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Why Football Outsiders projects Broncos to win seven games in 2020

The Denver Broncos have a tough strength of schedule and an inexperienced offense, which has led to Football Outsiders projecting an offensive DVOA of 30th in the NFL.

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NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Almost every year, SB Nation partners with Football Outsiders to discuss the data in their annual and we get to dive in and look at their information specific to each of the teams we cover. The Denver Broncos section was written by Mike Tanier.

We asked Football Outsiders some questions about that Broncos chapter in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 and Aaron Schatz was kind enough to provide some answers.

Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 is available from FootballOutsiders.com in electronic form or you can buy it at Amazon.com in printed form. Football Outsiders has partnered with United Way to donate 10% of the proceeds from every copy of Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 to benefit United Way Worldwide’s

MHR: Have You noticed a general trend for franchise QBs’ DVOA scores over the course of their careers - particularly the early years when they’re developing the most?

Schatz: We write about this a couple times in the book, but by far the largest improvement in a quarterback’s performance, on average, comes in his second year. Improvement can come in other years, but improvement and decline is much predictable after Year 2. We wrote about this back in 2012, here: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2012/quarterback-development-patterns.

MHR: And in the same vein, does FO find that a QB’s DVOA in their first season, or first 16 starts, is predictive of the QB’s future performance?

Schatz: Sure. Everything is information that we can use to project how players will perform going forward. But I think we have to differentiate between a player with 16 starts as a rookie and a player with just 5 starts.

Out of curiosity, I went to look at players who came out like Drew Lock. Lock had 2.2% passing DVOA in about 160 pass plays, so I went looking historically for rookies who were 1) between -8% and 12% passing DVOA and 2) had between 100 and 240 pass plays.

That’s a list of only five players:

  • Jim Everett 1986 Rams
  • Shaun King 1999 Bucs
  • Matt Moore 2007 Panthers
  • Cody Kessler 2016 Browns
  • Drew Lock 2019 Broncos

It certainly suggests that after five games, we really still don’t know very much. Although the Broncos would probably love it if Lock had Jim Everett’s career. Jim Everett was pretty good! But he also was a higher draft pick and he was better than Lock as a rookie, with 10.9% DVOA, so he just barely made it onto this list.

Expand the list to players who saw their first real playing time in Year 2 and you add guys such as AJ McCarron, A.J. Feeley, Aaron Brooks, and Jay Schroeder. Again... It’s hard to learn a lot from five starts.

MHR: FO’s strategic tendencies for the Broncos and Giants have some major differences. What will Pat Shurmur coming in as OC mean for the Broncos strategic tendencies?

Schatz: Looking at the Giants over the last couple years compared to the Broncos last year, I think you’re going to see the Broncos pass the ball more. Run/pass ratios for the Giants were lower than they were for the Broncos despite the presence of Saquon Barkley. You’re going to see a lot more single-back sets, as Shurmur teams don’t use a fullback very much. You’ll see more spreading things out, more shotgun, and more 11 personnel. Pace will likely be faster: two of the last three years, Shurmur teams were in the top ten for situation-neutral pace, running more plays. One thing that surprised me: the Giants used a lot less motion last year than the Broncos did. Based on Sports Info Solutions charting, the Broncos had motion on 47% of plays and the Giants on just 32% of plays.

MHR: FO projects the Broncos to have the 5th best defense, 30th best offense. If the Broncos defense hovers around that 5th best mark, but the offense moves from say 30th to even 20th how would that impact the total win projection? (Note: FO predicts Broncos win 7 games in 2020)

Schatz: Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. The projections each represent a range of possibilities, and the averages — especially on defense — are fairly conservative. So, for example, the average defensive DVOA projection for Denver is -4.3%. That’s the fifth-best defensive projection, but in reality if the Broncos have a defensive rating of -4.3% they aren’t going to be one of the top five defenses. The top five defenses are normally at -10% and better.

Anyway, if the Broncos end up in the top five for defense and rank around 20th on offense — effectively they would be a little bit better than our projections on both sides of the ball — that’s a borderline playoff team. That’s close to what Buffalo did last year, and the Bills finished 10-6. On average, teams that finish from 19-21 on offense and from 4-6 on defense win 8.7 games.

MHR: Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Noah Fant, Phillip Lindsay, and Melvin Gordon seems like an offense that will at least be middle of the road. Why does FO have such a poor offensive projection for Denver in 2020 with a DVOA projection ranked 30th?

Schatz: There’s certainly a lot of talent there that could all jell together at the same time. The question with our projections is about what’s likely, not what’s possible. First, so much depends on the quarterback, and we’re stuck with Drew Lock as a quarterback who we still haven’t seen much of in the NFL, and who didn’t have the best projection from college by our QBASE system. Second, there’s a lot of expectation from Jeudy and Hamler in there, and it’s hard to know what you’re going to get out of rookies, even highly drafted offensive stars — and I’m saying that even though we really like Jeudy as a prospect. Plus you didn’t talk about the offensive line, and I think the offensive line for the Broncos is not particularly strong. I mean, Risner is, but the tackles are not.

Poll

How many games do the Broncos win in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    10 or more
    (727 votes)
  • 50%
    7 to 9
    (794 votes)
  • 2%
    6 or fewer
    (43 votes)
1564 votes total Vote Now