Over the past two seasons, the Chiefs have lost nine games, eight of which were to opposing teams that scored at least 29 points.
Vic Fangio knows this. New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur knows this. And both intend to correct it.
"You've got to be able to slow them down somewhat, which to some degree, we did a little bit, but obviously you're going to have to score some points," Fangio said of beating the Chiefs, which is the Broncos new mission.
Shurmur was the first of several additions to the Broncos offense since January. The team signed running back Melvin Gordon and offensive lineman Graham Glasgow, then drafted receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler with its first two picks and center Lloyd Cushenberry with one of its third-rounders.
Suddenly, the Broncos have a potent offense that should put some points up. That is, if second-year quarterback Drew Lock evolves into a reliable quarterback.
Let's answer the burning questions Fantasy managers have about the Broncos
Is Lock a sleeper?
Lock finished 2019 with a 4-1 record as the starter, but with only one game over 20 Fantasy points. While he managed to keep his interceptions low (three total), he notched multiple touchdowns just twice and had three games under 30 pass attempts.
The keys to Lock's game are a strong arm, solid mobility, playing in rhythm and with a never-quit attitude. His footwork and pocket management are improved from his Mizzou days, but his gunslinger mentality remains.
Check out his first-ever NFL touchdown. With a defender speeding at him, Lock sets his feet and chucks a deep lob to Courtland Sutton's side. Whether by design or luck, the ball floats to a spot where defenders can't get it and Sutton lays out and one-arms it for a touchdown. It's a savvy throw by Lock and an amazing catch by Sutton.
Lock will also keep plays alive with his legs before firing to an open receiver (Sutton again) to convert a first down.
Both plays show Lock's willingness to let it rip, something the Broncos have openly discussed doing more of in 2020. Plus Lock's mobility will translate to some cheap rushing numbers to help support his Fantasy floor.
The key is how he handles the blitz. While Lock doesn't seem like the shrivel-up-and-cower type, he still has to manage pressure and find open receivers quickly behind a so-so offensive line. That's a work in progress for him following 2019 — he had a 50% completion rate, 5.8 yards per target, one touchdown and two picks when under pressure according to Pro Football Focus.
A mostly favorable schedule through Week 10 should give Lock a chance to have some nice stats, but once mid-November hits, things could get rough. Lock is worth drafting as a second quarterback, but not ahead of better-positioned sleepers like Ben Roethlisberger and Daniel Jones (though Jones has a much tougher schedule).
Will Sutton's numbers suffer?
Folks are nervous about Sutton's target totals with Jeudy and Hamler, and tight end Noah Fant, commanding looks from Lock. Don't be. Sutton has some built-in advantages that make him the clear No. 1 receiver in Denver.
The videos above and the one below show just how much trust Lock already has in Sutton. Check out how Lock throws a pass high enough for only Sutton to make a play on. Evidence like this suggests Sutton has an edge in his battle for targets.
Sutton mentioned to CBS Sports after last season that he saw more double-team coverage after the Broncos traded Emmanuel Sanders. Once any combination of Jeudy, Hamler and Fant establish themselves as legitimate threats in the pass game, Sutton will see priority coverage (such as Stephon Gilmore in Week 5), but not many double teams except maybe inside the 10-yard line. The better the rookies play, the better Sutton's numbers will be.
Sutton should fill the role as the target leader on the outside for the Broncos, and once he starts seeing coverage ease, his catch rate will tick up and he'll re-emerge as a yards after catch beast (he ranked 14th among receivers in the category in 2019). With his role and chemistry with Lock established, Sutton should get picked as a No. 2 receiver with a good shot at another 1,000-yard season. Plus, the schedule that favors Lock will favor him.
How soon until Jeudy is a Fantasy stud?
In a normal year I'd buy Jeudy as a stud by September. But with no OTAs and limited reps in training camp, even this NFL-ready wideout will need some time to adjust.
All that said, Jeudy should still have some big moments. He's that good.
Blessed with NFL-ready footwork, good size and good speed, Jeudy joins the Broncos after back-to-back 1,100-plus-yard, 10-plus-score campaigns at Alabama. He's exactly the kind of polished, crafty receiver who can elevate the pass game.
This play from the 2019 National Championship is an example of how devastating Jeudy's route running was two years ago!
And if he's left in single coverage near the goal line, it's a wrap.
The assumption is that Jeudy will replace Tim Patrick but line up all over the place (Patrick was predominantly an outside receiver). Expect the Broncos to lean on Jeudy like a classic West Coast offense receiver, running crossing and middle-of-field routes so he can ditch cornerbacks with his sweet feet and make plays after the catch. He's more than a deep threat and should, in time, be dangerous in one-on-one coverage.
Here's a play from Shurmur's 2019 offense in New York that Jeudy could easily learn to carry out (and be just as successful as Darius Slayton was).
