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Mile High Morning: Broncos' Week 1 opponent adds elite talent in DE Jadeveon Clowney


The Lead

It. Is. Game. Week.

It hasn't been a conventional offseason or training camp, but we're finally in the regular season nonetheless and Broncos football is just about here.

And with the start of the game week, the Broncos likely have to prepare for a new wrinkle from their Week 1 opponents, as the Titans agreed to terms with former first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney on Sunday.

There's no telling just yet how quickly Clowney will join the fold as part Tennessee's active roster with all the COVID-19 protocols or whether he'll even be available or active for the "Monday Night Football" showdown in Denver.

Clowney missed all of the offseason and training camp as he waited to find a suitable landing spot before the season, so there will also be some question as to whether the Titans will be willing to throw him into the fire immediately or whether they'll want to run him through some kind of a ramp-up period, similar to the one players underwent before training camp. If they do aim to have him active for the season opener, it may also be worth watching whether they limit his snaps.

Regardless, what isn't in question is Clowney's talent. The 2014 top pick was a Pro Bowler from 2016-18 and recently was ranked No. 41 in the league's annual NFL Top 100 ranking after ranking 63rd in 2019, 32nd in 2018 and 49th in 2017. In his six NFL seasons, Clowney has recorded 32 sacks, 80 quarterback hits, 71 tackles for loss, 236 total tackles, eight forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, one interception and four defensive touchdowns.

"He's always just that guy that you've got to watch out for," Garett Bolles said during Clowney's appearance in the 2019 NFL Top 100 special. "He's powerful, he's strong, he's got really long arms."

Though Clowney's sack production fell in 2019 after two consecutive seasons with at least nine sacks, he still was able to have an impressive year with three sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 31 total tackles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and two defensive touchdowns in 13 games.

"He's definitely causing a lot of havoc and creating plays for other people," five-time Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh said during the 2020 NFL Network special. "… You're not always going to show up on the stat sheet, but you're going to make plays for not only yourself but [also] your teammates and affect the game."

Joining the Titans means a reunion with former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, now Tennessee's head coach. In Vrabel's lone season leading Houston's defense before joining the Titans, he used Clowney's versatility to maximum effect as Clowney racked up 9.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, 59 total tackles, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two passes defensed and one defensive touchdown. With his strength, speed and agility, Clowney was able to line up at virtually any position along the defensive line, including edge rusher spots on either side and each spot on the interior of the line, according to Pro Football Focus. They even clocked him with 79 snaps at various linebacker positions.

If Clowney is in Tennessee's lineup next Monday, the Broncos' new-look offensive line will its first major test of the season.

Below the Fold

The West will be king once again — both in the NFC and AFC. That's according to Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, who placed the NFC West and AFC West atop his ranking of NFL divisions. In his summary of Denver's division, Brandt writes this of the Broncos: "If Drew Lock's strong finish to 2019 (4-1 record, 64.1% completion rate, 7:3 TD-to-INT ratio) is a harbinger of what's to come, the Broncos should be a dark-horse playoff contender, thanks to a strong run of offseason acquisitions (defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, running back Melvin Gordon and rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy) and the return to health of pass rusher Bradley Chubb.

With the rosters set and the first game of the NFL season just days away, ESPN NFL analyst Mike Clay has unveiled his newest projections and team rankings. He has Denver's defense projected to allow the third-fewest points in the NFL, but the team comes in at 15th in his team rankings. "It will all come down to the play of second-year QB Drew Lock," Clay writes. "If he's good, Denver will be great. If he struggles, it may be all for nothing." No pressure.

The Unclassifieds

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