Denver Broncos March Scouting Report
The Broncos’ season came down to: Drew Lock not making a second-year leap and injuries knocking out key starters on both sides of the ball for long stretches. A difficult schedule didn’t help. However, Sutton’s injury allowed Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to go through their growing pains.
Offense Pat Shurmur’s offense went down the drain when Courtland Sutton tore his ACL. The passing offense suffered because of Lock, but the play-calling also put Lock in bad situations. When Denver did pass, it was often downfield, because of running on first down.
Drew Lock was hurt by drops, but Lock was a sporadic passer and a bad decision-maker. Lock’s career 6.6 YPA and 23/18 TD/INT ratio were poor, but those numbers should improve next year because the skill group is strong and deep. Denver’s three-receiver set (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and slot man KJ Hamler) are all top 50 picks with a nice size versus speed complements to each other. In addition TE Noah Fant has top-three receiving tight end potential in 2021. The Broncos were a below-average rushing offense, with a below average run-blocking offensive line. Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay ranked second and third in time spent behind the line of scrimmage waiting for a hole to open up. Two of the OL issues were RT Ja’Wuan James opting out of the season and 2020 third-round C Lloyd Cushenberry under-performing as a rookie. The Broncos don’t know how much they can expect from them in 2021, but LT Garett Bolles looks like a franchise player. The entire line returning makes continuity a plus. RB Melvin Gordon figures to take on a bigger load in 2021 after being the superior player to RB Phillip Lindsay. Gordon’s RB21 per game in 2020 is fantasy’s 2021 ranking.
Vic Fangio is one of the top defensive minds when it comes to eliminating the explosive pass. Fangio keeps fewer defenders in the box than the NFL average in all situations. The Broncos disguise their pressure well and often just let their pass rush win (18th blitzing). Von Miller’s foot injury was extremely hard on Fangio’s defense. GM George Paton has to make decisions on a couple of the Broncos’ best defenders, but if he manages to keep them, the Broncos have a top-12 defense on paper for 2021.
S Justin Simmons, is a priority to re-sign. Losing him would be a killer. Additionally, the Broncos’ entire corner depth chart needs an upgrade. Up front, the Broncos will have Von Miller (injured) and Bradley Chubb a year removed from his torn ACL. That duo should make Denver’s pass defense a top-10 unit. LB Alexander Johnson, and DT Shelby Harris (priority) are free agents. Denver’s run defense should be top-10 unit with the return of its injured players. There will be rushing production, but Fangio’s strategy of using more DBs and fewer defenders in the box, works.
TRANSACTIONS Released DT Kyle Peko
1. Quarterback -The Broncos roster needs an improved quarterback room, but their cap money will go to re-signing their star defenders. Drew Lock and a cheap veteran quarterback will join Brett Rypien. Lock should improve with Courtland Sutton back and his young receivers improving.
2. Free Safety -Re-signing Justin Simmons will keep their top tier duo (two-high defense) will allow Denver to use the Draft for depth.
3. Linebacker -Denver needs more speed and better coverage at this position. It’s a position to target in the draft where Micah Parsons is a generational prospect.
4. Defensive Tackle -A healthydefensive line is a top-five line if they can re-sign DT Shelby Harris (interior pass rusher) and draft Daviyon Nixon to replace Jurrell Casey.
5. Corner -TheBroncos have no long-term answers at corner back. They need to draft Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain II (a generational prospect) to replace AJ Bouye plus another 1-2 cornerbacks to add more competition at the outside corners.
The deadline for tenders is the start of the new league year and official opening of free agency, March 17.
