The Denver Broncos enter the 2020 offseason with a lot of promise. Having a young quarterback with a big lead and a renewed offensive drive tends to add to the excitement.
The Broncos have solid offensive training with the addition of coordinator Pat Shurmur and the defense appears poised to take the next step in Year 2 of the Vic Fangio era.
All the promise in the world, however, is not enough. The Broncos have to turn that promise into production on the field.
It would be unfortunate if fans had to observe all of that promise and potential as the season unfolds. To avoid such a scenario, here are the five dominoes you must fall in love with Denver. If left standing, any one of these could derail the season.
Blocking MUST take the next step
Drew Lock showed, in the last five games of 2019, that he could be A special talent. Despite some rookie ups and downs, he went 4-1 as a starter in that five-game stretch and posted solid rookie pass numbers.
Beyond that, Lock is doing extra work to be cool and it seems like he has the ‘it’ factor that everyone praises, but can’t define. The Broncos’ final success in 2020 is built on sophomore QB as much as anyone.
Lock doesn’t have to be an elite quarterback in Year 2, but he does have to show the progress of what he put on the field at the end of last season. The future looks bright with him, but it’s still a projection. The reality is that Lock has to prove himself, well, reality.
James MUST stay healthy
The Broncos’ offensive line definitely struggled last year due in large part to the absence of Ja’Wuan James in the lineup. The team could roll out a solid offensive line in 2020 if James can stay on the field and maintain his position at right tackle.
With the addition of Graham Glasgow and Lloyd Cushenberry to solidify the inside of the line, the Broncos only need a good pair of tackles. James can be one of those players and he has proven it when his health is maintained. If he is injured again and loses a significant amount of time, the Broncos could have serious trouble keeping the padlock upright.
Jeudy MUST be the real deal
When John Elway caught Jerry Jeudy in the first round of the NFL Draft last April, there was tremendous excitement in the Broncos Country. Jeudy has tantalizing abilities and of course he must be a talented wide receiver at the next level.
For the Broncos to have a successful season, Jeudy can’t take a year to catch up. Now, it doesn’t have to be elite outside the gates, but it does have to be a nice addition to Courtland Sutton.
If Jeudy fails in Year 1, Sutton will continue to be a magnet for attention for opposing defenses. If Jeudy doesn’t, the Broncos will have a huge receiver duo that will greatly help Lock.
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Purcell’s 2019 MUST NOT be an aberration
The Broncos could have a pretty good pass defense line in 2020. With the addition of Jurrell Casey, Shelby Harris’ new signing and Dre’Mont Jones promise, the quarterbacks are going to have a hard time staying upright or getting into the pocket.
However, the career defense could be lacking if nose tackle Mike Purcell doesn’t have a season similar to 2019. It was by far the best season of his career. He was brave against the race and when he was inserted into the lineup last year, he paid dividends.
Purcell is the great body that keeps the center clogged. Harris was not that guy last year and Jones will need to make some breakthroughs in the running game to really contribute in that area. If Purcell returns to his level, there is no strong trio the Broncos can put on the field to stop the race.
A viable CB2 MUST emerge
The acquisition of AJ Bouye was a boon to the defensive field. However, there are many question marks about the other cornerbacks.
Can Bryce Callahan stay healthy?
Will Isaac Yiadom live up to his draft pedigree?
Can third-round rookie Michael Ojemudia be good enough to contribute?
In the happy passing NFL, you need three solid corners, but the Broncos must start by finding a good No. 2 to play against Bouye. Someone has to step forward and grab that No. 2 mantelpiece or the quick pass won’t make it home and the quarterbacks will be feasting.
If the Broncos can handle these ‘musts,’ there’s no reason to believe they can’t push to get to a playoff spot. It will be a welcome sight for fans who have struggled for the past three seasons of mediocrity below .500.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL and @MileHighHuddle.