3 Up 3 Down: The Broncos that helped and hurt their stock the most in 2019

Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) pulls in a touchdown pass as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) defends during the first half of NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The 2019 season was a pivotal one for the Broncos that appeared to turn the ship around despite the loss or deteriorating play of star players.

Denver now has a quarterback to build around, continuity at head coach and several young stars to form the foundation of the roster for the first time since 2013.

Here are the players that improved their stock the most, and the players that saw their play drop the most in 2019:

Up

Courtland Sutton

Courtland Sutton emerged not just as a star for the Broncos in 2019, but on the national scene, as one of the league’s future stars as well.

Sutton’s stat line (72 receptions for more than 1,100 yards and six touchdowns) doesn’t even capture the full scope of his incredible season, thanks to the numerous highlight-reel worthy catches he made, all with a washed-up Joe Flacco, a backup that had never taken an NFL snap, and Drew Lock.

It’s insane that Sutton wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl originally (thankfully that was corrected) as he was a legitimate All-Pro contender, but Broncos fans should rest easy knowing the Lock-to-Sutton connection should be around for a long time.

Justin Simmons

Fourth-year safety Justin Simmons was solid in 2018 but came a bonafide superstar in 2019.

In his contract year, Simmons became Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded safety, defensive back, and fourth-highest graded defender overall, and was also named to the second All-Pro team by the AP.

His contract is set to expire this offseason, but it would be more than surprising if the Broncos were unable to bring the young star safety back.

John Elway

No member of the organization improved their stock more in 2019 than general manager John Elway.

Before the season, one could make a strong case for why the Broncos should have canned their Hall-of-Fame quarterback. But now, anyone with that stance needs to seriously re-evaluate.

In 2019, Elway landed his second-straight extremely strong draft class, made the right head-coaching hire in Vic Fangio, brought on key free agents in Kareem Jackson and Mike Purcell, unearthed a gem in Alexander Johnson, and finally solved the quarterback problem with Drew Lock and it only costed a second-round pick.

As a general manager on the hot seat, it’s hard to draw up a season any better than that.

Down

Von Miller

By no means is Von Miller done, but to say that he’s still the annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate and game-wrecker he was three seasons ago is equally over-exaggerated.

With eight sacks, Miller turned in the second-lowest sack total for a single season of his career, ahead of only the 2013 season when he tore his ACL and appeared in just nine games.

He could potentially bounce back in his second season in Fangio’s scheme, but in all likelihood, Miller’s reign of dominance is over.

Chris Harris Jr.

While Miller remained a star player despite his degradation, Chris Harris Jr. fell all the way from “superstar” to “just a guy” in 2019.

In the second half of the season, Harris Jr. appeared to be the secondary’s weak spot and was consistently attacked because of it. The Vikings, Bills, Raiders and Lions feasted on him as he struggled to keep with receivers on deep routes.

One could make a strong case that it was that inability to defend deep routes that led to the Vikings coming back on the Broncos in Week 11.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him this offseason. Harris Jr.’s contract is expiring and his value probably isn’t what he’d like it to be thanks to a poor campaign.

Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson

Entering the season, the thought was that the Broncos had a solid sixth man on the offensive line in Elijah Wilkinson and that with Mike Munchak now in the deck, Garett Bolles would be able to turn his play around.

17 weeks later, and neither seems to be the case.

Bolles finished the season with 17 penalties, becoming one of just two linemen to be called for more than 15 penalties and allowed 31 total pressures on the quarterback.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson was flagged nine times himself and allowed the most pressures of any Bronco while playing in relief of Ja’Wuan James.

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