With a little less than two weeks until the Broncos open training camp and my position breakdowns close to finished, I thought it time to share the 10, or maybe 11 players I’m most excited to watch this season. Keep in mind this is nothing more than my personal list. Every one of us enjoys the game differently and takes different things out of it. I look forward to seeing the players you’re stoked for in the comments below.
There’s only two players on the Broncos’ current roster that joined the team before I started working in football, and with all due respect to Brandon McManus, the kicking game doesn’t excite me. The same can’t be said for Miller, who plays my favorite position to watch.
It’s been so long since Miller played the argument over his 2019 season is a long since buried horse, but I’ll maintain ‘til the day I die it didn’t get the respect it deserved. Von notched more than twice the pressures of any other Broncos’ defender and made enough of a difference for the defense to finish as one of the most efficient in the NFL. It seemed we spent so long arguing about his fight with Father time we didn’t take enough time to enjoy what he was putting on tape.
I can only speak for me, but absence has definitely made this heart grow fonder. Losing the only surefire Hall of Famer on the roster before the season began cast a foreboding shadow over 2020, and it more than lived up to the dread I felt when I wrote about Von’s freak injury.
Now 32 and playing for a new boss on an expiring contract, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Miller’s facing his final season in orange and blue. I’m equal parts anxious about how he’ll make the most of it and excited to see what Fangio can do to maximize the attention Von commands from opponents.
Like Von Miller, I believe we underrate how impressive Sutton’s 2019 was. He averaged 15.4 yards a reception catching 72 passes from the husk of Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, and rookie Drew Lock. He did it even as Emmanuel Sanders quit on the Broncos in the middle of their week six game against the Tennessee Titans, which meant opposing coordinators could devote an inordinate amount of attention to slowing him down.
The Broncos passing game ran through Sutton in 2019, and he still finished with 1112 yards.
I have little doubt the Broncos’ medical staff is top notch, but until we see Sutton return to action I’m going to be anxious. A torn ACL for a receiver who wins with his freaky combination of size and athleticism is no joke. Hopefully, we see Sutton reestablish himself as one of the best X-receivers in the league.
Before Joe Flacco got hurt, Courtland Sutton had the 3rd most 25+ receptions in the NFL.— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) July 3, 2021
Here's every 20+ yard play across the back half of 2019. pic.twitter.com/GPoWOG3dP5
I doubt anyone was actually pleased with Jeudy’s rookie season, even if the general narrative about it is wildly overblown. Yes, he struggled with drops. Yes, he needs to better sync up his routes with whoever is under center. He also played with four different quarterbacks if you count Kendall Hinton, and none of them were close to average. Despite the dysfunction swirling around him, Jeudy led the Broncos’ in receiving yards as a rookie.
Heading into year two I expect him to make a similar jump Courtland Sutton took from 2018 to 2019. He already possesses elite separation quickness, which means better quarterback play and the attention Sutton draws could lead him to feasting on overmatched cornerbacks in one-on-one situations.
You didn't worry about Jerry Jeudy, right? pic.twitter.com/MHbZuu7PuL— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 4, 2021
Like Jeudy, I never worried about Fant, even during the lowest parts of his rookie season when a notable swath of Broncos’ coverage seemed to paint him as a first round bust. He played through pain a season ago and dealt with the same shoddy quarterback situation Jeudy did, but still found a way to lead the Broncos’ in receptions.
As he enters year three, I expect Fant to blossom into one of the best young tight ends in the league. Keep in mind Travis Kelce’s 32 in October, Darren Waller’s 29 in September, Gronk is 32 going on 80. Fant’s time atop the NFL is quickly approaching.
Fant’s the kind of elite athlete that linebackers struggle to keep up with and improved at making catches through contact last season. If he can continue to grow in these areas and receives somewhat consistently accurate passes, he’ll put the league on notice. Thanks to his reputation coming out of Iowa as well as his adjustment to the Scangarello offense, he may always be an underrated blocker. He isn’t the liability some would lead you to believe.
