On the latest Move the Sticks podcast, the discussion for NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks turned to a debate over which teams are the most improved ahead of the 2021 season.
Teams like the 49ers, Patriots, Cowboys and Jaguars garnered plenty of discussion, but the first team Jeremiah brought up was a team that he said is "a little bit off the radar": the Broncos.
"I don't think anybody talks about this team," Jeremiah said. "A little bit off the radar. Last year the Denver Broncos were 5-11; that's not a 5-11 roster. I know the quarterback thing, and they've got to get Drew Lock playing. They've got some insurance now with Teddy Bridgewater. But when I look at that team, I look at the defensive personnel with [Head Coach] Vic Fangio coordinating, and I look at Courtland Sutton coming back on offense, I look at drafting Javonte Williams to plug in at running back. The offensive line with [Offensive Line Coach] Mike Munchak, I think, is a really solid group; it's much improved over the last couple of years, Garett Bolles just got paid.
"They're better there. I mean, they've got two tight ends that run 4.4[-second 40-yard dashes] . … They brought in [Kyle] Fuller at corner, who's a good corner. Simmons is one of the best safeties in all of football. Kareem Jackson is a great tackling safety, he's a really good force. That's a good football team. Bradley Chubb, and you hope that Von Miller comes back to be what he was. That's a lot of dudes up there."
Brooks approved of that sentiment, but noted that the Broncos' overall improvement is reliant on the team's quarterback play.
"Like, literally, it is about the right quarterback taking care of the football," Brooks said. "If they take care of the football, they're going to win games. I think their division is tough. Kansas City, the Chargers, the Raiders — I mean, it's tough sledding. But they're certainly good enough to where they can make some noise. I also like the fact they rebuilt their entire secondary — more depth and talent.
"… They are a talented team, but it comes down to quarterback play. And we talk about it being the most important position, so whether it's Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock, they have to get better play from the QB1 spot."
The tools Bridgewater or Lock will have at their disposal should be enough to help drive a strong offense. After suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2020, Courtland Sutton is expected to return in time for the 2021 season, joining a more experience receiver group with Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in their second season, along with a great receiving tight-end tandem in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam.
"Man, they are a track team, though," Jeremiah said. "When you go Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, get Courtland Sutton back, and then you have those two tight ends that I referenced in Noah Fant and Albert O, both 4.4 guys, that's a lot to defend."
While the Broncos' team success may depend on how Lock or Bridgewater plays, the total roster includes the necessary pieces to put them firmly near the top of the conversation, Jeremiah and Brooks agreed.
"When they get it all together," Brooks said, "I think they definitely are one of the most improved teams."
Below the Fold
With the NFL playing its first 17-game season in 2021, several longstanding records appear poised to fall. ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell broke down the favorites to break eight of those records, and atop the list is Peyton Manning's passing yardage mark. "We've seen three quarterbacks with three different styles top 5,000 yards over the last three seasons in Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston," Barnwell wrote, "and there are several quarterbacks who could threaten Manning's record with an extra game this season."