OPINION: Excited for the 2021 Broncos? Me, not so much
Well, it’s that time of year again, the start of football season. July marked the last month of the year without football, and last month until March without the game.
And while I am excited for the return of football – at the high school, college and NFL levels – I am having a hard time getting excited for the season to come for our Denver Broncos. Why? I’m not sure. But my usual enthusiasm for the upcoming season for the orange and blue just isn’t there as it usually is.
On paper, the team looks to be flush with talent and flush with a lot of young talent that only figures to make strides as they grow and mature as NFL players.
Early returns from training camp have been mixed. Rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II (called PS2 by some teammates) looks to be the real deal; he brings great size the position, something needed given the ever-growing size that most teams trot out at wide receiver and is a smooth athlete who looks to have great instincts. Ditto for fellow-rookie running back Javonte Williams.
The Broncos did see the returns of future Hall of Fame Von Miller and Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton, both of whom missed the entirety of last season with injuries. Having those two back certainly won’t hurt, though reports have said that Sutton does not look to be 100% (yet) while Miller is on the wrong side of 30.
I really like the fact that the team was able to resign defensive end Shelby Harris, he might not be well-known by casual fans, but he plays a critical role in the defense in a very workman-like manner.
It was great to see the team reach a long-term deal with All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, bring back hard-hitting strong safety and tone-setting Kareem Jackson and bring aboard Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby, two talented and experienced cornerbacks to team with the aforementioned Surtain II and veteran Bryce Callahan. The secondary might not be quite at the level of the famed “No Fly Zone” of 2014-16, but it will be one of the best units in the league.
Young skill position players on offense include not only Sutton by 2020 first round pick Jerry Jeudy, 2020 second round pick K.J. Hammler, 2019 first round pick Noah Fant and second-year tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who is returning from injury but is a red zone monster.
The offensive line, for my money the most important unit on the field, has nice depth inside with Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow, both starters, and young players (one of whom will start) Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz and Netane Muti. The team brought in a serviceable right tackle in veteran free agent acquisition Bobby Massie and much-maligned Garrett Boles appeared to have turned his career around last year, earning second team All Pro honors.
So, what’s not to like?
Well, the quarterbacks, for starters.
Maybe I had my heart set on Aaron Rodgers, who could very well land here next year after he reached as agreement with Green Bay management to adjust his contract and let him decide where he will play in 2022.
And I have been a fan of Drew Lock, his raw physical talent is undeniable and he just seems like a charismatic, likeable dude. But he has yet to take the next step in his development and the word from offseason programs and opening week of training camp point to his struggles with processing remain, even with improved footwork and a year of experience in Pat Shurmur’s offense. And Teddy “checkdown” Bridgewater, seems like a great guy and his recovery from the gruesome knee injury has been remarkable. But I don’t see someone who is much more than a backup level talent.
On Shurmur, I’ve never been a fan of his. He has never run an offense that took the league by storm, did something revolutionary or wowed me in any other way. Last year as our offensive coordinator, it appeared time and again he did not know how to properly deploy his available talent, design game plans and call plays that took advantage of their strengths and masked their weaknesses. He should have used Melvin Gordon as a receiver more often, kept Phillip Lindsay in on more passing plays (even if he’s just being used as a decoy), and called more play-action and bootleg passing plays that made reads quicker and easier for Lock.
And Head Coach Vic Fangio? Meh. He seems likeable in that grumpy uncle way and he is a world class defensive coordinator, he has the team (mostly) well-prepared and they play hard for him. But, again, I don’t see a Super Bowl winning head coach.
Time to go on the record – and I’ve done this every year – I will say the team finishes 8-9 (remember, there are 17 games this year) and misses the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
Let’s hope I’m wrong this year.
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