leading to less explosiveness after the catch. When able secure passes going forward, his speed and acceleration become more disruptive. Jeudy doesn’t have the same explosiveness when caught flat-footed with the ball trying to make defenders miss.
Despite being undersized (5’9” and 178 lbs.), Hamler does play with strength (15 reps in the NFL combine bench press). His electric speed and quickness will threaten a defense every time he gets the ball in space. Hamler has a slot feel, but his game is all about challenging defenders with his legs. Once he gets the ball in his hands, the next move is hitting the gas while having the talent and vision to create.
Denver added CB Michael Ojemudia, C Lloyd Cushenberry, and DT McTelvin Agim in the third round.
Ojemudia has the appearance of a physical press cover, but his game doesn’t translate as well against the run with questions with his open-field tackling. He lacks explosiveness or the wheels to match top wide receivers in the deep passing game. Ojemudia gains value as the field shortens.
Cushenberry plays with power and fight, but his range is limited to a small box. When attacked in the pass rush, he holds his ground as long as Cushenberry isn’t asked to move his feet to hit his target. His play in the run requires a quick-hitting attack.
Agim looks to have a tweener skill-set heading into the NFL. He wants to rush the quarterback with some moves and quickness to attack the quarterback. His frame (6'3" and 309 lbs.) scream defensive tackle, but his hands, technique, and strength all need improvement.
In the fourth round, the Broncos tried to improve their tight end depth with the addition of Albert Okwuegbunam. His best value comes in the deep passing game and making winning plays in the end zone. His release and route-running point to a limited role while also needing to get stronger.
With their final four selections, Denver drafted LB Justin Strnad, G Netane Muti, WR Tyrie Cleveland, and LB Derrek Tuszka.
Strnad brings an attacking style, but he does need a clean run due to his lack of size (6’3” and 238 lbs.) and questionable fight in tight quarters. His play improves moving forward while needing improved vision and more patience.
Muti comes to the NFL with minimal playing time due to multiple injuries. His play is based on power with the base to handle hard changing rushers. He has the hands to win in pass protection, but his range is limited.
Cleveland struggles with his route running while lacking the explosiveness to win in the deep passing game. He needs to improve his win rate in tight coverage. Cleveland could work out of the slot vs. zone defenses, but he will lose value off the line of scrimmage vs. physical cornerbacks.
Tuszka has the look of a playmaker who works hard on every down. He went to a small school (North Dakota State), which invites a learning curve in the NFL. He attacks the line of scrimmage with value in the pass rush. His most significant area of need is when locked up with the big bodies at the line of scrimmage. Tuszka doesn’t offer elite speed or quickness while also needing to get stronger.
The Broncos finished 20th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,662) with 11 TDs. Their ball carrier gained 4.1 yards per carry with only eight runs over 20 yards.
Denver fell to 28th in passing yards (3,401) with 16 TDs and ten Ints. Their offensive line allowed 41 sacks and 84 QB hits. The Broncos gained only 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
LT Garett Bolles
Bolles was the Broncos first-round selection in 2017. He’s a talented player with plus speed and quickness for his position. Bolles plays with vision while playing with an edge, but he needs to add bulk and power to his game. His style works for a quick-hitting rushing offense. In his first three seasons in the league, Bolles played well in both run and pass blocking. Last year his most improvement came in pass protection.
LG Dalton Risner
Risner projects well as a run blocker with value on the move. His hands create an edge while owning strength in his technique. He lacks range and foot speed in pass protection. Risner needs to improve his square footage in his blocking area.
Risner made 12 starts in his rookie season. His game came in below expectations in the run game while playing at the league average in pass blocking.
C Lloyd Cushenberry
The best option to start at center for Denver this year is Cushenberry. His style should fit well with what the Broncos want to do in the run game. I expect his best play out of the gate to come in pass protection.
RG Graham Glasgow
Denver bought stability at the right guard position in the offseason by signing Glasgow to a $44 million contract over four seasons. He’s been a steady asset in all areas over the last three seasons while continuing to improve in each as a run blocker.
