New General Manager George Paton and the Denver Broncos are in a strong spot for 2021 as there are no glaring holes within their positional groups but they do have several roster needs.
However, if the Broncos choose to move on from key free agents and players with high cap numbers along with low dead cap penalties, it may create some areas the Broncos will need to fill.
To help provide some insight into the Broncos’ needs, I want to go through each position group and analyze the biggest needs overall.
Injuries and youth were the largest contributors to the Broncos’ underwhelming performance in 2020.
With only 24 players heading to free agency this offseason, of which three are headline starters, the roster will look recognizable for the most part. With the offseason looking similar to last year’s unprecedented events, the Broncos’ presumed continuity will help the team moving forward.
With a lower presumed 2021 NFL salary cap, the Broncos are in a good position to either re-signing the majority of their own free agents or make a few moves for outside talent.
Replacing those players in free agency will be made that much more difficult by projections the 2021 salary cap could drop to around $176 million per overthecap.com.
The team is moving forward through their rebuild with a fresh set of eyes and George Paton will have some premier draft capital to make some waves this offseason if he so chooses.
Denver Broncos Offensive Needs
The Denver Broncos offense seemed to gain some significant momentum over the last third of the season, overall performance was still just not good enough.
The Broncos finished 30th overall in DVOA (Football Outsiders) and must improve to compete with their AFC West foes.
Continuity and one more season of experience may provide the offense with what is needed to play better from Game-1 through Game-16.
Roster Needs at Offensive Line: Long-Term right tackle and competition
Ja’Wuan James, one of the league’s highest-paid offensive tackles, returns following an opt-out of the 2020 season. Therefore, the five offensive starters are set for the first time in some time. However, is James a long-term piece or do Paton and company find a young player to groom as the long term replacement?
With Elijah Wilkerson, Demar Dotson, and Calvin Anderson all scheduled to hit free agency, either restricted or unrestricted, the Broncos will need to address tackle depth.
Austin Schlottmann played well in his spot duty for Graham Glasgow as did rookie Natani Muti, so the interior line seems set for now.
The team sits in a strong spot as the line played well overall with finishing 12th in rushing yards per game and 13th in sacks allowed. The offensive line is young and should be together for some time, so it is safe to assume improvement will come again in 2021.
Roster Needs at Tight End: Health of Albert Okwuegbunam and settling on a TE3
Last offseason, the Broncos made a splash in helping rising star Noah Fant by grabbing a tight end, Nick Vannett. Vannett had some moments but was replaced by the end of the year by former fifth-round selection Troy Fumagalli.
With Vannett underachieving, the team will need to decide on whether to keep him or bring in another option to the room. The team has the luxury of waiting until the conclusion of the draft or even during training camp to decide on Vannett as their salary cap positioning remains healthy.
Albert Okwuegbunam showed promise before going down mid-season with an ACL injury. His health is even more important to Vannett’s roster spot as he is clearly TE2, and is a red-zone threat the team needs.
Roster Needs for Wide Receiver: Decision on Patrick and Hamilton, the healthy return of Courtland Sutton
Early in 2020, the Broncos lost Pro-Bowl wide receiver Courtland Sutton. That loss put each of the remaining receivers through a crash course, NFL style. A healthy return of Sutton should only improve the team’s offensive firepower.
Rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler showed flashes but also remained inconsistent throughout the season. Both look to step up and take over the WR2 and WR3 in the team’s primary set of a three-wide receiver set.
Tim Patrick played tremendously and should see a nice raise in 2021 either with a high tender as a restricted free agent, or a new deal for another team. The Broncos may let Patrick move on, but should be okay with the return of Sutton and the growth of Jeudy, Hamler, and fellow rookie Tyrie Cleveland.
Expect that the 2021 wide receiver room to look like the intended group of 2020.
The Broncos may bring in a veteran if they lose Patrick, but safe to say it’s only for depth.
Roster Needs for Running Back: Decide on Phillip Lindsay and draft the future
Phillip Lindsay is a Pro-Bowl running back who should be a starter in the NFL. However, his fit for this team is just not there. The team will need to decide on Lindsay’s long-term fit and may not tender him as he is a restricted free agent this offseason. If the Broncos low-ball Lindsay, another team will gladly take a look at the two-time 1,000-yard rusher.
Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman are in the last year of their deal, and Gordon will potentially be missing the first three games of the 2021 season.
The NFL draft has some really impressive prospects, and the Broncos may look to find a long-term plan in April. There will be plenty of RB1 prospects from day-1 through day-3 of the draft, providing the team with cheaper alternatives for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
The team most likely will remain out on free-agent running backs in 2021 but could grab one for depth purposes closer to training camp.
Roster Needs for Quarterback: Competition for Drew Lock
One of the biggest questions facing Paton this offseason is whether or not Drew Lock is “the guy” for 2021 and beyond. If he is, providing a seasoned vet to push him and cover the team in case of injury is necessary for the 2021 season.
Jeff Driskel showed he is not good enough to not only push Lock if the latter is ineffective but was ineffective when the starter was injured.
If Paton decides Lock is not the long-term answer, or the team can upgrade at the position, look for the Broncos to do so. This can happen through aggressive moves during the draft or identifying veterans such as the Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford or the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson.
Moving for a veteran will cost the Broncos valuable capital, but can be the move this organization needs to compete with the Kansas Chiefs in the division.