Last week I took my first look at the Broncos 2020 roster. If you missed it, you can find it here. Rather than simply say “we need ____” I tried to look at every player the Broncos have under contract or could retain. Now we take a look outward towards what players are worth the time to study up on as we start to barrel towards free agency in March and the NFL Draft in April.
What follows is not an end all, be all kind of list. Some of these players may not declare as the final deadline isn’t until January 17th. There are surely going to be players I learn about as we get closer that warrant a longer look, just as there’s probably players on this list that I’ll cool on. The point of making this is to share my thoughts on each position as well as players I’m aware of that may be worth your time as we creep towards the cold months without football.
If you have a chance, be sure to comment to let me know what you think and if I missed anyone.
Drew Lock is the guy for 2020 barring something insane. That means Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Cam Newton aren’t coming to Denver to start. But with what’s left of Joe Flacco all but surely cut this spring to open up $10 million in cap space and Brandon Allen a Restricted Free Agent, there’s a clear need for a veteran QB2. I remain optimistic about Brett Rypien, but if Elway and the coaching staff are serious about a playoff chase in 2020 they can’t count on a QB room with 5 games between them.
The guys who have my attention first and foremost are those who have played in similar systems to Rich Scangarello’s. Luckily there are a few such players set to hit the market in 2020 and most aren’t going to break the bank or challenge for a starting job anywhere. That’s ideal. If the Broncos want to give Lock an extended run but have insurance against injury, these kind of veterans are ideal for a short term stabilizer.
- Buccaneers - Blaine Gabbert - past experience in LaFleur/McVay offense.
- Rams - Blake Bortles - See above, plus physical talent could be a decent fit in system.
- Skins - Colt McCoy - Worked in a Shanahan style offense for a long time. Low upside.
- Titans - Marcus Mariota - Worked under LaFleur in similar offense.
- Oklahoma - Jalen Hurts
- Iowa - Nate Stanley
- Michigan State - Brian Lewerke
- Hawaii - Cole McDonald
- Arizona - Khalil Tate
- Utah - Tyler Huntley
- Washington State - Anthony Gordon
- Texas AM - Kellen Mond
All slated to become unrestricted free agents this offseason:— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) January 6, 2020
This is one of the more intriguing positions. The Broncos could choose to invest in a workhorse to push Phillip Lindsay to 1B as they originally seemed to plan with Royce Freeman or compliment the current duo. The way Scangarello worked to get the backs involved in the passing game and the late addition of Theo Riddick in training camp last year does suggest there will be an addition or two here.
- Jets - Ty Montgomery - Former Packer, could he contribute on passing downs?
- Raiders - DeAndre Washington - Experience as a check down target.
- 49ers - Matt Breida - RFA who may slip through cracks with San Fran’s cap situation?
- 49ers - Jeff Wilson - Could be looking for a change of scenery and larger role?
- Skins - Chris Thompson - Is he healthy enough to contribute as a third down back?
- OSU - J.K. Dobbins
- Alabama - Najee Harris
- LSU - Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- Wisconsin - Jonathan Taylor
- Utah - Zack Moss
- Florida State - Cam Akers
- Clemson - Travis Etiene
- TCU - Darius Anderson
Jonathan Taylor. Grown man. pic.twitter.com/p4jKV71QlP— Wolverine Coverage (@WolverineCorner) January 2, 2020
Benjamin Allbright has already said that if Henry Ruggs III is on the board at 15, the Broncos will select him. That comes after John Elway all but circled receiver as a position for significant investment this offseason. It makes sense, Drew Lock has a live arm and there was a clear void in the receiving corps after the Broncos granted Emmanuel Sanders’ trade request at midseason.
With Courtland Sutton an emerging superstar at the X, what the offense needs most is a dynamic speed merchant to pair with him. Basically a younger Sanders without the rumored issues in the locker room.
