Denver Broncos: Setting early expectations for the 2020 season

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos have reasons to be excited for the 2020 season as there are signs that success could be on the immediate horizon in the Mile High City.

In the 2015 season, the Denver Broncos were on top of the world. They had just won Super Bowl 50 and Peyton Manning was their quarterback. But jump ahead to five years later and the story couldn’t be any more different.

The Broncos have yet to make it back to the playoffs since their victory over Carolina in the Big Game. Since that time, Denver has hired two different head coaches and has had to endure a difficult search for a new franchise quarterback. Over that span as well, the Broncos are just 27-37 in the last four seasons with, again, no postseason appearances.

As the 2020 season approaches by the day though, there are reasons for diehard Broncos fans to be excited about the new campaign. Second-year head coach Vic Fangio is already a noted improvement over Vance Joseph, which he showed with the defense last season by succeeding despite weathering injuries.

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In fact, Denver could’ve been more competitive in 2019 if the offense hadn’t been so stagnant. Yes, Phillip Lindsay was able to produce his second 1,000-yard season in as many years since going undrafted, despite running behind a still-struggling line. Meanwhile, wide receiver Courtland Sutton started to break out in a big way while 2019 rookie Noah Fant flashed his potential at tight end.

But for most of the year, the Broncos had difficulty moving the ball consistently. There was a question mark at quarterback coming into the year as Joe Flacco began the season as the starter. An injury then made the way for a short-term option in Brandon Allen while second-round rookie Drew Lock waited to get healthy on Injured Reserve.

An 0-4 start hung like an ugly cloud over Denver and it felt like the team was their own worst enemy. But when Lock finally returned at the end of the season, the Broncos’ luck changed. With the Missouri product leading the offense, the team finished the season with four wins in their final five games as Lock threw for just over 1,000 yards with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions.

The development of Drew Lock

Lock’s performance at the end of his rookie season should inspire a ton of confidence from fans. He was the best quarterback the Broncos trotted out in 2019 — and maybe the best since Manning retired. It feels safe to say that Denver may have found the quarterback who can lead them back to the playoffs.

While optimism is high, however, the work isn’t over with Lock. Once the Broncos are able to get on the practice field, this offseason will be huge for the young signal-caller. Getting him comfortable in the system should be the top priority.

Furthermore, Denver needs to continue building a strong foundation around Lock, which they’ve done well so far. Sutton, Lindsay and Fant are great pieces but the Broncos also added Melvin Gordon in free agency and are likely to add another passing-game weapon in the 2020 NFL Draft. This star-studded offense has all the necessary tools to thrive under Lock but getting the right guidance will be key.

Changes to the coaching staff

As mentioned, the Broncos offense has been a sore spot for some time. However, the hope in Denver is that they fixed a major part of the issue this offseason as they parted with former offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and hired former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur to fill his shoes and take over the offense.

Shurmur arriving in Denver is huge, which he showed a bit in handling the development of young Daniel Jones last season. Moreover, all signs point to him being in love with Drew Lock, which should be a positive sign for the young quarterback’s development.

Lock and the Broncos as a whole should be eagerly anticipating what Shurmur can do at the helm of the offense. With this new addition and Fangio continuing to imprint his stamp on defense, the coaching staff should bring out the best of the personnel in Denver.

Additions to the defense

The offense inspires a ton of optimism moving forward but the Broncos have been active in improving the defense this offseason through free agency and trades. Both cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey were acquired for great value via deals with the Jaguars and Titans, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Broncos also retained safety Justin Simmons to keep him in Denver’s secondary while also eventually re-signing Shelby Harris. The totality of the moves that were made on the defense should have this unit, especially under the direction of Fangio, ready to compete at the highest level in the 2020 season — especially with Von Miller remaining one of the best pass-rushers in the league and with Bradley Chubb‘s return.

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With what’s happened in the Mile High City this offseason, Denver clearly has the tools necessary to make a meaningful playoff run in 2020 and beyond. But before they do that, they need to make it out of the AFC West, which means getting past the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs. The Broncos have defeated their division rivals since Week 2 of the 2015 season. After the 2020 offseason, though, they have a much better chance to do that.