2021 NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos

2021 NFL Team Previews: Denver Broncos

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Denver Broncos

Guaranteeing Von Miller's contract for 2021 boosts Denver's odds at snapping a five-year playoff drought. Adding Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller to the secondary inspires comparisons to the "No Fly Zone" of 2015. Teddy Bridgewater is the team's best quarterback right now, but his ceiling is limited.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions

Closed last season with one win, 9:8 TD:INT over his final 10 starts.

The second-rounder brings a punishing rushing style to the backfield.

Earned 2018 All-Pro honors in Vic Fangio's defense in Chicago.

Further transforms Broncos' position of weakness into one of strength.

Broke up 16 passes, while allowing one TD during lone season in D.C.

Key Losses

The Colorado native moves on after his RFA tender was rescinded.

Shoulder injury, suspension marred his only campaign with the team.

Cutting the ex-Pro Bowler saves $11.9 million against the salary cap.

A Look Under the Hood

Head Coach: Vic Fangio (Year 3)

Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur (Year 2) - West Coast Offense

Defensive Coordinator: Ed Donatell (Year 3) - 3-4 scheme

2021 Vegas Projected Wins: 7.5 (T-22nd)

   

2020 Record: 5-11

2020 Points Scored: 323 (28th)

2020 Points Allowed: 446 (25th)

2020 Point Differential: -123 (29th)

2020 Run-Play Rate: 42.9 percent (12th)

2020 Offensive Snaps: 1,030 (18th)

2020 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 25

Full 2020 Team Stats

   

Projected 2021 Depth Chart

QB: Teddy Bridgewater/ Drew Lock / Brett Rypien

RB: Melvin Gordon / Javonte Williams / Mike Boone / Royce Freeman

FB: Andrew Beck

WR1: Courtland Sutton / Tim Patrick

WR2: Jerry Jeudy / Seth Williams

WR3: KJ Hamler / Diontae Spencer

TE: Noah Fant / Albert Okwuegbunam

O-Line: LT Garett Bolles / LG Dalton Risner / C Lloyd Cushenberry / RG Graham Glasgow / RT Bobby Massie  (RotoWire Rank: No. 22)

Kicker: Brandon McManus

Full 2021 Depth Chart

Top Storylines

Still Seeking Answers at QB

A 2019 second-round pick, Drew Lock debuted as the Broncos' starter Week 13 of his rookie season after beginning the campaign on IR because of a thumb injury. Though the team would finish 7-9, his 4-1 starting record over the final month had Denver's faithful believing the franchise may have finally found a long-term answer at the quarterback position. However, Lock endured a dreadful sophomore campaign in 2020, going 4-9 as a starter while throwing multiple touchdowns in just five of his appearances. Thus, for an organization that has started 10 different QBs since 2016, the search goes on.

Stability comes in the form of a second year under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, but Lock's on-field inconsistencies and recurring injury issues motivated new GM George Paton to trade a 2021 sixth-rounder for Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville product pieced together a 5-0 stretch while stepping in for an injured Drew Brees in New Orleans in 2019, but last year Bridgewater posted a 4-11 record as the week-in, week-out starter for rebuilding Carolina. The roster around him may be better compared to the one that surrounded him with the Panthers, but Bridgewater never has led a team past the wild-card round. The Broncos seemingly are stuck in signal-caller no man's land, unless Lock can make a Josh Allen-size leap.

A Look at the Receivers

Between Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant and Tim Patrick, George Paton inherits a solid nucleus of pass catchers. Patrick, a former undrafted free agent, is the only member of the group who wasn't a top-40 pick in his class, and, at 27 years old, he'll be the oldest of the quartet when the season kicks off.

The stock of the entire receiving corps gets a bump with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's arrival, as Carolina had three different wideouts who accumulated at least 850 receiving yards and three-plus touchdowns in 2020. Despite a 28th-place finish in red-zone efficiency diminishing the offense's fantasy upside, DJ Moore and Robby Anderson each cruised past 1,000 yards with Bridgewater throwing them passes. Jeudy was the only Bronco to exceed 750 yards.

