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2020 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Last updated: Wed, Sep 9

Offensive Philosophy

New Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has preferred an up-tempo, pass-heavy offense ever since serving under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, though he's proven adaptable when the circumstances warranted. As offensive coordinator on the 13-3 2017 Minnesota Vikings he called a very run-heavy game plan to complement their suffocating defense while coaxing a career year out of journeyman quarterback Case Keenum. With a defense minded head coach and their recent reputation on that side of the ball, the Broncos might seem like they'd prefer a repeat of that performance, but their continued investment in playmakers on offense suggest otherwise; 24-year-old receiver Courtland Sutton was one of the breakout stars of 2019, last year's top pick Noah Fant led all rookie tight ends in receiving, and Denver's first two picks in 2020 were spent on playmaking wide receivers. Regardless of play-calling, Shurmur's biggest contribution to the team will likely be the continued development of second-year quarterback Drew Lock. In addition to Keenum's career year, Shurmer also got Giants rookie Daniel Jones ready to play faster than anyone anticipated. Lock was surprisingly effective as a rookie starter last year, and Denver's offensive plans hinge on him taking another step forward in 2020.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Drew Lock
Backup(s): Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien

Starting QB: Drew Lock missed most of his rookie season due to a thumb injury suffered in the preseason, but he was able to start five games for the Broncos at the end of the 2019 season. In those games, Lock went 4-1 as the starter and showed flashes of being the franchise quarterback the Broncos have been looking for since Peyton Manning retired. Those games were enough for the Broncos brass to commit to the young quarterback and basically build the entire offense around him for the 2020 season. He will get to work with a new offensive coordinator as former New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur is now in charge of the Broncos offense. Shurmur got some good football out of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones last year and now gets to work his magic on Lock. The offense should be more high-powered than it was last season, not only because of Lock's experience and Shurmur's hiring but also because of the top-tier talent added this offseason. The Broncos have built their offense around Lock. Adding top-tier talent at the wide receiver position in 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and second-round pick K.J. Hamler should boost the offense. Things start with Lock's favorite target, Courtland Sutton, who should continue to ascend as one of the best young rising stars in the league today. Add in 2019 first-round pick TE Noah Fant and Lock's favorite target from college, 2020 fourth-round pick Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam, and you can see how Lock should be quite effective in year two. Lock has a big arm and there isn't a window or a spot on the field he won't challenge. He is athletic enough to keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. Lock is a charismatic leader and his teammates have bought in on him leading the team in 2020 and perhaps beyond. Make no mistake about it, 2020 is a try out for Lock to continue as the team's starter. The pressure is on him to perform at a high level and win games to get this team back in the playoff conversation. If Lock suffers a sophomore slump, then many changes could be made in Denver and they could try and find a replacement for Lock. He is an exciting QB2 with upside for Fantasy GMs in 2020. Partly because of his skill set but also partly because of the improved weapons around him. The Broncos want to score more touchdowns and it will be Lock leading the way. Expect them to be more aggressive offensively than they have been in years past with the primary benefactor being Lock.

Backup QB: The Broncos added Jeff Driskel as a free agent addition earlier this offseason. The team needed a backup to Drew Lock that wouldn't pressure him for the starting job and Driskel fits the bill. The young quarterback does have starting experience, although he has not had much success as a starter for either the Bengals or the Lions. Now in Denver, Driskel can help Lock as the starter and gives the team veteran depth at the position. Driskel is athletic and has a strong arm, so his skill set is somewhat similar to Lock. He won't see the field unless Lock is hurt. With so much talent on the Broncos offense, Driskel could look better than he previously has in the NFL. Brett Rypien was undrafted out of Boise State in 2019 and spent his rookie season on the Broncos practice squad. He is a smart and accurate quarterback who is calm under pressure. Rypien looked good in training camp and the preseason last year for the Broncos and is worth keeping an eye on but only in super deep dynasty formats. He does not have a strong arm but he makes up for that (a little bit) with anticipation as a passer. He should be no.3 on the depth chart for the Broncos behind starter Drew Lock and veteran backup Jeff Driskel.

