ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Each player in the NFL has something to prove each and every season. Some could be motivated by contract negotiations and others by an elusive Pro Bowl nod. Some players could aim to show they still have a few good seasons left to play, while first- and second-year guys may look to prove that they've arrived.
As the Broncos approach on-field practices, they have plenty of players on the roster that will look to prove their value. We, though, have turned our attention toward five Broncos with the most to prove in 2020.
For one reason or another, these five players will undoubtedly be motivated to succeed in the upcoming season.
One of the Broncos' biggest free-agent additions of 2019, Callahan didn't play a single snap last season. He reaggravated a 2018 foot injury during training camp last summer and tried several recovery methods before ultimately heading to injured reserve in November. Callahan underwent another surgery to fix a bent screw in his foot, and John Elway said this week that the sixth-year corner is ready to return to the field. When healthy, Callahan was among the best slot cornerbacks in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Callahan allowed just 0.69 yards per cover snap in the slot in 2019, which ranked second in the NFL. He also allowed a passer rating of just 78.9, which ranked eighth. Teams avoided throwing at Callahan, and he helped the Bears' defense rise to the top of the league. As he enters training camp, Callahan will aim to prove he can return to that former standard. Head Coach Vic Fangio said last season he believes Callahan can also play on the outside, but it seems likely that Callahan will slide inside to the slot when the team is in its nickel defense. A healthy, productive Callahan could mean the difference between an average cornerback group and an elite one for the Broncos. For the first time in over a year, Callahan will be able to take the field to prove he remains among the NFL's best.
Much like Callahan, James struggled mightily with injuries in 2019. James injured his MCL in his left knee early in the Broncos' season opener against the Raiders, remained out until a Week 8 game in Indianapolis and then hurt his meniscus in the same knee early in that contest. James returned in Week 14 to play the first half against the Texans, but he did not play in the second half. Across those three games, James played just 63 offensive snaps during his first year in Denver. As he returns to the Broncos for his second season, James will try to prove he's the high-quality right tackle that earned the top right tackle contract in the league just over a year ago. When healthy, James is a strong and consistent presence on the right side of the line. He earned All-Rookie honors in 2014, and he's been tremendous in pass protection at junctures in his career. If he is able to stay on the field and display the athleticism that drew the Broncos to him, he could be one of the most important pieces of the offense. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Broncos enjoyed their best half of the season when James played the first two quarters in Houston. After missing at least eight games in three of his first six seasons, though, James must prove he can stay available.
Lock is the likely winner of the Broncos' offseason, as Denver committed to him as their quarterback for the 2020 season and loaded up on weapons that include Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Melvin Gordon III. But make no mistake: Lock now faces a decent amount of pressure. All offseason, the media has clamored about Lock's 4-1 run to end the season. Now, he'll have to take the next step and prove he can lead this year's team to wins. Elway tempered expectations for Lock on Tuesday, but the second-year player from Missouri must do his best to implement the team's system successfully over the next few weeks. And while his focus must be on the team's Week 1 game against the Titans, Lock will also be heading toward his long-term audition for the quarterback job. The Broncos are committed to Lock for the 2020 season. It's up to him to prove he's the answer for the years to come.
Miller turned in the second-lowest sack total of his career in 2019 as he dealt with both a nagging knee injury and the loss of Bradley Chubb. His eight quarterback takedowns were his fewest since 2013, and it marked the first time in the last five seasons that he didn't record double-digit sacks. As he heads into 2020, Miller will look to prove his 2019 season was merely a blip in a career littered with Pro Bowl nods and All-Pro selections. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Tuesday he believes Miller has a renewed hunger and intensity, which Miller suggested earlier this offseason when he spoke about leading the league in sacks and winning an elusive Defensive Player of the Year award. For years, Miller has responded when he's been put in tough situations; the Broncos' dominant 2018 win against the Cardinals certainly comes to mind. He'll aim to do the same in 2020, and he should benefit from the addition of Jurrell Casey and the return of Chubb. Ten years in, Miller will look to prove he has plenty of good football ahead of him.
Simmons entered a contract year in 2019 and delivered in a big way. In his first season in Fangio's defense, Simmons posted a career-high four interceptions and 15 passes defensed and was named a second-team All-Pro. As he enters 2020, he finds himself in the same situation. He'll play out the 2020 season on the franchise tag after he and the Broncos weren't able to come to a long-term agreement ahead of July 15, and he'll need to post another strong season. Simmons is hardly the only player on the Broncos' roster to be heading into a contract year — Phillip Lindsay and Alexander Johnson will both be restricted free agents after the season — but he may have the most to gain with another All-Pro showing.