As the Broncos' 2020 season approaches, we'll spend the next few weeks looking at which Broncos players could play major roles this year.
Over the next several weeks, we'll poll our DenverBroncos.com reporters and members of the local media to predict which members of the team would win a series of awards. You, the fans, also weighed in with your opinions.
We'll pick an MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year and winners in several other categories.
We previously identified Bradley Chubb as the consensus pick for the team's Comeback Player of the Year award, and we now continue with predictions for Breakout Player of the Year.
This award is traditionally given to a player who takes a big step forward in his career, which puts second-year players Drew Lock, Noah Fant and Dre'Mont Jones in the spotlight. As you'll see, several other players also received votes.
Fant, though, received 10 of 18 votes to lead the way.
DENVERBRONCOS.COM STAFF PICKS FOR THE BRONCOS' BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
(Individuals polled: Matt Boyer, Aric DiLalla, Sydney Jones, Phil Milani, Alexis Perry, Ben Swanson)
TE Noah Fant: 4 votes
DiLalla: "Fant's rookie stats look remarkably similar to the numbers George Kittle posted in Year 1. The 49ers then responded in his second season by catching 88 passes for five touchdowns and nearly 1,400 yards. That may be too high of a bar for Fant to reach with all of the weapons on Denver's offense, but at this time next year, I suspect Fant's name will be mentioned alongside Kittle's and Travis Kelce's as one of the most dominant tight ends in the game. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he leads Denver in receiving touchdowns."
Milani: "I hope Fant's wardrobe features a large collection of Tommy Bahama because he's going to be in Orlando for the Pro Bowl next season. If not, maybe he can borrow something from Ben Swanson's closet. Other than Lock, no one will reap the benefits of the Broncos' offseason moves more than Fant. Opposing defenses will have to respect the speed on the field, and that should open up things underneath for Fant. After catching three touchdowns as a rookie, I only see his red-zone production increasing. I know Rob Gronkowski is returning next season, but I think Fant could be a top five tight end by the end of the year."
Perry: "While word on the street is that Pat Shurmur's offense doesn't use a tight end all that much, I don't believe Coach Shurmur will be able to resist the talent Noah Fant brings to the field. Do you remember his 75-yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns, the one when he trucked seemingly the entire Browns defense? That was just a small glimpse of what Fant is capable. After catching 10 of 14 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown in the final five games with Drew Lock as the starter, I have a feeling the Lock-Fant connection will be one making headlines early in 2020. Honorable Mention: C Lloyd Cushenberry."
Swanson: "With the additions in the backfield (Melvin Gordon III), offensive line (Graham Glasgow) and at wideout (Jerry Jeudy), I really think Fant will have the biggest opportunity in this new-look offense. I expect defenses to be much more spread out because of the Broncos' ability to stretch the field vertically with Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, and horizontally with Gordon and Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield. That leaves Fant with a lot more space to work with, and with his athleticism, I expect he'll make teams pay."
QB Drew Lock: 2 votes
Boyer: "If the Broncos want to return to the playoffs in a tough AFC West division, they will need a breakout year from Drew Lock. And based on what we've seen and heard from Lock this offseason, it seems he is relishing the chance at proving his doubters wrong."
Jones: "In the final five games of last season, Lock started, leading Denver to go 4-1. He threw for 1,020 yards, 7 touchdowns and had a 64.1% completion percentage. Impressive numbers for a guy who hurt his throwing hand earlier in the year. I think we have yet to see Lock's potential and he'll only continue to grow this season as he has a lot more offensive weapons and as he builds more chemistry with the receivers."
MEDIA PICKS FOR THE BRONCOS' BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
(Individuals polled: Nicki Jhabvala, The Athletic; Lindsay Jones, The Athletic; Ryan Koenigsberg, DNVR; Mike Klis, KUSA; Jeff Legwold, ESPN senior writer; Steve Levy, ESPN/KUSA; Dave Logan, KOA News Radio; Ryan O'Halloran, Denver Post; James Palmer, NFL Network; Troy Renck, KMGH; Peter Schrager, NFL Network; Michael Spencer, CBS Denver)
TE Noah Fant: 6 votes
Jhabvala: "At only 22 years old and after only one NFL season, Fant is oddly one of the more experienced Broncos among their projected starters on offense. His comfort in Year 2 — even with a scheme change — should allow him to play faster and pick up where he left off in the second half of last season."
Levy: "He had a pretty good season last year; here's his opportunity to grab footballs and headlines. Defenses will be paying so much attention to the outside speed, Fant will be able to find space in the middle of the field. A quarterback's best pal is a pass-catching tight end."
Logan: "He has all the physical tools. The game should slow down for him in his second season."
O'Halloran: "He had 40 catches (three touchdowns) as a rookie, including one in all 16 games. It's time to see him take another step into the 65-catch range. Will the arrivals of Jeudy and Hamler equal fewer opportunities for Fant? That wouldn't be smart since Fant could develop into a match-up headache for opposing linebackers."
Renck: "He rebounded after a shaky first half to set Broncos' rookie records for a tight end in receptions and yards. He will continue to progress, doubling his touchdowns to six as he becomes a top 12 offensive player at his position."
Peter Schrager also selected Fant for the award.
DE Dre'Mont Jones: 2 votes
Koenigsberg: "Jones quietly had a strong rookie season and now finds himself as the proverbial "sixth man" on the Broncos' formidable defensive front. Any time he rotates in, he's going to be surrounded by guys who demand a lot of attention from the offense, which should open up quite a few opportunities for him to make plays with favorable matchups."
Klis: "He had trouble keeping weight on last year. With an offseason of shut-in eating and a second year of development, he should become improved front-line force in 2020."
S Kareem Jackson: 1 vote
Spencer: "It may be rare to have a 'Breakout Player' of Kareem's veteran status, but I think he could have a really strong year in 2020. After a year in Vic Fangio's defense, Jackson seems ready to have a breakout season."
LB Alexander Johnson: 1 vote
Jones: "The more dinosaur memes the better."
QB Drew Lock: 1 vote
Legwold: "Because if it's not Lock, the Broncos have a problem. The team has constructed an offseason centered on his ability to grow into the job and he should if he plays with the patience and awareness he showed down the stretch."
G Dalton Risner: 1 vote
James Palmer selected Risner for the award.
FAN PICKS FOR THE BRONCOS' BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The following is a sampling of responses from members of Broncos Country.
"I know the easy answer is Drew Lock, but I'm going to go with Noah Fant. Tight ends tend to break out in their second year in the NFL." - @BobMorrisSports
"I'm gonna say Garett Bolles is finally gonna get it together and become the player he was drafted to be." - @dopee1313
"Dre'Mont Jones. Great 2nd half of the season when he had a chance to play. If he continues to improve at the same rate he will be a star" - @martynrich
"Drew Lock. If we have multiple recievers in the debate for biggest breakout year, then we know it's Lock." - @LordKadidy
"Does Bradley Chubb count? I think he will be a monster this season." - @DMcHudson