- Buccaneers - Breshad Perriman - Vertical burner who averaged 17.9 Y/PC in ‘19
- Jets - Robby Anderson - How valuable would his skillset be to Scangarello?
- Patriots - Phillip Dorsett - Could he add to the receiving corps?
- Cowboys - Amari Cooper - Is he worth the $15+ million he’ll make on the market?
- Chiefs - DeMarcus Robinson - Not a burner, but a valuable role player.
- Bills - Isaiah McKenzie - Would he be an upgrade on Diontae Spencer?
- Texas - Devin Duvernay
- TCU - Jalen Reagor
- Alabama - Henry Ruggs III
- ASU - Brandon Aiyuk
- Florida - Van Jefferson
- Penn State - K.J. Hamler
- Oklahoma - CeeDee Lamb
- Alabama - Jerry Jeudy
- Colorado - Laviska Shenault
- OSU - K.J. Hill
- Baylor - Denzel Mims
- Michigan - Donovan Peoples-Jones
#Bama WR Henry Ruggs III (#11) is a special prospect because of what he does with & WITHOUT the ball.— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) October 25, 2019
Play 1: Hustle on INT
Play 2: TD Fumble Recovery
Play 3-5: TD sealing blocks
Play 6-8: Special Teams
Two minutes of @__RUGGS film that every NFL team will fall in love with: pic.twitter.com/ouMwrPRNxl
Noah Fant had an up and down rookie season, with quiet games mixed with flashes of brilliance. He’ll need to improve as a blocker and route runner in season two, but the potential is there for him to blossom into a true mismatch weapon. Jeff Heuerman was a steady number two option who did most of his work as a blocker, while Troy Fumagalli had what amounted to his rookie season.
With Jake Butt, Austin Fort, and Bug Howard all under contract heading into camp there’s a decent chance the Broncos stand pat at the position. With how important the position is to the system as well and how often the Broncos utilized two or more tight ends at any given time, there may be a desire to add more talent to the room.
- Eagles - Richard Rodgers - Could offer blocking skills to the rotation, if healthy.
- Packers - Marcedes Lewis - How much does the blocking specialist have left?
- Missouri - Albert Okwuegbunan
- Oregon - Jacob Breeland
- Florida State - Harrison Bryant
A lot of people seeing #Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam for the first time today. Only a redshirt soph, but he's a top-3 TE prospect in the country.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 22, 2018
Most NFL teams bring seven or eight guys with them into a game and so the backups need to be able to fill multiple spots in a pinch. All reports suggest Garett Bolles, JaWuan James, and Dalton Risner are all expected to open as starters in August. So any tackle will probably need to be able to play a swing role so Elijah Wilkinson doesn’t have to, or play guard. Additionally the contract situation with Ron Leary and Conner McGovern makes the interior line look like a more pressing 2020 need.
- Broncos G/C - Conner McGovern - How much is McGovern worth?
- Lions - G/C - Graham Glasgow - 58 game starter in Detroit.
- Eagles - T - Halapoulivaati Vaitai - Battle tested swing tackle with Super Bowl experience.
- Skins - G - Brandon Scherff - Could be an instant upgrade at RG if healthy.
- Panthers - G/T - Daryl Williams - Experience at both tackle and guard, including SB50.
- Patriots - G - Joe Thuney - Underrated for years. Plays LG, which may cause a shakeup.
- Saints - G - Andrus Peat - Could he bounce back to Pro Bowl form?
