Denver Broncos 2020 NFL Combine Preview: Everything you Need to Know
The Denver Broncos have headed into the offseason with a renewed sense of optimism. GM John Elway, during his end-of-season presser, talked about his gut feeling that the Broncos have "bounced off the bottom" and are on the rise.
Drew Lock is a big reason for that optimistic mindset.
Vic Fangio is another reason Elway feels the way he does. In year one as head coach, Fangio didn't exactly move mountains, but he did improve the Broncos' record by one win and finished the season 4-1. Again, thanks in large part to Lock's impact.
Since the season ended, there have been some changes to Fangio's coaching staff. He wanted a more proven and aggressive coach at offensive coordinator, and so Rich Scangarello was dispatched after just one season.
Pat Shurmur was hired to take over the offense and shepherd Lock through his development heading into year two. Shurmur brought with him well-respected QBs Coach Mike Shula, which shows Fangio's commitment to maximizing Lock's development.
With the Broncos arriving at the Combine on Sunday, it's time to preview the 'Underwear Olympics' and get to the heart of what this team is trying to identify in Indianapolis this year. Hopefully, you've been keeping up with the prolific previews our Erick Trickel has published on each position group.
It's all part of the puzzle. However, before we can pinpoint where the Broncos want to be, we have to understand where they've been and where they're coming from. Allow me a quick rewind.
The Broncos opened the 2019 regular season with a very different situation at quarterback than what they finished with. Joe Flacco opened the year in the starter's chair and promptly led the Broncos to an 0-4 start.
Flacco didn't receive a ton a help from Fangio's defense, as the personnel on that side of the ball took a little time getting up to speed with the complex new scheme, failing to notch either a sack or a takeaway until Week 4.
The Broncos marginally improved in the second quarter of the season, winning two games. Then, disaster struck Flacco, who went down following the Broncos' Week 8 loss to the Indianapolis Colts with a neck injury. He would finish the year on injured reserve.
The issue for the Broncos? Lock was licking the wounds of a sprained thumb on IR. The team fast-tracked his recovery, circling Week 13 as the debut for their rookie second-round QB. Meanwhile, Brandon Allen took over as starter.
Throughout the season, the Broncos received a Pro Bowl performance from second-year WR Courtland Sutton, while saying goodbye to Emmanuel Sanders, who was dealt to the San Francisco 49ers via trade. Rookie first-round TE Noah Fant also shined, though it took him a little time to get up to speed. Fant would finish his rookie year as the owner of franchise records for most receptions and yards for a rookie TE.
Newcomer Kareem Jackson helped stabilize the backend of the Broncos' defense, giving Elway at least one free-agent success to hang his hat on, while OT Ja'Wuan James appeared in just three games due to a knee injury and CB Bryce Callahan missed the entire year with a lingering foot issue.
Lock was finally inserted into the lineup in Week 13. He immediately sparked the team, who would go on to defeat the L.A. Chargers, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders with him at the helm, losing just once to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos finished with a 7-9 record, which places them at pick 15 in the first round of the draft.
2020 Draft Position
The Broncos are seemingly improving by multiples of five. In 2018, the Broncos picked at No. 5 overall, while in 2019, they started at pick 10, only to trade back to 20 where they nabbed Fant.
But in the process of trading back with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, the Broncos also picked up a couple of additional third-round picks, one of which was used to move up and grab Lock at pick 42 last year, while the other helps round out three total third-rounders the team will have in 2020.
All in, the Broncos are projected to have 12 draft picks in 2020, with five selections in the top-100. Elway is going to have the ammunition to be a real player on draft day.
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The Broncos have several roster holes today, but many of them will be filled by the time the draft rolls around. The most immediate needs include the defensive line, where four starters from last year are entering free agency, cornerback and off-ball linebacker.
All indications are that the Broncos plan to 'buy' a defense in free agency and 'build' an offense in the draft. That doesn't mean Denver won't use a draft pick on a defensive player, but it does hint at the mindset the team has heading into the heart of draft season.
At pick 15, all the buzz ties the Broncos to the top of the wide receiver class. Prospects like Alabama's duo of Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, and Colorado's Laviska Shenault have all been mocked to the Broncos at various times this offseason.
If I were a betting man, that's where I'd put my money on the Broncos in the first round — wide receiver. However, considering the depth of the WR class, and the fact that the Broncos have five picks in the top-100, it might make more sense to wait on taking another pass-catcher and instead grab a blue-chip prospect at a different position.
Five Players the Broncos Must Watch
Jalen Reagor, WR | TCU: It's been the wideouts who've been Broncos picks in the ubiquitous mock drafts the league over, but the one name fans need to start adding to the list of likely candidates is Reagor. A strong week in Indy could vault him squarely into the first-round conversation.
Laviska Shenault, WR | Colorado: Built like a running back, Shenault brings that type of playmaking ability to the wideout position. He can excel after the catch and use his speed and elusiveness, and sometimes, outright power, to gash the opposition. The Broncos will be paying close attention to Shenault's 40 time in Indy.
Javon Kinlaw, DL | South Carolina: Kinlaw is the consensus No. 2 defensive tackle prospect in this class, behind only Auburn's Derrick Brown. It's arguable that Kinlaw possesses a greater ceiling than Brown, but he's still pretty raw. Teams will want to be sure that Kinlaw's problematic knee is up to snuff and so long as it is, he's a sure-fire first-round pick and on the table for Denver at pick 15.
Jeff Gladney, CB | TCU: Another Horned Frog makes this list. Gladney is the quintessential Fangio corner, able to sit back in zone coverage and drive on the ball with amazing click-and-close and either break up the pass or make the tackle. For Fangio DBs, tackling is "non-negotiable" and that shouldn't be a problem for Gladney. He's on the table for round one.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB | Appalachian State: He's not in the conversation as a first- or second-round prospect right now, but you never know how a great Combine can elevate draft stock. The bottom line is, the Broncos need an infusion of athleticism in their linebacker corps and someone who can complement Alexander Johnson in coverage and Davis-Gaither, despite his small-school status, fits the bill. Keep an eye on him, as the Broncos most certainly will be.
Stacking Classes Back-to-Back-to-Back
GM John Elway has been on a roll when it comes to the draft these past two years. His 2018 and 2019 draft hauls are the reason this team is on the brink of a turnaround.
If Elway can stack another impactful draft class back-to-back-to-back, it could be what the Broncos need to get them over the hump and back into competitive form for the next four years. Anything Elway can do to add to the cupboards can only help the Broncos maximize having a young QB on a cost-controlled contract.
Elway, as always, will lean heavily on Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell and Fangio, both of whom accompanied the GM to Indianapolis for the Combine. Elway is also known for listening to individual position coaches when it comes to the draft and the prospects they like.