Broncos Roster Gets NFL Ranking by PFF | Is it Fair?
The offseason brings about optimism surrounding every team in the NFL. Every young player is going to improve, every signing is going to make a key difference, every draft pick is going to hit, and every player is finally healthy and self-reported 'in the best shape of their life.'
The Denver Broncos are no exception.
After a strong offseason where the team surrounded quarterback Drew Lock with speed and acquired some key veterans via trade on defense, the Broncos appear to be trending towards playoff contention in the 2020 season with an improved overall roster. A tall task for a team in a division with the best quarterback in football and the reigning Super Bowl Champions, but following three losing seasons in a row the Broncos appear poised to announce themselves as ‘back’ on the NFL stage.
Pro Football Focus agrees that the Denver Broncos have a real chance to reemerge in 2020. As well known Lock 'doubters', despite their skepticism surrounding the quarterback, PFF still ranked the Broncos roster No. 14 in the NFL. This speaks volumes to the job GM John Elway has done building a nest around the young quarterback and Vic Fangio’s presence for the Denver defense.
Where PFF was most impressed was with the exciting arsenal of pass-catchers on the offense. Already possessing one of the best young receivers in Courtland Sutton, the Broncos strengthened a strength with their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 draft. Here is what PFF had to say about Denver’s weapons:
14. DENVER BRONCOS
Biggest strength: The 2020 draft was all about getting quarterback Drew Lock some more weapons. And now, those offensive weapons stick out as one of the strengths of the team. Courtland Sutton corralled the drop issues that plagued him as a rookie and ended the 2019 season as PFF's 10th-highest-graded wide receiver, and Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler should give him plenty of support early in their NFL careers. Jeudy, in particular, was the top wide receiver on PFF's big board this offseason, capable of creating separation better than any other route runner at the college level. His addition gives the Broncos two No. 1 wide receivers.
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While somewhat tempering 2020 expectations for Jeudy and Hamler in their rookie seasons would likely be prudent, it’s hard not to be excited about the speed the duo brings and how well they both compliment Sutton as well as 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant. Say what you will about the offensive line and the tackle position, the players around Lock give the Broncos a chance to get a clean evaluation on him in 2020. It’s on Lock to succeed (within reason).
The Broncos did a fantastic job addressing the skill positions on offense, but the defensive skill players specifically at cornerback could be an Achilles heel next season. In the AFC West with so many teams possessing equally explosive offensive play-makers, the Broncos cornerback group is concerning and worth monitoring going forward.
Biggest weakness: The Broncos have some nice pieces in place in the secondary with Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons and Bryce Callahan. The cornerback position is still somewhat in the air, however. A.J. Bouye had a borderline elite run from 2016 to 2018, but things fell back down to earth with a 55.4 coverage grade in a season that saw the Jaguars trade away Jalen Ramsey. The other outside spot — assuming Callahan stays in the slot — looks to be an open competition, with third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia standing out as the favorite. In any case, it's hard to feel secure at the position heading into 2020.
Luckily for the Broncos’ concerns at cornerback, DC Ed Donatell and Coach Fangio are known for getting the most out of their cornerbacks. A lot depends on the health of Bouye and Callahan but under the coaches it wouldn’t be surprising if one of Michael Ojemudia, De’Vante Bausby, or even Isaac Yiadom emerged this upcoming season. It also doesn’t hurt that Denver has one of the best safety duos in the NFL as well.
Even if the Broncos had the best weapons, offensive line, and defense in the NFL it all might be for not if the quarterback position struggles. It is the great equalizer in the league and without a franchise quarterback, a team will need an incredible roster and a stroke of luck to make any waves in the league.
This holds true for the Broncos and makes them one of the most volatile teams to project in 2020. Lock flashed plenty last season, but a five-game sample size against mostly poor pass defenses only has so much predictive power.
If Lock emerges and proves to be a great quarterback, the sky is the limit for this team, but if not Denver could easily find themselves picking in the top-10 once again and back on the hunt for a long-term option at quarterback.
X factor for 2020: This team will go as far as Lock takes it this season. The Broncos have put him in position to succeed with a talented offensive cast around him, but some of the Lock hype this offseason has gotten a bit out of hand. He had a couple of strong showings, but his 57.6 overall grade over the final five weeks of the season ranked 28th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks. At this point, it's too early to say what he'll look like in his second season, making him a true X factor on what is otherwise a talented roster.
The 2020 version of the Broncos is likely the most talented roster the organization has had since winning Super Bowl 50. With a fantastic defensive coach and a veteran defense blended with a young and exciting offense, the Broncos could become NFL darlings once again and must-watch TV in the explosive AFC West.
Just how far can this team go? It likely all comes down to Lock. If he can prove to be a franchise quarterback, this Broncos team is going to be incredibly fun to watch in 2020 and beyond.