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Denver Broncos February Scouting Report
Charles Rives
2/19/2020

February 2020 - Broncos GM John Elway thinks that first year HC Vic Fangio has changed the culture in Denver for the better. The Broncos ended their season with a win over the Oakland Raiders and got their offseason off to a good start. Denver begins the offseason without major questions about their coaches and quarterback.

 

QB Drew Lock gives the Broncos financial and draft flexibility. The last time the Broncos had an offensive coordinator and starting quarterback end one season together and begin the next together was in 2013-14. It won't happen in 2020 either, as first-year OC Rich Scangarello, who had a strong rapport with Lock, has been fired for failing to make a consistent game plan for the Broncos as they went through three quarterback changes. Fangio: "After a lot of consideration and discussion after the season, I determined that a change at offensive coordinator ultimately would be best for our team. We need to do everything we can to get better - in all areas - as we start working toward next year. Rich is a bright coach with a great future ahead of him. I appreciate all of his hard work and thank him for his contributions to the Broncos."

 

With the Broncos having so much promise, it makes you wonder why this move was made and will this move negatively impact Drew Lock and the Broncos offense? You have to feel for Lock as he will be working with his sixth offensive coordinator in the last five years. However, the Broncos are confident in Lock's ability to quickly assimilate a new system. The Broncos have needed a young quarterback and an offensive coordinator who could build an offense around him. TC McCartney, the most directly influential coach in Lock's professional career, has also been fired. But the Broncos believe that OC Pat Shurmur will put him in a better position to take a quantum leap in his second year. The fate of the rest of the offensive coaches that were hired to develop Lock and build the offense around him is unclear. It will take time to build what they want. Drew Lock's development is critical, but the signs are all there that Lock is a young quarterback they can build around-even through his young quarterback struggles.

 

Denver has an opportunity to build around Lock and to put together a contending roster quickly, with WR Courtland Sutton (a complete receiver/cornerstone of the offense), TE Noah Fant, RB Phillip Lindsay (the first undrafted player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in the NFL), OG Dalton Risner, the defense and 5 top 100 draft picks. Injuries are part of football, but the Broncos suffered a lot of injuries to star players this year (many season-ending).

 

2019's free agent class was a big disappointment. P Colby Wadman and the kickoff and punt coverage units were bad, although kick/punt returner WR Diontae Spencer, filled a perennial hole. The Broncos had plenty of breakthrough performances in 2019: ILB Alexander Johnson; NT Mike Purcell; S Justin Simmons (cornerstone of the Defense); and, superstar WR Courtland Sutton. However, Lock's development is the key to unlocking everything in the offense. If you believe in Lock, you can buy into Sutton and Noah Fant. With Denver's young core of players, seven picks in the first four rounds (where NFL starters usually come from) of the 2020 NFL draft, the Broncos' future is promising. We will see improvement in Drew Lock and Bronco offense overall in 2020.

 

2020 - The Denver Broncos are approaching a critical offseason for GM John Elway and Elway has sought outside opinion on how best to attack the 2020 offseason. He also changed his M. O. by getting away for a while before returning to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the roster and evaluate the coaches. On another positive note, he has shown through his last two draft classes that he learned from the errors of his ways from 2015-17. Now Elway, Vic Fangio, and the front office can put together plans for how to build around QB Drew Lock. Lock will be the Broncos' opening-day quarterback in 2020 and he will be a gunslinger or a manager-what ever the defense gives him. Lock needs to improve his footwork and correct his sloppy habits. Lock's future (and the Broncos') depends on how well Lock takes to coaching: throwing with a great base for improved accuracy; planting his feet and driving the ball downfield; stop 'retreating' in the pocket and throwing passes off his back foot; eliminate "bad" interceptions; and, improve his timing with his receivers.

 

Part of the process of identifying the best talent to surround Lock with this offseason includes evaluating the team's own free agent players and weighing those players against the field of 2020 free agents. The Broncos will hold off for a month before evaluating their own players. Fangio's reasoning: you can make a better objective grade after you've watched the entire season again in a logical manner. The Broncos will have plenty of cap space ($60 million before roster cuts) and a great deal of flexibility with players on option years and players who could be cap casualties.

