ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The anticipated release of the 2020 schedule is still a few days away, but it's not too soon to take a look ahead to next season.
In this edition of "Ask Aric," I take a guess at which players could emerge in 2020, how many touchdowns Drew Lock will throw and a lot more.
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Who do you think will be the breakout player on the Broncos in the upcoming season? -Dhanush M.
I'll give you a pair of names, one on offense and one on defense. I know Noah Fant led all rookie tight ends in nearly every statistical category in 2019, but I think he's going to emerge as a headache for defensive coordinators and show his game-changing talent on a far more frequent basis. I think the days are gone where he just has one or two catches. I suspect he could nearly double his 40 catches from 2019. That's what George Kittle did. After a rookie season in which he caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns, he caught 88 passes for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns in Year 2. Fant caught a very similar 40 passes for 562 yards and three touchdowns in Year 1.
Defensively, Dre'Mont Jones should take a jump. A deep position group could limit his stats a bit, but I think he'll find a way onto the field on passing downs. After posting 3.5 sacks as a rookie, I think he could also double that output in Year 2. He and Jurrell Casey should battle for the sack lead among defensive linemen.
The Bronco assistant coaches didn't attend the Combine. Were the coaches/scouts involved in the draft, and how about [Matt] Russell? Just interested in how the behind the scenes worked for the draft. – Wesley H.
Wesley, the coaches staying home from the Combine turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They were able to finish reports and rankings on prospects more quickly, which helped when the Broncos had to start working remotely. Assistant coaches also helped interview prospects virtually in the lead up to the draft. Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzanni talked to first-round pick Jerry Jeudy several times as the Broncos got to know him better. The scouts played the same role as they always do, as their work prepped the Broncos' draft board. Russell, the Broncos' director of player personnel, was instrumentally involved on draft day and throughout the process. To hear more from Russell, click here.
Last preseason a UDFA named Austin Fort broke out and was playing really well. He ended up tearing his ACL, but unlike most players in that situation he was kept on IR. What do you think will happen to him? Do you think he has a shot at the practice squad or even the roster? – Alex J.
Fort was definitely a fan favorite during last year's training camp, and it's possible he was pushing for a roster spot as he made big plays during Denver's practices. In the Broncos' preseason games, though, Fort caught just three passes for 28 yards. Troy Fumagalli, in contrast, caught 10 passes for 105 yards in the preseason. Now, it's worth noting that Fort suffered his ACL injury early in the preseason. He played in just two games before getting injured. It will be interesting to see if he can turn his potential into another strong training camp performance, because he'll likely need to show major development. Noah Fant and fourth-round pick Albert Okwuegbunam should receive the majority of the targets at the tight end position, and Nick Vannett likely will be used in blocking situations. Fort faces a major uphill climb to earn a possible roster spot, but he could be a practice squad candidate if he is healthy and performs well.
With an astounding seven teams updating their uniforms this offseason, the question begs to be asked: Do you foresee the Broncos updating their uniforms any time soon? I understand the team has enjoyed the lion's share of its success (all three Super Bowl wins) under the current uniform, but it's been over 20 years since the last change. Do you think it's time for a change? – Alex C.
Alex, I actually like that the blue jerseys are an occasional treat. They give certain games added significance, and they obviously look great. I'm not opposed to returning to the blue jerseys as the full-time home uniform, but I don't think that's anywhere close to a sure thing. President/CEO Joe Ellis said in December he was a fan of the blue jersey and white pants at home, but he noted that the orange jerseys in front of an orange crowd is "pretty powerful." Ellis said he'd be interested to hear where fans stand on the topic, but he's "not sure we're going to change anything." And as far as the Broncos' throwback helmet, that won't be returning on a permanent basis. Ellis said that will remain purely a one-off throwback.
After four trades in last year's draft, the Broncos made no trades this year. Was this caused in part by the virtual nature of the draft, or was the team just happy with how the board fell? – Ben F.
John Elway mentioned that the Broncos tried to trade back up into the first round, but they weren't able to get a deal done. Sometimes, it just falls that way. It doesn't mean the Broncos weren't working the phones, but there have to be two willing teams to compete a trade. We sort of brush that off when we hear Elway say that every year, but it turned out to be true in 2020. As you mentioned, the virtual draft may have had an impact, especially in the early rounds. There wasn't a single trade until the 49ers and Buccaneers swapped picks at No. 13. Based on Elway's history — he's made a trade in each of his previous nine drafts — I wouldn't expect the trend to continue in 2021.
Can the players of the OL, as Jake Rodgers, Calvin Anderson, and others who are not the starters, make it to the starting group, considering the LT situation? And what about the UDFA OT Hunter Watts, can he make it to the roster? – Oscar J.
Of the three players you mentioned, I think Rodgers has the best chance of making the roster. He made a pair of starts last season and earned a game ball for his performance against Detroit. The Broncos brought him back as an exclusive rights free agent, so it's clear they like what he could bring to the roster. He has very limited left tackle experience, though, which makes me think it's unlikely he'll be able to push Garett Bolles or Elijah Wilkinson for the starting left tackle job. As a backup tackle, though, he would provide value. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Broncos carry 10 offensive lineman and have Rodgers, Wilkinson, Netane Muti, Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann as reserve options. Watts may have to battle for a practice squad spot.
Do you think the Broncos will have Sutton and Jeudy as the true number 1 and 2 and have Hamler as the slot? Tim Patrick has high end receiver potential and I think Hamilton will have a big jump this year. So are the Broncos leaning towards having an active rotation with all five to keep them fresh? - Cody S.
Yes, ideally I think the Broncos would want Sutton and Jeudy to emerge as the two outside receivers and for Hamler to fill the slot role. In four-receiver sets, I'd expect Jeudy to slide inside to the slot and let Patrick take the outside spot. If Hamler needs time to develop, I think Jeudy would start as the slot receiver. It's hard to project a rotation at this point, but I would expect Sutton and Jeudy to be on the field at all times — give or take a few snaps. Sutton played 92 percent of the snaps in 2019, and I'd expect something similar for both players next year. Hamler and Patrick will also carve out roles, but I don't think they'll get the same amount of run. Hamilton, meanwhile, will have to battle to make the roster. As I mentioned last week, I think he'll grab a roster spot.
How is Von Miller doing? — Marilyn C.
Marilyn, since you submitted your question, Miller announced that he tested negative for COVID-19. For more on Miller, you can click here.
How many touchdowns do you think Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler and Jerry Jeudy will have in 2020? – Dillan H.
If we extrapolate Lock's 2019 performance out to a full 16-game schedule, he would wind up with 22 touchdowns. I think his added weapons and increased experience should give him a slight bump, but it also seems likely that the offense takes some time to get going in a new system. I think 25 touchdown passes is a reasonable goal, and that would've ranked 13th among quarterbacks in 2019. If Lock throws 25 touchdown passes, it would best the Year 2 outputs from Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. Lamar Jackson led the league with 36 touchdown passes.
Of the 25 touchdowns, let's say Sutton and Fant both get seven, Jeudy gets five and Hamler gets two. That leaves four passing touchdowns to be doled out between Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay and a number of other players.