2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 4,777 (28th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 28 (27th)
Offensive Plays: 954 (29th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 545 (25th)
Rush Attempts: 409 (15th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 58 (29th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 25 (23rd)
The Broncos’ year began with Joe Flacco saying he wasn’t going to mentor Drew Lock. It turns out, he wasn’t going to do much of anything. With Flacco overseeing a truly pathetic passing attack, the Broncos started the season 0-4, sitting at 2-6 when Flacco went down with a neck injury. Statue Flacco totaled one score over his final four starts, absorbing 15 sacks. Brandon Allen was somehow even worse over the next three games before second-round rookie Lock was finally ready to return from his thumb injury. Lock provided something approximating hope, avoiding turnovers and showing more poise than expected as he guided the Broncos to a 4-1 finish. GM John Elway was encouraged enough by what he saw to embark on an ambitious offseason project to build the entire offense around his latest quarterback of the future.
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Lock doesn’t always make sense as a quarterback. At Missouri, he thrived on deep balls while displaying baffling inconsistency on shorter, “easier” passes. Lock obviously has to convert more layups and dunks if he is to be a viable NFL starter, but the Broncos acknowledged his unique ability down the field with their aggressive moves in the draft. Of course, the skill corps begins with two players who were already on the roster, one-on-one dominator Courtland Sutton and sophomore tight end Noah Fant.
Akin to DeAndre Hopkins in the way he can produce with any quarterback, Sutton took a massive step forward in 2019, posting a 72/1,112/6/15.4 line while serving as a magnet for DPI penalties. 24-year-old Sutton has grown all the way into his 6-foot-4 frame, boxing out hapless corners. Sutton has the talent to be a WR1 in fantasy, but his suddenly crowded receiver corps is a wild card for 2020. Unlikely to start stacking up easy catches a la Hopkins or Chris Godwin, Sutton’s summer ADP of WR14-18 feels right in the Broncos’ changing offense.
Lining up opposite Sutton will be No. 15 overall pick Jerry Jeudy. A two-year starter for Nick Saban’s Alabama machine, Jeudy is an exceptional route runner with the ability to win at every level of the field. Jeudy led college football in 15-plus yard receptions over the past two years. Jeudy did disappoint with 38th-percentile adjusted SPARQ athleticism at the Combine. He needs to get stronger. Capable of playing both inside and out, Jeudy could line up all over the field as the Broncos figure out how to deploy him and fellow rookie wideout KJ Hamler.
A true burner, Hamler arrives from Penn State with 4.3 speed. Although he is unpolished and undersized at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, Hamler has the potential to be a down-field mismatch as a 21-year-old rookie. Dangerous both inside and out, Hamler could be an immediate weapon on manufactured touches. That, of course, will not translate to consistent fantasy value. Hamler is best left to Dynasty leagues. Jeudy is a late-round flier behind the imposing Sutton.
The Broncos have the most crowded tight end group west of Soldier Field, but sensational sophomore Fant is the clear leader. Although he dealt with three different quarterbacks and failed to reach six targets in any of his final six games, Fant quietly had one of the most productive seasons for a rookie tight end in NFL history. Fant’s 562 yards were the 15th most by a first-year tight end since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. His 14.1 yards per grab were 13th. His “best comparable” on PlayerProfiler.com is Mr. George Kittle. Paired with a quarterback who frequently found his tight end for big plays in college, Fant is going to provide spiked weeks. The question is if he will have the consistency to serve as an every-week TE1.
The man Lock found for big plays at Mizzou? Albert Okwuegbunam, who arrives as the No. 118 overall pick. Standing in at 6-foot-5 with 4.49 wheels, “Albert O” is a frightening mismatch on paper, though he tends to need a head of steam to get going. He is not an elite route runner. Okwuegbunam is a physical marvel worth taking a chance on in dynasty leagues, but you don’t need me to tell you the re-draft moment is not now.
As for Lock … one of the easiest ways to win a fantasy league? Identify the next young quarterback to blow up and overperform his ADP. Josh Allen and Daniel Jones are getting all the 2020 love, but Lock is the darkest of dark horses for the honors. Working against him is the fact that he got in zero official offseason reps with his sprawling new offense thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Lock ultimately does not seem far enough along in his development to rise above QB2 streaming status.
Running back did not appear to be a position of need for the Broncos, but they went out and upgraded it, anyways, as they revamped their offense for Lock. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman were a perfectly fine two-man backfield. Melvin Gordon/Phillip Lindsay is a considerably better one.
Despite the good work Lindsay has done as a former undrafted free agent over the past two years, it will be Gordon assuming 1A status and likely handling 60-70 percent of the team’s snaps. Gordon’s 2019 never really got into gear following his four-game holdout, though he had a four-week stretch in the middle of the season where he handled 85 touches and generated 442 yards from scrimmage. For his 12-game year, Gordon’s receptions were (slightly) down as Austin Ekeler dominated through the air, but he still caught 42 passes.
Therein lies the problem for Lindsay. Third down would be a natural spot for Lindsay to “change the pace,” but Gordon is an unambiguously better receiver. Gordon has caught at least 40 balls four straight years. Lindsay has averaged a wretched 6.2 yards on his 70 career receptions. Lindsay’s work figures to primarily come on early downs, a death knell for his fantasy value since it will be sporadic and unlikely to come near the goal line. We have seen Gordon be an RB1 in the past, but the RB14-20 range feels most appropriate. Were Gordon to go down, Lindsay would revive as a low-end, plug-and-play RB2/FLEX.
Royce Freeman remains as the No. 3 running back, but the Denver Post posited in June that his role may not be secure because of his lack of special teams value. Even were Freeman to nail down No. 3 duties, his Dynasty league moment has come and gone. He would be an uninspiring RB4 in the event of a Gordon or Lindsay injury.
The Broncos have been popularly installed at 7.5. The first roadblock is a schedule Warren Sharp rates as the league’s fifth toughest. The next is a September that begins with two of the league’s stingier defenses, Tennessee and Pittsburgh. That will be a daunting challenge for Lock, who must then tango with Tom Brady in Week 3. Dates with the Patriots and Chiefs also await before Denver’s Week 8 bye. That’s a real tough way to start the year. With so many new moving parts on offense after a nonexistent offseason, the under is the wiser play.