Running Backs

Starter: Melvin Gordon
Backup(s): Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Khalfani Muhammad, LeVante Bellamy
Fullback(s): Andrew Beck (TE)

Starting RB: Melvin Gordon stays in the AFC West by signing with the Denver Broncos in free agency. He began his career with the Chargers as a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft but had a bit of an up-and-down career there. Gordon struggled to stay healthy with the Chargers, only playing a full 16-game season once in his pro career. In that season (2017), Gordon ran for over 1,000 yards and it's the only time he's been able to hit the number. Last year, Gordon was holding out for a new contract (that he obviously didn't get from the Chargers) and only appeared in 12 contests. The Broncos felt good enough about Gordon that they paid him a contract that pays him $8 million per year, a mark that's good enough to make him the sixth-highest paid running back in the league. The team clearly has the intent to make Gordon the starter and the lead back under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Looking back through Shurmur's history, he regularly uses only one running back as the bell-cow back while the second-string running back barely touches the ball. That means Gordon is in for a workload where he could get over 300 touches in 2020. It is going to be interesting to see how Phillip Lindsay works into the mix here. A back-to-back 1,000 yard rusher to begin his career, Lindsay now sees himself looking up the depth chart with Gordon at the top. Shurmur has never really used a running-back-by-committee as an OC or head coach, but Lindsay is too good to just put on the shelf. Gordon is a better pass-catcher than Lindsay, he's better in the red zone and he's better on third down. In 2019, Lindsay converted around 25 percent of his carries on third down while Gordon converted about 50 percent of such carries. Gordon is the clear lead back and could be in for a big workload, but Lindsay's presence does cloud the projection for his fantasy value. We see Gordon as a RB2 with upside for Fantasy GMs in 2020.

Backup RBs: Phillip Lindsay is entering the final year of his rookie contract but not as the team's starter. He was added as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and has been the first back in NFL history with back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons as a UDFA but that didn't stop the team from adding Melvin Gordon in free agency. Lindsay now becomes the backup but his role is yet undefined. Lindsay is a smaller back who can live between the tackles. He is tough and has no hesitation when running inside. Lindsay will 'get skinny' and push as much as he can to gain yards inside, but if he sees a lane to the outside at the linebacker level then he's got the burst to get there. Lindsay has good burst and can rip off big plays as a runner, although field-flipping plays (like 80-yard runs) are not on his resume. Where Lindsay struggles is where Gordon shines, and that's likely the reason why the team wanted to upgrade at the position. Lindsay had the second-highest drop rate in the league last year, dropping around 10 percent of the passes thrown his way. Only Raiders WR Tyrell Williams had a worse drop rate in 2019. In addition to struggling as a receiver, Lindsay did not convert many of his runs on third down and he hasn't been much of a force in the red zone. In addition, Lindsay has had two wrist surgeries each of the last two offseasons. His size leads to concerns about pass-protection as well. The Broncos are at least going to use a running-back-by-committee this year with Lindsay serving as the no.2 back behind Gordon. That would make him a flex option for Fantasy GMs in 2020. Lindsay does have a ton of heart and is a fan favorite in the Mile High City. However, the team has sent a clear message about what they think of him and by signing Gordon is says they think Lindsay has either peaked or at least needs to improve. Lindsay has a ton of heart and has proved doubters wrong at every point of his playing career. We'll see if can do that this season, but the odds are stacked against him. At least Lindsay is used to that being the case. Royce Freeman was supposed to be the team's starter in each of the last two seasons. A third-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Freeman showed power, balance and burst during his college career at Oregon. He was drafted to be the team's starter but has rarely been in that position for a couple of reasons. First, Freeman has struggled with minor injuries as a pro. Second, the emergence of Phillip Lindsay has put Freeman in the back seat as a reserve while Lindsay has been a 1,000-yard rusher as the starter. Last year, the Broncos moved to a wide-zone system, specifically for Freeman to be the starter and he failed to win the job. The wide-zone system was what he thrived in during his days with the Ducks but he couldn't reproduce that college success. Freeman seems to have lost confidence as a runner and now he's an afterthought who is buried on the depth chart as the no.3 back behind starter Melvin Gordon and Lindsay. We'll see if Freeman can make the 53-man roster in training camp. He should but it's no guarantee based on his play and propensity to get a little banged up. While he has disappointed as a runner, Freeman has looked good as a receiving back. He's so smooth as a receiving back that he could carve out a small role with that as his primary function. It's not much of a fantasy-relevant role and Freeman won't be on Fantasy GM radars unless there's an injury or two above him on the depth chart. Khalfani Muhammad is a smaller back who has worked diligently to make the Broncos practice squad. A seventh-round pick for the Titans back in 2017, Muhammad was a big-play back with the Cal Bears in college and has been waiting patiently for an opportunity in the pros. He's been with the Broncos over the last two years and has electricity to his game as a runner. Muhammad will face more competition for a spot on the practice squad this year in Denver and is no lock for to make the team. In crazy deep dynasty formats we will keep an eye on him just in case he finally gets that opportunity. LeVante Bellamy is built a lot like Phillip Lindsay. He's a smaller back but he can thrive between the tackles then dash to the outside at the linebacker level to create big plays. Bellamy has a nose for the end zone and fights hard to get to pay dirt. He is a good receiver out of the backfield, catching passes naturally with his arms extended away from his body. Bellamy is better in pass protection than some would think, and the Broncos gave him $35,000 in guarantees which shows they like him. He could make the 53-man roster as a reserve runner. Bellamy at least seems destined to make the team's practice squad in 2020. We'll watch him progress in super deep dynasty formats.

