Football season is
finally here, Broncos Country!
Cut day is this weekend, and then all eyes fall on the Oakland Raiders. College football has already started, and if NFL teams are waiting ‘til January to look at their weaknesses, they’re falling behind.
With the regular season creeping up, I thought it was a good time to have a chat with Mile High Report’s own Scotty Payne and Jeff Essary about the state of the roster.
Our conversation has been lightly edited.
1st and 10
With the Broncos’ final cutdown looming, what position looks like it most needs a veteran addition for the 2019 season?
Scotty: Quarterback and inside linebacker. Drew Lock will be out a bit with an injury and is a possible IR-return candidate. That leaves Kevin Hogan and Brett Rypien. Hogan looks like a journeyman third-stringer you never want to see take the field during the regular season, and Rypien is a pet project that has a long ways to go. A veteran behind veteran Joe Flacco would be nice. He’s a 34-year-old quarterback coming off an injury-plagued season. Having a reliable backup as insurance would be nice.
As for linebacker, it’s an area of need that I thought they would address all offseason, but really didn’t.
Starter Todd Davis is still nursing a calf injury, and we have no real timetable on his return. You also have special teamer Joe Jones hurt and he will likely miss the entire month of September. That leaves second-year players Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson as likely Week 1 starters at inside linebacker.
Entering the offseason, if you were told those two would be your starting inside linebackers come Week 1, you would have called me some colorful names. Having a veteran to either provide depth or even start would be ideal considering the importance of the inside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s scheme.
Jeff: Gotta stay with Scotty on the inside linebacker. I am still a little iffy on Josey Jewell as a starter based on his tape last year, but that was offset at least by the fact that Todd Davis would be playing next to him. With Davis hurt and Joe Jones down, a group I was already a little hesitant about on an otherwise stellar defense becomes an even bigger liability. Searching for and bringing in a veteran presence in the middle could help solidify things while Todd Davis works his way back.
I’ll go with edge rusher as a distant second.
While the team felt good enough about Malik Reed and Justin Hollins to cut Dekoda Watson, I wouldn’t be opposed to trolling the wire for an OLB/Edge guy who can provide utility on special teams and some pass rush depth. I’m all for giving young guys a chance, especially after their preseason performance, but you can never have too many edge rushers, and if Von or Chubb have to sit for any amount of time, or just need a breather, I would feel much better with one extra guy in there. Maybe I’m really just saying, I don’t think we should have cut Watson.
I still wonder how he'll hold up in space during the regular season, but Alexander Johnson is clearly the #Broncos LB3. At worst. pic.twitter.com/tjVbRLej2o— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) August 25, 2019
2nd and 11
I know it’s a long ways out with a season in between, but at present what currently looks like the Broncos biggest 2020 need?
Scotty: Quarterback is their biggest need until it’s not.
Joe Flacco is a band-aid with no dead money and Drew Lock needs development but is missing precious time due to injury. We all know about John Elway’s love for Justin Herbert. Yes, they did just spend a second-round pick on Drew Lock, but a second-round quarterback has never stopped a team from going after another.
In an extreme case, look at Josh Rosen this past offseason. If the Broncos leave 2019 without a clear answer at quarterback, one has to assume they might enter the quarterback discussion again in the deeper 2020 draft class.
Left tackle, defensive line, cornerback, inside linebacker, and wide receiver all could jump to the top of that list depending on development and productivity of the current players on the roster.
Some interesting nuggets RE: @oregonfootball QB Justin Herbert:— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 26, 2019
-- TD pass in 28 straight games, nation's longest active streak
-- In his 28 starts, Ducks have averaged 38.3 points per game
-- Has thrown 23 career TDs vs. 2 INTs in Pac-12 road games
Jeff: Offensive Tackle.
I know there’s a lot of football left to play, and I’m still hopeful that Mike Munchak can help Bolles turn his career around, but the last thing Denver needs is to get into another situation like the one that landed them Garett Bolles, where they failed to address the position in the years leading up to 2017, which left them with a massive hole come draft day. It became a need they had to fill that year, so they were pigeon-holed into it that draft.
