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Broncos need better QB play to escape the gutter in 2021

Football Outsiders projects the current Denver Broncos roster as 30th best in the NFL. Yikes.

Miami Dolphins v Denver Broncos
Drew Lock needs to improve or get out of the way.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

This is going to come as a shocking revelation, but the Broncos’ passing offense dragged the whole team to the dregs of the league in 2020. The situation may be so shaky that better health luck isn’t enough to creep back towards average. Earlier this month, Football Outsiders shared their first ever “Way Too Early” DVOA projections. You may want to avert your gaze, as the Broncos finished among the three worst teams in football.

It seems hard to imagine a worse finish than the 5-11 disaster Broncos Country had to endure in 2020. Four quarterbacks played, Courtland Sutton and Von Miller barely did, and the defense became so tattered that 10 different cornerbacks saw playing time. Denver’s health luck almost has to improve because it was so abysmal last season. If more starters play significant minutes, the team should perform better, right?

Football Outsiders’ first projection didn’t see it that way. Keep in mind this first projection does not take into account some of the things that makes FO so accurate with their preseason projections. They did not account for three-year trends, coaching changes, turnover regression on defense (which would probably help the Broncos’ defense in this case), and free agent movement. FO only accounted for San Francisco’s injuries and the QB changes that have or may occur very shortly.

So what was the point of the projection to begin with?

“The goal here is just to see who looks best for next year based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense.”

FO’s founder and editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz went on to explain the process as well as share the numbers here. What it all boils down to is what many have said for months now. The Broncos have a huge issue at quarterback and Football Outsiders’ database doesn’t seem to predict Drew Lock will improve enough to resume his status as an anchor around the rest of the roster in 2021.

For those who remain optimistic Lock can shock the world, there is evidence to support you. The whole offense did not have OTAs last season and an abbreviated preseason without games as the league adjusted to life in a pandemic. Losing Courtland Sutton put more on the plates of Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, while the injuries on defense pushed the Broncos’ offense into more situations where QB play was critical.

The only issue is the number of preexisting faults that may linger into the new season. OTAs look like a pipeline for 2021. Von Miller and Jurrell Casey may join A.J. Bouye as Paton cap cuts. Courtland Sutton is set to make a comeback, but it’s an open question if he can return from an ACL reconstruction as the same Pro Bowl WR1 he was in 2019.

This is all to say that the Broncos could get worse before they get better. NFL Network’s James Palmer reported last week that Denver will pursue the top tier QBs or settle for Drew Lock in 2021. If that’s the case, any hope at improvement is directly tied to his footwork, decision-making, and overall growth.

Football Outsiders is not optimistic that will be enough. Are you?