Fullback: Andrew Beck was picked up as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2019. The Patriots added him after the draft but he failed to make the team and was released at final cuts. The Broncos picked him up off waivers and soon Beck found himself on the field for the team. He played primarily as a blocking tight end and H-back for the Broncos last year, catching nine passes for 90 yards and one touchdown on the season (9 games). With the team trading fullback Andy Janovich away, Beck should make the final roster this year as a fullback, H-back and blocking tight end. His versatility makes him a valuable asset for the team but it doesn't give him much fantasy value.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy
Backups: K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, Juwaan Winfree, Tyrie Cleveland, Zimari Manning, Diontae Spencer, Fred Brown, Trinity Benson

Starting WRs: The sky is the limit for Courtland Sutton. He posted career-best numbers in 2019, his second year as a pro, and Sutton did that while catching passes from three different quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock). His 72 targets was best on the team last year, and he led the way as well with 1,112 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. That made him a low-end WR2 for Fantasy GMs in all formats and he should continue climbing up the fantasy charts in 2020. Sutton now has Lock, well, locked in as the team's starter. He showed strong chemistry with Lock over the last five games of the season but also dating back to last year in training camp. Sutton is big, physical and can wrench contested passes away from smaller defenders. He has great 'my ball' mentality and can get to passes that others would not be able to. Sutton knows how to use his frame to box out smaller defenders and can win passes 'above the rim' with his leaping ability. The Broncos are looking to have a much more explosive offense in 2020 under new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. We should see Sutton as the no.1 wide receiver for the Broncos and he could continue building on those numbers he established last year..and climbing the fantasy charts to borderline WR1 levels. Sutton should thrive in the new offense and be more consistent because he'll have better QB play than he did last year. Yes, the Broncos did add a ton of talent at the wide receiver position this offseason. They selected three wide receivers it the 2020 NFL draft, with two of those prospects (Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler) in the first two rounds. That could make Sutton even more dangerous as defenses will not be able to solely focus on him as they did last year towards the end of the season. Jerry Jeudy was arguably the best receiver in the 2020 NFL draft, a class that was considered to be among the best in league history. The Broncos stayed put at no.15 overall in the first round and saw a supreme talent like Jeudy fall to them. Some in the scouting community compare Jeudy's game to that of Odell Beckham Jr and he could be an instant playmaker for the Broncos offense. Coming out of Alabama, Jeudy was considered to be the best route-runner in this class. He has speed and quickness as a receiver but he knows how to cut a rug. Jeudy can set up defenders with his routes, often making his movement look identical even though the destination is different. In addition to great route-running, Jeudy has strong hands and incredible concentration. Combining his physical ability with his technical ability you can see how Jeudy can be a great pro receiver. He will be no.2 on the depth chart opposite of Courtland Sutton. However, Jeudy is basically another no.1 receiver for the team. Last year for the Crimson Tide, Jeudy was great when gathering in passes over 20 yards. In fact, his quarterbacks averaged a QB rating of 127.8 on such throws. Enter Broncos starter Drew Lock with his big arm and these two should have instant chemistry. The upside is there for Jeudy to be a reliable flex play each week. In fact, we'd best describe the rookie as a flex with upside and wouldn't be surprised if he finished his rookie season as a low-end WR2 for Fantasy GMs.

