Early predictions, personnel grades show Broncos could be playoff bound in 2020

Drew Lock. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Drew Lock. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

How far off are the Broncos from making it back to the playoff for the first time in four years?

Well, according to Mike Clay of ESPN, the Broncos will finish as the No. 6 seed in the AFC thanks to their absolutely dominant defense.

Thanks to all the number-crunching, Clay predicts the Broncos will finish right around 9-7 or 8-8, with the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs finishing 11-5 and winning the AFC West once again.

So, how did he arrive at these predictions?

Clay takes into account every positional group for every single team in the NFL. He ranks them statistically and then breaks it down simply for us to digest. First, let’s look at the offense, defense and teams as a whole. The Broncos are ranked 24th on offense — which sounds about right — and third-best on the defensive side of the ball, making them the 17th-best team in the league.

But, let’s zoom in further to see how each group stacks up.

At quarterback, the Broncos are set with Drew Lock. And while some Denver fans were blown away with his play in 2019, Clay is a bit more realistic, ranking Lock (and Jeff Driskel) as the 22nd-best QB group. The Broncos’ offense excels at the running back position — bringing in Melvin Gordon to an already dominant Phillip Lindsay this offseason — pushing Denver to 10th-best there. And, even without knowing who their starting center will be, the Broncos offensive line comes in at 12th-best, which is where they finished last year.

Moving over to tight end, Denver is smack-dab in the middle of the league at 16th. That’s not necessarily disrespect towards Noah Fant, it may just be a bit of cautiousness due to his up-and-down play as a rookie. Look for Fant to play more consistently this year with one QB, and don’t forget about Nick Vannett who should be a valuable blocker at tight end.

Finally, the offense’s weak point is no surprise; Denver came in at 30th for their wide receivers. Courtland Sutton is without a doubt a star, but behind him, there’s a lot left to be desired. Tim Patrick is a valuable depth guy, but the Broncos need a legitimate No. 2 and slot receiving options. Look for them to load up there in the NFL Draft later this month.

Quickly jumping to the other side of the ball and it should be no surprise the Broncos have the third-best personnel in the league on defense. From the moment John Elway brought Vic Fangio into Dove Valley, the Broncos were being built on the defensive side of the ball first and foremost. And, we saw that continue from last offseason into this offseason where they traded for A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey to help shore up the front and back ends of the defense. Of course, Denver made a litany of moves; Clay was certainly impressed.

The Broncos are ranked in the Top-10 at safety (5th), edge rushers (7th), defensive line (8th) and inside linebackers (10th). In that back end, rising star Justin Simmons was franchise tagged and he’ll be there alongside human missile Kareem Jackson again this season. Outside, Von Miller looks to regain his All-Pro form while Bradley Chubb is chomping at the bit to get back onto the field after his season-ending injury ruined his sophomore year. And that defensive line only improved with the addition of five-time Pro Bowl tackle Casey while the Broncos also brought back Shelby Harris on a steal of a deal and re-signed huge surprise Mike Purcell, too.

At middle linebacker, Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson were each pleasant surprises, and it will be interesting to see if Denver starts Josey Jewell there as well, or if it will be Joe Jones or a drafted youngster. And finally, the Broncos come in at No. 21 at cornerback, even with the addition of Bouye. That’s because, although Bryce Callahan is expected to start in the slot, the Broncos still need another starting corner. Again, look for that to be a target in this month’s draft.

Overall, Elway and the rest of the front office have done phenomenally this offseason to set the Broncos up with a great chance to get back to the postseason. Of course, if that happens, it will be the defense leading them just as it has since 2015.

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