The Denver Broncos enter the 2020 offseason with a significant amount of promise. Having a young quarterback with big upside and a revamped offensive unit tends to ratchet up the excitement.
The Broncos have solid offensive coaching with the addition of coordinator Pat Shurmur and the defense looks poised to take the next step in Year 2 of the Vic Fangio era.
All the promise in the world, however, isn’t enough. The Broncos have to convert that promise to production on the field.
It would be unfortunate if fans had to watch all that promise and potential fizzle out as the season unfolds. In order to avoid such a scenario, here are the five dominoes that have to fall for Denver. If left standing, any one of these could derail the season.
Lock MUST Take the Next Step
Drew Lock showed, in the last five games of 2019, that he could be a special talent. Even though there were some rookie ups and downs, he went 4-1 as a starter in that five-game stretch and put up solid rookie passing numbers.
Beyond that, Lock is putting in the extra work to be great and it looks like he has the 'it' factor that everyone raves about, but can’t define. The Broncos' ultimate success in 2020 relies on the second-year QB as much as anyone.
Lock doesn’t have to be an elite quarterback in Year 2, but he does have to show progress from what he put on the field at the end of last season. The future looks bright with him, but it is still a projection. The reality is, Lock has to prove himself in, well reality.
James MUST Stay Healthy
The Broncos offensive line definitely had its struggles last year due in large part to the absence of Ja'Wuan James from the lineup. The team could field a solid offensive line in 2020 if James can stay on the field and hold down his position at right tackle.
With the addition of Graham Glasgow and Lloyd Cushenberry to solidify the interior of the line, the Broncos just need a good pair of bookend tackles. James can be one of those players and has proven so when his health holds. If he gets injured again and misses a significant amount of time, the Broncos could have serious trouble keeping lock upright.
Jeudy MUST be the Real Deal
When John Elway snagged Jerry Jeudy in round one of the NFL Draft this past April, there was a tremendous amount of excitement in Broncos Country. Jeudy has tantalizing skills and by all means, should be a talented wide receiver at the next level.
For the Broncos to have a successful season, Jeudy can’t take a year to get up to speed. Now, he doesn’t have to be elite out of the gates, but he has to be a good complement to Courtland Sutton.
If Jeudy falters in Year 1, Sutton's going to continue to be an attention magnet for opposing defenses. If Jeudy doesn’t, the Broncos will have a great wide receiver duo that will help Lock tremendously.
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Purcell’s 2019 MUST not be an Aberration
The Broncos could have a very good pass-rushing defensive line in 2020. With the addition of Jurrell Casey, the re-signing of Shelby Harris, and the promise of Dre’Mont Jones, quarterbacks are going to have a hard time standing tall or stepping up in the pocket.
However, the run defense could be lacking if nose tackle Mike Purcell doesn’t have a similar season to 2019. It was by far the best season of his career. He was stout against the run and when inserted in the line-up last year, it paid dividends.
Purcell is the big body that keeps the middle clogged up. Harris was not that guy last year and Jones will need to make some strides in the run game to really contribute in that area. If Purcell falls back to his mean, there isn’t a strong trio the Broncos could put on the field to stop the run.
A Viable CB2 MUST Emerge
The acquisition of A.J. Bouye was a boon for the defensive backfield. However, there are a lot of question marks about the other cornerbacks.
Can Bryce Callahan stay healthy?
Will Isaac Yiadom live up to his draft pedigree?
Can rookie third-rounder Michael Ojemudia be good enough to contribute?
In the pass-happy NFL, you need three solid corners, but the Broncos need to start with finding a good No. 2 to play opposite of Bouye. Someone has to step up and take that No. 2 mantel or the pass rush won’t get home and quarterbacks will feast.
If the Broncos can take care of these 'musts', there is no reason to believe they can’t make a push for a playoff spot. That will be a welcomed sight to fans who have struggled through the last three seasons of sub-.500 mediocrity.