Backup WRs: The Broncos shocked the world when they went back-to-back wide receivers in the 2020 NFL draft. In the first round, they added Jerry Jeudy from Alabama and they followed that up by picking K.J. Hamler out of Penn State in the second round. The Broncos had a primary goal of adding more speed to the offense and they did just that with the Hamler pick. Hamler is a smaller wide receiver and he operates primarily out of the slot (616-of-694 snaps were from that position in 2019). He is lightning quick and can make defenders look silly after the catch. Hamler also has legit speed, likely 4.2 type of speed, but he was unable to show off that speed at the Combine due to a hamstring injury. You can't overthrow Hamler because of his speed and extra gear when he finds the ball in the air on a deep pass. Hamler did lead all FBS players with 12 drops last year, but the Broncos feel that was due to him trying to do too much before the catch was secured. With the Broncos, Hamler does not have to worry about that. He will be the no.3 receiver for the Broncos behind Courtland Sutton and Jeudy. Hamler will operate from the slot and should be able to get open frequently on underneath routes for QB Drew Lock. His speed and big-play ability could make Hamler a nice 'what the heck' flex in PPR leagues in certain matchups. The Broncos want to be more aggressive on offense this year and Hamler is a part of that change. Tim Patrick has always been an intriguing prospect in deep dynasty formats. He's struggled with injuries during his pro career since coming out of Utah as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. Patrick has a nice size/speed combination and plays with great body control to make difficult catches seem routine. He is fast in a straight line and can pull away from defenders deep. Patrick is not a sharp route-runner and may never be in his pro career. Instead, he's the type of target who works hard to get open deep and can be used as a red-zone target due to his size, leaping ability and wingspan. Patrick has been buried on the depth chart with the Broncos adding three receivers in the 2020 NFL draft with two of those players (Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler) already being above him in the pecking order. He's no lock for the 53-man roster, but Patrick has a tremendous work ethic so nobody should count him out. Things were supposed to be different for DaeSean Hamilton. A third-round pick out of Penn State in the 2018 NFL draft, Hamilton was supposed to be the Broncos successor to Emmanuel Sanders. Instead, after two seasons, Hamilton will be in a fight just to make the final roster. So, what happened? The answer is simple; Hamilton has failed to impress due to drops, injuries and inconsistencies with his game. Hamilton is tough and will play through injury but he lacks juice as a receiver and the most minor injury makes it tough for him to get open or make much happen after the catch. He is a superb route-runner but must be at full strength for that quality to come through. Hamilton also had a difficult time with drops in 2019, and that has caused the team to go in a different direction. They added three receivers in the 2020 NFL draft with two of them (Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler) already ahead of Hamilton on the depth chart. Hamilton is a hard-worker but he offers little when compared to some of the other playmakers in this WR room. We'll see if he can make the team. Juwann Winfree was an intriguing deep dynasty prospect when the Broncos drafted him in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft out of the University of Colorado. He has incredible athleticism, concentration and run-after-the-catch ability. Winfree did flash at times during training camp and the preseason and made the 53-man roster for the Broncos as a rookie. However, he barely saw the field as a rookie in 2019. Instead, Winfree was a healthy scratch most weeks for the Broncos due to a lack of special teams ability. He was active at times for the Broncos in 2019 but recorded no stats only playing 15 snaps during a three-game streak in the middle of the season. This year, we're still monitoring Winfree in deep dynasty formats due to his physical skill set. However, his path to playing time just got more difficult with the three receivers added by the Broncos in the 2020 NFL draft. Tyrie Cleveland was a part-time starter in college for the Gators. He's got a nice size/speed combination and can jump out of the gym (near 40-inch vertical). However, Cleveland had inconsistent hands and production during his college career. PFF charted him with as many drops (10) as broken tackles (10) in his four years at Florida. He's a deep threat who will have to show he can play special teams in order to make the 53-man roster as rookie with the Broncos. Zimari Manning is a small-school prospect who had big-time production in college. In two seasons at Tartleton State, Manning scored 34 receiving touchdowns in 23 games. Manning knows how to find the end zone, leading all of college football (FBS, FCS, Division III) in touchdowns last year. In 2019, Manning snared 68 receptions for a school-record 1,462 yards and 22 touchdowns. That nose for the end zone and ability to pull away from defenders make Manning a player the Broncos should at least keep on the practice squad in 2020. Manning could be the next in a long line of quality players the Broncos end up finding from the ranks of priority free agents (see Chris Harris Jr, Shaq Barrett, C.J. Anderson, Phillip Lindsay, etc). Diontae Spencer has spent a lot of time trying to find a home in the NFL. Undrafted out of McNeese State in 2014, Spencer signed on with the Rams but ended up in the Canadian Football League for four seasons. The Steelers gave him a shot with a futures contract in 2019 but he did not make the 53-man roster and wound up in Denver where he played as the team's primary return man. He was mostly a special teams player but Spencer did see the field for a few carries on jet sweeps and a small handful (8) of targets. His path to the final roster is once again on special teams but 2020 second-round pick K.J. Hamler might end up as the team's primary return man. This means Spencer may not be able to make the Broncos roster in 2020. Fred Brown was undrafted out of Mississippi State in 2017. He was originally signed by the Indianapolis Colts and spent his rookie season on their practice squad. At the end of the season it was the Rams who signed him to a futures contract but he failed to make the team and did not play for anyone during the 2018 season. In 2019, Brown latched on with the Broncos but did not make the 53-man roster. Instead, he was on the practice squad when the team called him up to the active roster in Week 4 of the 2019 season. Brown did get some playing time on offense last year, mostly in the game against the Colts where he played 46 snaps and was targeted twice. He ended the 2019 season with just two catches for 21 yards. The Broncos have a ton of talent ahead of Brown on the depth chart and he is unlikely to make the 53-man roster. Instead, Brown should be angling for a spot on the practice squad. Trinity Benson was added as a priority free agent in 2019 by the Broncos. Coming out of East Central Oklahoma, Benson was on scout's radars due to his incredible speed and quickness. Benson measures 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, and impressed scouts at his pro day with a 4.4 40-yard dash and a sub-6.9 second three-cone drill. He can work as a receiver or return man, and Benson even got a chance to get some carries on sweeps for East Central. He spent last year on the Broncos practice squad and should end up there again in 2020.

