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What looks like the Broncos’ biggest 2020 needs after 10 weeks?

Checking in after the bye. What is the biggest need for the Denver Broncos are ten weeks?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos
Vic Fangio is working magic on the defense.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been keeping up with my 2020 posts, this will feel a lot like an update rather than a revolutionary thought. In fact, if it feels like I’ve been writing about the 2020 off-season since training camp, it’s because I have. I’ve talked about positional value and draft needs with Mile High Huddle’s Nick Kendell to understand how he sees things, and I’ve talked about the Broncos’ needs after week five.

So how would I rank the needs in the post-Joe Flacco era with the Broncos sitting at 4-6?

1A. Quarterback.

Until Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, or _________ comes in and proves they’re the worthy heir to Peyton Manning, this remains the biggest need on the roster. With Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West, the reality is, Denver needs something resembling average play at worst to have a legitimate chance at contending beyond fluke years.

There’s definitely an argument to be made that a game manager type with enough help around him can take a Vic Fangio led defense into the playoffs. After all, the Bears went 12-4 last year with Mitch Trubisky, Jimmy Garropolo’s hardly the straw that stirs the drink in San Francisco, and the Minnesota Vikings are elevating Kirk Cousins’ play far more than he’s pushing their offense to another level. Heck, before Mahomes, the Chiefs were playoff contenders with Alex Smith from 2013 to 2017.

But I digress. My point is that the Broncos and John Elway need to keep an open mind at the position unless Drew Lock blows their socks off over the final months of 2019.

1B. Left Tackle

It’s a weekly segment in the local media for a radio host to go on a long rant about, “why is Garett Bolles still starting, rawr!” I’ve said multiple times that it’s due to the lack of alternatives, but the point remains: Elway’s 2017 first round pick is a bust. It wouldn’t surprise me if he washes out of the league after he’s done in Denver.

You could make the argument that right tackle remains a big need because Ja’Wuan James’ injury leaves both book ends in a lurch, but I remain optimistic he’ll find his way back to health and provide average to solid play.

2. Wide Receiver

Until John Elway errs and lets Chris Harris Jr. walk in 2020, or Davontae Harris is badly exposed, I’d argue this is actually a bigger need than cornerback. Especially if Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton don’t come on with the switch at quarterback.

I’m optimistic one of the two will do so and will happily adjust these rankings if that happens, but Diontae Spencer played 50% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps against the Cleveland Browns. Rich Scangarello used him on motion and vertical routes to create space for Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant to operate. I’m not sure either Hamilton or Patrick can do that, and in an ideal world, Spencer fits on the roster as a returner and reserve pass catcher.

This line of thinking is a big reason why I drafted Henry Ruggs III in my most recent mock draft.

3. Cornerback

This becomes a much larger need if Strap leaves in the off-season. If that happens, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Elway looks to the veteran market with so many young corners behind him on the depth chart. Davontae Harris, De’Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, Duke Dawson, and Bryce Callahan all look like locks to compete next preseason.

Even if Harris returns, he’ll be 31 before training camp opens in 2020. I’ve already talked about why I’m not 100% sold on D.Harris just yet, and Bausby’s health situation creates some doubt about his return. Fangio and Ed Donatell have been making music at this position, but with two elite passing attacks and the Los Angeles Chargers in the division until they move to London, you can never have too many talented coverage players.

4. Guard/Center

This, per Over the Cap’s Nick Korte:

By March 10, the Broncos must make a decision on the team option on Ron Leary’s 2020 contract year. If they exercise it, $1.5 million of his base salary will become fully guaranteed, and will be a strong indication that Leary will remain a Bronco in 2020. If they decline it, they would no longer be liable for a total of $8.5 million in cash yet to be paid, and Leary would become an Unrestricted Free Agent at the start of the 2020 league year. In addition, Leary will be eligible to become a Compensatory Free Agent that could reward the Broncos with a compensatory draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Add that to the fact that Connor McGovern is an unrestricted free agent and you’re looking at what could become a really big need.

5. Defensive Line

There is a similar contract situation coming to the interior defensive line. Derrick Wolfe has been playing out of his mind lately and Shelby Harris has been a pass tipping machine. Both are playing out the last months of their current contracts. Behind them is Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker. While Broncos Country loves Mike Purcell, it’s probably unrealistic to expect more than his current role.

6. Linebacker

With the way Alexander Johnson is playing, this isn’t anywhere near the need it was two months ago. Todd Davis is a quality second banana. Justin Hollins was getting reps here and along the Edge before Bradley Chubb got hurt, so that may resume next year. It wouldn’t hurt to grab a three down type of prospect here in next year’s draft, though. Strong coverage from the stack backers and slot corner really shores up one of weaknesses Fangio’s defensive system has by design: crossers and slants in the middle of the field.

7. Safety

This moves up into the top three if Justin Simmons leaves. One of the things that gets lost among those arguing positional value is how different schemes impact it. In the Fangio defense, safety’s are every bit as important as strong corner play. Maybe even more so. Look no further than what Kareem Jackson did to help transform the defense.

Which is one big reason I wouldn’t hate the addition of a Day Two talent at the position. Jackson is going to be 32 by the time the draft rolls around. While I love Will Parks, he’s an unrestricted free agent and looked like he may fit the defense better as a slot corner than true safety.

Scouting this position is tricky because so much of what the Godfather asks for is competency at the mental aspects of the game. I’ll have a better grasp of the prospects if I can get my hands on some All-22. But keep that in mind when you see Grant Delpit or ____ mocked to the Broncos.

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Rich Scangarello has a need, a need for speed. Some will hate this pick because it isn’t a tackle. They’ll point to Alex Leatherwood or Austin Jackson. I see it, but after Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game, I need to take a closer look at Leatherwood’s season and I don’t have Jackson in this tier of prospects right now. I also see an offense that just played Diontae Spencer on 50% of its offensive snaps and could use a legitimate burner on motion and deep routes to open up room for the rushing attack, Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton. Phillip Lindsay won’t complain if Ruggs demands so much attention he and Royce Freeman can operate against lighter boxes, so I won’t either.

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