Denver Broncos (Last Year: 5-11)
2021 NFL Season Preview:
QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mike Boone, OT Bobby Massie, C Brett Jones, DT Shamar Stephen, CB Kyle Fuller, CB Ronald Darby.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Patrick Surtain, RB Javonte Williams, G Quinn Meinerz, LB Baron Browning, S Caden Sterns. Broncos Rookie Forecast
RB Phillip Lindsay, OT Ja'Wuan James, OT Demar Dotson, OT Elijah Wilkinson, DT Jurrell Casey, DT DeMarcus Walker, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB A.J. Bouye, S Will Parks.
2021 Denver Broncos Offense:
The Broncos had plans to select Justin Fields with the ninth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but things changed when the Aaron Rodgers news surfaced. Denver suddenly became the frontrunner to land the future Hall of Fame quarterback, so it altered its draft plans and neglected to take a quarterback at all.
It goes without saying that Rodgers would have transformed Denver's offense into an elite unit. He's no longer available after reporting to Packers' training camp. Deshaun Watson remains a trade possibility, but given his legal issues, that's no guarantee. The worst-case scenario is Teddy Bridgewater, who played mistake-free football for the Panthers last year until his utterly dreadful Week 17 performance. He's expected to beat out incumbent Drew Lock for the starting job.
Bridgewater will have an outstanding receiving corps at his disposal. Jerry Jeudy was selected with the 15th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He showed some flashes as a rookie, though he ultimately dropped too many passes. He could improve in that regard, as he figures to form a terrific tandem with Courtland Sutton, The fourth-year receiver played just one game last season because of a torn ACL. He was expected to have a big year because he posted 72 catches for 1,112 yards in 2019. Perhaps he'll have that huge campaign in 2021. It helps that he suffered the ACL in early September, which means he'll likely be 100 percent by the 2021 opener.
Bridgewater will have other talented threats in his arsenal. Noah Fant had a nice sophomore campaign with 62 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns. Also, K.J. Hamler is expected to take a step forward. A second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Hamler had some bright moments as a rookie, including his game-winning touchdown catch versus the Chargers in Week 8.
None of this would work if the Broncos didn't maintain a strong offensive line. Fortunately for Bridgewater, they do. Garett Bolles, once seen as a raw prospect, took a huge leap in 2020 and became one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He'll start across from right tackle Bobby Massie, who has been a steady, albeit declining presence on Chicago's offensive line. Meanwhile, the interior will return intact with a potential upgrade. Guards Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow were solid last year, though the same can't be said of 2020 third-rounder Lloyd Cushenberry. The Broncos used a third-round selection in April on Quinn Meinerz to potentially displace Cushenberry or Glasgow.
Running back was seen as a weakness heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Phillip Lindsay had departed, leaving only Melvin Gordon, who disappointed in 2020. The Broncos spent a second-round pick on Javonte Williams as a result. Williams figures to be an upgrade over Gordon, and it's likely that he'll officially seize the starting job soon.
2021 Denver Broncos Defense:
The Broncos were expected to have one of the better defenses in the NFL last year, but their points and yardage rankings dropped from 10th and 12th to 25th and 21st, respectively. The primary reason for this was Von Miller's season-ending injury. Miller missed all of 2020 because of a foot issue. On top of that, he was the center of some dubious off-the-field problems. Despite all of this, Miller will return for at least one more season, so his presence should help Denver return to possessing better defensive rankings, as he and Bradley Chubb will once again form a fierce pass-rushing duo.
Miller's return isn't the only reason why the Broncos would improve. The front office spent plenty of energy upgrading the secondary. The Broncos had a problem at cornerback last year, which is why they signed Kyle Fuller away from the Bears and then spent their No. 9 overall pick on Patrick Surtain. If Surtain can live up to the hype, he, Fuller and Bryce Callahan will combine to be one of the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL.
Denver's front office also made sure the safety situation would be promising in 2021. Both Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson were free agents entering this offseason, but the Broncos managed to retain both of them. If everyone stays healthy, it'll be very difficult to throw on the Broncos.