Tight Ends

Starters: Noah Fant
Backups: Nick Vannett, Albert Okwuegbunam, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt

Noah Fant, the Broncos first-round pick in 2019, flashed some big-time ability as a rookie last season. Tight ends usually take time to get going at the pro level as they are learning two positions (receiver, blocker) in the NFL. Fant was a work-in-progress as a blocker but his receiving ability was shown multiple times during the 2019 season. Catching passes from three different quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock), Fant was able to snare 40 passes for 562 yards and three touchdowns. During that time, Fant had two, 100-yard games and went over 50 yards receiving on four occasions. The best part of Fant's game is his speed. He can get open with ease against linebackers tasked with covering him, especially down the middle seam. Fant has a big body and can use his broad frame to box out smaller defenders. He definitely brings a basketball-like skill set to the football field. Fant's speed means he can take short passes and turn them into long gains. He still needs to improve as a blocker and get a bit more consistent when it comes to a play-by-play basis. The Broncos didn't have many weapons on offense last year with Courtland Sutton and Fant doing most of the heavy lifting in the passing game once Emmanuel Sanders was traded away. This year, the Broncos offense has a ton of new weapons. This means Fant could get more favorable coverage and he could do more damage because of that. Fant should be projected as a high-end TE2 with upside for Fantasy GMs in 2020. The Broncos added to the tight end room when they added Nick Vannett in free agency earlier this year. Vannett was a third-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016 but has never really played up to his potential. He was dealt to the Steelers last year and failed to make much of an impression. Vannett is huge, measuring in at 6-feet, 6-inches and he should be more of a threat because of that size. Instead, Vannett has been used more as a blocking tight end during his pro career. With only four touchdown grabs in four seasons, Vannett has not unlocked his game in the red zone either. The Broncos have a receiving tight end in starter Noah Fant. They needed a veteran presence like Vannett to back him up and serve as a blocking tight end. There's not much fantasy value here for Vannett in 2020. Albert Okwuegbunam is reunited with QB Drew Lock and it feels so good. The two were college teammates at Missouri and in two seasons, Okwuegbunam caught 17 touchdowns from Lock! He is a big target, measuring in at 6-feet, 5-inches and Okwuegbunam has a clear connection and strong chemistry with Lock. Okwuegbunam is also really fast, faster than Broncos starting tight end Noah Fant, so he gives them another speed option at the tight end position to target. He is a reserve tight end for the Broncos, but his connection with Lock should come through in a game or two this season...likely near pay dirt. There are some in the scouting community who feel Okwuegbunam would've been a top-50 pick had he come out with Lock in 2019. Instead, he stayed in college for one more year and wasn't as productive with QB Kelly Bryant. Now, Okwuegbunam is back with Lock and has intriguing upside in the pros. The Broncos decided to bring back Jeff Heuerman before the 2019 season. He was on the free agent market but didn't get much interest. He stayed with Denver in 2019 and didn't do much in eight games. When healthy, Heuerman played as a blocking tight end behind starter Noah Fant. Heuerman has never played a full 16-game season during his pro career and has battled various injuries since coming into the league as a third-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016. With free agent addition Nick Vannett, Heuerman's college teammate, and the selection of Albert Okwuegbunam in the 2020 NFL draft we will be surprised if Heuerman makes the 53-man roster. A fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2018 NFL draft, Fumagalli has done little in his pro career. He missed his entire rookie season in 2018 but was able to get on the field for six games last year. Fumagalli has strong hands and is mostly a receiving option as he's not yet much of a blocker. In those six contests, Fumagalli was targeted just nine times and had only six catches for 38 yards and one touchdown in 2019. With the addition of Nick Vannett in free agency and the selection of Albert Okwuegbunam in the 2020 NFL draft, the chances of Fumagalli making the 53-man roster this season is slim. The story about Jake Butt will always be 'what might have been?' He was an incredible talent in college at Michigan but a knee injury suffered in his last collegiate game has robbed him of his effectiveness in the NFL. Butt had first-round talent but he fell to Round 5 in 2017 due to this knee injury. He missed his entire rookie season but was able to see the field in 2018. Butt caught eight passes for 85 yards that season in three games before getting hurt again. He was on his way back (again) last year when another knee injury knocked him out for the entire 2019 season. Butt is unlikely to make the 53-man roster in 2020 as the team may finally cut ties.