Noah Fant with the first touchdown of the #Broncos season.— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2020
There will be more. pic.twitter.com/vLSpYxsbxz
Pookie was the top back on my Broncos’ big board since the day I started watching him. The fact he’s best on my favorite rushing concepts Pat Shurmur and Mike Munchak use only helps his cause. I’m eager to see how he holds up in pass protection and what his role looks like this year, but health willing he should become one of the best backs in football.
I know it’s very early, but Simmons is currently on a Hall of Fame trajectory. It seems we’ve spent the last two years trying to tear him apart because John Elway didn’t extend him when he should have, but hopefully the new deal puts the money talk on the backburner.
Last season Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Alexander Johnson, and Josey Jewell were the the calm in the middle of the storm on defense. Injuries completely upended the cornerback, defensive tackle, and edge rooms, but these four remained stalwarts and helped Fangio’s defense finish as the second best redzone defense in the league.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is currently billed as the top safety in the league, and he’s certainly good. He’s also gotten to play behind one of the best pass rushers in football with competent corner play on the boundary. Now that George Paton’s reinforced the Broncos’ defense, Simmons should too.
Fangio dials up the rare blitz for Justin Simmons. Easy deflection and the #Broncos hold on third down. pic.twitter.com/XXVtdz23QP— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 20, 2020
Remember how I said Edge was my favorite position to watch?
The way Chubb came back from a season ending injury in 2019 to make last year’s Pro Bowl was awesome, and I can’t wait to see how he builds on it. Since he was drafted Chubb has improved as a run defender at the point of attack and dropping in space. He’s also become a better pass rusher by improving how he sets up an opponent, and stringing moves together. Von’s impact on his game shows through his rush plan and hand usage, as well.
A healthy Von should make it harder for protection schemes to game plan for Chubb, and he should emerge as one of, if not the best second banana in the NFL. With an improved secondary behind them, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos lead the league in total sacks.
I did say Edge was my favorite position.
Way back when Reed came into the NFL I called him the 2019 version of Phillip Lindsay and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s played 1253 snaps the last two years filling in for the injured stars ahead of him on the depth chart. In doing so, he’s proven himself as a high motor player who is solid at setting the edge and versatile enough to hold up in zone coverage. He also led the Broncos’ in sacks.
Reed is going to be a clear backup to Miller and Chubb this year, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Fangio makes the most of his depth at outside backer.
In 2019 Von Miller notched 8 sacks and 63 pressures.— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) June 25, 2021
Malik Reed finished 2020 with 8 sacks and 35 pressures.
Bradley Chubb finished with 7.5 sacks and 58 pressures.
Going to be fun to see how Fangio maximizes them.
It wouldn’t surprise if he pushes for the Pro Bowl this season. He’s solid in run defense, but a sneaky good pass rusher with the bust, quick hands and savvy to work an offensive lineman into mistakes. If all the big names around him come back healthy and Fangio’s revamped secondary is as good as advertised, Jones is really set up to take advantage.
Fangio sends 4 and the Broncos get home on third and 10 thanks to Dre'Mont Jones. Nice swim to get free. pic.twitter.com/yAKXnCd6dU— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) October 28, 2020
Patrick Surtain II
If Surtain can hit the ground running as I expect, the Broncos are going to have to find ways to get him on the field. Last year Fangio used five or more DBs on 75% of his defensive snaps while juggling through 10 different corners. With the loaded room, I anticipate more dime personnel with a corner replacing Josey Jewell. There’s also the distinct possibility Surtain pushes Darby, Callahan, or Fuller into a rotation, as he’s got the tools to quickly become the best press corner on the roster.
There’s also the whole Surtain vs. Justin Fields argument that’s going to make the corners performance fascinating for years to come.
If my early roster prediction is any sort of sign, there’s going to be a few readers who lose their mind over Rodgers making this list when Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater don’t. Try to remember that I still believe the reigning MVP forces his way out of Title Town and that he’d make Denver a legitimate Super Bowl contender overnight.
It’s also my list.
I look forward to seeing yours.
3rd and 3 at the 50 yard line down 7 nothing with a Super Bowl on the line.— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 3, 2021
Aaron Rodgers makes it look easy. pic.twitter.com/WF0ULLcehU
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