James is a former first-round draft selection (2014) who signed a $51 million four-year contract in 2019. Last year he appeared in just three games due to a season-long battle with a left knee issue. James looks to be a neutral player with more upside in his pass blocking skills.
Offensive Line Outlook
There is some intrigue with the Broncos’ offensive line in 2020. The center position looks to be the biggest question for Denver this season. Every other position has talent and upside with a focus on improving the run game. Possible top ten offensive line if the passing game comes quicker than expected.
The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.
2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Broncos have a challenging schedule for their rushing offense. They have six contests (TB, NYJ, NE, NO, and LV X 2) vs. defenses that played better than the league average against the run in 2019. Their best matchup comes against the Panthers with three other mid-tier games (MIA and KC X 2).
Denver will be tested in five different games (PIT, NE, BUF, and LAC X 2) in the passing game. Their best chance for success should come against Tampa while having four other favorable contests (TEN, MIA, and LV X 2).
This offense needs growth in all areas, and it looks positioned to make a move in both run and pass game this year. The addition of Melvin Gordon gives Denver a top running back, and they address their weakness at wide receiver in this year’s draft. The passing game will need time to develop, and their best chance to win games in 2020 may come from controlling the clock with a top-flight run game.
Here’s a look at the early projections for Denver, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:
The 2020 excitement for the Broncos comes with the emergence of Lock over the final five games (4-1 with seven TDs and three Ints), but he only averaged 204 passing yards per game and 6.6 yards per pass attempts. His only impact game (309/3) came in Week 15 vs. the Texans.
Denver signed RB Melvin Gordon in the offseason to help on early downs and at the goal line. WR Courtland Sutton (72/1112/6) played well in his second season with growth expected this year. This year Lock should get TE Noah Fant more involved while Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler draft in this year’s draft class set a much higher bar.
I pushed Lock's early projections to 3,991 combined yards with 28 TDs and 12 Ints, making an upside QB2 in the 2020 draft season. Lock has an ADP of 124 as the 21st quarterback drafted in early June.
Other options: Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Riley Neal
Over the past two seasons, the Broncos' running backs averaged 462.5 touches. Their backs have 95 catches in back-to-back years, but they gained only 6.56 yards per catch in 2019. The growth of this offense should create plenty of scoring chances after scoring 31 running back touchdowns over the last two years.
Gordon held out for the first four games in 2019, which led to almost emptiness in his first four appearances (149 combined yards with two TDs and 11 catches – 2.5 YPC).
Over his final eight games, he gained 759 combined yards with seven TDs and 31 catches while averaging 18.6 touches per game.
Gordon came out of the season healthy, and the Broncos picked him up for $16 million over the next two seasons.
Denver's RBs gained 2,154 combined yards with 95 catches and 13 TDs, and RB Phillip Lindsay scooped up 259 touches for 1,207 yards with seven TDs and 35 catches.
The Broncos want to run the ball, and Gordon should see between 60 and 65 percent of their RB opportunity this year. I set the bar at 1,214 combined yards with nine TDs and 48 catches, making him a top-tier RB2 in PPR leagues with an ADP of 30.
The Broncos have no complaint on the success of Lindsay after two seasons, but they brought in RB Melvin Gordon to take over the lead role in 2020.
He finished in 13th (222.8) and 20th (198.1) in RB scoring in PPR leagues while only having a difference of two TDs and 71 yards.
The Broncos had him on the field for about 50 percent of their RB plays last year. The addition of Gordon pushes him to RB2 with about a 35 to 40 percent opportunity. His early projections come to 844 combined yards with six TDs and 35 catches.
Fantasy owners have him priced as the 38th running back drafted in the early draft season in PPR leagues with an ADP of 102.
