Way back in early November, I looked at the 10 Broncos who had the most to prove after Denver’s bye week. Looking over it now and I’m struck by how long ago five games in this 2019 season really is. Brandon Allen was coming off his first start, Noah Fant was still “a bust,” and Rich Scangarello was “on the hot seat.”
For how much things change, there remains some rather large unquestioned situations. So coming off the disappointing loss to the Chiefs and facing the last two games of meaningful football of the year it seemed like a good time to look at who has the most to gain (or lose) with the remaining schedule.
8. Trey Marshall
With the news that Kareem Jackson will face a suspension for a DUI arrest, my first question became who can step up and make the most of the snaps. I thought it’d have made sense for Will Parks to step into the void with Duke Dawson moving back to the vacated nickel corner spot.
Instead, Vic Fangio said at yesterday’s presser that Trey Marshall would step in at safety while Parks would remain. It’s curious because Marshall’s completely unproven in that role after looking pretty bad all preseason.
There’s been some debate in the past month over the need for safety depth in the 2020 offseason. After all, Justin Simmons was just snubbed for a Pro Bowl after looking elite all season and Jackson made it as an alternate. The thing is, with how awful the run defense looked before Jackson moved to the back line before the first Chargers game, it remains an open question who can fill in if either miss time. Marshall has a chance to answer that.
7. Will Parks
As for Parks, there’s a certain degree of pressure to prove the move to keep him in the slot is the right one. The 4th year defensive back is playing for a new contract in 2020. He looked like a future star in 2018 playing snaps in the box, slot, and back end but hasn’t taken that next step in the Fangio defense. These last two games could help him as he hits free agency.
6. Chris Harris Jr.
Last spring after years of being underpaid relative to his performance Harris held out to receive fair compensation in the last year of his deal. For an extended period it became a “pay me or trade me” situation before Elway and the Broncos upped his salary. After the team got off to a poor start, he was hotly debated multiple times as a trade chip with the Eagles rumored to be very interested.
After all of that, Strap has recently admitted that he didn’t play like a Pro Bowler this year, and while I still believe the Broncos would be wise to explore resigning him I do not expect the future Ring of Famer to return.
That means he’s playing out the string to catch on with a contender in 2020. He could do a lot of good for what may be his last significant payday by shutting down the Lions and Raiders.
Chris Harris Jr. on the Pro Bowl: “I don’t think I should make it this year.”— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) December 17, 2019
5. DaeSean Hamilton
Back when Hamilton came out of Penn State, he had a ton of love in the Draft Twitter community for his route running. Heck, even as he floated through games without a target from Joe Flacco I was there to mention how he was getting open, but not receiving looks. He’s looked a little better since Drew Lock has taken over as the starting quarterback, but his 2019 is going to be remembered for some baffling drops.
With two games left before the Broncos’ front office starts to really devote most of their attention to what’s looking like the deepest receiver class since I became an NFL fan, Hamilton could do a lot to turn a little favor back in his direction.
4. Tim Patrick
Against the Minnesota Vikings Tim Patrick looked like a legitimate number two receiver and a mismatch weapon at 6’4 220 lbs. In Houston, he came down with some really clutch catches and flashed some really nice rapport with his new quarterback. Even early in last week’s contest in the snow he and Lock looked great on a third down scramble play.
But he also has a troubling injury history and finished the game with a bad miss on a mesh concept. Who you want to blame for that missed connection is totally up to you, but like Hamilton, it’d be good for Patrick to really come on against the overmatched secondary’s left on the calendar.
Who's fault is this #Broncos Country? Wrong answers only. pic.twitter.com/ymTshYnqD5— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 17, 2019
3. Isaac Yiadom
Back before the season began there was plenty of hope that the Broncos’ secondary would become a cornerstone of the rebuilt defense.Since then three different players have logged snaps across from Harris as Yiadom disappointed. He’s earned his way back to the starting lineup in recent weeks and is under contract for the 2020 season, but could do work to stave off competition on this side of the offseason.
There have already been reports that the Broncos have shown interest in Ohio State games, which makes sense given their three talented corners. It looks like cornerback will have a number of intriguing players that would fit the new defense, so Yiadom could find himself buried by training camp next year if he doesn’t step up now.
