This has been perhaps the weirdest year since I started obsessing over the Broncos. The first four games were brutal, while the next four were something close to bearable because the defense got so good. The Brandon Allen era was a lot of looking beneath the big story lines to what was coming, and now it’s bittersweet to know we’re a game away from the end.
That and the holiday season got me thinking about what I hope comes about over the upcoming days and off-season. So of course I had to share with you.
12. A win for Broncos Country.
Tank commanders may not like it, but it’d be pretty sweet to cap off Drew Lock’s rookie season with a victory over the homeless Raiders. If the Broncos plan to give him 2020 as an extended trial (and all signs are they will), then draft position is less important than the positive vibes, chemistry, and confidence that would come from a 4-1 capper to Vic Fangio’s first season at the helm.
Why is this only 12 then? Well, it’s not the end of the world if Oakland wins. I’d be bummed, sure, but we’re looking at the long game, fam.
So here's a fun fact: regardless of next week the Drew Lock #Broncos will enter 2020 with a winning record.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 23, 2019
11. Clay for Mike Munchak.
It’s crazy to think the head coaching search came down to him and Vic Fangio, yet he still came to Denver. That in and of itself is a gift that keeps on giving. So now it’s time to make sure he knows how much the Broncos appreciate him.
Regardless of what Elway and the coaching staff have planned for Bolles, McGovern, Leary, and Wilkinson, there needs to be a concentrated effort to improve the depth along the offensive line.
I know Jake Rodgers and Patrick Morris just played out of their minds against Detroit. Bring them back for camp, but I want a project or two for Munch to chew up and spit out. You can thank me later. I’ll send it on to him.
10. A true third down back for Rich Scangarello.
Remember Theo Riddick? It’s okay if you don’t, I almost didn’t.
Of course, it’s not his fault there was hope Bryce Callahan would be able to play, which meant the veteran running back was placed on injured reserve at the start of the year. It was even less his fault that Tim Patrick became a necessary designee to return when Elway traded Emmanuel Sanders (after the receivers request) to San Francisco.
But his injury meant Devontae Booker stuck to the Broncos’ roster all of 2019. While I had hope Booker would settle in as a valuable member of the rotation after showing some promise in the final days of the Vance Joseph and Bill Musgrave era, it never came to pass.
Which meant the offensive coordinator who talked about how easy it was to get backs on linebackers had to depend on Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to exploit mismatches. While both flashed an exciting moment here and there, it was pretty clear that this offense would be far more dangerous with a true weapon in the backfield.
I want to give him one. Maybe Elway can bring Riddick back, or maybe someone like Clyde Edwards-Helaire falls into the Broncos’ laps in April?
9. Ca$h for Ju$tin $immons.
If John Elway $crews thi$ up he get$ coal ‘til he retire$ from Dove Valley.
8. A war-daddy for Bill Kollar
Even before Derek Wolfe got hurt, there was a noticeable lack of girth along the Broncos’ line. We’re days away from what may be the last game with Shelby Harris in orange and blue, and have almost certainly seen the end of Adam Gotsis with a horse head helmet.
Ideally Fangio’s safeties can sit back in two high, which means there’s more pressure on the defensive line to cause havoc when they’re outnumbered at the point of attack. After the opening struggles to start the year, things settled down because of heroic efforts by Mike Purcell, Todd Davis, Alexander Johnson, and Kareem Jackson, but more girth is needed for the long haul.
It’s probably unrealistic to hope the 10 or so teams ahead of the Broncos are dumb enough to pass on Derrick Brown. I doubt Kollar would mind someone like Marvin Wilson or Neville Gallimore though. Heck, there’s an outside shot Akiem Hicks, Marcell Dareus, or Jordan Phillips is interested in the 303.
7. Safety depth for Ed Donatell.
Maybe Trey Marshall makes a jump. Maybe Will Parks comes back and finds his footing on the back line. Maybe Fangio and Elway go out and dig up a diamond in free agency or the draft.
Somewhere the Broncos will need to find a third safety in case Kareem Jackson or Justin Simmons miss time. It’s too important a role in the current system to have so much uncertainty if Denver wants to chase the playoffs.
6. A bounce-back campaign for Bradley Chubb.
One of the unsung reasons for optimism heading into the new year is that Von Miller gets his running mate back for 2020. You know, the guy who almost broke the NFL’s rookie sack record in 2018?
