This is what happens when a team goes from being consistently competitive to missing the playoffs for four straight seasons.
It appears the national media doesn’t know what to make of your Denver Broncos, one of the most exciting, up-and-coming teams in the NFL in 2020.
Infamously, Nick Wright predicted the Broncos will go 3-13 this season. That’s a laughably bad prediction, even if this team still has a very long way to go before they can truly compete for a Super Bowl.
After two disastrous years under Vance Joseph, the Broncos bounced back in 2019. Specifically, on the defensive side of the ball, where Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell’s vast knowledge of the NFL shined. The defense lost stars Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan early in the year, but more leading men emerged in Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Simmons was arguably the best safety in the entire league last year, while Jackson is a big-hit and big-play machine.
But what was most impressive about Fangio and Donatell’s defense was their ability to discover new talent. Alexander “Dino” Johnson is an electric and uniquely entertaining young man at linebacker. He racked up 93 total tackles, defended three passes, forced two fumbles and picked off a pass; he’s an all-around stud in only his second season. Similarly, when Adam Gotsis struggled, unknown Mike Purcell was plugged into the defensive line where he was a superb run-stuffer.
This year, the Broncos are hoping Callahan is healthy and can finally play, while Donatell’s defense is adding A.J. Bouye at cornerback and Jurrell Casey on the defensive line as replacements for Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe. In all likelihood, the Broncos defense will be even better in 2020.
Offensively, Denver loaded up in the draft; receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are set to make a massive difference to that side of the ball. They were both playmakers in college, each offering different skillsets to Denver now. But, will they be superstars right out of the gate?
They will have to be if Drew Lock is to be a “dark horse MVP candidate” as Adam Schein of NFL.com wrote. Which, is the second instance of the national media not knowing the Broncos.
Lock brings a ton of optimism to the team, sure. He’s a young, exciting quarterback who seems to be able to rally his teammates both on the field and on the sidelines, and at times he was special in 2019.
However, the simple truth on Lock is: We just don’t know yet because he’s only played five games.
Schein points to Lock’s best game of the year last season, the three-touchdown (and one pick) game against the Houston Texans when he looked like the real deal. But, don’t forget the aforementioned Jackson and Denver’s defense completely overwhelmed the very good Texans, at home, nonetheless. The Broncos rode that early momentum of Jackson’s huge hits and his fumble-6 to the win.
That’s not to take anything away from Lock and his great game. But, if we quickly look at his five games last season, there was: One superb game (Houston), three mediocre games (LA, Detroit, Oakland) and one awful game (Kansas City). To cherry pick his lone stellar game as to why Lock should be in the MVP running this year is, in a word, ludicrous.
Going back to Lock’s surrounding talent for a moment, we’ll see why it will be hard for Denver to lift him to an MVP level. Courtland Sutton skyrocketed into superstardom last season and is the one sure thing in terms of playmaking ability for Denver’s receivers. It’s important to remember Sutton was decent as a rookie, but took off as a sophomore. Similarly, tight end Noah Fant showed promise as a rookie, but his season was inconsistent, with long stretches of up and down play.
Jeudy was, without a doubt, the best receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft class. And, he’s the most NFL-ready. Hamler is a bit more of an x-factor, but, for Lock to be an MVP candidate they will both have to enjoy sensational rookie seasons.
Of course, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay will help, too. But, handoffs won’t really help Lock in the MVP race. And, the offensive line is a massive work in progress; rookie Lloyd Cushenberry will start at center and newcomer Graham Glasgow will start at right guard. Garett Bolles, who had a third-most 17 penalties last season, will still start at left tackle, trying to guard Lock’s blind side.
And, we have to remember there’s a new offensive coordinator in town, Pat Shurmur, and all these players will not only be adjusting to him, a new home town, but also learning to navigate relationships while locked down at home.
With any hope, Denver’s offense will be improved from last season, but considering all the turnover in terms of personnel, we should all pump the brakes when expecting an elite offensive attack in 2020.
That could — and should — come in time. But for Lock to be a true NFL MVP candidate, we’ll likely have to wait until at least 2021.
Putting those lofty expectations on a second-year QB, who’s only played in five games, isn’t realistic.
Neither is expecting Denver to go 3-13 next season. The defense has a chance to be a top-5 unit in 2020, and even a marginal improvement on offense will have Denver at least hovering around .500 when it’s all said and done.