Let’s just say this year in Denver Broncos history was an experience. Chalk up another losing season, their fourth straight, and another year that leaves fans with questions at the most critical spots. With a 5-11 record, finishing at the bottom of the AFC West, it still weirdly feels like the Broncos are closer than their record shows.
This season was put into a big hole before it even started. Just days before their opening night game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, star pass rusher Von Miller went down with a season-ending ankle injury. When it rains, it pours. Next was Courtland Sutton, Jurrell Casey, and more. The Broncos led the league with most salary dollars to players on injured reserve. Things got so bad that they played a full game without an actual quarterback (thanks to COVID-19 protocols) and a game without 8 of 12 (nickel corner) starting defensive players. Unfortunately, you have to think that with as many key players out, their record could at minimum be close to a winning record.
As for this offseason, things got much more interesting when general manager and president of football operations John Elway stepped down from the general manager role. What was looking like an offseason where the team would mostly run it back with most of their personnel and staff intact is now entirely up in the air as the Broncos embark on their first general manager search since 2011. This now brings questions about what this new GM will bring in terms of his vision. Does he stick with quarterback Drew Lock? What about the coaching staff? The team has conducted all of their interviews and are expected to announce their next GM soon. Their candidates are Champ Kelly from Chicago, George Paton from Minnesota, Terry Fontenot from New Orleans, and their only in-house candidate Brian Stark.
What Went Right
The biggest thing you can look at and say what went right was how many young guys got playing time and how well a lot of them performed. Guys like rookie Michael Ojemudia was a very nice surprise, and center Lloyd Cushenberry was one of only two players that played every snap and showed very nice progression as the season went on. Jerry Jeudy had a very up and down year, which included a game where he had five drops that were likely key in their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but made up for it with a 92-yard touchdown the next week against the Las Vegas Raiders.
This season was full of a lot of up and down performances from everyone. It’s hard to find one guy who brought it every single game. Out of these guys, there’s only three that come to mind:
- Justin Simmons kept up his star status as a safety.
- Shelby Harris outplayed his bag of chips contract after the first game.
- Garett Bolles had an incredible campaign rising from the depths to bring one of the team’s best players.
Harris and Simmons were to key cogs to putting together an excellent defense that held games close despite a lacking (again) offense.
What Went Wrong
Well, a lot went wrong this year. As mentioned, none more significant than the ridiculous amounts of injuries that occurred this year. The team ended the year playing cornerbacks 5, 7, and 9. Cornerback 7, De’Vante Bausby played so poorly in week 16 that they opted not to play him at all in week 17. So really, corners five and nine had to hold down the fort. Losing Sutton was a massive blow for the offense in that you rolled out two rookie receivers and put them in huge spots that they maybe were not ready for, not to mention him being Lock’s favorite target.
A big thing you could look at was game management decisions from Vic Fangio. Too many times, Fangio left you wondering why he did what he did. Whether it was calling an unnecessary timeout like in week 17 or not calling timeouts in week 1, or questioning whether he should have gone for a fourth down or kicked the ball. I didn’t mind too many of the decisions he made about whether to “kick or stick,” but the timeouts problems were head-scratching. What I’d like to see is one of two things. Either you look at hiring a coach to help with these types of game management decisions and/or more analytics added to his headset—just some sort of tools to help him grow in this regard.
Maybe the most frustrating thing we didn’t get to see was a full year of Lock. We saw quite a bit, and he most certainly didn’t do enough to definitively say whether or not he’s the guy of the future. He did do enough to make people believe he could still develop there. This indecision spot makes it hard for him, particularly with a new GM and a top 10 pick.
MVP – Garett Bolles
Maybe it’s a sign of how poorly the team played, or maybe it’s just how good he was, but Bolles is my MVP of this season. He has to be among the biggest snubs of this year’s pro bowl but made up for it with a second-team all-pro selection. All-Pro Bolles allowed zero sacks and less than five pressures all year long. The biggest thing we needed to see from him was cutting down on penalties. The man ended the year with only four, only one of which was holding. Thus putting an end to the moniker, “Garrett Holds.” Your other candidates were Shelby Harris and Justin Simmons. Both put up excellent years statistically and had a tremendous impact on the defense’s success this year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Jerry Jeudy
With only three rookies getting legitimate snaps this year, it makes the candidates easy to pick. I loved what I saw from all three. Cushenberry showed significant growth throughout his rookie year, and KJ Hamler showed great flashes of what he can be as the speedster this team needs, most importantly he brings a lot more dog than most people thought. However, Jeudy is the OROTY. His uncanny ability to be open on literally every single play makes him already one of the best route runners in the league. He was shaky with his hands all year long, but if there’s any skill that is easily corrected, it’s catching.
Countless receivers throughout the years have shown drops in their first years but corrected later on to become the greatest of all time. Jeudy has the one skill that is near impossible to teach. His footwork and ability to separate at the level he does can’t be taught. He had a very good year, despite drops, even crucial ones. There’s no reason for anyone to be down on him. Next year you’ll have Sutton and Jeudy. That is something that should be incredible.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Michael Ojemudia
Undrafted rookie Essang Bassey closely contested this award. At one point, Bassey took over the starting role from Ojemudia before a torn ACL took him out for the year in week 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He played very well in coverage, but Ojemudia took back the role after starting initially. Ojemudia grew a lot in the tackling department. He made several huge tackles and developed an impressive ability to pull off the peanut punch, forcing four fumbles this year.
Biggest Surprise – Josey Jewell
While Bolles is also on this list, and I was surprised by just how well he did, I was a big believer in him going into this year. My personal biggest surprise was Josey Jewell. Jewell was slated last year as the starting middle linebacker next to Todd Davis but was replaced by Alexander Johnson early in the season. Johnson was phenomenal last year and continued that this year. But with the surprise cut of Davis and the injury to rookie Justin Strnad, Jewell was going to play a lot of snaps this year next to Johnson. I was happy with how he played.
He’s not great in pass coverage and is an easy guy to pick on, but there was growth from him. What was most impressive and was his best attribute coming out of Iowa is his ability to play the run. Without elite speed or even decent speed, he’s really good at getting to the spot and making a sure tackle. I loved what I saw from him most of this year.
Biggest Disappointment – Drew Lock
I don’t want to say that this whole year was a big failure for him. I don’t believe that to be true either. We saw plenty of growth from him this year, particularly the last half of the year. He did some really impressive things, but it wasn’t enough. The early season struggles were a big problem, and some of them lasted all year. There were spots where he’d hold on to the ball for too long or escape the pocket when he didn’t need to. The worst one was his need to play hero ball, forcing a lot of useless and bad interceptions. The problem for the offense and him was turnovers.
Only twice this year did the offense leave the game with zero turnovers. If you want to beat top teams like Kansas City, that simply cannot happen. I’m not calling him a lost cause by any means, and unless you can land a guy like Deshaun Watson via trade, I’m in on giving Drew another year to start and build off the significant developments he made at the end of this past year.
One Burning Question
Who’s the starting quarterback next year?
There are now a bunch of questions that could be made with a new general manager coming in, but this is huge. Does this new GM try and make a blockbuster deal for a guy like Watson or Matthew Stafford? Is he going to try and get his next quarterback early in the draft? Does he stick with Lock but bring in competition? We have no idea. With Elway running the show, it showed that Lock would likely get another year with a vet brought in as competition. Right now, with Elway essentially giving up full roster power, everything is on the table, and whatever decision is made will make waves with this team for years to come.