3 players ready to emerge as stars for the Broncos

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium.
Dec 15, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos own one of the league’s youngest rosters, and as a result of that, have a lot of young, exciting, talented players that have flashed potential brilliance. However, some haven’t fully realized that potential quite yet.

Here are three such players that might finally pop under the national spotlight in 2020.

Noah Fant

By all means, Fant had a solid rookie season for a tight end, a position with one of the more difficult transitions from college to pro. He reeled in 40 receptions for 562 yards and three touchdowns and earned a spot on the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team.

That rookie performance is comparable to what many of the league’s top tight ends did in their rookie season. Players like George Kittle (43 rec, 515 yds, 2 TDs), Zach Ertz(36 rec, 469 yds, 4 TDs) and Greg Olsen (39 rec, 391 yds, 2 TDs), proving he’s started his career off on the right foot.

Now, he just has to replicate what those players did in Year 2 and beyond, and all the help Denver added this offseason should make that task easier.

Once the Broncos let Emmanuel Sanders go, Fant quickly became their second-most dangerous pass catcher on the team, and by a healthy margin. This meant Fant had to deal with a lot more attention from defensive coordinators and defensive backs than he should in 2020, giving him more opportunities to make highlight reel-plays.

Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson might already be a star in the hearts and minds of the Broncos and their devoted fans in Broncos Country, but from a national perspective, he remains unknown for the most part.

That should change this season, now that he has some experience as a starter under his belt and the Broncos become more relevant nationally. Vic Fangio’s scheme has always turned inside linebackers into stars from recent cases like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to older cases like the Saints’ Dome Patrol.

Also, Johnson has a strong foundation to build on. In his first season playing notable snaps, he racked up 93 tackles, five of which went for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a game-sealing interception against the Chargers.

The analytics love him as well. He was Pro Football Focus’ Defensive Player of the Month for October, and finished the season as the eighth-highest graded coverage linebacker, highest-graded run-defending linebacker, and their fourth-highest graded linebacker overall.

Drew Lock

If the Broncos want to end their playoff drought and make it to the dance this season, Drew Lock will have to become the star quarterback we saw flashes of last season.

Lock’s most impressive performance, during Denver’s clobbering of the playoff-bound Texans, showed what he could be, an immensely-gifted gunslinger and strong leader capable of willing his teams to victory over more talented opponents. That being said, his other four starts showed he still has plenty of room left for development before he can play at that level consistently.

Denver’s offseason additions of Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Melvin Gordon, Graham Glasgow, Lloyd Cushenberry III, and Pat Shurmur should hasten that development and makes his success far more likely, but there’s a flip side to those additions as well. That amount of surrounding talent means Lock has no room for excuses if he flounders in 2020.

He now has two top-20 running backs, an extremely promising receiving corps, one of the best young tight ends in the game, a re-built and improved offensive line, and a proven offensive coordinator. If Lock struggles as the lone starter on the roster this season, it will be hard to blame it on anyone but himself.

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