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By the Numbers: Broncos blend disappointment with promise

Lock on pace for 12 TDs; Jeudy, Chubb poised for big years
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Posted at 5:49 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 20:12:47-05

DENVER -- Sixteen weeks ago, in intervals in the weight room and sprints up berms at the UCHealth Training Center, the Broncos began working on their remodeling project.

The offense added a fresh coat of paint in the draft and a new boss to call the plays. The defense welcomed a new dresser -- or a least a man the size of one in Jurrell Casey -- and drapes for coverage.

The bones, for the first time since 2016, seemed strong.

Then the season started, and the foundation shifted and cracked, undone by injuries and ineffectiveness. Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, Mike Purcell and Casey are all, with the possible exception of Von, lost for the season. The offense ranks 26th in first quarter points and the Broncos have allowed 30 points in three straight games for the first time in more than a decade.

As a result, for the fourth straight season the Broncos arrive at the halfway point with a losing record, an ominous sign when trying to reach the postseason:

2020: 3-5
2019: 2-6
2018: 3-5
2017: 3-5
2016: 6-2 (last year with a winning record at 9-7)
2015: 7-1 (won Super Bowl 50)

When staring down the interstate through Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Charlotte, it is hard to see anything but hazard lights flashing. But if you squint, you can see some promise and reasons to keep watching. I break down my Denver7 important halfway numbers:

The Arc of Lock
Drew Lock remains fun to cover. He brings candor, anger, and dancing. All of that is welcomed, but it will remain overshadowed without more winning. Lock is 6-5 in his 11 career starts. That translates to 9-7 over a full season. The Broncos would take that, but that remains an ambitious goal. Lock has not produced as expected as he tries to microwave his development in Pat Shurmur's offense while shaking off a right rotator cuff strain. He has six touchdowns, six interceptions and 1,240 yards. That projects -- no calculator needed -- into 12 and 12, 2,480. It's not good enough (more uptempo please). I projected him in the 28 TD-12-INT range with 3,250 yards before the season. More importantly, his completion percentage has dipped from 64.1 to 56.5 percent. His goal should be to complete 64 percent of his passes over the final eight games.
Current stats: 56.5 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 1,240 yards
Projected over 16: 56.5, 12 TDs, 12 INTs, 2,480.

Hey Jeud
Rookie Jerry Jeudy, after a few hiccups with drops, is on pace to post one of the best rookie receiver seasons in franchise history. Eddie Royal holds the Broncos marks with 90 catches and 980 yards. Vance Johnson ranks second in receptions (51) and Mark Jackson is No. 2 in yards at 738. Royal's reception record is likely safe, but his yardage mark isn't. Jeudy has been targeted 24 times over the past two games, responding with 11 catches, 198 yards and a score. His routes have more polish than Pledge. His stats scream that he will be a future star.
Current stats: 30 catches, 484 yards, 2 TDs
Projected over 16: 60 catches, 968 yards, 4 TDs.

Chubb getting Fat
Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb took three games to trust the bend in his surgically repaired knee as he turned the corner in his pass rush. Once that was accomplished, he has performed as expected. Chubb owns 5.5 sacks, leaving him on pace for 11, one shy of his career high. And he is on track to set a new best in quarterback hits.
Current stats: 5.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, 6 tackles for loss
Projected over 16: 11 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss

On the Run
Phillip Lindsay has played well in limited snaps due to a turf toe injury. He ranks sixth in the NFL in yards per attempt at 5.8. If nothing else, Lindsay has made a strong case for the Broncos to place a second-round tender on him after the season if they elect not to reward him with a new contract. As for Melvin Gordon, it's fair to wonder if he will be one-and-done with the Broncos after his ordinary production. He is also facing a potential three-game suspension for a DUI arrest, though his court date was reportedly moved to December, so he might not serve it in full this season. Gordon has shown flashes of brilliance, but not enough to justify his $13.5 million in guaranteed money.
Current Stats: Lindsay: 53 carries, 310 yards, 5.8 ypc, 1 TD; 2 catches, 14 yards.
Gordon 96 carries, 393 yards, 4.1 ypc, 4 TD, 20 receptions, 87 yards.
Projected over 16: Lindsay: 106 carries, 620 yards, 5.8 ypc, 2 TD; 4 catches, 28 yards
Gordon: 192 carries, 786 yards, 8 TD, 40 receptions, 174 yards, 2 TD.

Safety Net
Free safety Justin Simmons bet on himself after he and the team were unable to agree on a longterm contract. He is playing under the franchise tag. He hasn't been the game's top safety, his goal, but he's still one of the team's top players. Can he do enough over the final eight games to convince the team to keep him as a cornerstone? He is the type of player you like to see rewarded: homegrown, and a leader on and off the field. Simmons has played 100 percent of the snaps again, leads the team with three interceptions -- his pick last week was elite --- and ranks third in tackles with 49.
Current stats: 49 tackles, three interceptions, 100 percent snaps played.
Projected over 16: 98 tackles, six interceptions, 100 percent snaps played

Going Bolling
Perhaps no player has improved more this season than left tackle Garett Bolles. He has benefited from no crowds, the league's decision to de-emphasize holding calls and his own hard work. Bolles led the Broncos in penalties in each of his first three seasons, leading the club to decline to pick up his fifth-year option. Bolles ranks as one of the league's best left tackles by Pro Football Focus this season, creating the possibility the Broncos will try to secure Bolles longterm or place the franchise tag on him depending what decision they make with Simmons (they can franchise tag him again).

Corner store
Bryce Callahan missed his first season with the Broncos. He has spent this year showing why Vic Fangio wanted him for this defense. He has been terrific in coverage, especially when in the slot. He has never played 16 games in a season, and he won't this year after missing last week with a sprained ankle, but he should be a keeper for next season.

Some other statistics of note at the halfway point:
-- LB Josey Jewell is on pace for 114 tackles and four sacks, justifying the team's decision to move on from Todd Davis.
--Second-year outside linebacker Malik Reed has had a breakout season with five sacks, leaving him on pace for 10.
--Linebacker Alexander Johnson is on pace for a career-best 122 tackles with two sacks.
--Kicker Brandon McManus has missed one kick, leaving him on pace to go 32-for-34 and 10-for-12 from 50-plus yards.
--Tight end Noah Fant, battling through a high ankle sprain the past three games, is on track to reach 68 catches, 698 yards and four touchdowns. If he stays healthy, those numbers should settle closer to 75, 750 and six.
--Rookie receiver K.J. Hamler projects to 34 catches for 380 yards with two scores.
--Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who landed on the injured reserve following his torn ACL, was on pace for 22 catches, 242 yards, and two touchdowns.