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Five games into the Fangio era, what looks like the Broncos biggest 2020 needs?

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What will be the biggest questions that need answers for the Denver Broncos to contend next season?

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Elway has his work cut out for him this spring.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Way back during camp, I took a very early stab at what the Broncos roster needs would be in 2020. Now sitting at 1-4 with a little over a month of film with the new coaching staff, it feels like a good time to reevaluate.

As I mentioned way back then, this is all a projection. To play it safe I’m assuming every player on the practice squad and every player on the active roster who is under contract as of now is retained. This may well not be the case, but seems like the smartest way to evaluate this far out. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but I’m also assuming one of the three free agent defensive lineman, Connor McGovern, and Justin Simmons are retained.

No way this looks silly in March.

Defense

Defensive Line.

Stack Linebacker.

Cornerback.

Safety.

Yes, I did just list every position but edge. This isn’t your 2015 Broncos anymore. In fact, Von Miller is currently the only starter from the No Fly Zone under contract for next season.

So while it’s perfectly reasonable to hope another month or two in the Fangio system will help some of the inherited players settle in, right now it looks like the new scheme badly needs an infusion of fresh blood. Yes, even after the performance in L.A.

Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Adam Gotsis are playing out the last year of their contracts. While the unit looked like a strength of the team back in camp, there has been notable issues.

Wolfe is playing through a high ankle sprain and remains the best defensive lineman on the roster, but he’s also headed for 30 and probably looking for a real payday after taking a “hair cut” on his second contract. It’s fair to wonder if he fits the Fangio system well enough to justify what he’d cost on the open market.

Shelby Harris could be in a similar situation. It’s easy to forget he’s already 28-years old, so he has to know he’s facing a limited window to make real money on his NFL career. With the way he looked last season in a limited role and how much the Broncos have struggled around him this year, he may choose to leave for a better scheme fit elsewhere.

Which leaves Adam Gotsis; who was just benched for Mike Purcell. Against L.A. this made a big difference, but it’s something to watch going forward. As I mentioned in my things to watch prior to the game, L.A.’s interior line has been pretty shoddy this year and Denver had an underrated advantage there. It was awesome to see them exploit it, but let’s not discount four games of tape for one just because it makes us feel good.

Linebacker is a bit murkier after Alexander Johnson’s great game against the Chargers. At present, I do suspect Todd Davis remains the best player on the second level come January. Josey Jewell continues to look like a depth player who’s weakness in coverage may prove insurmountable.

Keep in mind that I need to watch the All-22 as you read this: Right now I’d say I hope Johnson’s performance against the Chargers earned him a longer look for real playing time, even once Jewell is healthy. Jewell’s contract status does ensure he’ll return in 2020 in some capacity. Elway could part ways with Davis in order to create $5 million in cap space.

While the status of veterans above remain a bit of a question, it looks pretty clear right now that Chris Harris Jr. is playing out his last 11 games in orange and blue. This isn’t a hope so much as a reality. He got into a contract stalemate with the Broncos last year after years as one of the most underpaid elite defenders in football. It’s hard to blame him if he wants to chase the highest dollar on the market.

Without Strap and with Bryce Callahan’s long term status a complete unknown, what once looked like the New Fly Zone could turn into Kareem Jackson and a bunch of young players. This looks even more complicated when you realize Isaac Yiadom’s now been benched for both De’Vante Bausby and Davontae Harris.

The secondary could quickly go from a major concern to the biggest one if Justin Simmons doesn’t return. He’s been one of the few bright spots on the back end so far.

Offense

Left Tackle?

Right Guard?

Offensive line depth.

Second Receiver?

Quarterback?

The needs on offense are a lot more speculative than the issues facing the defense. After Garett Bolles early struggles, it’s been popular to mock a left tackle to the Broncos. The truth is, if he continues to play how he has two out of the last three games, there’s a possibility Munchak, Fangio, and ultimately Elway believe he’s turning the corner.

Ron Leary creates a similar situation along the interior. He’s been an underrated player in pass protection this year, but he’s closer to adequate than solid blocking in space. At first glance it seemed the Broncos coached around this against L.A, but ideally it seems like Rich Scangarello wants to be able to use his guards as pullers on run plays. They also tried Leary as a kickout player earlier in the year, with mixed results.

It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Scangarello pursues an upgrade at the position to help the running game. Finances may also be a factor here. Leary is north of 30 and the Broncos could create significant cap space by parting ways with him.

Even if the Broncos hold onto Leary and Bolles, it would be wise to invest in more developmental talent to serve as depth. Leary and James have notable injury histories and Bolles’ contract expires unless Elway picks up his fifth year option this spring.

Emmanuel Sanders’ return to health this year has been nothing less than remarkable, but he’s on an expiring contract and it’s unlikely the Broncos will offer him significant money to return. That reality is one big reason the 32-year-old’s become a popular trade candidate since Denver’s playoff dreams went up in smoke. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell just speculated that he could wind up in New England for as little as a sixth round pick before the trade deadline.

