Assuming the 2020 NFL season goes on as planned, there will be no shortage of storylines surrounding the Denver Broncos; Can they get back to the playoffs after a 4 year drought? Will Drew Lock prove that he is the QB of the future? Will Garett Bolles finally earn his keep? How will the running back battle pan out between Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon? Finally, can the Broncos defense get back to something similar to the 2015 roster, a year that saw them win their 3rd title in franchise history: That’s the key to getting back to the playoffs and competing for championships if you ask me.
Don’t get me wrong, I need to see Drew Lock take another step and those attempts to build around him must pay off but when Denver was at its best it was not when Peyton Manning was breaking records it was when the defense was elite. The Broncos offense was built on game management while the defense was aggressive, earning the most sacks and were top 4 in fumble recoveries that year.
2015 seems like a long time ago and even longer when you see all but one player has since moved on from the Broncos. Von Miller is now the lone wolf, defensively, from SB 50 and much will rest on his shoulders if Denver wants to get another shot at a SB before his ultimate departure. But it won’t be on the future hall of famer alone; he’s going to need several players on the current roster to emerge. As I’ve said on The Hull Show, building 4 pillars on defense is typically a key component to a successful unit; two elite pass rushers and two lockdown corners. The Broncos had that in 15′ with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Along with the 4 pillar formula, they filled in the gaps with excellent inside linebackers, solid safeties and a sturdy line. So when looking at the current roster, pre-draft, I am seeing several signs that point to John Elway perhaps copying that SB winning formula.
Denver has 3 of the 4 players needed in the most key positions; Von Miller returns for his 10th season while Bradley Chubb looks to bounce back from a season ending knee injury. On paper, those two should make up one of the most talented pass rushing duos in the league. The addition of A.J. Bouye at corner fills the void left by Chris Harris Jr. While in Houston, Bouye was considered a top CB in the NFL but his stint in Jacksonville was not as favorable. The hope is that in Vic Fangio’s defense, the Broncos will get Bouye back to an elite level. Assuming Denver takes a CB in the draft, then the 4 pillar model will be complete.
The Defensive line is completely different now that Derek Wolfe moved onto Baltimore. Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams made up a line that was nasty and tough, allowing for guys like Miller, Ware and Shaq Barrett to wreak havoc in the backfield. In looking at Jurrell Casey, Shelby Harris and DT Mike Purcell, all 3 players share similar characteristics with their predecessors but they are clearly an upgrade. Casey is better than both 2015 versions of Wolfe and Jackson while Purcell is a HUGE upgrade over Williams.
The Linebacker position is a question mark as Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson, collectively, are not nearly as good as Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathon. This is the biggest difference from 2015 to now and I don’t see an immediate upgrade in the draft when it comes to a 1st round pick, at least not one that will be available at #15. However, if Johnson can build off his momentum from last season he could boost the Broncos weakest aspect on defense.
The safeties are nearly carbon copies from 2015. Free Safety Justin Simmons is great in both zone and man to man giving the Broncos a lot of freedom when it comes to blitzing the QB. Kareem Jackson, for a good portion of the season, was playing like one of the best defensive players in the league and should be back with a vengeance after missing the last 2 games in 2019 due to a DUI arrest. T.J Ward and Darian Stewart were both solid safeties but I’m inclined to favor the current safety unit and have high hopes for both Simmons and Jackson in 2020.
I see several similarities between this roster and the one that won a SB just a few seasons ago. Of course, all this is based on what the depth chart looks like on paper and we have yet to see what Denver does with that 15th pick in the 2020 draft. But, it appears that Elway and company are checking some of those notes from 2015 when it comes to reestablishing a dominant defense.
Von Miller was the best player on that championship roster with a talented supporting cast but there’s no question that leadership was critical. DeMarcus Ware was a stabilizing force for Miller and the entire team and while the talent is there defensively the question is can Von become that leader, both physically and mentally? Elway has reloaded every position on defense save for Miller’s. The belief must be that he was the central theme behind winning a title and is still considered crucial today. Let’s hope for Elway and the rest of Broncos country that Von Miller can recapture some of the greatness before time runs out.