Denver's offense ran the ball at the 12th-highest rate (42.9 percent) last season, but Bridgewater's efficiency seems sufficient enough to provide stable production for Sutton and at least one other perimeter target, even if it once again is a run-leaning attack. A 69.1 completion percentage in 2020 demonstrates that Bridgewater remains more than capable as a starter, but he's never thrown more than 15 TDs in a single season. A lack of firepower from the team's QBs keeps this receiving corps outside of the upper tier.

Gordon Faces Rookie Competition

Melvin Gordon became the Chargers' workhorse after his rookie season, consuming 67.9 percent of the team's running back carries in 2016 and 77.6 percent in 2017. Over the past three seasons, however, with 2018-2019 spent in L.A. and last year in Denver, Gordon has been deployed within a committee.

First, he and Austin Ekeler shared touches for the Chargers, as Gordon served more as the between-tackles bruiser and Ekeler a prolific pass catcher out of the backfield. Last season, Gordon and 2018 Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay split the load, but recurring injuries and depleted production led the Broncos to transition away from Lindsay.

Mike Boone and Royce Freeman were considered to be his primary backups heading into the NFL Draft, but neither were projected to significantly cut into Gordon's workload. The decision to draft Javonte Williams, 35th overall, out of North Carolina changes the group's dynamic.

Williams ranked third in the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns in 2020, forming one of the top backfield duos in college football alongside Michael Carter. Working behind an improving offensive line, both backs will have chances for success. In that context, however, Gordon, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022, may not get quite the bell-cow usage that was envisioned for him when Lindsay was sent packing.

Barometer

⬆️  Rising: TE Noah Fant

After scoring in each of the first two games last season, Fant found the end zone only once over his 13 remaining appearances. Still, a second-place finish on the team in targets (93) is encouraging as he enters his third campaign.

⬇️  Falling: QB Drew Lock

The 15 picks Lock logged in 2020 tied Carson Wentz for worst in the NFL. It's seemingly now or never for Lock, at least if he's to make a run at being the man in Denver. Teddy Bridgewater's arrival could spell the beginning of the end.

😴  Sleeper: WR Jerry Jeudy

Drops were an issue for the 2020 first-rounder. Still, Jeudy's 856 receiving yards rank second all-time for a Broncos rookie wideout. The return of top option Courtland Sutton may result in more single coverage.

🌟  Pivotal Player: Courtland Sutton

Sutton established himself as a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2019, but he appeared in just one game last year before suffering a torn ACL and MCL. His return will equip the passing game with a physical downfield presence. Only five NFL players recorded more catches of 40-plus yards during the wide receiver's last healthy season.

Medical Tent

WR Courtland Sutton

Denver's top wideout is bouncing back from a serious injury, but it was highly encouraging to see Sutton avoid the PUP list and participate in team drills as training camp opened. Though he's sporting a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, he's slated to see some preseason action and thus is on track to be good to go for Week 1, barring any setbacks.

WR KJ Hamler

The speedy Hamler battled a hamstring injury during the first half of his rookie season, missing two games as a result. He later sat out Week 17 due to a concussion and also missed June minicamp with another hamstring issue. While he was declared healthy for the start of training camp, he left a late-July practice early due to what coach Vic Fangio called "a little tightness," so Hamler's health again is something to watch ahead of the 2021 campaign.

TE Albert Okwuegbunam

Okwuegbunam, a 2020 fourth-round pick, opened last season as a regular inactive, didn't experience game action until Week 6 and eventually tore the ACL in his right knee Week 9, ending his rookie season with an 11-121-1 receiving line in four appearances. The tight end started training camp as a limited practice participant, but once he's back to 100 percent the Missouri product is slated to serve as Noah Fant's top backup.

Job Battle

As alluded to above, the Broncos' QB situation will be under the microscope throughout training camp and the preseason. From all accounts, this is a wide-open competition between incumbent Drew Lock and veteran acquisition Teddy Bridgewater, with coach Vic Fangio seeking a 50-50 split of the reps between the two to determine the eventual No. 1. It's an oversimplification to say this is a matter of choosing upside (Lock) or floor (Bridgewater), but whichever signal-caller ends up with the Week 1 starting assignment will have an intriguing array of pass-catching options at his disposal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Corey Smith
Corey started covering fantasy sports in 2017, and began working for Rotowire as the Falcons Beat Writer before the 2018 NFL Season. In addition to his duties for Rotowire, he covers Austin-Westlake (TX) High School football and baseball.
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