The Denver Broncos wrapped up the 2019 season with a 7-9 record, wrapping up the season at 4-1 in December with Drew Lock at quarterback. The team was definitely trending upward and showed they learned what it takes to win football games towards the end of the year.
With the regular season over and the top 20 draft positions set, the Broncos learned they will pick at No. 15. The verdict is still out on who or which position the Broncos will target, but fans will be shouting for the team to select Garrett Bolles’s replacement after the left tackle was called for 16 penalties this season, 10 of which were accepted (eighth-most in the NFL).
Other notable positions of need will likely be interior offensive lineman to replace Ron Leary, cornerback to replace Chris Harris, Jr., interior defensive lineman to replace Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Adam Gotsis, middle linebacker to shore up a longtime weakness, and finally, a new receiver for Drew Lock.
Once the combine and team workouts solidify the field, I will write a draft needs analysis, mock drafts, and possible draft strategy for the Broncos as the 2020 NFL draft nears.
As for the Broncos’ 2019 season, it definitely had its ups and downs, but the entire season can be summed up by five categories: growing pains, missed opportunities, injuries, changing of the guard, and hope.
The Broncos started 2019 off in a bad way, starting 0-4 with two of the losses in heartbreaking walk-off fashion to the Bears and Jaguars, both at home. Through four games, the Broncos, with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, hadn’t forced a turnover or even registered a sack in rookie head coach Vic Fangio’s famous defensive scheme.
The Denver defense had to learn and adapt to the Fangio system, but the offense was also on a new system that resulted in poor offensive outputs of 16, 14, 16, and 24 points through the first four weeks. New quarterback Joe Flacco was also sacked 11 times for -81 yards in four weeks. They hadn’t produced a 100-yard rusher. The penalties were always seemingly morale-crushing, as they would occur on big plays and nullify gains.
Through the first four weeks, the team was struggling in most facets of the game, and really had to relearn how to win games again. Week 5 against the Chargers, on the road, would prove the be the first win of the season against a division rival. Had the Broncos found a way to win a few of these growing pain games early on, the 2019 season would have definitely been a playoff-bound season.
As previously mentioned, through the first four weeks, there were two walk-off field goals kicked that shocked the Broncos at home. Unfortunately, those wouldn’t be the only times this season that the team fell flat after nearly grasping victories.
The team would also give up a game-winning drive against the Indianapolis Colts on the road and lose 15-13 on a 50-yard field goal as time expired. They would be the only team in NFL history to take a 20-0 halftime lead and lose that game to the Minnesota Vikings on the road. Finally, up by seven points in Week 17, with the ball on the Raiders 25-yard line and only two minutes left in the game, the team would need a batted ball on a Raiders two-point conversion attempt to secure a win after penalties, a missed field goal and poor execution would provide the Raiders with life.
All that to say, if the Broncos hadn’t found so many dramatic ways to lose football games, this team could have been an 11-5 team, playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs.
Before the season started, Jake Butt, Theo Riddick, Drew Lock, and Tim Patrick would all be placed on injured reserve with only Lock and Patrick rejoining the team. Butt has all the talent in the world but cannot stay healthy and stay on the field which has been a huge disappointment. Riddick was an offseason acquisition who showed he could have a big impact in the passing game during the preseason, but was injured and never played a regular-season down.
After the Week 4 loss to the Jaguars, the Broncos were notified one of their best players, Bradley Chubb, had torn his ACL and be out for the season.
Offseason acquisition from the AFL, DeVante Bausby, who was the cornerback starting opposite from Harris and playing incredibly well, would injure his neck and not touch the field again in 2019.
Major offseason acquisitions Joe Flacco, Ja’Waun James, and Bryce Callahan would all end up on injured reserve without hardly having an impact on the season.
Fan favorites Andy Janovich and Derek Wolfe would be the next two big impact players to reach the Broncos’ IR list, making it a long and detailed list of starters and major contributors to be done for the year.
Finally, rookie Juwann Winfree, along with fellow starters Adam Gotsis, Ronald Leary and Elijah Wilkinson, would all miss the last few weeks of the season with major injuries that would add to the injury bug that plagued the Broncos in 2019.
Changing of the Guard
After the Jaguars ran rampant over the Broncos’ defense in Week 4, there were some personnel changes where Alexander Johnson would replace Josey Jewell at starting inside linebacker, Shelby Harris would be moved to his more natural defensive end position, and Mike Purcell would be inserted as the starting defensive tackle. These moves improved the defense dramatically.
After the injury to Chubb, the pass-rusher position opposite Von Miller would be filled by a committee of players searching for success. Malik Reed, Justin Hollins, and Jeramiah Attachou are three of the main players to take snaps at the position, hoping to make an impact.
The Broncos would trade receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers before the trade deadline, proving the team had confidence in Courtland Sutton to be the top wide receiver that could carry this team, and they were correct as he posted a 1,112-yard season and six touchdowns.
Joe Flacco would land on injured reserve after a Week 8 neck injury, paving the way for Brandon Allen to get a few career starts. Allen would go 1-2 in his three starts and overall would be underwhelming, giving Drew Lock access to unleash Drew-cember onto the NFL and Broncos fans.
Noah Fant, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton would take the second half of the season and prove to be a solid receiving corps. By the end of the season, the Broncos would have the youngest starting offense in the NFL, boasting three rookies and five second-year players.
With nearly $60 million in cap space for 2020, opportunity to get out from under the Joe Flacco, Ronald Leary, Chris Harris, Jr., and Derek Wolfe contracts, 12 draft picks in the 2020 draft, a young starting quarterback, a 1000-yard running back, a 1000-yard receiver, and a top 12 defense in the NFL, the Broncos are seemingly in the best position they have been in since the 2015 Super Bowl.
The team clearly has some holes they need to fill and some positions they can definitely boost their talent at, but building through the draft, getting healthy, and bolstering depth through free agency could have the Broncos playing in the postseason in 2020 again.
Ending the 2019 season on a high note, though it hindered their draft position, provided everyone inside and around the Broncos organization with optimism and hope that the team is heading in the right direction.