The Broncos were better at stopping the run last year, save for a couple of games in which they had mass injuries on the defensive line. Run-stuffing nose tackle Mike Purcell was lost for the season in Week 7, while Shelby Harris and Dre'Mont Jones both missed a handful of games in the middle of the season. If the trio can remain on the field, Denver will continue to handle ground attacks rather well.
Protecting the linebacking corps will be essential as well. The Broncos don't have stars at the position, but they possess a pair of steady three-down players in Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell. Third-round rookie Baron Browning will compete for playing time.
2021 Denver Broncos Schedule and Intangibles:
The thin Denver air creates a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why it had an NFL-best 77-18 home record from 1995 to 2005. The team tailed off after that, but has since reestablished its great home-field advantage. In the Peyton Manning era, the Broncos were 32-6 as hosts, including the playoffs. We'll see if Denver can stay dominant at home in the post-Manning era; it has been just 19-21 the past five years, including 2-6 in 2020.
Brandon McManus hit 28-of-34 field goals last year, which doesn't seem too impressive until considering that he was a ridiculous 10-of-15 from 50-plus.
The Broncos had one of the worst punters in the NFL in 2019, so they brought in Sam Martin to be a nice upgrade. Martin was 12th in net average last season.
Denver had middling special teams last year, scoring a touchdown while surrendering one as well.
The Broncos have a easy schedule to begin the year, as they'll battle the Giants, Jaguars and Jets in the first three weeks. Things will get tougher after that, but Denver will still be matched up against the other three NFC East squads.
2021 Denver Broncos Rookies:
Go here for the Broncos Rookie Forecast
, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2021 Denver Broncos Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2021 Denver Broncos Analysis:
The Broncos would have been an instant Super Bowl contender with Aaron Rodgers. They have a terrific roster, but their only true hole is at quarterback. That continues to be the case now that Rodgers reported to Green Bay's training camp. Deshaun Watson remains an option, but if Denver can't trade for him, it'll have to endure another year of bad quarterbacking that will ultimately ruin its playoff chances.
9-8 (3rd in AFC West)
2020 Projection: 8-8. 2019 Actual Result: 5-11.
2019 Projection: 7-9. 2019 Actual Result: 7-9.
2018 Projection: 8-8. 2018 Actual Result: 6-10.
2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 5-11.
2016 Projection: 7-9. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
More 2021 NFL Season Previews
NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade
Goals Entering the 2021 NFL Draft: The Broncos are desperate for a quarterback, so there's some speculation that they could move all the way up to No. 4 for a signal-caller. This would be foolish because the fourth-best quarterback in this class may not be as good as Drew Lock. Denver would be better off strengthening its entire roster - especially offensive tackle, edge rusher and linebacker - and hoping that Teddy Bridgewater can carry the team into the playoffs. Taking a chance on a second-day quarterback could work.
2021 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Anyone wondering why the Broncos didn't draft a quarterback hasn't been paying attention. Cecil Lammey, one of the best NFL reporters, interviewed Mark Schlereth, who said that the Broncos weren't drafting a quarterback because they were close to trading for Aaron Rodgers. The Packers can't trade Rodgers until June 1 without suffering a severe cap charge, so a deal could occur in one month.
With that in mind, the Broncos did well to add talent around Rodgers, which is a vast departure from what the Packers have been doing. The Broncos didn't need a receiver from all the talent they obtained at the position in 2019, so they secured a running back, Javonte Williams, to split the workload with Melvin Gordon. Meanwhile, third-round guard Quinn Meinerz will upgrade the offensive line.
The Broncos also acquired some talented defensive players. Patrick Surtain will help the Broncos deal with Tyreek Hill and Keenan Allen; Brandon Browning could be the linebacker upgrade the Broncos have been searching for since Danny Trevathan departed five years ago; and Caden Sterns was a steal in the fifth round.
If Denver is really trading for Rodgers, it did a great job of putting the future Hall of Fame quarterback in position to win this year. The Broncos deserve high marks because of that.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
9. Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama - B Grade
The Broncos loved Justin Fields, so this selection might suggest that they'll be trading for Aaron Rodgers - and perhaps Surtain will be part of the package. Cornerback isn't a big immediate need for the Broncos, but they have Kyle Fuller signed on for just one year, so the position would need to be addressed soon. If Surtain goes to the Packers, it'll be a huge upgrade across from Jaire Alexander, and I would boost the grade to an A-.
35. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina - C Grade
I'm not a fan of first-round running backs, as none of the picks over the past decade at that position have done well (see my study on the 2021 NFL Draft Day 2 Preview, and this is close enough for me not to be a huge fan either. I don't hate this pick because there was some argument for Javonte Williams to be the first running back off the board, but the Broncos could have gotten a complement for Melvin Gordon in the next couple of rounds.
98. Quinn Meinerz, G, Wisconsin-Whitewater - B Grade
The Broncos will need to make sure the offensive line is pristine for Aaron Rodgers to give him the best chance to win the Super Bowl. Quinn Meinerz should help in that regard. He had an amazing Senior Bowl, showing that he can compete with the top athletes entering the NFL Draft.
105. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State - B Grade
I've had Baron Browning pegged near the bottom of the third round, so the range makes sense for Baron Browning, who is a high-upside player. He's big, fast and athletic, but he lacks instincts and is raw. The Broncos have needed linebacker help for quite some time, so perhaps Vic Fangio can coach up Browning into becoming a quality starter.
152. Caden Sterns, S, Texas - A Grade
Caden Sterns is a great athlete who had a tremendous start to his Texas career, but an injury derailed his collegiate career. This is a great value pick because if Sterns gets healthier, he could perform like he did in his early days at Texas.
164. Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana - F Grade
Another safety? Why? I liked the Caden Sterns pick, but Jamar Johnson is not only redundant, but also a reach as well because I didn't have him in any of my mock drafts.
219. Seth Williams, WR, Broncos - A Grade
The Broncos obviously didn't need a receiver ... unless Jerry Jeudy is part of the package to trade for Aaron Rodgers! If not, Williams is just a great value pick. He's a big receiver with solid athleticism, and he should have gone a couple of rounds earlier than this.
237. Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU - A Grade
Bryce Callahan hasn't been able to stay healthy consistently, so the Broncos did well to find a possible replacement. Kary Vincent Jr. was someone I pegged in the fifth round, so I'm a fan of this value.
239. Jonathon Cooper, DE/OLB, Ohio State - B Grade
I mocked Jonathon Cooper 10 picks later than this, so the value makes sense to me. The Broncos had to find edge-rushing depth, especially considering Von Miller's off-the-field issues. Cooper could contend to start once Miller leaves the team.
253. Marquiss Spencer, DT, Mississippi State - B+ Grade
Marquiss Spencer makes sense to me as a seventh-round prospect. The Broncos needed defensive line depth after what occurred in November last year when Denver had a slew of injuries on the front. Spencer is a great athlete with nice upside.
For the second year in a row, the Broncos lost numerous close games. Drew Lock endured growing pains in the process, so perhaps some of those close defeats will turn into wins with Lock having more experience next year.
Broncos sign OT Cameron Fleming
Broncos sign OT Bobby Massie
Broncos sign DT Shamar Stephen
Broncos sign CB Kyle Fuller
Broncos sign RB Mike Boone
Broncos sign CB Ronald Darby
- Inside Linebacker: The Broncos have wanted a stud inside linebacker for quite some time. Perhaps they'll finally land one this year by selecting Micah Parsons.
- Center: Denver has a solid offensive line when everyone's healthy. The lone exception is Lloyd Cushenberry at center.
- Two Safeties: Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson were a great safety tandem last year. Both are free agents in March, however. Re-signed Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson
- Edge Rush: Von Miller might be a free agent this offseason, so the Broncos will obviously need to replace him if they let him depart.
- Quarterback: The jury is still out on Drew Lock. He'll get one more chance in 2021, but the Broncos should bring in competition.
- Cornerback Depth: Denver has two stud corners in Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye, but there's not much behind them. Signed Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2021 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears. Age: 29.
Signed with Broncos (1 year, $9.5 million)
Bears general manager Ryan Pace cut Kyle Fuller so he could afford to sign Andy Dalton. Great! Fuller was a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2018 and 2019, but is coming off a down year. He should rebound this upcoming season.