Just a great forced fumble by Bradley Chubb here. There is no doubt he should be heavily considered for Defensive Rookie of the Year. pic.twitter.com/Yx3t2Cc2kz— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 2, 2018
5. Health for Ja’Wuan James and Bryce Callahan.
Back in March of 2019, there was a ton of buzz over Elway’s moves in free agency. Unfortunately neither did a whole lot to deliver on that excitement this year due to circumstances outside of their control. There is little doubt their absences were felt, but on the plus side, if either or even both come back to 100 percent for 2020, it’s like two free free agents.
Neither is getting cut, so let’s root for that.
4. A running mate for Courtland Sutton.
Watching Sutton turn into a Pro Bowler (because let’s be honest, he deserves one of those dang roster spots) in his second season was one of the highlights of the year. Now the Broncos need to go out and find a true replacement for Emmanuel Sanders.
I’ve liked what Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton have done since Lock’s come in, but giving LeBron James a Dwayne Wade or Kyrie Irving would elevate this offense to another level.
Last spring there was rumored interest in John Brown before he ultimately signed with the Buffalo Bills. If Elway’s goal is to find a true burner, there are names like Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor in the draft, as well as role players like Breshad Perriman and Robby Anderson in free agency.
Or they could chase another WR1+ type in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, or Jerry Jeudy.
3. Real improvement for Garett Bolles.
It seems like I’m asking the moon to hope for a left tackle to slide out of the top ten at this point, so instead I’ll ask for Mars. If the Broncos are going to stick it out with their 2017 first round pick next season, I pray Mike Munchak’s first year with him lit a fire. Heck, I’d settle for the desire to cash in motivating him to put in the work to really iron out his technique.
2. A shiny new corner for Vic Fangio.
Vic Fangio’s defense doesn’t ask for the kind of one-on-one man coverage Wade Phillips’ defense did. This has led some to conclude that there’s less of a need for strong corner play and that the Broncos should roll the dice on Bryce Callahan, DeVante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, and maybe bring back Chris Harris Jr.
Not me. I want a Jeffrey Okudah, Trevon Diggs, or Byron Jones. Heck, I’m intrigued by Logan Ryan and Kristian Fulton. Right now you could sell me on James Bradberry, Bryce Hall, Paulson Adeboa. Even Damon Arnette, Cameron Dantzler, and Ronald Darby sound good.
I want Vic Fangio to get a chance to rebuild the secondary as he sees fit. With what stands between Denver and the AFC West crown, they’re going to need the kind of secondary that can stand up to Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs.
Got to think he's CB1 on the FA market in 2020. https://t.co/acTx21n6QZ— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 23, 2019
1. The sophomore jump for Drew Lock.
I mentioned in the waning moments of the win over Detroit that the rookie quarterback’s game against the Lions was quite possibly my favorite I’ve seen so far. It goes beyond the stats to what looked like hints at the kind of improvements he’s going to need to make for Denver to really compete with Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West.
There’s nothing else I’d rather have for this Broncos team. At the end of the day, a new receiver, cornerback, or even left tackle won’t make up the difference between the two if Lock can’t develop into a franchise quarterback.
Remember that hold on Elijah Wilkinson that happened because Lock hung in the pocket to do his taxes, eat a sandwich, and read a book?— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 23, 2019
It could have been a #Broncos touchdown. pic.twitter.com/KQFrChTWU1
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“Our record isn’t what anybody wants it to be and we’re not proud of our record, but we are proud of this team. When I say team, these guys play for each other. They’ve played hard. It’s a one for all and all for one mentality. They’ve got a brotherhood going. I love being around this team. Nobody likes our record, but this team is a good team.”
What we are witnessing in Broncos Country is a shift that we have been waiting for since Peyton Manning lifted the Lombardi Trophy and rode off into the sunset after Super Bowl 50. As Ian and I discussed on the MHR Radio Podcast, in beating the Detroit Lions Lock and the rest of the youth movement in Denver showed that the future is bright in Denver.
Swagger has returned to Broncos Country thanks to Drew Lock.
The Broncos, who currently have the 3rd-youngest roster in the NFL (25 yrs, 304-day avg.), have won 3 of last 4 and are 6-5 since their 0-4 start.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) December 23, 2019
On offense, the Broncos have had a league-high 13 players w/2 or fewer years experience start for them this year.