- Texas - C/G - Zach Shackelford
- Michigan - G - Ben Bredeson
- TCU - T - Lucas Niang -
- Iowa - G/T - Tristan Wirfs -
- Louisville - Mekhi Becton
- Oregon - C/G - Jake Hanson
- Wisconsin - C/G - Tyler Biadasz
- LSU - C/G - Lloyd Cushenberry III
- Michigan - C - Cesar Ruiz
- Auburn - T - Prince Tega Wanogho
- USC - T - Austin Jackson
- Washington - G/T - Trey Adams
- Houston - T - Josh Jones
- Kansas - T - Hakeem Adeniji
- Michigan - T - Jon Runyan
Had to go back and study elite RG Brandon Scherff week 1, especially vs. fellow elite opponent Fletcher Cox.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 10, 2019
Scherff's vintage 'flash' or 'bait' technique in pass pro mixed in with jump sets + very few guards work combos or get out in space better as a run-blocker. pic.twitter.com/gcaSerNSyr
This grouping includes players from the 0 technique out to the 5. If you’re not completely sure what that means be sure to check this link out for more information. Fangio’s base defense is a 3-4 front that can mold into something resembling a 4-3 under or 5-2. His nickel tends to be a 4-2-5 but he’ll also mix in 3-3-5 looks. He will sometimes ask his defensive linemen to 2-gap, and sometimes he’ll ask them to penetrate.
With Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, Adam Gotsis, and Derek Wolfe all on expiring contracts this is a position group that probably deserves more attention than it’s currently getting in the local and national media.
- Broncos DL/NT - Shelby Harris - Should Broncos retain Harris? At what price?
- Chiefs - DL - Chris Jones - May push for $20 million a year on next contract.
- 49ers - DL - Arik Armstead - Former first rounder, 2019 Pro Bowl snub.
- Rams - DL - Michael Brockers - Very athletic for a 300+ lb man.
- Ravens - DL - Michael Pierce - Pretty hard to move this 6’0 340 lb plugger.
- Patriots - DL/NT - Danny Shelton - Could this gap eater shore up the run D?
- Lions - DL - A’Shawn Robinson - Could he contribute as a 2 down run stopper?
- Bills - DL/NT - Jordan Phillips - Is his 9.5 sacks misleading?
- Texans - DL/NT - D.J. Reader - Probably retained, he can play 0-5T along the line.
- Steelers - DL - Javon Hargrave - Started every year since he was drafted in third round.
- Seahawks - DL - Jarran Reed - Once compared to Eddie Goldman.
- Utah - NT - Leki Fotu
- Missouri - NT/DL - Jordan Elliot
- Auburn - DL - Derrick Brown
- South Carolina - DL - Javon Kinlaw
- Iowa - DL - A.J. Epenesa
- LSU - DL - Rashard Lawrence
- MSU - DL - Raequon Williams
- Alabama - DL - Raekwon Davis
- Texas AM - DL - Justin Madabuike
- Oklahoma - DL - Neville Gallimore
- TCU - DL - Ross Blacklock
- OSU - DL - Davon Hamilton
- Auburn - DL - Nick Coe
It's rare to find a coffeehouse stunt on film but I stumbled onto this one from 49ers DL Arik Armstead: pic.twitter.com/Rzix9Nsyvh— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) June 14, 2019
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are set to return and log most of the starting snaps. Behind them is Malik Reed, Justin Hollins, and potentially Jeremiah Attaochu. Depth could be added. Keep in mind that in Fangio’s system they’ll need some ability to drop into space when called upon.
- Bears - Aaron Lynch - Was a productive role player for Fangio in the past.
- Packers - Kyler Fackrell - 10.5 sack 2018 was an anomaly, but could he provide depth?
- Ravens - Pernell McPhee - Was a big ticket FA for Fangio back in 2016 so we know he fits.
- Titans - Kamalei Correa - Low upside Swiss Army knife type who offers ST value.
- Wisconsin - Zack Baun
- LSU - K’Lavon Chaisson
- Boise State - Curtis Weaver
- Michigan - Joshua Uche
- LSU - Michael Divinity
Let’s put a finer point on this. If Zack Baun weren’t this fast, it’s clear that WR Juwan Johnson is off for a touchdown. He had the angle. Baun closed it up, forced Johnson to cut to the sideline. pic.twitter.com/oJgAmOZbjD— Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) January 2, 2020
In 2019 Alexander Johnson emerged as one of the “out of nowhere” secret stars of the league. He’ll return next year, but it remains to be seen what the rest of the LB room looks like. Todd Davis has an option on his contract and there’s been speculation that the Broncos could move on to clear up $5 million in cap space. If it happens, there will be a clear need for another starter as Josey Jewell and Joe Jones are clearly depth.
