What are realistic expectations for the Broncos’ offense?

Zac Stevens Avatar
September 11, 2020

DENVER — Jerry Jeudy. K.J. Hamler. Melvin Gordon. Albert Okwuegbunam. It’s safe to say 2020 for the Broncos has been about getting Drew Lock weapons all over the field.

In fact, even the national media outside of Denver has begun to pick up on all of the weapons John Elway has provided the second-year quarterback.

But the offseason wasn’t just about weapons. Elway’s biggest financial splash in free agency was the $11 million per year he spent on luring guard Graham Glasgow to Denver to help protect Drew. A month later, the Broncos used a third-round pick on Lloyd Cushenberry, who will be Denver’s starting center.

This year has been about bringing serious firepower into an offense that’s been running on empty for nearly the past half-decade. But is it time to expect Denver’s offense to be up there among the league’s best in 2020?

Not yet.

While Denver’s offense should no doubt be exciting, fun and full of hope, the expectations should be tempered. A bit. Just listen to John Elway himself.

“They’re definitely tempered,” Elway said at the beginning of training camp, when specifically asked about his expectations for Lock. “I don’t think we can expect with no offseason for us to come out and be hitting on all cylinders… It’s going to be a slow build… We definitely have to give them some rope and temper it a little bit and take it one practice at a time.”

As great as it is that the Broncos overhauled a significant amount of their offense, they did just that: Overhauled it. Not just that, but Elway overhauled it with a youth movement.

By the time the season starts, Denver won’t have a single starting offensive player in their 30s. In fact, Glasgow and Garett Bolles will be the oldest starters on the offense at 28 years old. Outside of those two offensive linemen, Melvin Gordon will be the oldest starter at 27 once the season starts.

Phillip Lindsay (26), Dalton Risner (25), Courtland Sutton (24), and, crazy enough, Drew Lock (23) will be among the veterans in 2020, despite only being second and third-year players.

Pat Shurmur will be counting on three rookies to have major roles — Jeudy and Hamler at receiver and Cushenberry at center.

On top of the three rookies, the Broncos will also have two new veteran starters with Gordon and Glasgow. All in all, Denver’s starting offensive unit will be made up of nearly half newcomers.

If that wasn’t enough change, Denver’s also installing a new offensive system and philosophy with Shurmur’s reliance on three-receiver sets. Unfortunately, the offseason program was anything but normal to incorporate all of the new players and the new system.

Additionally, two crucial positions, left and right tackle, “have to get better,” according to Elway. That task was made even more difficult when right tackle Ja’Wuan James — Denver’s highest-paid offensive player — opted out of the season.

But the biggest indicator of Denver’s success on offense will ultimately come down to Drew Lock. What shouldn’t be forgotten about the 23-year old is he’s only started five games in the NFL. While he certainly could have a Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson type of takeoff to his career, he could also very well have rookie struggles in his second year since he hasn’t racked up anywhere close to a full season of starting experience.

The ceiling appears to be out of this universe for Lock, but it would be naive to not expect ups and downs with the young gunslinger in 2020.

Thanks to all of the rookies and young players on Denver’s offense, the Broncos have the least amount of cap space devoted to that side of the ball in the entire NFL. Denver’s $48 million allocated to the offense falls incredibly short of the league’s $87 million average and extremely short of the league-leading Colts’ $131 million.

Other teams in the bottom-five of offensive spending include the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s not the company the Broncos want to be in this coming season.

However, the Baltimore Ravens are spending the third-fewest cap dollars on their offense in the entire NFL. Now that’s not bad company.

Saying all of that, the Broncos’ offense should bring in a fantastic return. This won’t be a bottom-of-the-league offense. It won’t be a bottom-five offense like last year. It’s fair and realistic to expect them to pan out at least in the middle of the league.

In 2019, the Broncos averaged 17.6 points per game — the fifth-worst in the league. However, in the final five games under Lock, they averaged 21.4 points per game. That still fell short of the league average of 22.8 points per game.

For 2020, the Broncos can expect another significant jump, despite the youth and many new faces to the squad. Dropping an average of 23 to 24 points per game would be realistic expectations for the group and put Denver in the top half of the league in scoring.

Due to the youth and talent the unit possesses, don’t be surprised for it to come in a rollercoaster of ways, much like last year when Denver dropped 38 points against Houston, but only three the next week in Kansas City before bouncing back with a strong 27 against Detroit. Inconsistency, highs, lows and bright spots will be prevalent in the Broncos’ offense in 2020.

Denver’s offense has been the talk of the offseason. But that doesn’t mean it should be the group relied on to carry the team in 2020. In fact, for a variety of reasons, an average offense, in terms of points per game, would be a fantastic return on their investment.

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