Is this the season the Broncos get back to their winning ways? Last year, in the first season with Vic Fangio as their head coach, the Broncos finished one game below .500 with a 7-9 record. They did finish the season strong, going 4-1 over the final five games of the regular season. That finish has given fans hope that this team is finally on the right track and can perhaps even make a postseason run – especially with the league expanding the playoffs by one team in each conference.
During the last three years, the Broncos have drafted well, and this roster has talented players on both sides of the ball. However, there are questions that need answers before the start of the regular season. In this series at 1043TheFan.com, we will go through each position group searching for those answers.
This is the latest part in our Training Camp Preview. Today, we’ll take a deep dive on the outside linebacker position.
Starters: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb
Von Miller could be better than ever in 2020. Yes, that’s really what many people are promoting around the team. If that’s the case, then the Broncos are going to see a season for the ages.
Miller has been working tirelessly on improving his game. He is not doing the regular endorsements that he usually does and he didn’t even go on vacation. Instead, he has taken his training regimen to the next level. Now, we’ll see if it can pay off in a bounce-back season for the future Hall of Famer.
Miller didn’t have the “down” season that many thought he did in 2019. Even though he only registered 8.0 sacks, a career-low for Miller when playing a full season, Miller made an impact in other ways. He led the league in both interceptions and incompletions caused by his pressure.
Miller did that while playing without Bradley Chubb for most of the 2019 season. With Chubb back at full strength, Miller should be able to harass quarterbacks even more in 2020.
Chubb could be the Defensive Comeback Player of the Year this season. He played in four games last year, compiling just 1.0 sack, before a knee injury ended his 2019 season. Chubb did not look like the player many expected him to be in the Vic Fangio defense, and he’s anxious to prove those doubters wrong in 2020.
He is going to play the “Khalil Mack” role in the Fangio defense. That means Chubb is going to be the main pass-rusher for the Broncos. While there will be times Miller is dropping into coverage (which I think is a mistake), Chubb will be asked to pin his ears back and get after the passer on most snaps.
Chubb is still big, strong and should be regaining his quickness off the line of scrimmage. While he is raw as a pass-rusher, Chubb is learning more moves to harass quarterbacks and he’s learning how to stack those moves on top of each other. As a rookie in 2018, Chubb had 12.5 sacks and I think that’s his floor for the 2020 season provided that he stays healthy.
Reserves: Malik Reed, Jeremiah Attaochu, Derek Tuszka, Malik Carney
Malik Reed made the team as a rookie coming into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Nevada. The Broncos
have a long and rich history of finding gems from the ranks of the college free agents left over after the draft. It wasn’t that long ago that they got another overlooked pass-rushing specialist out of the Mountain West in Shaq Barrett. I don’t believe Reed can ever be as productive as Barrett (19.5 sacks last year), but he’s still a young talent with a ton of untapped potential.
He has a first quick step and can get around blockers with speed. He does a good job of anticipating the snap count, and Reed knows how to dip and rip on the outside. He plays with a relentless motor that makes him a handful to deal with no matter when he comes into a game. Filling in for an injured Chubb last year, Reed did not impress. This season, Reed has another chance to prove himself but this time in a reserve role.
The Broncos have a great asset in veteran pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu. He is a savvy veteran who knows how to set up blockers to get by them regularly. Attaochu could push for double-digit sacks this year even as a reserve player on the Broncos defense.
His length helps him get to the quarterback in a hurry. Attaochu plays with a ton of hustle and he doesn’t give up on a play. He does a good job of making the most out of limited opportunities and doesn’t need a lot of snaps to make plays.
In the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft, the Broncos selected Derrek Tuszka out of North Dakota State. He played defensive end in college, but will stand up and play outside linebacker in the pros. Tuszka was incredibly productive, especially over the last two years with 21.0 sacks and 31 tackles for loss during that time.
I liked what Tuszka showed earlier this year during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Bowl. He has cat-like quickness and is a nimble player when getting around blockers. Tuszka uses his hands well and can direct blockers to create his own rush lanes. He is at least a practice squad player with the upside to one day be an important part of a pass-rushing rotation.
Malik Carney is going to be a long-shot to make the 53-man roster and instead might be bound for the team’s practice squad. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina, originally picked up by the Lions in 2019. Carney was not overly productive in college but he has incredible measureables in terms of explosive playmaking traits. We’ll see if he can do enough to make the practice squad.
The Broncos have two superstars at outside linebacker. Miller is one day going to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he’s not done yet. He’s entering what could be his final year with the Broncos as they have a team option to decide on for the 2021 season. Miller has spent countless hours preparing for this season where he wants to be better than ever.
Chubb has All-Pro upside with the Broncos in 2020. He’s not going to be 12 months removed from his knee injury until October, so he may get off to a slow start for the third year in a row. However, by the time the end of the year rolls around, I imagine that Chubb could be among the league leaders in sacks.
The depth here becomes a question mark for the team. We need to see a step forward from Reed who didn’t play up to his potential as a rookie. Attaohcu should work well as a reserve player and a solid contributor to the Broncos defense. Tuszka might be able to make the team and work his way into the rotation more than some expect.
The Denver secondary has question marks at the cornerback position. The pass-rushers up front could help those corners look better if they play up to their potential in 2020.
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