Denver Broncos Team Preview
Is this Drew Lock’s final chance to lead Denver to the postseason?
It hasn’t been a bright few years for the Denver Broncos since their 2015 Super Bowl victory. The team has failed to reach the postseason in each of the five years since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. During that span, Denver also has had a winning record just once.
Not exactly the results a storied franchise like the Broncos are hoping for.
These struggles continued throughout the 2020 season, as Denver finished with a 5–11 record. There was no shortage of blame to go around. The Broncos’ offense struggled as a whole, finishing in the bottom ten in total yards per game (tenth-fewest), passing yards per game (seventh-fewest), and points per game (fifth-fewest).
Denver’s offense wasn’t the lone culprit for the team’s struggles either. The team’s defense also had its own issues. The Broncos allowed the twelfth-most total yards per game, the eighth-most rushing yards per game, and the eighth-most points per game last season.
So what was the reason for these problems?
On defense, a lack of available talent was mainly to blame. Star pass rusher Von Miller was forced to miss the entire 2020 season due to an ankle injury. In the secondary, an injured A.J. Bouye and third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia simply weren’t good enough at the corner position.
As for the offense, most of the blame will land on quarterback Drew Lock. The former Missouri QB struggled for much of the year, finishing with 2,933 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions in 13 games. But all of Denver’s offensive woes weren’t on Lock. The offensive line struggled, as Pro Football Focus had them ranked 25th at the end of last season. The receiving group dealt with injuries (Courtland Sutton playing just 31 snaps) and drop issues (rookies Jerry Jeudy/K.J. Hamler each having 7+) for most of the year as well.
But this is a new season, and the Denver Broncos are a major sleeper.
Now you’re probably wondering why I’m so optimistic about a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2016. Well, it’s because I’m one of the few remaining Drew Lock supporters out there.
The majority of people have already written off the former second-round pick. For me, however, it seems a bit too early. Yes, Lock’s numbers haven’t been great thus far into his career (3,953 yards, 23 touchdowns, 18 interceptions). The thing is we’re hardly into his career. Lock has played a total of 18 games over the course of his first two years. Can you really be sure the kid can’t play after the equivalent of basically one season of the film?
Yes, I know the new NFL is shortening the timeline on how long young quarterbacks have to prove themselves in the league. But 18 games just isn’t enough for me to give up hope, especially after Lock has shown flashes. Throughout his short career, Lock has games that consist of 309 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in a win over Houston in 2019, 280 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a win over Carolina in 2020, and 339 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a loss against Las Vegas in 2020.
Simply put, the talent is there for Drew Lock. I believe this is the year he and the Broncos finally put it all together.
There’s a couple of reasons for my optimism. The first being the improvements surrounding Lock on offense. The weakest part of Denver’s offensive line last season was the center position. The Broncos addressed that need through the draft by selecting Senior Bowl standout Quinn Meinerz to compete with last year’s rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III.
Along with the o-line addition, Denver’s receiving group is set to make a leap in 2021. Courtland Sutton returns after an ACL injury last year. When fully healthy in 2019, Sutton showed his ability to be a wide receiver one, finishing 19th in receiving yards with 1,112. Jerry Jeudy should also see an improvement in 2021. The former Alabama receiver’s route running makes him a matchup nightmare, so as long as he cleans up his drops, Jeudy could be a major breakout candidate.
Denver’s improvements on offense didn’t stop there either. The Broncos decided to add second-round running back Javonte Williams to pair with Melvin Gordon. Williams finished last season with 1,445 total yards and 22 total touchdowns in 11 games for North Carolina. The move should give Denver a nice one-two punch out of the backfield.
Now the talent is there for Denver’s offense to be the focal point of this team. However, the defense is actually what brings the most optimism for Denver this year.
Von Miller returns after not playing last season. His pairing with Bradley Chubb once again gives the Broncos two real threats to opposing offensive lines. But this isn’t solely a defensive line anchored unit. The real superstar of Denver’s defense is their secondary, which is ranked number one by Pro Football Focus entering the 2021 season. The Broncos added Kyle Fuller and first-round pick Patrick Surtain II to a core that already had Justin Simmons and Bryce Callahan, creating a true no-fly zone.
Denver has a real shot as being the best defense in the NFL, thus eliminating a good amount of pressure off Drew Lock and the offense.
So what should the expectations be this year?
The Broncos were a 5–11 team, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Denver lost six games by one score or less. Pair that with the fifth-easiest schedule this upcoming season and the Broncos could very well sneak into the playoffs.
All eyes will be on Drew Lock, and by the looks of it so far he’s ready for the challenge. In his first preseason game (I know, I know but it’s not completely useless), Lock went 5/7 for 151 yards and two touchdowns in a start against the Vikings. The pieces are in place. Lock could finally be poised for a breakout, while Denver could finally break their playoff drought. Only time will tell for the 2021 Broncos.