Free Agency Spending big in free agency is the least efficient means to reliably build an annually competitive roster. Free agency means overspending. Overspending means losing on the football field. Denver has to be careful to not overpay this year because there aren’t any No. 1 options in their prime years. They can "win" free agency by: signing undervalued pieces; grabbing a few bad fits from prior teams; and, letting their own players walk rather than overpaying them. The Broncos are focused on upgrading cornerback, linebacker and right tackle, in addition to the roster in general. Players who could be of interest to the Broncos: DL: Jaleel Johnson, Vikings (age: 27 in July); Roy Robertson-Harris, Bears (age: 28 in July); Sheldon Rankins, Saints (age: 27 in April); Angelo Blackson, Cardinals (age: 28); Dawuane Smoot, Jaguars (age: 26 in March) QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick | Miami Dolphins; Tyrod Taylor | Los Angeles Chargers CB; William Jackson III | ex-Cincinnati; Shaquil Griffin | ex-Seattle; Chidobe Awuzie | ex-Dallas; Michael Davis | ex-Chargers; LB: Nick Vigil
DBs: DB Desmond King, 26
Draft Paton’s plan, at pick 9, will depend on what happens in free agency as well as what the teams picking 1-8 do before they are on the clock. "We’re open to any position with that first pick," (Paton). Paton will need up to $9 million to re-sign restricted free agents like Alexander Johnson, Tim Patrick, and Phillip Lindsay with a second-round tender. It's vital for the Broncos to not use too much of their salary cap ($43M/$182.M) on serviceable, older, overpriced vets; they should save the money to draft and develop their draftees. This is a pretty solid draft class for offensive tackle, though it is lacking at the top. Most of the OT options are Day 2 options, but there are some sleepers; Adrian Ealy, Oklahoma; Cole Van Lanen, Wisconsin; Cordell Volson, North Dakota State. Paton’s preference (as the #2 man) has been to build defensively through free agency and the middle rounds while investing higher picks on offense. Players of interest to the Broncos:
QBs: (late round): Kellen Mond, Texas A&M; Davis Mills, Stanford. RBs: Travis Etienne, Clemson; Javonte Williams, NC; Najee Harris, Al; Michael Carter, NC. (The hit rate on rookie running backs on Day 3 is extremely low).
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Fla. (wide receiver?); Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (2nd rd, instant offense).
LBs: Baron Browning, Ohio State; Anthony Hines III, Texas A&M; Cameron McGrone, Michigan (All under the raider with athleticism and coverage upside).
Orangeman’s Take Paton will have a plan A, B, C and scenarios for "if this, than what", he will do. Elway was strictly a plan A man and let too many good players get away, Paton won’t. It will take a five-year, $76M contract with $32M fully guaranteed and $46M in total guarantees to sign franchise tagged (fully guaranteed $13.73M) S Justin Simmons. It will also take a three-year, $27M contract with $10M fully guaranteed and $18M in total guarantees. Add in OLB Von Miller and Fangio’s defense will have fewer needs to address.
It’s too early to say that Lock is a hit or a miss, but Paton is open to a first round quarterback. Denver needs a #1 cornerback and he is likely to come from the draft. Asante Samuel Jr., Fla. St., is a good fit for Fangio’s defense later in the draft. Other later fits for Denver are: DT Daviyon Nixon; OT Dillon Radunz; and, OLB William Bradley-King.
Way Too Early Fantasy Outlook
Courtland Sutton, 26, is a wide receiver three/four, coming off a torn ACL (2019 13.7PPR per game). There will be more competition for targets for the explosive Sutton.
Melvin Gordon RB 21(2020) (RB2/3) - Philip Lindsay is a free agent and was largely ineffective in 2020.
Noah Fant (TE1) -Despite a nagging ankle sprain and poor throws from Lock, Fant finished as the TE6 per game in 2020. He’s explosive after the catch and is due for more red zone opportunities.
Jerry Jeudy (WR5) -Jeudy’s rookie season was a disappointment (9.3 PPR points per game/12 drops). With Sutton returning, Jeudy is unlikely to see enough volume to be a weekly play unless Lock makes a big leap.
Drew Lock (QB3) -Lock is the favorite to be the Broncos’ starter for the 2021 season. Lock needs a quantum leap.
KJ Hamler (WR7) -Hamler is a better real-life player than a fantasy player. He’s explosive, but targets will be hard to come by with Sutton, Jeudy, and Fant. Ranks with Jeudy for dropped passes.
FA Philip Lindsay (RB6) -Lindsay is a free agent with a limited market due to injuries and a poor 2020. If re-signed by the Broncos, he will have low-upside.
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