Place Kicker

Brandon McManus: McManus continues to chug along as a solid but unspectacular kicker for the Broncos, entering his seventh season as their starter. He hit 29 of 34 field goal attempts, right up there with the best accuracy numbers of his career and had his best year from 50+ (4 for 7) since 2014. The Broncos usually give him enough field goal attempts to make him serviceable as a bye/injury fantasy replacement, but he's not worth drafting. McManus is getting paid three million dollars in the last year of a contract he signed in 2018.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Diontae Spencer

The Broncos have churned through a lot of different returners in recent years, but settled on undrafted Diontae Spencer in 2019, and he rewarded them with a strong all-around return season. He is the strong favorite to keep his job in 2020, providing Denver with some much-needed continuity at the position.

Punt Returners: Diontae Spencer

The Broncos have churned through a lot of different returners in recent years, but settled on undrafted Diontae Spencer in 2019, and he rewarded them with a strong all-around return season. He is the strong favorite to keep his job in 2020, providing Denver with some much-needed continuity at the position.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: OT Garrett Bolles, OG Dalton Risner, C Patrick Morris, OG Graham Glasgow, OT Elijah Wilkinson
Key Backups: C Lloyd Cushenberry [R], OG Netane Muti [R], OL Jake Rodgers, OL Ju'Waun James (opt-out)

This line will have two new starters compared to last season. Right guard Graham Glasgow was signed from Detroit to replace Ron Leary, and either Patrick Morris or Lloyd Cushenberry (third round pick from LSU) will replace center Connor McGovern. The coaches hope to run outside zone and with have to do it without right tackle JaWuan James. James was only available for sixty-three snaps last season, and has opted out of 2020.

Team Defense

The Broncos defense was only able to post 40 sacks and 16 takeaways in the first year under Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell, in part because of the loss of Bradley Chubb early in the season. They were 12th in yards allowed and 9th in points allowed, indicating room for growth in fantasy with the return of Chubb and Bryce Callahan and addition of Jurrell Casey and AJ Bouye. The offense is exciting with Drew Lock and a track team around him along with Melvin Gordon upgrading the running game behind a Mike Munchak offensive line, so the arrow is pointing up here. They are going off of the board in the 10-15 range and could end up being a value pick in redraft and best ball leagues alike.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jurrell Casey, DE Shelby Harris, NT Mike Purcell
Backups: DE Dre'Mont Jones, DE DeMarcus Walker, NT McTelvin Agin [R], DE Jonathan Harris, DE Christian Covington