 

Nearly half of the starting defense is set to hit free agency. Vic Fangio's defense is a tough one to master. S Justin Simmons is an essential piece of this team and the Broncos must pay the $14-15 million a year to keep him. The Broncos will let the market dictate CB Chris Harris Jr.'s value, but he is likely gone. DE Derek Wolfe ($10M/year) has been exactly as advertised his entire career for the Denver Broncos. Wolfe is only 30 and a key piece of the defensive line but won't give a hometown discount. The Broncos might be able to get a better player in free agency for DE Shelby Harris' price ($11m/y), and with the development of Dre'Mont Jones, Harris will likely get a better deal elsewhere. C/G Connor McGovern has been solid, but top interior linemen get $10 million plus per year. He hasn't earned that yet. DB Will Parks (26) has been a key reserve and spot starter for the Broncos and became their nickel at the end of the year and excelled. The Broncos would be wise to keep him for the right price. DL Adam Gotsis will move on. LS Casey Kreiter could be a cap causality. Edge Jeremiah Attaochu may stay as the top backup. Cyrus Jones, CB/RS (heart), Corey Nelson, LB, and Devontae Booker, RB, will likely move on. Free agent DL Joel Heath, will need a new contract which is likely to happen. The Broncos have the option to pick up or decline a few options on key players: Todd Davis, LB; Ron Leary, OG should be declined while PK Brandon McManus, should be picked up. Denver will pick up Von Miller's 2020 contract paying him top dollar to make game-changing plays. RB Phillip Lindsay should get a raise and an extension.

 

Fangio on OC Pat Shurmur: "Pat is an established play-caller with significant experience leading an offense as both a coordinator and head coach. Having coached against Pat for a number of years, he's always impressed me. His track record of developing younger players is outstanding. Pat brings a collaborative approach to working with the staff as well as a flexibility to adjust the offense to our players and opponents. We're excited to add someone of his caliber to our coaching staff." Shurmur will run the offensive show for defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio. Shurmur has a pretty solid history as an OC with his roots in Andy Reid's West Coast offense, which features spread concepts. Shurmer added an up-tempo attack (from Chip Kelly) and vertical passing game (from Norv Turner) to his approach. Shurmur also has a successful track record at the individual QB level and can be innovative. With Shurmur, Lock, will be running a shotgun-based offense, with three-wide receiver sets 56 percent of the time. Shurmer likes to spread the field and pound the ball on the ground (53:47 pass-to-run ratio). Lock will have the option to call a run or a pass at the line based on the defense ("run-pass options"). Shurmer likes to get the ball out quickly, but also incorporates downfield shots and uses play-action on 28 percent of the passes. He uses 11 personnel on 56 percent of plays and two-tight end sets on 29 percent. Shurmer tailors his scheme to put his players in the best position to succeed. (Sutton and Fant: more opportunities to make plays downfield). He emphasizes quick, safe throws with a heavy dose of screens to backs and receivers. The best West Coast offenses typically have a talented all-purpose back, enter Phillip Lindsay. Shurmur's most commonly-called run play is the outside zone.

 

In today's NFL, the blueprint for success is to get a good, young quarterback and pair him with coaches you trust to develop him. Shurmur's offense is designed to attack the opposition vertically every chance it gets, which plays to Lock's strengths: aggressive gunslinger mindset and his big right arm. His offense is significantly more QB-friendly than Scangarello's (simplifies the reads for Lock so he can play faster), with less focus on throwing to the tight ends and running backs. They won't be ignored, but it simplifies things for Lock and also allows him to play faster. Shurmur's offense doesn't utilize TE/FB as often as Scangarello's. Shurmur is one of the best at making adjustments to his offense. What you see in the first half of games is going to be quite different from what you see in the second half, in terms of how he attacks defenses. Shurmur and Fangio have the same line of thought: keep the opponent guessing as long as you can. Even when things aren't great, Shurmur's quarterbacks exceed expectations. The Broncos are going to score more points in 2020. Both sides of the ball will be playing to their strengths and driven by an experienced coach that knows how to get it done in the NFL.

 

NFL free agency will begin March 18. The Broncos have to approach the 2020 free-agency class with the mindset of avoiding players who bring with them the likely possibility of future health complications. Elway's free agent signings will set the stage for the draft. Surprisingly, the the Broncos are moving on from their highly successful contract negotiator Mike Sullivan. Sullivan has been replaced by Rich Hurtado a negotiator who's been on both sides of the table, as a player rep and as team negotiator. Hurtado brings more than a decade of NFL experience to the table.

 

Free Agents of interest: Jordan Phillips DT; Brandon Scherff G; Rashard Higgins WR; BJ Finney C; Byron Jones CB; Logan Ryan CB; Leonard Williams DL; Chris Jones DE. Top targets: Leonard Williams at $15 million per season? DL DJ Reader (6'3, 347) can play a variety of positions on the line with versatility, age, and productivity as a pass rusher. CB Byron Jones ($14m/y). DL Chris Jones ($14m/y). 2020 Draft Denver has the 15th overall pick in a draft is loaded on the offensive side of the ball (running back depth and deep/talented wide receivers). The defensive side not so much (especially cornerback).

