The Pro Bowl has come and gone, and for the first time in 40 years, the Denver Broncos had no involvement in the event.

That absence ended what was the longest streak in the NFL, and is a definite black mark on the team’s 2021 season.

With that in mind, here are the players most likely to help the Broncos end that one-year drought and return them to that pinnacle of glory; The Pro Bowl.

5. Baron Browning & Dre’Mont Jones

It was hard to separate these two rising defensive stars in Denver’s front-seven, and ‘top five’ sounds nice, so we’ll lump these two in together here.

Dre’Mont Jones is the more established star, as he’s been wrecking shop in the Rocky Mountains for three seasons now. He’s also set up well to take a big leap towards being a household name next season — something that’s important to receive the necessary votes — with the defensive line likely to experience a healthy amount of turnover this offseason.

Pair that opportunity for greater notoriety with a player that has already proven that they can play at a high level, and you have a recipe for a potential Pro Bowler. The big concern here is that there is a ton of competition on the interior of the defensive line for a Pro Bowl spot, as Jeffery Simmons, Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner are all sure to steal votes.

That’s why Browning might be more likely to make the Pro Bowl. At inside linebacker, Denzel Perryman made the Pro Bowl this season for the AFC, and last year, the second inside linebacker spot was taken by Tremaine Edmunds, and the year before that, it was taken by Dont’a Hightower, who would be wise to retire this season. Outside of Darius Leonard, there isn’t really an elite linebacker established in the AFC.

Why could Browning be that guy? Browning is a freakshow athlete, who remarkably had a higher relative athletic score (RAS) than fellow freak linebacker Micah Parsons. On top of that, he appeared to be much more advanced mentally and much more instinctive than anyone expected he would be as a rookie. He was the Broncos’ best linebacker last season by a wide margin, and has he continues to gain comfortability in the system and in the NFL, his play should improve.

Browning has the ceiling of an All-Pro, and his rookie season suggests he might be able to realize that potential. Plus, the AFC is wide open at linebacker.

4. Superstar veteran QB addition

This one is pretty straight forward. If the Broncos are to add either an Aaron Rodgers or a Russell Wilson, the odds of them having a player in the 2023 Pro Bowl will skyrocket.

That is not only true because Rodgers and Wilson have each made numerous Pro Bowls, with Wilson attending this very season, but also because they will heighten the visibility and the performances of the rest of the players on the team, making it more likely for any member of the 53 to make next year’s Pro Bowl.

There are only two reasons why this option is presently ranked fourth.

First, landing one of these superstar quarterbacks is far from certain. Things are certainly trending in the right direction, but one would have said the same thing this time last year, and Broncos Country was left horribly disappointed then. Second, adding one of these veteran superstars would be an all-in move to try and win a Super Bowl right now. If the Broncos were successful in their quest and reached the Super Bowl, none of their players would attend the All-Star exhibition.

3. Javonte Williams

The last time Nathaniel Hackett was a play-caller, he had an unsure quarterback situation, as Blake Bortles was captaining the offense. He attempted to remedy this problem by leaning heaving on his young, physical, hard-nosed star running back — Leonard Fournette — and the offense experienced a surprising amount of success.

It’s easy to see the parallels to the situation Hackett enters in Denver, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Plus, Williams is a much more talented back than Fournette ever was. The Broncos line also appears to be trending in the right direction, which is also a major bonus.

One big concern for the prospect of Williams making the Pro Bowl next season is that his vision, or lack thereof, isn’t ideal for a back operating in an outside-zone scheme, which is what Hackett will be likely to run. However, Hackett’s flexibility to play to his player’s strengths, and his experience outside of the zone-run-scheme family (Fournette’s success came outside that system) is enough to provide some confidence, as is the fact he finished as a Pro Bowl alternate this year.

2. Patrick Surtain II

Despite being put into a less-than-advantageous position and playing a position with an especially steep learning curve, Patrick Surtain II emerged as a legitimate star at cornerback down the stretch for Denver.

With some experience under his belt and a better culture instilled with Vic Fangio ousted, he could easily take another developmental step forward next year. His progression throughout the season was evident in 2021, and the Broncos are likely to carry over a lot of their schematics, with Ejiro Evero as the favorite to be the defensive coordinator hire.

Surtain II will also be the Broncos’ No. 1 cornerback from day one in 2022, which wasn’t the case last season. The fact he already was the top alternate at cornerback for the AFC at the Pro Bowl also suggests he has a good shot of making the team in the near future.

1. Justin Simmons

The favorite to end the Broncos’ one-year playoff drought has to be Justin Simmons. Simmons is arguably the best player at his position in the entire league, and he’s able to perform at a high level in every facet of playing safety.

Involved in that all-around excellence, are his elite coverage skills fueled by high-level intelligence, athleticism, ball skills and instincts. That freakish concoction leads to plenty of big plays and turnovers, which is what often leads to Pro Bowl candidacy. Simmons has finished fourth in the league in NFL interceptions each of the past two seasons, and over that span, only three players have accumulated more interceptions.

Like Surtain, Simmons should benefit from the system carrying over, and he also finished as the top alternate at his position. Unlike Surtain, Simmons is already established as maybe the best player at his position, making him slightly more likely to receive the honor.