The Denver Broncos had a bad year in 2020. The finished the season with a 5-11 record and have missed the playoffs every year since 2015. The team had to deal with multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball and working with one of the youngest rosters in the NFL proved to be difficult, as well.
Heading into next season, the Broncos are keeping most of the coaching staff together. That means they’ll get another shot to prove that they are the right men to do the job – both on the roster and in the coaching ranks.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio actually has some optimism heading into next season.
“The optimism comes from getting a bunch of these guys back that have been injured and missed a lot of time. That will be a good place to start. We have a lot of young players that got valuable playing time that will grow from this. For them being able to watch cutups and film of themselves for 16 games, they will benefit from that greatly and we will have the second year of our offense that will let those guys grow even more,” Fangio said.
Not everything was bad for the Broncos in 2020. In fact, there are a few things they can build on to be better in 2021 and beyond.
Here are three things that went right for the Broncos this season.
3. The Best in the League?
The best player on the Broncos roster might be safety Justin Simmons. In fact, he might be the best safety in the league, and he flourished in year two working under Fangio. Simmons was a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he came into the league as a lengthy and smart safety who could play centerfield on your defense.
He spent years honing his craft, and Simmons was so good that the team decided to use the franchise tag on him for the 2020 season. They didn’t get a long-term deal done with Simmons, so he gambled on himself that he would stay healthy and play at a high level.
In 2019, the first year under Fangio, Simmons did flash next-level ability. He took it to the next level in 2020 with improved play. The big jump from Simmons came in the interception department. After breaking up 15 passes in 2019, teams were throwing in his direction less this season. Simmons had to make do when the ball was coming is way, and he finished the year with a career-high five interceptions.
Simmons knows why he improved so much in 2020.
“Personally, the thing I kind of grew in the most was communication. I think Kareem (Jackson) and I both played with maybe I think 10 different corners this season, and in a defense like Vic’s, it’s really hard to execute week in and week out with communication not being there. Just because you’re getting to know the guy still, you’re trying to figure out how each other plays and sees the plays, and it’s just been tough. You look at all the injuries that we’ve had and we’ve kind of been hurting all around, but playing with 10 different corners and going out there and competing at a high level is not easy to do. So, I always thought I was a pretty good communicator at the safety spot, but I think this year kind of put that in perspective for me that it needed a little bit more of a boost than I thought. So, I think communication was the biggest thing,” Simmons said.
2. Developing a Weapon
Tight ends are big-time weapons in the NFL. Gone are the days of tight ends being extra offensive linemen who just block. Today’s tight ends are basically big-bodied wide receivers, and the best are nightmares to match up against. Broncos tight end Noah Fant showed well in his second pro season.
A first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Fant had a hot-and-cold rookie season. He did have a couple of good games, but there were also some contests where he looked like a rookie and struggled with his duties. Fant did not show those same struggles in 2020.
He was targeted nearly 100 times (93) this season, playing in 14 games and compiling 62 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns. Fant missed time due to injury and he played through these injuries in at least half the games this season. His numbers were career highs for the young tight end, but one has to wonder what he could produce like when he’s at full strength.
Fant wants to do even more next season, especially when it comes to attacking a defense down the field.
“Yes, I would think that’s definitely one of my things. Looking back on the season, I would definitely like to get involved more going downfield concepts and getting those opportunity to make explosive plays — either be on the seam, in the middle of field, on the sidelines, whatever it is or whatever it be. I think we sprinkle in those a little bit more in the latter half of the season, but hopefully we can continue to get that going. I definitely think I have the ability to do to do those things,” Fant said.
1. Paying Off on His Promise
There is no player on the roster who was more maligned than starting left tackle Garett Bolles. A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Bolles was considered a bust by most fans and analysts. His fifth-year option was not picked up for the 2021 season, so Bolles was in the final year of his contract entering 2020. He did look good over the final five games of the 2019 season, but there was plenty of doubt about if that was just a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come.
He ended up not only improving in 2020, but Bolles was the best offensive lineman on the team. Bolles played so well that the Broncos decided to sign him to a four-year, $68 million extension through 2024. Bolles was an athletic tackle coming out of Utah, but he did lack experience of other players at his position. He struggled early in his career, but Bolles really responded to the coaching style of Hall of Famer Mike Munchak.
He’s a loyal player and wanted to be great, and in 2020 Bolles began paying off on the promise he showed years ago when he was in college. He’s still athletic, but his technique has greatly improved and Bolles cut down on getting holding penalties.
Bolles talked about what having coach Munchak means to him.
“Having Coach Munchak is huge. Having him for two years, I think guys understand who he is and what he wants — five guys up there doing one thing, which is going out there, being physical and marking our territory. That’s how he played the game when he played. He’s a phenomenal coach and he coaches in a way that everyone loves, and he knows how to get to every single person. Every person learns differently and plays differently. How he can do that with so many guys in the room and bring us into one unit is pretty special,” Bolles said.
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