Jeudy is perfect for the Broncos' offense and a great threat for Lock to target as much as six times per game. Denver is already focused on being more explosive offensively — with Lock giving his receiver chances to make plays, Jeudy should return at least No. 3 receiver value.
Can Hamler make an impact?
Hamler's fun. Pretty hard to miss his best trait.
That speed truly sets him apart and will force defenses to play the whole offense a little bit deeper. Conceptually, the Broncos probably have a number of plays already designed to get Hamler the ball deep, but even more where Lock throws to someone who gets wide open because of Hamler forcing defenses to respect his speed. That might be the biggest way Hamler makes an impact.
Hamler isn't likely to get drafted in redraft leagues, but definitely in Best Ball since he should have a handful of splash plays. It's tough to see him get even 40 catches in his first year, but he'll help the Broncos offense keep defenses honest.
Is Noah Fant a reliable Fantasy starter?
Because he carries upside, and because the Broncos' schedule isn't terribly tough to begin the year, Fant works as an early-season streamer. But there are some concerns that keep him from being drafted as a full-fledged breakout.
The addition of Jeudy and Hamler will be rough on Fant since he was never going to be the primary target-getter and their arrival will lower his target share further. That means he'll struggle to see five or six targets regularly.
He also wasn't anywhere near consistent as a rookie, which maybe he should get a pass for since rookie tight ends rarely play well. He had 562 yards, of which 331 came after the catch. That's not bad, but 227 of those yards came on just five plays, some of which were fluky because they involved defenders making horrible mistakes that allowed Fant to rumble downfield.
Fant had 1.52 yards per route run, which was 17th best among 39 qualifying tight ends. His three dropped passes on 59 targets made for a 6.98% drop rate that ranked 12th among those same tight ends. He was also dead last among the qualifiers in deep-ball catch rate (12.5%).
Shurmur's tight ends in New York had target shares of 23.1% and 19.2%. Previous tight ends under Shurmur also have done well on good target volume. Fant should see close to this target share provided he improves on his 2019 efficiency. He might especially pop up in the red zone if defenses don't properly account for him. He's worth a no-strings-attached late-round pick just to see if it happens early on — matchups against the Titans and Buccaneers in the first four weeks would have been favorable in 2019.
How messy is this running game going to get?
Not terribly messy, at least not right away. As recently as this week, a report surfaced suggesting Gordon would be the Broncos' primary running back, and Gordon admitted Lindsay wasn't happy that Gordon was coming to Denver. It all points to Gordon claiming a big role in Denver.
So what was Lindsay not good enough at to make the Broncos sign Gordon?
Put simply, Gordon passes the running back eyeball test better than Lindsay. Lindsay is 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds; Gordon checks in at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. Gordon also has a long history of handling a lot of touches and playing three downs, an element that Shurmur probably prefers. Gordon has 20-plus touches in 33 of 67 career games; Lindsay has 20-plus touches in 5 of 31.
But it doesn't mean Gordon is decidedly better than Lindsay. Would you believe Lindsay was just as good of a power runner last year as Gordon? He averaged slightly more yards after contact per attempt (2.71) than Gordon (2.46) and was just percentage points worse at converting downs of three yards or closer (64.3%) than Gordon (65.7%). Lindsay even was 100% on short-yardage touchdown tries in 2019; Gordon got in on 6 of 10.
Lindsay stunk in passing situations, but Gordon wasn't that much better. Lindsay was 53rd out of 54 qualifying running backs in Pro Football Focus' pass blocking efficiency and had six drops with a 0.92 yards per route run. Gordon is better in those categories, but not by much — in the bottom 25th percentile in pass blocking efficiency, four drops in 2019 and 1.42 yards per route run.
So Gordon should play first in passing spots, and he's probably going to get the nudge in tough yardage plays like near the goal line. That's enough to easily make him the better Fantasy back of the two. Staying healthy is a key factor, but drafting him as a priority No. 2 Fantasy rusher by Round 4 wouldn't be too big of a mistake. Just know that the Broncos' early-season run defense schedule is no walk in the park.
Where you might expect to see Lindsay thrive is running out of shotgun. Last year he averaged 5.2 yards per carry from shotgun, eighth-best among 28 runners with at least 50 such carries, and he hit 6.8 yards per run in 2018. Gordon ranked 17th in runs from shotgun with 4.2 in 2019 and ran for 5.3 yards per tote in 2018. Expect Lindsay to be a change-of-pace burner for the Broncos with a fast-track to the starter's role if Gordon suddenly misses playing time or deteriorates otherwise.
Lindsay's price tag is low enough where you could draft him by Round 8 or 9 as a handcuff to Gordon and potential bye-week flex even when Gordon's on the field. He's not bad for any Fantasy bench, either. Lindsay's workload will slide but there's still some value there.
So what Fantasy football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which WR1 candidate can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that was all over Derrick Henry's huge season, and find out.