The Broncos haven’t made the playoffs, or really been all that close, since winning Super Bowl 50, but now they finally look ready to compete for a spot in the tournament.
For that to happen though, they’ll need standout performances from a lot of players that had arguably the worst season of their career in 2019.
Will they be able to turn it around in 2020, and carry the Broncos into the playoffs? Let’s take a look.
The Broncos don’t have many established starting-caliber cornerbacks on the roster, so it’ll be key that the ones they do have play well in 2020.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bouye had his worst season since 2015 last year, earning an overall grade of 58.4 and a coverage grade of 55.4. Those grades are outliers for Bouye over the course of his career though, so it’s not time to sound the alarms yet.
Now, in a scheme that fits him perfectly, with better surrounding talent and a more impressive defensive coaching staff, Bouye has no excuse not to return to elite form.
Last offseason, in an effort to negotiate for a big-ticket deal, Melvin Gordon held himself out of training camp and even stayed separate from the team for the first few games of the regular season.
That move backfired colossally, as Gordon had the worst season of his career outside his rookie year and backup Austin Ekeler stole his job and the payday Gordon was pursuing.
This year, Gordon has the perfect opportunity to seize his revenge twice a season, and if he returns to form, he could be an incredible asset for Drew Lock. A young quarterback’s best friends are a strong running game and a good offensive line. Gordon checks one of those boxes.
Behind Bouye and Callahan, the Broncos are looking at a heap of Isaac Yiadoms and De’Vante Bausby’s if rookie Michael Ojemudia doesn’t pop in year one.
The Broncos signed Callahan last season to be Chris Harris’ replacement in the slot, but he wasn’t able to make it on to the field for a single snap, as he battled complications related to his foot injury and subsequent story.
That being said, every year Callahan has played in the NFL, he’s steadily improved. From a middling nickel corner in year one, to a top-five corner in 2018 (per PFF), Callahan blossomed into a star under Fangio in Chicago. The Broncos will need that development to continue if they want to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Much like Callahan, James was supposed to be a key offseason addition for the Broncos last year, but was barely even able to get on the field for them.
This led to Elijah Wilkinson starting at right tackle, who allowed a team-leading 10 sacks (more than double Garett Bolles who finished in second with 4), good for the 4th-most among all offensive linemen.
When healthy, James isn’t an elite tackle, but he might as well be compared to what the Broncos had at right tackle last season. Over his last two seasons with the Dolphins, James allowed just nine sacks. If he’s just able to start 16 games for Denver, their offensive line will be drastically improved on the edge.
Von Miller & Bradley Chubb
Under the tutelage of Vic Fangio, the tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb was supposed to be the best pass-rushing duo in the league but that was far from the case.
The defense, and especially the pass rush, got off to a slow start in 2019, with Bradley Chubb being one of the few bright spots before tearing his ACL in Week 4. Meanwhile, on the other side of the line, Von Miller had arguably the worst season of his career and wasn’t able to reach double-digit sacks for the first time since his injury and suspension-shortened 2013 season.
With how shallow the backend of Denver’s defense is, they’ll need a dominant season from both Chubb and Miller to compete in the high-flying, explosive AFC West.