2. Garett Bolles
From where I’m sitting, there sure does seem to be a huge disconnect between Broncos Country and the team on the 2017 first round pick. 9News and notorious John Elway PR chief Mike Klis published a puff piece on Bolles last week, which caught my eye.
Garett Bolles blocks out critics to become Broncos highest-graded blocker | 9news.com
Considering the Broncos have run 718 offensive plays through 12 games, Bolles has played better than people realize. In fact, here’s something that will surprise the majority of Broncos followers: Bolles has been the team’s highest-graded offensive lineman this season.
I’ve long been a critic of Pro Football Focus’ offensive line grading system, and I’m not alone there. Without knowing the protection call it’s awfully hard to place a numerical grade on any play that carries any real weight.
The coaching staff also works to protect him when possible, which can wind up leaving other members of the offensive line in tougher situations. More than once the Chiefs slid Frank Clark to the left side to attack Elijah Wilkinson anticipating that Scangarello and the offense would try to help Bolles against the elite rusher on passing downs.
"So you may just be wondering how I found myself blocking a $100 million edge rusher on 4th and 14. It's a funny story, really..."— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 17, 2019
-Elijah Wilkinson, 2019. pic.twitter.com/yfxtfUxfc7
I would be lying if I said Bolles has not in fact looked better these last couple of games. This is hardly the first stretch of promising play of the 27-year old’s career, but if Mike Munchak and the Broncos’ coaching staff believes he’s finally turned some sort of corner it could create a situation where Andrew Thomas or Tristan Wirfs aren’t as high on Elway’s board as most of the armchair GMs.
1. Drew Lock
Let me start by dispelling some of the complaints that I’m overly harsh on the Broncos’ starting quarterback. He’s shown some really promising moments over his first three starts, and judging by the comments from Fangio and Elway I’d be surprised if they don’t plan to build around him for 2020 and beyond this spring.
But the 42nd pick in the 2019 draft fell out of the first in part because of concerns over his decision making, footwork, and mechanics. Even as he’s looked better than I dared hope pressed into action this past month, he’s also continued to show many of the larger issues that had me so nervous about him before the draft.
Coming off the worst performance of his NFL career, these last two weeks could go a long way for building some faith and momentum this offseason. If Lock bounces back to somewhere between his Chargers and Texans’ performances against the Lions and Raiders, he’ll probably enter training camp as the unquestioned QB1 with a lot of hype about him as the heir apparent to John Elway and Peyton Manning.
If he’s shaky with a few promising spurts or completely implodes? The Broncos will have the cap space and draft capital to hedge their bets at the most important position in sports.
Your Broncos Links
Player frustration is good, but who’s going to step up and lead? - Mile High Report
The Broncos players are saying the right things, but at some point the locker room needs leadership
Justin Simmons’ Pro Bowl snub is an egregious error - Mile High Report
I get that safety play can be a bit hard to quantify, especially for those just looking at stats, but even just the raw stats show Justin Simmons had a better season than a guy like Earl Thomas. He just doesn’t carry the same name recognition and isn’t playing for a hot playoff team. Simmons so far this year has 84 (59 solo) tackles and 4 interceptions to Thomas’ 45 (30 solo) and 2 INTs. Aside from that, Simmons leads all safeties in the NFL with 14 passes defensed and is charted by Pro Football Focus to have the lowest QB rating when targeted, among safeties in the AFC.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: The No Bull Review - Mile High Report
I can take close games all day long. I don’t like to lose, but to look at a game and say that the team had the chance and just couldn’t get it done is fine. But this team never had a chance. They were completely and in every way outclassed by the Kansas City Chiefs and even with all the sports hate in the world I have for that team and especially their fans, today I’m tipping my hat to them. Well done, K.C. You played football. I sure wish I had a team that would do that.
Denver Broncos a possible landing spot for Browns LB Joe Schobert | PFN
On top of the rumored disagreements over head coach Freddie Kitchens, we have now learned that the team might also let one of their best defensive players – Joe Schobert – walk in free agency. Where might he end up? According to Pro Football Network’s NFL Insider Benjamin Allbright, one team (among many) that will be interested in pursuing Schobert is the Denver Broncos. “If Cleveland lets Joe Schobert walk, which it looks like they will considering they have not even offered him, Denver would be intrigued,” said Allbright.