The Broncos gave Freeman 319 touches over his first two years in the league, but he gained only 3.9 yards per rush and 5.8 yards per catch. Denver decided his game didn’t offer enough upside to work as an RB1, which led to the signing of RB Melvin Gordon. Over his time in the NFL, Freeman has only three runs over 20 yards. Freeman looks to be the odd man out unless the Broncos move him this summer.
Other options: Khalfani Muhammad, LeVante Bellamy
Last year the Broncos wide receiver ranked at near the bottom of the league in catches (154), receiving yards (2,046), TDs (9), and targets (263). Over the previous two years, their targets (324 and 351) offered much more upside. In 2020, Denver will feature their wide receivers at a much higher level.
Sutton struggled with his catch rate (50.0) in his rookie season, which wasn’t helped by nine drops.
Last year he blossomed into a second-tier WR while setting career-highs in catches (72), receiving yards (1,112), TDs (6), and targets (125). Sutton had a floor of four catches in 14 games, leading to double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues in 11 weeks.
Despite a breakout season, his opportunity can’t be as high this year with the Broncos adding WR Jerry Jeudy and WR K.J. Hamler with the first two picks in this year’s draft.
His ADP (46) in early June in PPR leagues priced him as the 16th wide receiver drafted. I have Sutton catching 69 balls for 997 yards and seven TDs, which pushed much lower in my initial rankings.
Over his last two seasons at Alabama, Jeudy caught 145 passes for 2,479 yards and 24 TDs over 28 games. The Tide used him as more a big-play wide receiver in 2018 (68/1315/14) than last year (77/1163/10).
His release projects well while having the speed (4.45 forth) to test a defender deep. Jeudy needs to add some bulk (6’1” and 195 lbs.) to help combat physical corners. He also grades lower than expected with his short-area quickness.
Jeudy is the clear WR2 for Denver while being projected for 62 passes for 833 yards and seven TDs. He has an ADP of 97 as the 34th wide receiver. Upside player who should hit the ground running in his rookie season.
Over two seasons at Penn State, Hamler caught 98 passes for 1,658 yards and 13 touchdowns while also receiving some chances on the ground (17/87/1). His best success came in four games (4/115/2, 6/108/1, 6/108/2, and 7/119) in 2019.
To become a better asset at the NFL level, Hamler needs to prove he can win against physical cornerbacks in press and tight coverage. His hands can let him down at times while losing some value if asked to work the middle of the field with his back to the end zone and a safety setting his target on him.
Hamler will have the best value on quick-hitting plays, deep passes, and misdirection opportunities.
Other options: DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, Tyrie Cleveland, Juwann Winfree
Denver's tight ends accounted for 22 percent of the team's passing yards in 2019, which was a step-up in value over the previous two years. Their TEs finished with growth in receiving yards (732) and TDs (6).
The Broncos struggled to get Fant involved in the passing game over the first eight games (20/185/1) with Joe Flacco behind center.
He flashed in Week 9 (3/115/1) and Week 14 (4/113/1), but his other six contests offered no playable value (4/60, 3/14, 1/5, 2/56, 2/10, and 1/4).
He averaged five targets per game on the year, which fell almost in line with his college opportunity in 2017 (4.8) and 2018 (5.3).
Fant has the makings and movements of a top tier TE once the Broncos’ offense evolves. Excellent flier as a TE2 if he slides in drafts (ADP – 124). I have him ranked 10th at the tight end position in early June while being projected for 56 catches for 740 yards and five TDs.
Other Options: Nick Vannett, Jeff Heuerman, Albert Okwuegbunam, Troy Fumagalli
McManus pushed his way to ninth in kicker scoring (8.64 FPPG) last year after playing for a weaker offense.
When at his best, he makes about 85 percent of his field goals while being about a 50/50 option from over 50 yards (17-for-35).
Over the past two years, McManus showed growth from 40-for-49 yards (17-for-19). Denver wants to play a ball-control type of offense while being on the improve. Trending forward, but he still needs growth in his accuracy.