- Rams - Cory Littleton - Coverage backer, would he be worth a big investment?
- Browns - Joe Schobert - Allbright has suggested he has the Broncos’ interest.
- Bears - Danny Trevathan - Could he return to his 2016-18 form upon a reunion?
- Bears - Nick Kwiatkoski - Filled in once Trevathan was hurt and started under Fangio.
- Oregon - Troy Dye
- Miami - Michael Pinkney
- Georgia - Monty Rice
- Purdue - Markus Bailey
- Oklahoma - Kenneth Murray
- OSU - Malik Harrison
These are players who may not necessarily fit the Fangio defense in the same way their listed collegiate position implies. For most, this means nickel corner as this position carries similar responsibilities to the linebackers in Fangio’s scheme.
- Clemson - Isaiah Simmons - Some call him a modern linebacker, or a unicorn.
- Alabama - Xavier McKinney - Some have called him a less athletic Minkah Fitzpatrick.
- Maryland - Antoine Brooks Jr.
I’m a big fan of Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. He does it ALL. pic.twitter.com/QAgml7hxAg— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) January 7, 2020
Arguably the Broncos’ biggest need this offseason. The Broncos shopped Chris Harris Jr. up until the trade deadline last year and haven’t signed the 9-year veteran to an extension. Behind him is mostly unproven or recovering players, so it’s hard to say with certainty how comfortable Elway and Fangio are with what they have under contract.
I expect significant investment here via free agency or the draft.
- Broncos - Chris Harris Jr. - Should the Broncos retain their future Ring of Famer?
- Cowboys - Byron Jones - Just 2 interceptions in his career. Why is he CB1?
- Cowboys - Anthony Brown - 2018 was solid, could he bounce back from injury?
- Chiefs - Kendall Fuller - Could he fit the system?
- Panthers - James Bradberry - His 2018 was promising. What happened in ‘19?
- Titans - Logan Ryan - How would he fit?
- Jets - Brian Poole - instinctive corner who is just 27.
- Virginia Tech - Bryce Hall
- Stanford - Paulson Adebo
- UCLA - Darnay Holmes
- Alabama - Trevon Diggs
- LSU - Kristian Fulton
- TCU - Jeff Gladney
- Clemson - A.J. Terrell
- Utah - Jaylon Johnson
- MSU - Cameron Dantzler
- OSU - Damon Arnette
- Washington - Myles Bryant
- Florida State - Levonta Taylor
- Penn State - John Reid
Byron Jones should absolutely be a target for the Giants in free agency.— Vincent Rapisardi (@VinceRapisardi) December 31, 2019
Jones has allowed a completion percentage of less than 54% each of the last two seasons.
He also allowed just 260 air yards this season which is less than the league's best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore.
It would be one of the biggest mistakes of Elway’s tenure as GM if Justin Simmons isn’t retained. He’s already said the Broncos plan to keep him back and are open to using the franchise tag to do so. Simmons doesn’t appear upset at this. Kareem Jackson should also return off his DUI suspension for 2020 so the starting safeties for Fangio’s defense looks set.
Depth behind them is an open question. Trey Marshall filled in admirably over the last two games of the year, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing to add more competition to the room.
- Bears - Deon Bush - Was drafted while Fangio was DC and should know the system.
- Minnesota - Antoine Winfield Jr.
