Broncos Receive Short Shrift in Peter King's 2020 NFL Power Rankings
The 2020 Denver Broncos continue to be one of the harder teams to pinpoint entering the NFL season. After wandering the proverbial quarterback desert and operating in purgatory since Peyton Manning hung up his cleats, the once-proud Broncos organization has stumbled from one forgettable season to another.
However, after walking out of the 2019 draft with former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and finishing 4-1 with him under center last season, the Broncos seem to be once again trending in the direction of relevance in the AFC.
The Broncos’ defense has never been able to replicate their 2015 counterparts, but even if some of those units since the Super Bowl haven’t been ‘all-time’ greats, the defense has been far from the main issue inhibiting Denver from reaching the playoffs. Instead, it has been the Broncos’ inability to score points and field a competent offense that has continually plagued the team.
Luckily for Broncos’ Country, the struggles of the Broncos' offense may be beginning to turn around. With an exciting young nucleus on offense with a plethora of potential offensive difference-makers over the past few drafts and an emerging young quarterback, Denver could really be a team to be reckoned with this coming season.
However, with Lock only having five starts under his belt to date, most NFL Analysts are approaching their 2020 expectations for the Broncos with some caution.
NBC Sports' renowned analyst and reporter Peter King is no different. Despite piling on praise for John Elway and the Broncos this offseason, King’s 2020 preseason power rankings do not seem to match the hype he had been preaching to date.
Stating the obvious in the relative unknown of the quarterback situation as well as a tough schedule in a tough division (King has the Kansas City Chiefs ranked No. 1), just who this 2020 Broncos team will become is essentially a mystery until the product is seen on the field.
Denver’s gone 5-11, 6-10 and 7-9 in the last three years, and those three losing seasons match the total of the Broncos’ previous 22 years. Which is why the emergency button has been pressed in the office of franchise architect John Elway. The Broncos acquired some short-term adrenaline for the defense in trades—defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye, and Bradley Chubb comes back to try to fulfill the pass-rush promise that he flashed briefly as a rookie since he was the fifth overall pick two years ago. I trust Vic Fangio to put together a defense at least as solid as last year, when the Broncos held eight of their last 12 foes to 20 points or less. Fangio will be tested early: Denver opens with the resurgent Titans, Steelers and Bucs in the first three weeks. Derrick Henry, Big Ben and Tom Brady. Some tests.
Of course, Elway decided to try to match nuclear arsenals in Kansas City in the offseason, adding receivers Jerry Jeudy and speedy K.J. Hamler with the first two picks—Fangio’s a pretty magnanimous head coach to continue to see Elway building the offense and not jump on the table for prime defensive draft pieces—and plucking Melvin Gordon from the Chargers in free agency. Denver may have the best young skill group in the NFL, with Jeudy, Hamler, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton at wideout, Noah Fant at tight end and Gordon to supplement two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay in the backfield. Few quarterbacks have as much pressure entering this season as Drew Lock, the 2018 second-rounder with all of five NFL starts to his name.
This is going to be a fun team to watch. I could see the Broncos, in a rising division, anywhere between second and fourth, anywhere between six and 11 wins.
Understanding the National Skepticism
While there are a multitude of storylines surrounding the Broncos entering the 2020 season, nothing will trump the intrigue surrounding Lock as a quarterback. Yes, Lock went 4-1 to finish last season flashing a strong arm and play-making ability, but he also struggled in the preseason and displayed erratic play during his college career which caused him to fall out of the first round of the draft.
There is earned optimism surrounding Lock but from a national perspective, it makes sense to be patient until a larger sample size is garnered under the second-year quarterback.
Can Lock earn the title of franchise quarterback, or will he fail to take another step year two and instead fall into the ranks of ‘solid’ quarterback ala Andy Dalton or Derek Carr; a fine quarterback on a rookie contract, but never truly able to carry the mantle of ‘franchise quarterback’. Elway surrounded Lock with play-makers to be able to learn as much about the young QB as possible in 2020.
The offensive line, specifically at tackle, as well as the youth of the offense could impede some of Lock’s progress this season, but still, the Broncos should be able to get a relatively clean read on Lock and if he can be ‘the guy’ going forward.
Overall, there is a relatively low bar for the Broncos entering the 2020 season, with an equal amount of intrigue. Until more is known about just how good Lock can be at quarterback, many will pump the brakes with more conservative outlooks.
Given such a wide range of possible outcomes, having the Broncos ranked 20th in the NFL by King is not a stretch but perhaps more on the low end of the bell curve of realistic expectations (especially when King has the Las Vegas Raiders as his eighth-ranked team! Come on!)
As Lock said recently in an interview on the Zapped Podcast, the postseason is the objective.
“The goal this season is to make the playoffs and we need to make a run once we get there. That town needs it, we need it, I want it.”
King set the Broncos' bar somewhat low coming in at 20th overall in his power rankings, but that ranking could change very quickly. The NFL is a quarterback league and Denver’s ability to truly emerge will in large part depend on whether the team has finally emerged from purgatory with Lock.
Much of the NFL seems to be excited about what the Broncos ‘could’ become, but until Denver proves it on the field, expect the relatively low rankings and expectations to continue. The Broncos should be far more exciting in 2020 and heading in the right direction, but until proven otherwise people will continue to doubt if Denver is back and for real, or just another garden variety team wading in the pool of the .500 squads.