Starting DL: Casey carries a hefty contract, but cost the Broncos just a seventh-round pick and is talented enough to anchor this line. He's a worthy DL3, too, considering his versatility. Casey has posted 5.0 sacks or more in 7 straight seasons, averaging 55 tackles along the way. Harris is fresh off a career-best year that saw him rack up 6.0 sacks and break up 9 passes. He hasn't missed a game over the past three years, but isn't a fantasy consideration in most formats. Nor is Purcell, who is stout on the nose but limited to early downs. He's recorded a single sack over 30 career games.

Backup DL: Jones, a third-round pick from 2019, looks like the top reserve up front. As a rookie, he chipped in 3.5 sacks over 295 rotational snaps. Walker, Harris, and Covington are fairly interchangeable depth options. They'll be pushed for snaps by third-round rookie Agin, who boasts big-time athleticism and posted 9.5 snaps at Arkansas over the past 2 years.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Bradley Chubb, WLB Jeremiah Attaochu, ILB A.J. Johnson, ILB Mark Barron
Backups: WLB Von Miller (inj), ILB Josey Jewell, ILB Justin Strnad [R], SLB Malik Reed

Starting LBs: It was especially unfortunate to see Chubb sit the final 12 games of 2019 with a torn ACL. He was on pace for 84 tackles and was harassing passers left and right; a huge fantasy season could have been on tap. By all accounts, his rehab has been on-schedule and he'll be fully deployed in Week 1. Chubb may not be a 15-sack threat just yet, but is a well-rounded playmaker and deserves LB2 consideration. Attaochu should fill in for Miller off the edge for at least the first half of the year. He's a journeyman reserve, but he closed out 2019 strongly, with 4.0 sacks over the final 4 weeks. Johnson proved an upgrade on Jewell in the lineup early last year, and he'll retain the job for 2020. He recorded 93 tackles and made his share of plays against the pass. Longtime starter Todd Davis was released post-camp, and Barron will almost certainly take on most of those snaps. Barron has beed a sub-replacement level player for many years, but he's always piled up tackles, and he steps into a role that's produced 105 per year since 2016.

Backup LBs: Miller will likely miss at least the first half of the season. He's slipped a bit, but remains a massive presence to the Denver defense on splash plays alone, routinely threatening 10 sacks and forcing plenty of fumbles along the way. Jewell, a mediocre talent on the inside, was handed the starting job in 2019 but couldn't hold it. Johnson offers far more playmaking ability, relegating Jewell to a clear reserve role. In fact, he'll need to hold off fifth-round rookie Strnad to keep it. Strnad, like Jewell, is a low-upside special-teams prospect at best.l

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson, CB A.J. Bouye, CB Bryce Callahan
Backups: SS Trey Marshall, CB Michael Ojemudia [R], CB DeVante Bausby, CB Duke Dawson

Starting DBs: Simmons played every defensive snap and topped 90 tackles for the second straight season. He also proved a playmaker against the pass, breaking up 15 throws and picking off 4 more. That may have been a bit of an aberration, but Simmons still enters 2020 as a high-end DB2. Few can boast his level of durability and activity in the box. Jackson enjoyed a successful debut in Denver, racking up 71 tackles and 10 pass breakups despite missing 3 games. At 32, though, he's best viewed as a DB3. Bouye had an uncharacteristically bad 2019 in Jacksonville, and it's fair to wonder whether he's an elite cover man without a stud like Jalen Ramsey across the field. Callahan will serve as the slot specialist - he was strong in that role in Chicago in 2018 - but may not start inside if rookie Ojemudia shows well early.

Backup DBs: With Will Parks gone, Marshall slots in as the clear-cut No. 3 safety. He helped fill in for an injured Jackson late last season and wasn't very effective, but averaged 8.0 tackles and forced a fumble over the final 2 games. Ojdemudia, a third-round pick, will likely vie for a starting role early. He was a dominant press cover man at Iowa and boasts ideal size (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) to start on the boundary. Callahan is a slot specialist, so Ojemudia could see hefty snaps as early as Week 1. Dawson is a reclamation project after busting badly as a second-round pick in New England. The team would love for him to displace Bausby, who struggled in an early-season role.