The Denver Broncos' draft-day maneuvers were hijacked by the news of Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay. Ever since the Broncos have been tied to multiple rumors.
Trading for the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback is a no-brainer, but until it actually happens (which is probably a long shot as of today), the Broncos will be taking the field with either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater at the most important position in sports.
Neither Lock nor Bridgewater is elite. Bridgewater has more experience, but he is not going to be the quarterback the team relies on to carry them to the playoffs.
Lock has potential and could become a good quarterback in the NFL, but his inconsistency is maddening. He needs time to develop. The likelihood of either of them making the leap into the upper echelon in 2021 is small.
The good news is, neither QB has to leap to that upper echelon this year because the Broncos can lean on other areas of the team. The Broncos have two specific areas that, on paper, are poised for large improvements from the prior season and have serious implications in regards to a playoff berth.
The first is creating turnovers. Last season the Broncos mustered a paltry 16 takeaways, ranking in the bottom-5 of the NFL. This is their worst output since 2008.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected since injuries decimated the Broncos' defense last season. The secondary was impacted heavily by injuries and the loss of Von Miller before the season began likely led to a defense that couldn’t affect the QB as regularly leading to a dip in takeaways.
Takeaways are a significant factor in winning games. It becomes even more important without an elite quarterback at the helm. The Broncos defense must give the offense more chances to score.
There are also playoff implications. Of the past 38 playoff participants, only four had less than 20 takeaways in a season. It is not the only factor that you can point to in determining how teams get in the playoffs, but it is a factor.
Here’s why the Broncos are poised for their takeaways to increase substantially. Miller is coming back from injury. He is a premier pass rusher and he can create forced fumbles (averages almost three per season) and the type of quarterback pressure he causes can lead to interceptions. Having Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris, and Dre’Mont Jones wreaking havoc should bode well for opportunities in the secondary.
Also, the Broncos have a much improved secondary group versus last season. The team brought back Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson at safety and bolstered its cornerback group through free agency and the draft.
Kyler Fuller is the key addition to focus on here. The last time Fuller played for Vic Fangio, he tallied seven interceptions in a season. Adding to that, Simmons has increased his interception total each year he has been in the league. He had five last season and if the trend continues, he should have six or more.
It would be an absolute shock to see a takeaway total of less than 20 in this coming season. If it happens again, the Broncos will have another losing season and Fangio would be sent packing. There is a lot riding on this defense and they will come through.
A Prolific Rushing Game
Relying on the running game seems weird in this pass-happy league, but with the less than stellar performance at quarterback, the Broncos will have to lean heavily on their run game. This will have two benefits.
First, it will give Lock time to develop during the season. He won’t have to be the person who takes the game over week in and week out in an attempt to get a win. Grind it out, play good defense, let Lock make plays when he has to so that he can grow with confidence.
The second benefit is staying in the playoff hunt. The last three seasons have seen teams make the playoffs while being in the bottom half of the league for passing yards per game, but having a top-10 rushing offense. In fact, four teams have done it in each of the last three seasons.
The optimism for dramatic improvement is centered squarely on the newly acquired second-round pick Javonte Williams. Yes, Melvin Gordon is returning and he is a solid running back, but Williams’ potential exceeds that of Gordon.
Williams really could become an elite running back in the NFL. The rookie's abilities, combined with Gordon’s steady production, can push the Broncos into the top-5 for rushing touchdowns, average yards per carry, and average yards per game. This duo will be a valuable commodity and combined with a solid defense, might be the elixir that gets this team into the playoffs.
Will improvement in these two areas guarantee a playoff spot? Absolutely not, but it would give the Broncos a better chance than putting all of their hope on Lock becoming a top-5 quarterback.
It will also help him get better. Lock was always a project entering the 2019 draft and with only 18 games under his belt, he needs more time. The Broncos can push for the playoffs and let Lock grow while playing under center because of how this roster is built.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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