Donny Football Hot Takes #3: Broncos Beat Chiefs; Make Playoffs
One of my top surprises of the 2020 NFL season resides in the AFC West. Obviously, the Chiefs are no surprise anymore, the Raiders aren’t quite there yet and I would say the same about the Chargers. That leaves one — the Denver Broncos. I really like this team in 2020. They won’t pass up the Chiefs. Nobody in the AFC West will do that for the next decade or so. However, Denver can beat them once. They will do that and make the playoffs.
Drew Lock started the final five games last season. The second-round pick out of Missouri tallied an impressive 4-1 record, with wins against Los Angeles (Chargers), at Houston, against Detroit and Oakland. His only loss came against AFC power and eventual Super Bowl champion, Kansas City. Lock touted a 64.1% completion percentage to go with his 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His rating was 89.7 and he was sacked five times in those five starts. The most impressive start came in week 14 at eventual AFC South champion, Houston, just the second of Lock’s career. 22-27, 309 yards, three touchdowns, one pick and a 136.0 rating as the Broncos jumped out to a 31-3 halftime lead and won the game, 38-24. Rookie tight end Noah Fant and second-year pro Courtland Sutton were two of the leading receivers in that game and the two leading receivers over the course of the season. Sutton hauled in 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns, while Fant had 40 grabs for 562 yards and three scores. The Broncos parted ways with Joe Flacco, giving the keys to Lock for 2020. And what did they do for Lock in the draft? Buy him some new toys.
With their first two picks in April’s NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected two big-play receivers. At 15th overall, Denver snagged one of the top receivers in the whole draft in the form of Jerry Jeudy. The Alabama star averaged 17.2 yards per catch in his final year with the Crimson Tide and will likely line up opposite to Courtland Sutton in that Broncos’ offense. The next choice came at 46th overall when Denver selected a player that could play the slot on day one — KJ Hamler out of Penn State. Hamler was one of the fastest players in college football while in State College, averaging 16.9 yards per catch last season and had a catch of at least 20 yards in 14 consecutive games. That’s the entire length of a college season. Hamler could also be the man to return punts and kicks, which he did successfully with the Nittany Lions. Receiver isn’t the only position that saw an upgrade.
Phillip Lindsay has been an exciting local find for the Denver Broncos with back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons to begin his NFL career, including a pro bowl his rookie year. The third-year running back will be joined in the Denver backfield by a former first round selection and two-time pro bowler, Melvin Gordon. Gordon stayed in the division and decided on Denver after being let go by the Chargers following a 2019 holdout and Austin Ekeler extension. The former Charger only has one season over 1,000 yards in his first five years in the league, but poses as a backfield receiver, having two seasons with 50 or more catches. Regardless of who starts in the backfield for Denver, the by-committee strategy looks to be the way with this intriguing one-two punch.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Denver Broncos had a top-10 defense in the league last year in points against. 15th in yards per play, 11th against the pass, 16th against the run isn’t elite, but isn’t bad by any stretch. The only concerning defensive number is the team finishing 26th overall in turnovers with just 17 in 2019.
It will take some time for Drew Lock to gel with the rookie wide receivers and Melvin Gordon, but the potential for this offense high. Not Kansas City Chiefs’ good, but maybe good enough in one meeting. I like the Broncos as the seventh and final seed out of the AFC.
Tomorrow: Rookie QBs