 

Denver has plenty of positions that could use an upgrade, but desperately need passing game weapons for Shurmur's offense. They also need to up grade in the trenches. Denver will look to surround Lock with talent and build a contender roster around him. Denver has the possibility of receiving three compensatory draft picks (Feb. 21: 1 round five; 2 round 7). Denver knows its roster needs and knows they can wait to draft offense without having to reach. They will remain young, but be more experienced. Denver likes Senior Bowl players with experience and leadership. Only one 30-something, Von Miller, is assured of being around.

 

These veterans are probably leaving: Joe Flacco, Ron Leary, Chris Harris Jr., Adam Gotsis, Theo Riddick, Jeff Heuerman, Devontae Booker and punter Colby Wadman. Off Season The Broncos' number one priority for the 2020 off-season is to get healthy. Injuries are part of the game, but Denver often had to scramble to find players healthy enough to play. They particularly need a healthy OLB Bradley Chubb, CB Bryce Callahan, and OT Juwann James. Rotational CB De'Vante Bausby (cervical sprain) is fully recovered and a RFA ready to return for 2020.

 

Vic Fangio's defense is built on having a few guys get pressure up front while the coverage holds up on the back end. Drafting DT Javon Kinlaw (So. Car.) would give them a much needed difference-maker on the interior who is disruptive both as a pass rusher and a run defender. They also need: a defensive end (length, strength, discipline) with enough speed and burst to create turnovers; a three-down playmaker at the inside linebacker position with range and instincts who excels when asked to cover either in zone or man-to-man; and, a fearless CB/S playmaker with versatility and ball skills. Denver wants to manage RB Phillip Lindsay's touches and they are going to have to decide if RB Royce Freeman is the “bellcow” back they want to feature in this offense with Lindsay. But Freeman lacks the burst to get to the line of scrimmage before the front seven penetrates. Denver must find a way to get Freeman to the line of scrimmage faster if he is to be successful.

 

The Broncos need to focus on adding play makers to the offense. A true #2 wide receiver (vertical threat/play inside or outside) with big-time speed and a playmaker after the catch. Adding a yards-after-the-catch monster can elevate the Broncos offense to another level. Adding a running back who can balance out and complement Phillip Lindsay (one-cut "bellcow"with good lateral agility who can grind out tough yards and catch passes) is a big need if Freeman isn't the answer. There's a chance DaeSean Hamilton could be a pure slot receiver.

 

The offensive line needs help from top to bottom. Multiple starters are needed and the depth needs to be overhauled. OT Garrett Bolles' recent play seems to indicate he's responded to coaching. He is cost-effective for another year and his fifth-year option ($9-10m) is under market value for an average starting tackle. However, Denver should take a tackle who can start if needed his first year. The free-agent guard class is very strong, while it's weak in the draft. However, Denver needs to draft and develop an interior lineman (C/G). The Broncos have a lot of issues with their roster, but it's primarily with depth. It's never a bad thing to churn the bottom of the depth chart with rookies and Denver needs speed on offense.

 

Player Development - While the Broncos are focused on adding play makers to their offense, they need their current core of young studs to identify and address their weaknesses in the offseason: QB Drew Lock: mechanics, master the offense; RB Phillip Lindsay: become a great receiver; WR Courtland Sutton: route running details; TE Noah Fant: dominant at the catch point; and, RB Royce Freeman: get to the line of scrimmage faster. Transactions Denver signed the 10 members of its practice squad and five additional players to future contracts; placed a waiver claim on NT Joel Heath who becomes a free agent in March; fired OC Rich Scangarello; lost OLB coach Brandon Staley to LA Rams; Fired QB coach T.C. McCartney; signed OL Tyler Jones to a future contract; waived Injured S Dymonte Thomas; hired Mike Shula to coach quarterbacks; hired John Pagano to coach outside linebackers; 2020

 

Opponents: will host the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans; will travel to play the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons (international game?), Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers. division — the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders — both at home me and on the road. Denver will play six games against 2019 playoff teams: the Chiefs (x2), Patriots, Bills, Saints and Titans.

 

Fantasy Draft Outlook QB Drew Lock - waiver wire

 

RB Phillip Lindsay - running back 2; 2 occasional 3 down back.

 

RB Royce Freemen - running back #3.

 

WR Courtland Sutton - wide receiver 3 with # 2 upside.

 

TE Noah Fant - low tight end #1 with top 5 upside.

 

PK Brandon McManus - back up.

 

DST – top 10

 

More to come next month!

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