As of now, it looks like the passing game is ready to run through Courtland Sutton as WR1. Questions emerge the longer you look beyond him, but another year for Noah Fant does help ease some concerns. He’s shown flashes and if he can put it together in year two, becomes a de facto secondary receiver.

DaeSean Hamilton looks ready for more than in his current role, although it could be my orange shades leading me there. The coaching staff also seemed to have high hopes for Tim Patrick prior to his injury in week one. Juwann Winfree showed flashes in camp.

All this to say, receiver could be a need. Or it could be a situation like this last spring where many called for a vertical threat and Elway showed faith in his talent in house.

Lastly, there’s quarterback. I probably sound like a broken record when I say Joe Flacco isn’t the problem, but he may not be the solution. Especially if the Broncos losing leads them to somewhere near the top of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Drew Lock is the ultimate X-factor, of course. Many had mocked him to the Broncos at 10 last year, and loved the selection in the second round. His most ardent believers will ignore the fact that most draft analysts gave the former Missouri Tiger a 3rd round grade and considered the 2019 QB Class one of the weakest in recent memory.

Ultimately, it’s too soon to say. The rookie passer can return from injured reserve after week eight. I would guess if the Broncos continue to lose he’ll do just that. It would make sense for Elway and the coaching staff to try and see what they have in him before the year is over. Due diligence as they try to determine the biggest needs for 2020.

Let’s hope he’s ready.

Your Broncos Links

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Here are your game balls for the Denver Broncos 20-13 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday that snaps the teams eight game losing streak.

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Go ahead and breath easy, and enjoy this win Broncos Country.

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The trade: New England Patriots trade a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Broncos for Sanders

Sanders’ versatility and ability to move around the formation appeals to the Patriots, who once signed Sanders to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent during his time with the Steelers. It’s unclear how much cap space the Patriots have given the Antonio Brown grievance, but they might need the Broncos to restructure Sanders’ deal to absorb some of the remaining base salary, which would influence the quality of the picks heading back to Denver. The Patriots will get back rookie first-round pick N’Keal Harry at midseason, but with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett all banged up, adding Sanders would make a lot of sense for Tom Brady & Co.

NFL Draft Links

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The 2020 NFL draft class is worth getting excited about, especially if your favorite team has a need on offense. The upcoming class is strong in many places the 2019 draft was weak—most notably at quarterback and wide receiver.

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Okudah is special. Possessing fluid hips, quick feet, exceptional mirroring skills, physicality and ball skills he has the makeup of a No. 1 shutdown corner in the NFL. This is a wonderful match of best player available coming at a position of need.

A look ahead at the Titans

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A Murphy’s Law game for the Titans drops them to 2-3 on the season.

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Cody Parkey will get another chance. The kicker has been unemployed since being released by the Bears in the offseason. He worked out for the Jets and Colts, but now finally has a job. The Titans are signing Parkey to replace Cairo Santos, NFL Media reports.

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The Titans defense deserves better than this.

All-22 Review: Titans secondary stifles Julio Jones and the Falcons passing attack - Music City Miracles

Malcolm Butler and the defensive backs shone brightly in the week four win over Atlanta.

NFL Links

Anthony Lynn: ‘Sorry for watching that damn game’ - NFL.com

The Los Angeles Chargers didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Broncos Sunday as the team fell to the winless AFC West foe. Anthony Lynn apologized for his team’s poor showing.

The Winners and Losers of NFL Week 5 - The Ringer

In a week when so many players gained superpowers, Patrick Mahomes lost his. Plus, the Dolphins managed to lose even when they had a week off.

Jay Gruden is out, but Redskins’ underlying issues go much deeper

The Redskins have now fired five coaches during Snyder’s tenure, which began in 1999. He will hire his eighth coach after the season. None of the first seven -- including Marty Schottenheimer (one year), Joe Gibbs (four) and Mike Shanahan (four) -- had winning records in Washington. That’s one Hall of Fame coach (Gibbs) and two who are debated as being worthy.

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And the biggest question of all is will any big fish be foolish enough to take the bait?

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Riley to the NFL is a time bomb -- or an alarm clock, if you don’t want to think of it in such an aggressive manner. It’s just a matter of time before it goes off. Riley has already coached back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners and back-to-back No. 1 overall pick quarterbacks. He’s been in the College Football Playoff twice already as a head coach, and is poised to return again for a third time this season. Each time his name is brought up people keep asking, why would Riley leave? Because if he continues this path of success, some NFL team will double his current salary to lure his offensive genius to their franchise.

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Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey had a monster game against the Jaguars Sunday. Panthers defender Gerald McCoy says if the season ended right now, CMC should be the MVP.

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