The Denver Broncos are slowly becoming the weakest sister in the AFC West. And that’s all thanks to the Kansas City Chiefs threatening to become the Team of the Decade and the Los Angeles Chargers resurging under Justin Herbert.
If you placed a futures bet on the AFC West in 2020, it was probably on the Chiefs, unless you had a bold prediction in mind.
But are the Broncos already a team capable of threatening the Chiefs and Chargers, therefore becoming a dark horse futures bet?
Today’s post covers whether the Broncos are a quarterback away or at least if they have the resources and necessary team members to become a sensible bet at the online sportsbooks in 2021.
If the Broncos Find Their Own Quarterback
If the Broncos find a quarterback to replace the incumbent and ineffective Drew Lock, they already have a few awesome puzzle pieces you may not know about. Their offensive line, for example, allowed just 32 sacks.
Their featured back in Melvin Gordon rushed for 4.6 yards per carry and 986 rushing yards.
The underrated Phillip Lindsay logged 502 yards and 4.3 yards per carry. They’ll also have a solid receiving unit in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler; plus, they’ve got a dynamic duo of tight ends in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam.
So, if the Broncos solve their quarterback woes through the NFL Draft or free agency and get rid of Lock, he’s the missing puzzle piece to what is already an offense loaded with talent.
Far too often, in 2020, either Lock or one of his backups—including Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien—looked totally out of sync with their pass catching units.
Things came to a head in 2020 when the team had to use emergency quarterback Kendall Hinton. His natural position in the NFL is at wide receiver. Hinton became the first non-quarterback to take significant snaps at the position since 1965.
Including Hinton’s 0.0 outing against New Orleans, the Broncos’ quarterbacks combined for a 72.5 quarterback rating. Lock didn’t even post the best rating on the team, at 75.4. Instead, Driskel takes the honor with a 78.4 quarterback rating—an abysmal showing for today’s game.
Also as a unit, the three quarterbacks combined for a 57% completion percentage, with Rypien taking the title with a 67.5% completion percentage. As for Lock, who played in and started 13 contests, he posted a 57.3% percentage.
With all the talent on Denver’s offense, imagine what the team can do if they found a quarterback who could get his receivers the football. (Not that they would become a near-consensus futures bet like the Chiefs, but at least they’d be a halfway rational bet.)
If the Broncos Stick With Drew Lock
If the Broncos let Lock stick around as a starter for another season, which seems unlikely considering head coach Vic Fangio’s seat has to be heating up, they should go with a run-heavy approach.
It’s something that the Cleveland Browns succeeded in this past year. You could put the Baltimore Ravens in that category, but Lock compares better to Baker Mayfield than he does Lamar Jackson. He also posted similar but slightly lower numbers to Mayfield during his second season.
The second the Browns tailored their offense to their offense’s strengths, they won football games. And with Gordon and Lindsay in the backfield, they can easily mimic the success Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt saw in Cleveland’s backfield.
As for the passing game, Mayfield averaged 30 passing attempts per game.
Lock’s attempts per game sat around 34. If the Broncos can limit the average number of attempts to 30 for Lock, they too can play to his strengths.
It’s not that the approach will work for the Broncos’ offense, but other teams like the Tennessee Titans used the same concept. Ryan Tannehill is another quarterback you can say is in Lock’s mold. Like Mayfield, Tannehill averaged 30 passing attempts per game in 2020.
Also like Mayfield and Lock, Tannehill struggled at times during his career. It’s to the point where the Titans initially traded for him to be the backup to former starter, Marcus Mariota.
In fact, their defense allowed 9 more points than the 2017 version that finished 0-16. Yeah. They actually allowed more points than they scored in 2020. It shows that adopting this approach with Lock can even hide the poor defense.
Speaking of the defense, let’s touch on it. As the better it gets, the easier it will be for the Broncos to win in 2020. Which will also help Lock or whoever lines up under center.
The Broncos Must Fix
The Broncos pass defense was okay, ranking 16th in pass defense. Sure, they can improve that number. But they still ranked 9th in the league with 42 sacks and ranked 16th in allowing a 92.1 quarterback rating.
The rush defense must improve if they want to give the offense more chances to score and control the ball.
It seemed like opponents ran all over the Orange Crush in 2020, and it limited the team’s opportunities on offense. So, if the Broncos hope to control the ball on the ground with Lock or air it out with a better passer, they must give the offense opportunities.
And in your case, it turns them into a better choice that you can apply to your futures betting strategy.
What You Can Expect
With a 12-20 record and heading into his third season, head coach Vic Fangio is on the hot seat.
He should realize that this is his last chance to make an impression, and anything less than a winning season is a one-way ticket out of Denver.
He must either:
- a) tailor the offense to fit Drew Lock’s strengths—which includes using the run as the centerpiece and the pass as a supplement or when necessary.
- b) sign or draft a marquee quarterback who can play in a pass-first offense.
And he must decide if he believes Drew Lock can excel in a run-first offense. The Broncos have the personnel to do so, evidenced with its strong offensive line and the numbers Gordon and Lindsay put up.
They also have a fantastic duo at tight end. And often, such offenses use the tight end as much if not more than they do the wide receivers.
But if he doesn’t feel Lock is the guy and Lock did nothing in 2020 to raise anyone’s confidence that he is, he must look for a quarterback who is accurate enough to get the ball to playmakers Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and Courtland Sutton.
Are the Broncos a Quarterback Away?
Here’s the score: Lock can’t be the pass-first NFL quarterback, or even something remotely close to pass-first.
If that’s the case, the Broncos are as good of a futures bet as the Detroit Lions.
But if Fangio sticks with Lock and lets it be known that he’s tailoring the system, then it’s worth the look. We already know the damage the Gordon and Lindsay combo can evoke.
Also, if Fangio goes in a different direction at quarterback and keeps the system as is, it’s worth the look as well. But remember, there’s also an aura of mystery with a new quarterback. Even someone like Carson Wentz brings a mystery element.
If you bet on the Broncos because there’s a new face under center, bet with caution and don’t think they will perform miracles and upend Mahomes and the Chiefs. Ditto for Herbert and the resurging Volts.
With Fangio’s seat as hot as it is, expect a sense of urgency in 2021. His seat isn’t getting any cooler in 2021 or even in 2022. He has a lot of decisions to make regarding his own future and the quarterback position.
Pay close attention to what the Broncos do with Lock. If they keep him and change the system, they’re worth looking into as a potential futures bet—at least in terms of the playoffs and the over/under. Winning the division is still far-fetched.
But if they land a marquee quarterback (like Deshaun Watson), their potential skyrockets. But it’s still a mystery if they shock the world.
Forget about it. Unless you know something the rest of us don’t, we all know who the safest futures bet is in the AFC West for the foreseeable future. And it sure ain’t the Denver Broncos.
What are your thoughts? Do the Broncos become a better NFL futures bet without Lock? Let us know in the comments.