Assuming Denver moves on from Bolles after 2020, I think Left Tackle should absolutely be on the table as a top need heading into 2020 so Elway potentially has two years worth of draft scouring to find his replacement, or can trade him if they end up finding a guy in the 2020 draft.
It’s never too early to start looking for elite tackles, and even if Bolles still started in 2020, you could potentially play the new tackle at guard and then shift him over. Plus, this year’s OT class is shaping up to be one of the stronger classes of the last few years.
Much needed, for sure.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) August 22, 2019
I love the potential of this OT class. Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Georgia's Andrew Thomas and Alabama's Alex Leatherwood have BIG TIME potential (all three rank in my top-16 prospects). https://t.co/7ovKWHC2Xm
3rd and 1
What would Flacco/Lock have to do this year for you to deem quarterback a non-issue for 2020?
Scotty: Flacco would need to show close to above-average quarterback play this season and help lead the team to the playoffs for me to feel comfortable with him as the starter in 2020.
As for Lock, he needed a strong camp and preseason to show the team and fans that he can be more than just a developmental quarterback project. However, a severe hand sprain will sideline Lock for a good amount of time and really limit his development. He missed out on valuable playing time and development because of this and may not be ready to play this season.
So, I am not sure that Lock will have an opportunity to show enough to deem quarterback a non-issue in 2020. In the end, I think we will be discussing the quarterback market once again this upcoming offseason.
Justin Herbert is looking to make some big plays this season, just like this 50-yard strike— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 16, 2019
( @TheMaytagMan) pic.twitter.com/3VPeacyONr
Jeff: Unfortunately, Lock can’t really do anything more at this point due to injury, and you hope you won’t have to see him again until next preseason.
The issue there is that the team will have already had to make a decision at QB so you really have to make next year’s quarterback decision independent of Drew Lock. I don’t think we saw enough this preseason to think he can step right into a starting role next year. So you at least want some competition for him or a fallback guy if you even think about going that route.
For Flacco, I think showing command of the offense, and helping the team win games. Notice, I didn’t just say the team wins games. Flacco needs to show that Denver can win games because of him, not just with him. He would have to show enough to make the team feel confident going into 2020 with him as the starter, and not feel like they were just spinning their wheels.
Fortunately, Elway has shown a willingness to move on quickly when QBs aren’t working out, so I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the team getting attached to Flacco and keeping him too long if he doesn’t play well. You certainly hope he does, though and that Drew Lock takes big strides next preseason, because no one wants to jump back on the QB carousel all over again - unless of course that means Trevor Lawrence-hunting in 2021.
YALL NOT READY TO SEE PRIME JOE FLACCO AGAIN— Mo (@LamarHeisman) August 20, 2019
4th and 1
For the needs you listed, are there any potential targets you’re keeping an eye on for the 2020 draft or free agency?
Scotty: Tagovailoa and Herbert are the two big ones. I don’t think the Broncos will be in range to select either of them, but you never know. Hell, you never know what their draft status will be six months from now. That changes a ton, and what we think we know now is usually flipped come April.
As for free agency and the other prospects, I haven’t even started looking that far ahead yet.
Jeff: At the QB position, I’m not sold on Tua in this upcoming draft class. I think Herbert and Jordan Love could be interesting. I’m all-in on Trevor Lawrence though if you’re going to sell out for a QB prospect in the next year or two.
At the tackle position, I really like Tristan Wirfs from Iowa as a long term answer at left tackle if Bolles needs to be replaced.
If you ask @JReidNFL, he sees a very high ceiling for Tua Tagovailoa — to the point where it could pay dividends on Draft Day. @AlabamaFTBL #RollTide #TuaTuesday pic.twitter.com/TpUuSRShDB— The Draft Network (@DraftNetworkLLC) August 27, 2019