The Broncos' 2020 Outlook Depends on These 5 Players Staying Injury-Free
Only a couple of months remain until the 2020 regular season is scheduled to kick off. While many hurdles will have to be overcome before September 10, due to the pandemic, for now, the league remains adamant that the 2020 season will begin on-time.
We here at Mile High Huddle will push on and today, we rank the crucial players who will have to stay healthy and available if the Denver Broncos are to push themselves back into playoff contention.
Which players are most important to the Broncos' 2020 outlook? When it comes to staying healthy, here are the top-5 players who must absolutely remain injury-free.
1. Drew Lock, QB
The Broncos' destiny rests on the back of their young quarterback, a notion that has only been reinforced by his mature handling of an extremely difficult offseason. Lock has shown real leadership skills and a veteran work ethic to embrace the virtual learning and study during his time spent in lock-down.
Mentally, it should set him up to succeed in his first full season as the Broncos undisputed starter. Most point to Lock’s 4-1 starting debut, but it’s also worth noting that an injured thumb has already cost the QB a total of 11 games out of 16 so far.
Lock's successful end to his rookie season removed any doubts that he still was protecting that thumb as he threw the ball with great accuracy and velocity. GM John Elway signed former Lions backup Jeff Driskel to provide insurance for the unthinkable scenario of Lock going down once again.
Driskel, a career backup, will provide some form of a safety net for Denver if Lock were to miss any games or even some snaps, but that’s where the journeyman's skill-set stops short. Make no mistake, the Broncos need Lock to stay on the field if they're to challenge for a spot in the playoffs.
Lock’s mobility and quick release should be helped by improved footwork, but his health will also be tied to the guys who are protecting him upfront. This leads us nicely to the next player on the list
2. Ja’Wuan James, RT
The oft-injured James is thrust into the spotlight because of his seemingly brittle body and questions over his mental strength to play on. As vocal as the critics may have been about the 28-year-old ex-Dolphin’s ability to stay healthy, his huge contract will always put him in the crosshairs until he can prove he is more dependable.
James tried to lift the lid on what he believed was the truth about his murky injury problems last year back in late December, which limited him to only 63 snaps for the Broncos.
“I tore some ligaments in my knee during the first game of the season,” James told Nicki Jhabvala of the Athletic just before Christmas. “Was working back to get it healed, came back for that Colts game and ended up reinjuring it. I re-tore all the scar tissue that was healing and then ended up tearing part of my meniscus. They said it wouldn’t be that serious but when I was out there, even at practice, trying to come back, my knee was buckling on me. It was just weak because the ligaments weren’t strong.”
James’ process of healing will also have to include his relationship with the Broncos' medical staff. The big tackle didn't fully trust the injury diagnosis he was given previously by the team physicians.
The troubling situation can only be put in the past if James can play a full season and successfully fill at least one of the problematic tackle slots for the Broncos in 2020.
3. Von Miller, OLB
Despite No. 58 having a down year by his own lofty standards, the former Super Bowl 50 MVP is still the straw who stirs the Broncos drink on defense. Last year, Miller missed his first regular-season game since 2013, but he still remains a durable player at 31 years old.
What really troubled Miller last season was the constant chipping and double teams he received that only increased when Braldey Chubb suffered an ACL tear in Week 4. While it’s essential that Miller plays all 16 games and eclipses the his single-digit sack total (eight) from last year, it’s the importance of Chubb returning to form a match-up nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators that could be the most crucial aspect to Denver's future success.
Miller is also the undisputed locker room leader for the young Broncos and will need to set the example for his inexperienced locker room and inspire them with his own on-field performances. Chubb’s hotly-anticipated return should take the added pressure of Miller, it will also help to avoid wearing him down as the season progresses.
4. Bradley Chubb, OLB
When you look back on Chubb’s season-ending knee injury last year, you really see how damaging it was to the Broncos' prospects. Vic Fangio’s new defense was going to utilize both of his star pass rushers, putting opposing offenses in the unenviable position of trying to block both at the same time.
Once Chubb left the line-up, teams concentrated on slowing down Miller and game-planned to not let him beat them, so Chubb has to be a full go to avoid a damaging repeat in 2020.
Chubb just recently posted an explosive workout video of him returning to somewhere near full speed on his social media accounts. He also spoke with Denver7’s Troy Renck about how he was approaching his rehab back in March.
“My knee is doing great. I am in rehab every day, me and one of the trainers are working out. It’s just the two of us [at the facility],” Chubb told Renck. “We are making sure we are doing all the right things to stay clean and do the right things so there are no setbacks for the coming year.”
One notable advantage could come from the NFL allowing Chubb to workout and rehab in the team facility while Coronavirus locked everyone else out. The hope is he will return fully fit and motivated to establish a devastating pass-rushing duo opposite Miller this coming season.
5. Bryce Callahan, CB
Callahan's own recent workout video was impressive and has at least given some peace of mind that he might be able to finally return to the team and take his first snaps as a Bronco. When the Callahan came over from the Chicago Bears as a high-priced free agent, many believed his familiarity with the Fangio system would be an ideal fit.
Unfortunately, he reaggravated a foot injury that has since required two surgical procedures to correct and it cost him all of last season. Much like James, the veteran cornerback has received flak from critics who have unfairly questioned his mental toughness and overall commitment.
As if to debunk that notion, he accepted a contract restructure this offseason that will help the Broncos save $1.8 million against the salary cap. Callahan also needs to prove his worth in the very Fangio system where he found success in Chicago and it’s likely he will be asked to fill the slot corner role as he attempts to form a brand new pairing with recent trade acquisition A.J. Bouye.
Callahan has at least emerged from his injury hell without voicing discontent at the loud criticism he has received and a lot will now ride on his experience and consistency adding to what is a very young cornerback room as he attempts to shake loose from the 'forgotten man' reputation in Denver.