NFL Network’s ‘Game Theory’ ranks every Broncos position group

Justin Simmons was franchise tagged recently for $11.15 million. Credit: Isiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Justin Simmons was franchise tagged recently for $11.15 million. Credit: Isiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

The NFL’s Next Gen Stats program is one of the better innovations the game has seen in recent years as it allows every player’s movements to be tracked and analyzed at all times. This has led to programs like Cynthia Freuland’s “Game Theory” which uses analytics to project players’ performances and is far less subjective than Pro Football Focus’ grades.

In the lead up to the 2020 NFL season, NFL Network has used Game Theory to rank every position group by team in the league, including the Broncos. Are they ranked too high, too low, or just right at each position? Let’s take a look.

Quarterback: 31st

According to Next Gen Stats, the only team with a worse quarterback situation than the Broncos is the Jaguars, which is hard to believe considering how Drew Lock looked down the stretch last season. If Lock does end up being the second-worst starting quarterback in the league, 2020 will be a tremendously disappointing season for Denver, that will send them back to the drawing board.

Running back: 7th

The game theory model is really high on the Broncos running backs, which makes sense based on what we’ve seen from training camp. Phillip Lindsay looks better than ever and has greatly improved his ability in the passing game and has added some muscle to make him even tougher to bring down. Melvin Gordon is clearly the No. 2 back, but he should be one of the league’s best secondary backs, and the same could be said for Royce Freeman as one of the league’s best tertiary backs.

Wide Receiver: 14th

Denver’s wide receiving core is definitely a boom-or-bust unit, so having them ranked near the middle of the pack makes sense. If Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Tyrie Cleveland are slow to adapt to the NFL, the Broncos’ will have a below-average receiving core, but if they play the way they’ve performed at training camp, Denver should have a top-10 crop of pass-catchers by season’s end.

Offensive line: 14th

Ranking the Broncos’ offensive line above average might be a little generous based on what we’ve seen at camp so far. Lloyd Cushenberry III has settled into the starting center role, and as a result the interior of the offensive line has looked terrific. Unfortunately, starting tackles Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson look like they’ve barely progressed from a dismal 2019 campaign.

Defensive line: 16th

Next Gen Stats’ disrespect of Lock is hard to justify, but you can make an argument for it giving his minuscule sample size and the fact that he played in a super basic offense last season. The same can’t be said for the disrespect of Denver’s defensive line, which should easily be one of the league’s best. Shelby Harris and Jurrell Casey have been stars each of the past two seasons and Mike Purcell was statistically the best run-stuffing defensive linemen in the NFL last year, yet still, Dre’Mont Jones looks so great he could steal one of their starting spots. Denver’s depth doesn’t end with Jones though, as they also have the uber-talented McTelvin Agim and DeMarcus Walker in the mix too.

Linebacker: 7th

The Broncos’ linebacking unit has suffered a major blow by losing Todd Davis for a few weeks and Justin Strnad for the rest of the season, but the unit should still be strong and deep. Alexander Johnson was a stud last year, and should only get better as he continues to re-acclimate to football and gets more starting experience under his belt. Meanwhile, on the edge, Von Miller’s “decline” in 2019 has been greatly over-exaggerated considering he actually created more pressures than he had in 2018, and Bradley Chubb will be back to try and improve on his 12-sack rookie season.

Cornerback: 14th

Denver’s cornerbacks have been the most underrated group on the team by both the media and the fans this off-season. A.J. Bouye is coming off a disappointing season with the Jaguars, but he’s been one of the defensive stars in camp and is a perfect fit for Fangio’s scheme. Bryce Callahan has injury questions surrounding him, but when healthy, he’s one of the league’s elite slot corners. The third cornerback spot is still a question mark, but Denver has a bevy of promising options to select from, with De’Vante Bausby leading the way.

Safety: 8th

Ranking the Broncos’ safety group as eighth-best in the league is too low if you’re focusing only on starting talent, but considering the entire depth of the safety position, it makes sense. Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson might just be the best safety tandem in football, but backup Trey Marshall allowed a perfect passer rating when targeted last season, and the other backup job remains a complete mystery.

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