George Paton did an outstanding job adding quality assets via the 2021 NFL Draft to an already talented roster. In many ways, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better NFL roster from top to bottom.
Defense is Vic Fangio’s specialty, and if Von Miller can remain healthy and give Denver anything remotely close to what he has in years past, he makes this defense even scarier. Mike Purcell is a run-stopping nose tackle who missed time due to a foot injury. However, with Shelby Harris renewing his deal and Dre’Mont Jones emerging as one of the better young pass rushers in the NFL, the defensive front looks to set the tone up front. Bradley Chubb is establishing himself as a bonafide pass rusher in this league and having Miller return will free him up to have a big season.
Alexander Johnson continues to exceed expectations as an inside linebacker. Baron Browning will be the most physically talented linebacker out of the group—if Fangio can get him to play consistently and maximize his excellent physical tools, he will be a bonafide piece to that defense very early. Patrick Surtain II was arguably the most pro-ready cornerback in the NFL draft and looks to step in as a day-one starter. Kareem Jackson is a veteran player, who also played collegiately at Alabama, and will look to help Surtain transition to the NFL. But the “straw that stirs the drink” is Justin Simmons. The ink hasn’t yet dried on his new deal, but he has established himself as a top-tier NFL safety.
Offensively, the Broncos are absolutely loaded. They have arguably the best skill group in the NFL. Melvin Gordon had one of the better seasons in his career in 2020. Throw in the violent, physical running style of Javonte Williams, and Denver’s running back room looks stout. The receiving corps has major talent too. Courtland Sutton has been a Pro Bowler and looks to have a healthy season in 2021. Tim Patrick stepped in admirably last season, while KJ Hamler and Jerry Jeudy both have Pro Bowl potential. Noah Fant is already one of the best young tight ends in the NFL, having placed sixth in receiving yards at the position last season.
Up front, Garett Bolles must have heard the criticism because he finally played more consistently in 2020 than he had in his entire career. He eliminated the penalties that plagued him in 2019 (17 total) and had a career year—let’s hope it continues. Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry handled the difficult task of starting on the offensive line as young players. Admittedly, Cushenberry got off to a rough start but improved drastically as his rookie season went on. Risner had an encouraging second season to build on. He did not give up a sack nor was he called for a penalty.
Right tackle was a liability for the unit last year. It’s one of the reasons quarterback Drew Lock was hit 70 times, which was in the bottom tier of the league. However, some of that can be attributed to the quarterback. According to PFF analytic measures, the offensive line was to blame for only nine of the 32 sacks.
However, despite all the talent that was just mentioned above, the Broncos will only go as far as Lock takes them.
Stacking this roster with talent has left little room for anyone else to be blamed. Lock must start performing better and more consistently. Sure, he had flashes of outstanding play in 2020, particularly with regards to play-action passing. Having an effective run game for a second straight year should assist Lock overall. However, he was one of two quarterbacks in the entire NFL (Dwayne Haskins) to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. In fact, he finished the season tied for the NFL lead in interceptions.
That was all in Lock’s second season. In the scouting community, we understand that who you are in year two is typically who you are. He still had many ill-advised throws, looked skittish, and generally gave little reason for optimism. He still is extremely inconsistent at the position. Lock will undoubtedly have a short leash going into the 2021 season and it will likely be his final chance as a starting quarterback in the NFL if he fails.