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Mile High Morning: Could the Broncos jump from worst to first in the AFC West?

The Lead

Nearly every season, an NFL team makes an enormous leap in the standings. At least one team per season tends to jump from last place in their division the previous year to first place — and a playoff berth — in the ensuing year.

In 2020, the Washington Football Team exited the cellar it occupied in 2019 and won the NFC East to host a playoff game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. On this week, Hall of Fame executive Gil Brandt tried to guess which team could be the next to improve in such dramatic fashion.

Of course, there are several factors that determine which team will make the turnaround. How much talent has been added to the roster? Will the team gain back key players who were injured the previous season? How competitive is the division? Could a new head coach make an instant impact?

The Broncos should benefit more than most in terms of regaining some key players who were lost to IR in 2020, but their standing in Brandt's ranking suffered from the competitive division in which they find themselves. Even if Denver makes a jump, Kansas City will be tough to knock off the division pedestal that the Chiefs have stood on for the last five seasons.

Brandt ranked the Broncos fourth on his list of the eight last-place finishers, behind the 49ers, Falcons and Eagles.

"The Chiefs, who have defeated Denver 11 straight times, remain the biggest hurdle to AFC West contention for the Broncos," Brandt wrote. "Injuries to key players (like Courtland Sutton and Jurrell Casey) and erratic quarterback play by second-year pro Drew Lock helped push Denver's playoff drought to five seasons, which is tied for the franchise's longest such dry spell since the 1970s."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brandt tied the Broncos' likelihood of taking a jump to the quarterback position and the quality of play Denver can get from that spot.

"New general manager George Paton must rectify some of the mistakes made by John Elway, starting with the quarterback position," Brandt wrote. "Lock is an interesting player who occasionally provided strong play, but he's not consistent enough to allow this otherwise-solid roster -- including a capable defense that ranked 16th against the pass even without Von Miller, whose future is up in the air, and an offense featuring talented young pieces like Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay -- to shine. If Paton can solve the QB issue, Denver could surprise some folks in 2021."

Below the Fold

This Pro Football Focus mock draft doesn't have the Broncos making a selection with the ninth-overall or 40th-overall picks, as PFF predicts Denver will trade the picks for ... well, just click and see.

If you're looking for a more traditional mock draft, take a peek at The Athletic's first-round draft, with the Broncos' pick made by Nick Kosmider.

The Unclassifieds

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