- Utah - Julian Blackmon
- North Carolina - Myles Dorn
- Georgia - J.R. Reed
- Clemson - K’Von Wallace
So Justin Simmons was a top four safety in the NFL this year according to the All-Pro team and the BEST safety in the NFL per PFF, yet not a Pro Bowler— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) January 3, 2020
In case you haven’t read Joe Mahoney’s study on the Broncos punting game last season, it’s right here. There should be an open competition for Coby Wadman’s spot on the roster with a real attempt to upgrade. With Denver’s altitude as an advantage there is no reason for such poor results.
What looks like the Broncos’ biggest 2020 need?
This poll is closed
Your Broncos Links
In the normal and the advanced punting stats, Colby Wadman fared poorly in 2019 for the Denver Broncos and should be replaced in 2020.
The Denver Broncos have plenty of youth offensively, and plenty of potential star power. What improvements do the young studs on offense need to make?
The Broncos clearly wanted to throw the ball to the running backs this season. Royce Freeman had 43 receptions and Phillip Lindsay hauled in 35 catches. Both players are capable receivers out of the backfield, but neither averaged more than six yards per reception.
For his career, Riddick averages 7.9 yards per catch and is just a more shifty guy out of the backfield and a more natural pass-catcher. That could be big in third-down situations next year and the inclusion of Riddick on the team could allow the Broncos to move on from Devontae Booker, who is also set to become an unrestricted free agent.
You know what's really funny?— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 7, 2020
There was legitimate talk that Von couldn't do it anymore last year. pic.twitter.com/ArQhgDKzLi
NFL Draft Links
3 Quarterbacks, 3 tackles, and 2 receivers go in the top 14. Who’s the best player remaining?
Running back is well-stocked with early round talents for this year’s draft, including a few first-round possibilities.
In addition to selecting Hamler, the Broncos also select defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, offensive tackle Trey Adams, linebacker Jacob Philips and cornerback Damon Arnette in Easterling’s latest mock draft.
The Chiefs announced Tuesday they placed rookie safety Juan Thornhill on injured reserve. Thornill tore an anterior cruciate ligament in Week 17 against the Chargers. The second-round choice finished his rookie season with 58 tackles, three interceptions and a touchdown in 16 games.
“If the NFL wants to change the season to 17 games they should ask me, and I say no. Because my body was hurting and I needed that break.”
Baltimore has ushered in a new model of offensive scheming by having the courage to build around its generational talent at quarterback
The NFL is taking another look at the play that ended Carson Wentz’s playoff debut early.
"He was a runner and he did not give himself up. We saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgement, we didn't rule that to be a foul." https://t.co/RbMF7GfCnu— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 6, 2020
Turner found himself calling Carolina’s plays following the firing of Ron Rivera and shifting of his father, Norv, to special assistant to the head coach.
Moore would be the second assistant to join McCarthy’s staff in Dallas; Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan is expected to be hired as Cowboys DC.
What’s really amazing about this hire is how hard NFL.com is trying to push it as smart.
After Eric Bieniemy snub, Joe Judge hire, coaching agent I spoke with projects a small exodus of black assistants from NFL to college ranks. "They're starting to feel like there's no future for them in the NFL."— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) January 7, 2020
”This was a unique opportunity,” Rhule told reporters outside his home.
He also gave the Giants the opportunity to match the money.
"Will Grier is as pro-ready as anybody I’ve ever seen. No one made more calls on the line than him. Reminded me of Baker [Mayfield] the year before." - Baylor coach Matt Rhule— Alex Hickey (@bigahickey) April 23, 2019
”I think Matt Rhule can come in here and build an organization for the next 30 or 40 years,” Tepper told the team website, hours after agreeing to terms with Rhule. “He can build it.”
This probably means a complete tear down and rebuild. https://t.co/6hNLzbDC2D— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 7, 2020
I saw a stat that the Buffalo Bills haven’t won a playoff game since ’95. Not one. And that brought it home. We’ve won over 30. So . . . how lucky we’ve been. But also we know you can’t rest on your laurels. Things change and you’ve got to have an edge and look to how you keep things going the best you can.”