“We all knew that [Lock] was special. Every game and every practice that you’re in, you start to get more confidence in him, and he gets more confidence in us. He has to trust us,” Lindsay sad, adding the trust is all important. “Our offensive line’s doing a great job. People don’t understand how great of a job they’re doing protecting him. He’s helping out be being able to maneuver a little bit, so I think everything goes hand in hand.”
The Denver Broncos finished with a bang to beat the Detroit Lions 27-17. Here is who we hand out our game balls to.
Feels a lot like Denver’s success down the stretch of the year is going to be attributed to Drew Lock, and I think that only sets the fan base up for disappointment. Not that Lock can’t be good (I liked him a decent amount coming out of Missouri), but they’ve not actually required very much of him, they just happen to keep winning games. Could get real crazy if Denver ends up beating Oakland next week, too -- would make Lock 4-1 as the starter (well, assuming they don’t fumble this 27-17 lead to David freaking Blough). I’m guessing Denver’s front office rolls with him either way, but I’d be worried that this end-of-season win streak is going to get some people to buy into Lock making a massive Year 2 leap that he probably won’t make.
The Broncos have now scored more than 25 points in 2 of Drew Lock's four starts. The Broncos had only done that 11 times in the 60 regular games since winning SB50 and 7 of those happened in 2016.— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) December 23, 2019
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11. Broncos CeeDee Lamb WR, Oklahoma
The Denver Broncos would probably want an offensive lineman here, but with three tackles already off the board, they would be better served picking the best player available. Although wide receiver Cortland Sutton is having a great year, the Broncos could still stand to add a premier playmaker at the receiver position opposite him. Adding CeeDee Lamb to a group that already has Sutton, Noah Fant at tight end and DaeSean Hamilton as a slot receiver would be a preferred lineup for Drew Lock as he grows into his second season.
Raiders (yes, they are mathematically alive) defensive back Lamarcus Joyner injured his calf, which has around a 45% chance of causing him to miss Week 17. In the unlikely event that the Raiders make the postseason, around 85% of defensive backs who suffer groin injuries are back on the field within two weeks.
Michael Thomas this season now has:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 23, 2019
* More catches (145) than all Broncos, Colts, Eagles, Raiders, Ravens and Vikings WRs
* More receiving yards (1,688) than all Eagles, Raiders and Ravens WRs
* More receiving TD (9) than all Chargers WRs
”I’ve talked to people who have spoken with him, and he has some doubt whether he’s really gonna play football again,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said on SportsCenter Monday. Roethlisberger still hasn’t begun throwing since his September elbow surgery.
Paxton Lynch is the other quarterback on the Steelers’ active roster, and he’ll presumably be the backup to Hodges this week against the Ravens.
With the Baltimore Ravens firmly in the driver’s seat in the AFC, the team has announced that they will will sit several key starters, including Lamar Jackson, in Week 17 against the Steelers.
Never thought I'll see Eli Manning and Daniel Jones partying... but here we are.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 23, 2019
Should the Cowboys have seen this coming? They were overly optimistic about their secondary, which was 16th in defensive DVOA in 2018 with great seasons from the stars in the front seven and an unexpected leap from Byron Jones, who played like a No. 1 corner for stretches of the season. Jones hasn’t been that sort of player this season, and while the Cowboys might have counted on guys like Awuzie to take a leap forward in their third seasons, having a fallback plan would have been nice.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch underwent minimally invasive surgery to fix a nerve issue in his neck and will go on injured reserve, Jane Slater reported.
It still seems unfathomable that, with the Cowboys’ season on the line on fourth-and-eight, that their best receiver would be standing on the sideline. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday in the waning seconds of the Cowboys’ 17-9 loss to the Eagles.
The Panthers were the first to fire their head coach in 2019, meaning they’re ahead in the process of hiring a new one. On Sunday, they interviewed former Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
He has not played this season after playing two games with the Colts last season and six in 2017. Turbin joined the Colts in 2016 after appearing in games for the Browns and Cowboys in 2015.
Lynch racked up 6,347 yards and 57 touchdowns on the ground with 158 receptions for 1,309 yards and eight receiving touchdowns during his 82 games played for Seattle.
Marshawn Lynch retired as a Seahawk 1,416 days ago.— lifelong Lamar Jackson fan (@zjwhitman) December 24, 2019
The 15th overall choice went 2-5 as a starter. He completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Baltimore Ravens’ unique scheme tailored around quarterback Lamar Jackson has attracted most of the attention, but the more widespread trend is a resurrection of the zone-blocking concept popularized by the mid-1990s Denver Broncos.