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7 Broncos I’m thankful for in 2020.

Seven Broncos to be especially grateful for in 2020.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos
Mr. Bronco.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Turkey day is such a weird holiday. I won’t bore you with long rambling about the history of Thanksgiving or the controversy surrounding it, but even on a personal level it feels odd. In a normal year, loved ones take a day to be grateful by stuffing their faces with food and watching (mostly) bad football. I tend to give one of my cousins a hard time about the halftime concert during the Cowboys game, and half my fam falls into a tryptophan induced coma before the third game hits halftime.

I didn’t realize how much the holiday mattered to me until I spent two years in South Korea teaching small children about the English speaking world. Since then, I sort of fell back into the United States and started writing about my favorite team for Mile High Report. It’s been three long years since I tried to explain A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and make hand turkeys, but the feeling still remains.

Obviously this year is not a normal year for you, me, or the NFL. We didn’t even know if we’d have a season, and Broncos Country knows all too well how it can impact the schedule. Even if they haven’t all gone the way we wanted, we’re lucky to see the orange and blue play each week. With that in mind, the time has never been better to share the Broncos I’m most grateful for this season.

Justin Simmons

He came to the Broncos as a third round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, became a surprise starter when Elway shocked the No Fly Zone by cutting T.J. Ward late in camp, and has grown into one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. Over the last three seasons, he’s played in every single snap. He currently has 15 picks, which still underscores how important he is to the Fangio defense.

I’ve been fortunate enough to study Simmons each and every off-season at length and it’s crystal clear the arrow is pointing up. Let’s hope he’s here for the long term.

Garett Bolles

If you told me before this season I’d be grateful for Garett Bolles, I don’t think I would have believed you. I’m the one who asked if the Broncos could even win with their 2017 first round pick over the summer. The growth we’ve seen since the end of the 2019 is nothing short of remarkable, and Bolles knows it.

I have six more games to prove to myself and the rest of my career to prove to people that I belong in this league. Like I told you all before, I truly believe a man goes through a rough patch in their life for a reason, to make them better, and it speaks highly of how a man comes out of that. I truly believe I came out of it on a high note—I learned from my mistakes.

I know exactly what I need to do to not let those mistakes happen. Munchak and I talk on a regular basis. I love that man dearly. I give him all the credit in the world because of what he’s done with me and in such a short amount of time, and it’s really nice to know that I have an o-line coach I can rely on and that I can trust and we can talk man to man.

It’s always nice to get recognition, but at the same time, I’m not in it to say, ‘Hey, look at me’, or anything like that. I’m in it because I love this game and I know what this game has done for me and my family, and what it’s done for a lot of other people’s families. It’s a job, but at the same time it’s something that you’re grateful to be a part of.

This is a great organization. I love Denver, I love the fans here, I love everything about here. I know you all kicked me in the butt over the years, but that’s just something that I took and was for me to change, and if it wasn’t for me to change, I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I took that very seriously and I took it into this offseason. I fixed the things I did [wrong] and this is me, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Bolles has always had good feet. That’s been the constant as he adjusted to the speed of the game and refined his technique to take advantage of his natural gifts. Nowadays he’s able to lock down two blockers in pass protection as well as pull across the formation to lead block for runs to the right.

Some credit needs to land at Mike Munchak’s feet. Some, not all. Bolles is why Bolles should be an All Pro in 2020.

Garett Bolles has become a cornerstone player for the Broncos.
In the year 2020, Garett Bolles became a cornerstone player for the Broncos.

Malik Reed

I was ecstatic when the Broncos found a way to sign Reed after he went undrafted out of Nevada. Thanks to some rough injury luck ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s found plenty of opportunities. It was a bit surprising when the Broncos chose Reed over Justin Hollins last summer. Reed saw his playing time all but evaporate after he failed to contain Josh Allen last season, while Hollins looked like a lock to sign with Brandon Staley and the Los Angeles Rams if he hit waivers. While the latter came true, more and more it looks like Fangio made the right choice. It hasn’t always been easy and there are still some rough matchups on the schedule ahead of him, but I’m still pleased.

After bringing Tua Tagovailoa down twice last week, Reed’s 2020 sack total is up to six and a half. As tends to be the case, the takedowns don’t tell the whole story: Reed is also on pace to more than triple his QB hits from a year ago and has 21 pressures and counting. He isn’t just a one trick pony either, as he’s dramatically improved his play setting the edge and has displayed more discipline on the backside while keeping his rush angle when he shoots into the backfield for a TFL.

