ESPN put together an article yesterday ranking all 32 NFL rosters using Pro Football Focus grades to back it up. Surprisingly, the Denver Broncos are considered the 10th best roster in 2021 despite finishing with one of the worst records last season.
They talked about each teams biggest strength and weakness, which we might have talking points of agreement or disagreement based on how we feel about their opinion. So I’m going to break down how I see it in comparison on each point.
Biggest strength: Denver might just have the best secondary in the NFL. Last year, third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia, an injured A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan — who typically plays in the slot — were the team’s top three outside cornerbacks. Denver now has the luxury of deciding which of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby or top-10 pick Pat Surtain II will start the season on the bench due to Callahan likely moving back inside. And at safety, Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson rank second and sixth, respectively, in PFF’s wins above replacement metric since the start of the 2019 season.
On paper, it is hard to argue against what looks like a stacked secondary for Denver this season. However, there are a lot of new faces and they will need time to gel. I think the biggest strength on this team is the pass catching corps. Courtland Sutton returns healthy, then you add in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in the mix and it looks pretty decent. But then you say, oh hey look, Noah Fant is in there. If guys need a breather, Tim Patrick is still a dude who can play.
I saw enough of Hamler and Jeudy to believe they’ll be big time threats with Fant and Sutton also drawing attention. I don’t think there is a better group of pass catching threats in the NFL right now. Unfortunately, that does lead into the next category...
Biggest weakness: For as much talk as there has been about bolstering the quarterback position this offseason, Denver didn’t improve in any meaningful way. Sure, Teddy Bridgewater is a slight upgrade over the 2020 version of Drew Lock. He brings a little less volatility. But Bridgewater is still coming off a season in which his 66.0 PFF grade ranked 26th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. This is a roster talented enough to contend in the AFC from top to bottom. It’s just hard to see that happening with Lock or Bridgewater at QB.
The quarterback situation, as it did in each of the last 5 seasons, will make or break the Denver Broncos season. I know a lot of people really believe Drew Lock is the guy, but I think it is highly unlikely. The one thing quarterbacks rarely improve on (seeing the field/mental processing) is one of Lock’s biggest issues.
I hope I am wrong, but I think it will end up being Teddy Bridgewater anyway and if he plays safe and puts up 20-22 points per game without the bonehead turnovers then this roster is going to challenge for a low end playoff spot. After such a long playoff drought, I would be very pleased with that result.
X factor for 2021: The best edge defender of the past decade, Von Miller, returning to the lineup this season is a significant addition. Miller put up elite 90-plus PFF grades each year from when he entered the league in 2011 through the 2018 season. 2019 was the first year to break that trend, as Miller recorded an overall grade of “only” 79.3. A lost season in 2020 due to injury now means that Miller is two years removed from his peak. A healthy return to dominance this year would be massive for a defensive front that also features Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones.
I disagree completely here. There is no worrying about Von Miller and his production. Even a down season and he leads the leagues in quarterback pressures. The guy is still an elite edge rusher in the NFL. I’m not at all worried about the defensive line if they all stay healthy.
The real x-factor is what PFF/ESPN says is the strength of this roster. The secondary has the makings of something amazingly great, but with so many new faces it’ll come down to how quickly they all come together to form an elite unit. Is that Week 1 or Week 14?
All said, I love what George Paton has done with the roster in a very short period of time, but as usual, the quarterback situation hangs over Dove Valley like a dark cloud. We’ll just have to wait and see how that turns out.
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