Denver has an excellent schedule for their run defense. They have nine games (PIT, TB, NYJ, MIA, ATL, KC X 2, and LAC X 2) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball last year. Their only matchup against a team that ran the ball well last year is the Titans.
The Broncos will be tested in the passing game in seven contests (TB, ATL, NO, KC X 2, and LAC X 2). They face two opponents (PIT and BUF) that struggled to throw the ball in 2019.
The Broncos bounced back to 16th defending the run (1,783 yards) in 2019 with ball carriers gaining only 4.2 yards per rush. They allowed nine TDs with eight runs over 20 yards.
Denver ranked 11th in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,609) while allowing 19 TDs and ten Ints. The Broncos finished with 40 sacks. QBs gained 7.1 yards per pass attempts with 46 completions over 20 yards.
DE Jurrell Casey
The Broncos added Casey in mid-March after playing nine seasons with the Titans. Over his last six years, he averaged 55 tackles and about six sacks per year. His play vs. the run has been exceptional over the past three seasons.
DT Mike Purell
After struggling to make an impact over his early career in the NFL, Purell played well as an early-down run defender for the Broncos. He continues to miss too many tackles with no value in the pass rush. Rookie DT McTelvin Agim should push for snaps on passing downs.
DE Shelby Harris
He set a career-high in tackles (49), sacks (6), and defended passes (9) in his fifth year in the NFL. Harris played well, supporting the run in each of the previous three seasons.
LB Bradley Chubb
Chubb had 60 tackles and 12 sacks in his rookie season after getting drafted in the first round in 2018, but he missed 12 games last year with a torn ACL.
His best asset is his first step off the snap, which leads to high upside rushing the QB and defending the run. Chubb is a fighter with a high motor. Bradley should handle himself well in pass coverage. His next step in his development is his hands with better discipline in his attack off the ball.
LB Von Miller
Heading into 2019, Miller has 98 sacks over his first 120 games in the NFL. Last year he picked up eight sacks over 15 games with 46 tackles. Miller continues to be an impact run defender with the talent to be a difference-maker in the pass rush.
LB Todd Davis
Davis worked his way into more playing time over the last four years. He’ll add value to run support with risk in coverage and minimal success in sacks. Davis set a career-high in tackles (134) for the second straight year.
LB Alexander Johnson
Denver gave Johnson his best opportunity to play in 2019, leading 93 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three defended passes and one Int. He handled himself well against the run.
CB Isaac Yiadom
Yiadom made eight starts in 2019 after only seeing the field for 263 plays in his rookie season. He struggled in all areas.
Coming into the NFL, Yiadom lacks upper body strength, but he plays with power and a willingness to hit. Yiadom has press coverage skills with the hips to finish coverage over the short areas of the field. His technique off the ball needs work while lacking value in deep coverage.
CB Bryce Callahan
A foot injury cost Callahan the whole 2019 season. Over his previous two years with the Bears, he finished 70 combined tackles, three sacks, four Ints, and 12 defended passes. Callahan projects as the third cornerback this year.
CB A.J. Bouye
Over his last two seasons with the Jaguars, Bouye had a step back in value in the passing game (two Ints and 16 defended passes) while securing 119 combined tackles. He has the talent to regain his top form in coverage this year.
S Justin Simmons
Simmons developed into a top run defender in 2017 and 2018 with more growth last year. His play was much improved in coverage in 2019. He has 190 tackles over the previous two seasons with four Ints and 15 defended passes.
S Kareem Jackson
The transition to safety for Jackson last year worked out well for the Broncos. He will miss some tackles while adding value in run support. Jackson will allow some TDs and make some mistakes in coverage in the deep passing game.
Team Defense Outlook
Denver has two impact players (Chubb and Miller) on defense, plus three other players (Casey, Simmons, and Bouye) that have a chance to be assets at their positions. The run defense should improve. The middle of the defense at the first and second level does have some downside. Trending in the right direction while projecting more like a second defense in the fantasy market.
MORE FROM SI FANTASY: