Stat Proves Broncos' Drafting Among NFL's Best
The modest amount of excitement surrounding the Denver Broncos nationally isn't just about second-year quarterback Drew Lock. As a rookie last year, Lock took the reigns of a three-win team in Week 13 and led the Broncos to a 7-9 finish.
Winning 4-of-5 starts is impressive for any rookie quarterback and there's no doubt Lock was the impetus for GM John Elway's aggressive push to add explosive offensive weapons this past offseason, but there's more context to why a few national pundits, arguably still in the minority, have championed the Broncos as a darkhorse contender in 2020.
While Elway has been lauded for his 2020 draft haul, those rookies have yet to step on the field in the Orange and Blue. The foundation for Elway's caffeinated rebuild (small r) was laid in the two previous draft classes (which included Lock).
To illustrate how well the Broncos' front-office czar has done at restocking the personnel shelves since 2018, no team has acquired more selections to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team over that two-year period than Denver. We learned this by virtue of the Broncos' release of their 2020 Media Guide on Thursday.
RB Phillip Lindsay and LB Bradley Chubb garnered All-Rookie honors 2018, while TE Noah Fant and OG Dalton Risner followed suit in 2019. Those four All-Rookie selections are the most in the NFL since 2018.
What's crazy is that distinction fails to mention the likes of Lock (a 2019 second-round pick) or WR Courtland Sutton (a 2018 second-rounder), the latter of whom is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The Broncos' youth movement doesn't stop there.
S Justin Simmons was drafted back in 2016 but is coming off a phenomenal season in Vic Fangio's defense wherein he garnered second-team All-Pro honors. If Garett Bolles' improvements down the stretch with Lock under center prove to be the genuine article and not fool's gold, it's another example of a young player drafted by Elway entering his prime in 2020.
Throw in LB Alexander Johnson (2018 college free agent), RB Royce Freeman (2018 third-rounder), CB Isaac Yiadom, LB Josey Jewell (2018 fourth-rounder), WR DaeSean Hamilton (2018 fourth-rounder, DL Dre'Mont Jones (2019 third-rounder who garnered AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 16), and LB Justin Hollins (2019 fifth-rounder), and the youth movement becomes even more apparent. These are all players poised to have a prominent role with the team this coming season.
Then we get to the 2020 draft class, which has the potential to be even better than its 2018 and 2019 counterparts. WRs Jerry Jeudy (first-round) and KJ Hamler (second) stand at the top of the class, with C Lloyd Cushenberry (third) just behind them, but there are a lot of NFL people excited to see what CB Michael Ojemudia (third), DL McTelvin Agim (third), TE Albert Okwuegbunam (fourth), and LB Justin Strnad (fifth) can contribute in the coming years.
Even sixth-round OG Netane Muti, if he can fend off the injury bug, speaks to the quality and depth of Elway's 2020 draft haul. Muti was viewed as a Day 2-caliber talent with an undrafted injury history. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a stud and contribute upfront.
With so many young pieces in place, many of whom have mostly navigated already the steepest part of their NFL learning curve, the Broncos could very well be 2020's version of the Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills who take a worst-to-first type of competitive leap forward. If Elway's coaching hires over the past two years prove to be the right men for the job, it's hard to see any reason why the Broncos won't finally emerge from the sub-.500 doldrums and return to a winning brand of football.
Back on December 31, Elway professed his belief that the Broncos have finally "bounced off the bottom", which means their trajectory is on the rise. The additions made by way of the 2020 draft, combined with the previous two hauls, could make that statement a reality.
Much hinges on the young Lock but the beauty of what Elway has so quickly built over the last three years is the depth and balance across the roster. Lock won't have to do it alone or carry the Broncos per se, but remember, a true franchise QB is the tide that raises all ships. That caliber of QB makes the talent around him better.
If the second-year signal-caller goes on to fulfill those 'franchise' expectations in 2020, the sky truly will be the limit for the Broncos.