Broncos will soon face tough decisions with veteran contracts. Who should they keep? – The Athletic
The Broncos retained (Shelby) Harris with a second-round tender ($3.095 million) in restricted free agency last year, but after a career year, he figures to get a significant payday as an unrestricted free agent come March, possibly around $11 million or $12 million a year in average salary. Given Harris’ fit in Fangio’s system, it would make sense for the Broncos to try to keep him. But does he want to stay?
Has John Elway Finally Settled on the Tall Broncos QB of the Future? - The Ringer
Has Drew Lock done enough to land himself the 2020 starting job in Denver, or will the team look to someone like Justin Herbert in April?
Matthew Stafford a cautionary tale for Drew Lock, Broncos fans - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN
As former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said: “You got to have that guy at quarterback, but you still have to have that team around him. Even [John Elway], one of the greatest ever, had to have T.D. [Terrell Davis] and the rest of that team around him. Because it’s hard to win, man, you’ve got to have a team ready to have the guy at QB and the guy at QB who is ready to lift that team.”
NFL Draft Links
NFL Mock Draft: Joe Burrow Already Feels Set at No. 1—Who Goes Next? - The Ringer
11. Denver Broncos: WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma The Broncos have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball, but John Elway can’t afford to waste any more time before fixing the team’s massive problems on offense. Quarterback Drew Lock, last year’s second-rounder, has flashed in spots over the past few weeks, but if he’s going to develop into a franchise-caliber quarterback, he’s going to need a strong support system around him. Grabbing Lamb here could provide a major boost: Paired with ascending superstar Courtland Sutton, the Broncos could field a pair of mismatch-creating, high-point-winning studs at receiver. Lamb has size, strong hands, and elite run-after-the-catch talent.
2020 NFL Mock Draft: Bills add needed size at wide receiver, two quarterbacks go in the top three - CBSSports.com
Brown is a bull-rushing monster at nose tackle, and he has awesome athleticism for his size. He’s what the Broncos need inside.
2020 NFL Draft: 3-round mock draft to wrap up regular season
10. Denver Broncos- Trevon Diggs, CB Alabama The Broncos are in need of a long physical corner and Trevon Diggs checks those boxes off. Diggs also has great ball skills and a sure tackler in traffic which adds to his value here at pick eleven. He plays well in both man and zone schemes. Diggs uses his size to effectively play press coverage but is also good when playing off of the line of scrimmage.
How'd I do #Broncos Country? pic.twitter.com/NsrUBN5XDl— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 19, 2019
Offensive player rankings, Week 16: Evaluating veteran QB play - NFL.com
Nine notable NFL quarterbacks will be 35 or older by the start of the 2020 regular season. How many of those guys still have what it takes to be a starting NFL QB?
The Colts Can Get Out of Jacoby Brissett’s Contract Easily. Will They? - The Ringer
Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement didn’t shake Indy early in the season, but his replacement’s regression may have doomed the team down the stretch
RB Index, Week 16: Four prime candidates for offseason trades - NFL.com
Maurice Jones-Drew names four running backs who are prime candidates for offseason trades.
Leonard Fournette confirms he won NFLPA grievance - NFL.com
The grievance decision is the second won by the NFLPA on behalf of its members (Fournette) over the Jaguars in three days. The union told its members Monday it won a grievance over the Jaguars’ requirement for injured players to rehab and see doctors at the team facility during the offseason.
When the NFLPA tells players they might not want to sign with your team, something has to change. https://t.co/c792Xv79YC— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 19, 2019
Andy Reid assured Terrell Suggs he’d be a good fit in K.C. – ProFootballTalk
“I asked coach ‘I just learned the hard way that a player like me just [doesn’t] fit in anywhere.’ He was like ‘Trust me, you’ll fit in here,’” Suggs said
Dak Prescott has shoulder injury that will limit him today – ProFootballTalk
“They did an MRI and everything seemed to be OK, but he banged it up, and it’s hard for him to function right now,” Garrett said Wednesday. “So I wouldn’t anticipate him throwing much in practice today.”