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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19: Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) reacts after a defensive penalty is called in the third quarter during a game between the Denver Broncos and the Buffalo Bills at Empower Field at Mile High on December 19, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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George Paton press conference highlights failures of 2020 Broncos

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos failed in 2020. That’s why they made changes at the top and hired new general manager George Paton. It’s going to be up to him to get things turned around for this once-proud franchise.

The Broncos could be a “sleeping giant,” according to Paton, because they do have some good, young talent on both sides of the ball. In an interview on “The Drive” with Tyler Polumbus and DMac, Paton admitted that “we’re not going to let our good, young players go.”

That means the Broncos could work diligently to keep guys like safety Justin Simmons on the roster for 2021 and beyond. However, that’s not all the team needs to do. There is a lot of work to do in order to get this team back to being a consistent playoff contender.

During his introductory press conference on Tuesday, it became apparent that things are about to change in the Mile High City. Paton is here with a thorough and no-nonsense approach to building the team in his image – but also to build an identity this team didn’t have since Peyton Manning retired.

Here are some of the answers Paton gave that seem to highlight the failures of the 2020 Broncos.

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Drew Lock Non-Answer

Paton was almost immediately asked about the quarterback position, and he didn’t really answer the question. He did give an answer and he was polite when talking about Lock. But reading between the lines shows you how Paton may not be as high on the young quarterback as former GM John Elway was/is.

He was asked what he thought of Lock as a college prospect and if he could be the starting quarterback for the Broncos in 2021. Paton answered the first question, but he avoided the second part of the question – for good reason. Nobody can guarantee that Lock will start in 2021, especially with the Broncos likely to bring in competition at the position at some point this offseason.

“I liked Drew coming out of the draft — big arm, athletic, playmaker. I haven’t studied him. I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop, but I can’t comment on your second question,” Paton said.

This highlights arguably the biggest failure of the 2020 Broncos. Lock was given an entire season to prove that he could be the franchise quarterback that the Broncos have been looking for. After going 4-1 as a rookie in 2019, the hopes were high that Lock could grow and expand on what he showed in his pro debut. Instead, we got no clear answers about Lock.

He failed to play consistently and turned the ball over way too much. Yes, Lock did have a couple of good games but those were against bad defenses. He struggled under duress and does not thrive under pressure. Instead, Lock flashed when teams did not blitz him.

It’s a waste of the entire 2020 season because we have no definitive answer about Lock. Paton is here to make that right, either by getting competition to get the best out of Lock or just plain replacing him as the starter.

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Hit on More Picks

The Vikings have had a good draft history in recent years, and they certainly crushed the 2020 NFL Draft with 15 picks in the process. In the first round, the Vikings were able to snare wide receiver Justin Jefferson. While Denver’s first-round receiver Jerry Jeudy struggled to connect with Lock, Jefferson became a favorite target of Kirk Cousins and set records as a rookie.

In the past 10 seasons, the Vikings have drafted 13 Pro Bowl players, the most in the NFL. That’s the type of track record that Broncos Country can get behind. By hitting on more picks, the Broncos can build better depth to replenish their roster when injuries hit, or valuable free agents leave the team.

Paton believes he may be looking to build up the core of the team like they did in Minnesota.

“I think our philosophy in Minnesota is try to acquire as many draft picks as you can. The more draft picks you have, the more flexibility you have. In the offseason, you can make a trade for a player, draft day you can kind of work your way up and down the draft – if you want to go get a player, you go get them. So, we always thought it was important. The more picks, the more darts and the better chance of you hitting the bullseye. I would like to think that would continue here. Every draft it may not work out. Some drafts you just want to stand pat and take the guy — a really good player. That is going to remain a philosophy here in Denver, if possible. And then I think you said offense and defensive lines, I just think that’s the core of the team. I think you’re going to be in every game if you have a really strong defensive line and a really strong offensive line,” Paton said.

It’s too early to call the 2020 NFL Draft a failure for the Broncos. In fact, there are quite a few players from the draft class I really like and am looking forward to watching as they further develop in their pro careers.

However, the lack of depth on the team is a clear sign of failures in the past. The 2020 season was knocked off track by several injuries to key position and key starters on both sides of the ball. Overcoming those injuries would be tough for any team, and it was even tougher for the Broncos because they lack depth.

A team’s depth is created through the draft, and Denver has had too many misses to have a surplus of backup players ready for a larger role. Paton’s job is to build from the core and out to the rest of the roster. With his track record, that seems like something that will take time – but it’s something he can do.

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Focus on the Broncos, Not the Chiefs

One thing about some of the 2020 moves the Broncos made were promptly described by team-friendly media as ways the team could “keep up with the Chiefs.” Whether it was the drafting of offensive weapons in the 2020 NFL Draft or the hiring of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, there were plenty of people saying, writing, tweeting about how the Broncos could now go toe-to-toe with the best offense in the league.

None of that came true. Shurmur was a failure in his first year as the OC and it took most of the year for him to figure out the best way to utilize Lock and those weapons that were added in the draft. Shurmur’s offense has never been that great, and in his best seasons as an offensive coach his unit ranked about 17th in the NFL. That’s not great and it no way can keep up with a No. 1 offense like the Chiefs.

Paton was complimentary of the Chiefs, but he did not express a belief that he needs to watch what they’re doing when building the Broncos.

“Obviously, they’re a great football team. I just think we have to look from within and just build this thing the best we can. Obviously, we’re aware of how good this division is with Kansas City and some up and coming teams with the Raiders and the Chargers, but you need to build within first. We know what’s out there. We really have to build this football team — look from within — and I think that’s how you build it,” Paton said.

This might be my favorite thing that Paton said on Tuesday. The Broncos must focus on themselves to have the greatest success. This team lacks an identity. They are supposed to have a great defense, but they have not played like that under Fangio. The offense is a mess and can’t even score 20 points a game, in an era where the average score for an offense is 24 points per game.

Paton has his work cut out for him. Focusing on the problems of the Broncos – and how to fix them – is the right mindset he must have when rebuilding this team. If the Broncos build the team the right way under Paton, then they will be able to compete with the Chiefs.