Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t laugh: Denver’s defense could be good enough to carry them to a championship.
Every year around this time I get my grubby mitts on the Football Outsiders Almanac. The tradition dates back to 2004, when I was just a nerdy middle schooler the kids called Madden. Every couple of weeks I’d find my way to the local bookstore so I could spend my allowance on something football related. I’d recently finished Jim Dent’s The Undefeated and was itching or something related to the NFL. Low and behold, a tome the size of a phonebook was sitting there, just waiting to change my world.
That’s how I happened upon the 2004 Pro Football Prospectus, the annual guide Football Outsiders began that evolved into the current Almanac. To say it changed how I saw the game is an understatement. As a kid who passed my math classes on the backs of my friends, the idea that mixing statistical probability, efficiency, and economics into my obsessive love for the game of football was revolutionary.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to pick one of their writers’ brains.
On this week’s Cover2Broncos, I spoke with Derrik Klassen about his thoughts on the Broncos’ roster, season, and future. In addition to Klassen’s work on the Broncos’ chapter for the FOA, he’s a film nerd who charts quarterbacks.
I don’t want to spoil everything, but I hope you’ll give it a listen: according to Football Outsiders’ projections, the Broncos have the second best odds to make the playoffs out of every team in the AFC West.
They also have a 4.9% chance at the Super Bowl. When I spoke with Klassen about it, he shared that the numbers only considered the Broncos’ current roster. That means there’s a small, yet realistic chance that Drew Lock and/or Teddy Bridgewater won’t tank what looks like one of the best rosters in football.
A few of the other things we talked about:
Is the QB1 competition legitimate?
What areas can Drew Lock realistically improve?
What receivers stand to benefit most if Teddy Bridgewater is starting?
What’s the blueprint for a better offense with Lock?
Should we worry about Jerry Jeudy?
Is Mike Munchak overrated?
Is Garett Bolles’ development sustainable?
Can Quinn Meinerz push Lloyd Cushenberry this year?
How will the Broncos’ secondary play out?
Will Patrick Surtain start this year?
Did Paton err in selecting Surtain over Justin Fields?
How much can Mike Purcell’s return help the run defense?
Why are the Broncos’ linebackers so good in coverage?
Is a potential Aaron Rodgers deal really worth the hype?
How does the 2022 QB class look?
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Is the Inside Linebacker group in a good place heading into training camp?
Noah Fant looks to be a stud tight end looking to take his game to the next level if only the Broncos can get better QB play.
Malik Reed is one of the better backup players on the Denver Bronco roster and might even be a starter on other NFL teams.
While there may not be a perfect stat to evaluate a pass rusher, focusing on sacks leaves out a ton of context. Most sacks are not even given to the player who was responsible for the sack occurring. Often, a player who gets a quick pressure leads to another player attaining a sack
The Broncos’ top two pass rushers, outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, are both coming off ankle surgeries. Miller missed all of last season after tearing an ankle tendon six days prior to the season opener. Chubb underwent a less serious arthroscopic procedure on his ankle in late-May, although his recovery time is considerably shorter. Miller says he’s “94 percent” recovered with the final 6 percent to come as he practices live in training camp. Chubb will work himself back into shape gradually during camp.
In 2020, only 49% of the passes Lock threw over 15 yards were catchable. Of the 38 quarterbacks with over 30 attempts over 15 yards downfield, Lock’s rate of throwing a catchable ball ranked fifth worst, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Mitchell Trubisky, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold. Of the 18 quarterbacks with over 75 attempts, Lock was worst. He did improve his rate by 10% over 2019, but still was 10% worse than average.
George Paton, Broncos Plucked from the Vikings after former GM John Elway was “promoted” to president of football operations, George Paton arrives to a would-be quick fix with one big problem: Quarterback. Elway left behind an offense stocked with weapons and the right defensive boss in Vic Fangio, but it was his former position that vexed him out of the front office and into the boardroom. Situated at No. 9 in the draft, Paton punted on a long-term solution, pairing hard-capped veteran Teddy Bridgewater with bottomless-floor junior Drew Lock. It makes for a holding pattern 2021 with the Broncos having the talent to win 7-9 games but lacking the horses for any sort of a playoff run. In addition to finding a quarterback, Paton must also decide if Fangio is the right man to lead this team. Through two years, Fangio has still felt more like a defensive coordinator out of water than future Mike Zimmer. Paton has inherited a workable talent base, but there are no obvious paths forward as he hunts for the next step in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
Quarterback is not only the most important position on a football team, it’s arguably the most important position in all of sports, so when you can draft a great one, you do so. Now, finding a great quarterback is much easier said than done, and we have seen plenty of teams swing and miss when selecting a quarterback at the top of the draft. But even if you do miss on a quarterback, it’s vital to step back up to the plate, as in most cases you are only as good as your quarterback.
PFF Data Study: Yards after the catch figures largely determined by factors before the catch | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
Anderson saw an increase of five percentage points in accurate throw rate after changing quarterbacks, from Sam Darnold to Teddy Bridgewater. His average depth of target (aDOT) went from 16.1 yards to 9.8. He also was open on 43% of his targets in 2020 compared to 37% in 2019. While Anderson didn’t necessarily improve with the ball in his hands in 2020, so many things around him changed that his YAC just happened to improve because of it.