Ronald Darby, CB, Redskins. Age: 27.
Signed with Broncos (3 years, $30 million)
Ronald Darby was one of many players to leave Philadelphia and improve elsewhere. To be fair, Darby dealt with countless injuries while with the Eagles, but finally stayed healthy while with the Redskins.
Bobby Massie, OT, Bears. Age: 32.
Signed with Broncos (1 year, $4 million)
Bobby Massie is a solid right tackle when healthy, but he's had trouble staying on the field recently, missing 14 games the past two years. He turns 32 in August, so age is becoming a concern.
Mike Boone (RFA), RB, Vikings. Age: 26.
Signed with Broncos (2 years, $2.6 million)
Known as the Walter Payton of the NFL preseason, Mike Boone deserves a chance to compete as a high-end backup somewhere.
- Cameron Fleming, OT, Giants. Age: 28. -- Signed with Broncos
- Shamar Stephen, DT, Vikings. Age: 30. -- Signed with Broncos
- Brett Jones, C, Vikings. Age: 30. -- Signed with Broncos
Denver Broncos Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Justin Simmons, S, Broncos. Age: 27.
Re-signed with Broncos (4 years, $66 million)
Justin Simmons has blossomed into one of the top safeties in the NFL. He has gotten better each season throughout his 5-year career. He has earned a huge contract.
Von Miller, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 32.
The Broncos have a club option on Von Miller, so they can extend him one more year. However, they may decide to let him go after seeing the texts he sent to his girlfriend. His age (32) also could be a factor.
Shelby Harris, DT, Broncos. Age: 30.
Re-signed with Broncos (3 years, $27 million)
Shelby Harris continues to improve each year. He was terrific in 2020, thriving against the run and being even better as a pass rusher. The only negative with Harris is that he turns 30 in August.
Alexander Johnson (RFA), LB, Broncos. Age: 29.
Tendered by Broncos (2nd)
Alexander Johnson has come from nowhere as an undrafted free agent to become a talented starting linebacker in the NFL. Johnson is a well-rounded player who deserves a big contract once he's unrestricted.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Broncos. Age: 27.
Signed with Broncos (1 year, $3.25 million)
A virtual unknown entering the NFL, Phillip Lindsay would be one of the top running backs on the market this spring if he were unrestricted.
Kareem Jackson, S, Broncos. Age: 33.
Re-signed with Broncos
Kareem Jackson performed on a Pro Bowl level last year, but the Broncos may not exercise the club option on him because he's due $11 million as a 33-year-old.
A.J. Bouye, CB, Broncos. Age: 30.
Signed with Panthers
A.J. Bouye is coming off a down year in which he played seven games. Bouye is still a good cornerback when healthy, but he hasn't played a full season since 2017.
Jurrell Casey, DT, Broncos. Age: 31.
Jurrell Casey was once one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL. He's in his 30s now, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy. There's still upside with Casey, but the floor is lower than it has been in the past.
Tim Patrick (RFA), WR, Broncos. Age: 27.
Tendered by Broncos
Tim Patrick was Drew Lock's top receiving option in 2020, though that won't be the case once Courtland Sutton returns from injury.
Demar Dotson, OT, Broncos. Age: 35.
Demar Dotson continues to block well despite his advanced age. At 35, Dotson will slow down even more in the near future.
- Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears (2 years)
- DeMarcus Walker, DT, Broncos. Age: 26. -- Signed with Texans
- Will Parks, S, Broncos. Age: 27. -- Signed with Chiefs
- Elijah Wilkinson, OT, Broncos. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
- Anthony Chickillo, DE/OLB, Broncos. Age: 28.
- DeVante Bausby, CB, Broncos. Age: 28. -- Signed with Raiders
- Sylvester Williams, DT, Broncos. Age: 32.
- Jake Butt, TE, Broncos. Age: 26.
- Nick Vannett, TE, Broncos. Age: 28. -- Signed with Saints
- Kyle Peko, NT, Broncos. Age: 28.
- Joe Jones, LB, Broncos. Age: 27.
- Joel Heath, DT, Broncos. Age: 28.
NFL Free Agent Tracker:
QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors
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