There are a lot of questions for the Broncos as they head into a new unique training camp this season. Let’s break down the top 10:
10. Will Justin Simmons earn the money he wants?
According to Mike Klis, the Broncos offered Justin Simmons a long-term deal that would’ve made him the fifth or sixth highest-paid safety in the NFL. Obviously, Simmons declined and will play on his franchise tag this season worth $11.4 million, which ranks him seventh on average per year money among safeties. Simmons is definitely one of the better safeties in the NFL, but the truth is that he’s not the best in the NFL. It’s understandable that he wants to be paid as the top player at his position, but now he has the ability to prove it being in Vic Fangio’s system for a second-straight year and has a playmaking safety on the other side of him as well in Kareem Jackson. If the Broncos want to get back to the playoffs, they’re going to need Simmons to take that next step to that elite category by making game-changing plays this season.
9. Will Jurrell Casey continue to play at a Pro Bowl level?
Jurrell Casey is coming off five straight Pro Bowl seasons with the Titans and is hoping to make it six straight in year one with the Broncos. Casey is also averaging six sacks per season during those last five years and that number could go up with the help of pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The only concern is that Casey will turn 31 in the middle of the season and with him not playing in all 16 games in the last two seasons, there is a concern that Casey’s body could start breaking down. Don’t be shocked if Vic Fangio gives Casey quite a few veteran days this season during the week.
8. How will Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay co-exist?
This has been a big question for everyone in the offseason, but it’s a little lower on my list. There’s a real reason why the Broncos were willing to pay $8 million per year for Melvin Gordon and not give Phillip Lindsay a contract extension. It’s simple, Gordon is the better running back in the receiving game. In the last two seasons, Lindsay has only averaged 35 receptions per year. Gordon has averaged 46 in 24 games compared to Lindsay’s 31 games. There more than likely be a “running back by committee” mentality for the Broncos backfield because both of these backs can co-exist. Gordon will be featured as the No. 1 back and will be used more in the passing game, while Lindsay will be that change-of-pace back to spark the offense late in games. This will be one of the better running back duos in the NFL in 2020.
7. Will there continue to be issues at MLB in pass coverage?
Well, this has been an issue for the Broncos since Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall were separated after Super Bowl 50. Nobody can cover at the middle linebacker position. Todd Davis continues to be praised by coaching staff after coaching staff, but the fact is that he can’t cover tight ends. Opposing teams have game planned to focus on mismatches against Davis. Alexander Johnson was a little bit of an upgrade last season in the passing game, but he was still not effective enough to shut down the middle of the field. With Denver going up against Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry and Darren Waller twice a year, it will once again be a long season for these middle linebackers for the Broncos.
6. Will Pat Shurmur use Noah Fant correctly and be creative with him?
I mentioned this is my last column, but Pat Shurmur needs to get creative with Noah Fant this season. Last year, Rich Scangarello didn’t use Fant in a way to get the full potential out of him. I mean the first play of last season was a jet sweep to the rookie that went for negative yardage. When I look at Fant, I see a guy that can be an elite weapon just like Julius Thomas was for the Broncos back in 2013-14, where he scored a combined 24 touchdowns in those two seasons. This is an opportunity for Shurmur to create an elite weapon for this Broncos offense to help out Drew Lock. Using Fant like Thomas means that the Broncos can spread him out wide like a receiver and get that mismatch on linebackers and safeties. That could be dangerous!
5. Is the offseason going to hurt the offensive rookies?
A while back, former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen tweeted, “I am afraid it’s going to be very difficult for any rookie to be able to get good enough to make much of an impact this season… the jump from the college game is just too big… compounded with no OTAs & whatever is going to happen with the preseason.” This will more than likely be an issue for the Broncos rookies on offense early in the season due to having no preseason. Broncos general manager John Elway mentioned earlier this week that he wished there was preseason because his team is so young. With a new playbook and new offensive coordinator, the Denver offense will struggle to start in the early part of the season. The best way for this offense to be impactful early is to get the ball into their playmaker’s hands quickly in creative ways so they can make big time plays. Denver will have to lean on their defense early to start the season.
4. Will someone emerge as the No. 2 cornerback?
This was an issue last year for the Broncos on the opposite side of Chris Harris Jr. Isaac Yiadom was supposed to be the No. 2 corner opposite of Harris, with Bryce Callahan playing the slot, but that didn’t work out. Callahan re-injured his foot in training camp and missed the entire season. Yiadom was benched multiple times last season for his horrific play during the middle of the year. In this year’s draft, Denver selected Michael Ojemudia in the third round to add some depth on the opposite side of A.J. Bouye. Ojemudia ran a ton of zone up at Iowa and is supposed to fit right in with Fangio’s scheme of zone coverage. If the Broncos can’t find one corner to pair with Bouye, they will be playing from behind nearly every game this year.
3. Will Bradley Chubb overtake Von Miller as the top pass rusher on this team?
In 2018, the Broncos drafted pass rusher Bradley Chubb knowing at some point he would pass Von Miller as the top pass rusher on this team. Well, 2020 might be the year it happens. In his rookie year, Chubb broke the rookie season sack record with 12.0 sacks before tearing his ACL last season. Miller’s numbers have gone down in recent years and he’s getting older. Miller turned 31 in March. Head coach Vic Fangio has called out Von multiple times, saying that he could be better. That’s true, he could be. Plenty of times last season you could see that Von gave up on some plays and it didn’t look like he was giving his all according to multiple players on this radio station. With Chubb returning from injury and getting a second season under Fangio, Chubb has a realistic chance to become the next great pass rusher in Broncos history.
2. How much improved is the offensive line?
Did the Broncos really improve on the offensive line? Going into the draft, the smartest thing for Denver to do was draft one of the top offensive tackles to replace Garett Bolles or Ja’Wuan James. The Broncos failed to do so drafting back-to-back wide receivers in rounds one and two. Denver is stuck with James at right tackle after making him the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history at the time. Denver will also have Dalton Risner returning for a second season. Risner was mentioned to be the smartest offensive lineman last year for Mike Munchak. Since Denver didn’t re-sign Connor McGovern, the Broncos drafted what they hope is an upgrade in Lloyd Cushenberry at the center position. Again, we can go back and say that Cushenberry could struggle early on by still trying to understand a NFL playbook as a rookie. The Broncos also added Graham Glasgow to play right guard. Glasgow was atop the free agent class among the best available guard. If Denver wants to be successful with Lock at the helm, this offensive line better make a dramatic improvement to keep that QB upright and healthy. This also means that Bolles will need to know what a hold is.
1. Is Drew Lock really the future of the franchise?
Ah yes, the question Broncos Country is asking, is Drew Lock the future of the franchise? After finishing the season with a 4-1 record in his first five starts, Lock seemed to be the savior of this franchise. The only bad news is that he’s only played in five games. Lock did play well and caught the attention of the entire football world, but he also has nearly identical stats as Trevor Siemian after his fist five starts, as well. Nobody knows if Lock is the right guy to lead the Broncos back to the Super Bowl for a fourth Lombardi Trophy, but we’ll all find out this season. The second-year gunslinger has all of the weapons needed to take that next step of the elite category. With an offense of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay, Lock has no excuses of not succeeding in 2020. With these weapons, this is the year Drew Lock shows that he can be the next John Elway and Peyton Manning for the Broncos.
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