I’m thankful Reed has made the most of his playing time in the NFL.

Phillip Lindsay

There isn’t a lot I can say about Lindsay that hasn’t already been said. He’s Mr. Bronco. I noticed we’re back to citing “feed Phil” stats because causation and correlation are so difficult to understand. Just for fun, I thought it’d be fun to dig into a few notable statistics about the Broncos’ real RB1 and share two of my favorite Lindsay plays from this season.

Proof Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay can co-exist in the same backfield.

Lindsay’s career is a contradiction. His first NFL touchdown came on a reception, but he’s a bad receiver. He’s the Broncos’ best runner, but easy to forget about. He’s never fumbled, but Melvin Gordon gets the goal line touches.

Phillip Lindsay is currently on pace for his worst statistical year as a pro. His raw totals will obviously take a dip because he missed three weeks with a toe injury. Lindsay also has just 119 offensive snaps to Gordon’s 200 over the last five games. He’s averaging just over 10 touches a game this season. Gordon plays over Lindsay due to Shurmur’s belief that he is the more reliable blocker and receiver.

It’s been clear all year that the Broncos would need to turn into a ground-and-pound outfit to succeed. Numbers be damned, they need to establish the run or at least pretend to. Lindsay is the superior runner and a game-breaking threat on the second and third levels of a defense. The Broncos line has had its issues with stuffs this year as they rotated through right tackles, but Demar Dotson is healthy now. Even if their opponent has a stout run defense, Shurmur can’t forget 30.

They could become a good rushing offense right before our eyes.

Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry

I’ve been hard on the 41st pick in the 2019 draft this year. He’s had some issues with stunts and speed early which looked even worse in light of the injuries and backup quarterbacks. He’s also been responsible for keeping Lloyd Cushenberry afloat as the rookie learns one of the most mentally demanding positions in football. If the Broncos running game is going to carry the day going forward, he’s the quiet cog that’ll make it go. And while the Broncos’ franchise center has been drinking from a firehose for most of the year, the Miami game points to better days ahead.

Mike Munchak is just showing off.

K.J. Hamler

When the Broncos drafted Hamler last year, I wrote this:

The good:

His start/stop acceleration and lateral mobility are elite traits. If Drew Lock can stay alive, it’s going to be nigh impossible to stick on him in man coverage for any prolonged length of time. Experience as a returner adds to his floor. If the Broncos can find ways to get the ball in his hands via screens, crossers, in and out routes he’s so explosive after the catch that he should demand a lot of attention.

The bad:

Has already had an ACL injury in his past. If you can look beyond that, his hands are marginal at best. While the Broncos’ coaching staff has said they’ll fix his hands, it’s worth mentioning that body catchers with a propensity for drops rarely improve in a significant way.

Additionally, his size hinders his catch radius which puts a cap on his value as a deep threat: he isn’t going to win contested catch situations downfield and will need to be blowing by a defender to serve as a real target. If his hands do not improve, do you really want a fourth or fifth receiving option you need to manufacture offense for?

The Elway:

I would have taken Josh Jones here. I had him as my OT4 and the 18th best player on my Broncos’ adjusted big board. A career left tackle at Houston, he’s a promising pass protector who will need to refine his hands and feet, but brings all the physical talent you could ask for. He slid to 72 with the Arizona Cardinals.

Right now it’s hard to say if I was too harsh on his hands. I definitely could have. Beyond that, Hamler has been everything I dared hope for and more so far. He’s dealing with a rough situation in that he’s not getting the ball with room to run as much as you’d like and he can continue to refine and improve upon his routes, but he’ll be special. Hamler is a willing blocker and has routinely showed off a fearlessness that will make him a slot machine, if he can survive. His separation quickness is painfully evident when he’s asked to do it, and the athleticism is obvious.

Plays like this are why you want a quarterback who isn't afraid to rip it.
Hamler makes a catch while the DB takes a piggyback ride.

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, myself included. I won’t bore you with the details, but as hard as another purgatory year has been, I’m so grateful for the Denver Broncos. There are so many fun players on this roster. Did you see DeShawn Williams last week? Or Jerry Jeudy’s route running? How about Demar Dotson? Kareem Jackson killed it once again. I could go on and on, but it’s time to eat a little cranberry sauce. I want you to know I love cohabitating this fandom with you. It’s been a true privilege to share my obsession every day and I hope you guys have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Your Broncos’ News

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