ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With a decidedly hefty combination of salary-cap space (north of $60 million just to get started) and their expected pile of 12 draft picks, the Denver Broncos are positioned to be one of the league's most active teams this offseason.
That doesn't mean they don't need several of their players to have a bump year in production, the kind of jump safety Justin Simmons took in 2019.
A look at some of the players who need to take the next step:
OLB Bradley Chubb. Chubb, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, is already one of the team's core players and has worked tirelessly to return from the torn ACL he suffered in the Broncos' Week 4 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But Chubb was poised for a monstrous 2019 -- he started just four games and still finished tied for third on the team in quarterback hits -- and everyone will expect to see that kind of production over an entire season in 2020.
The Broncos finished 10th in scoring defense this past season and first in red zone defense with Chubb missing 12 games. If he takes the jump expected, the Broncos defense will be an entirely different problem for opposing offenses.
ILB Alexander Johnson. Head coach Vic Fangio critiqued Johnson's affinity for "reckless driving" on the field at times, as Johnson made his share of revved-up mistakes. But there was a lot to like in his play. He was the only Broncos' defender to finish with a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That's a guy who's around the ball.
Johnson tied for second in tackles despite starting just 12 games. The Broncos will be kicking the tires on some inside linebackers in free agency, but Johnson fits Fangio's scheme and if he comes back ready to roll, he has flashed Pro Bowl potential.
WR Courtland Sutton. Yes, he was the Broncos' only 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, and in fact was the team's only 600-yard receiver. Overall, Sutton is already an accomplished player in terms of the contested catch -- the guy simply wins the ball in a crowd.
But both he and the Broncos need to deal with the attention Sutton got from opposing defenses, especially after Emmanuel Sanders was traded in October. That means Sutton needs to sharpen his routes and the Broncos need to consistently treat him like a WR1.
Despite finishing with almost 60 more targets than the next Broncos pass-catcher, he could have had more. In Minnesota, for example, he had just eight targets, essentially malpractice given the Vikings had no answer for him. Sutton did have his only two 10-target games of the season with Drew Lock at quarterback over the final five weeks, so things are trending in the right direction.
Demaryius Thomas became a Ring of Fame worthy receiver in the Broncos' offense because of his fanatical work on his routes, but also because from the moment Peyton Manning walked in the door he treated Thomas like the No. 1 receiver. That's the path for Sutton as well.
WR DaeSean Hamilton. Hamilton needs a production bump for his job security because the Broncos are going to add reinforcements at the position. He will have to show he's ready to carve out a spot right from the start of the offseason program.
Hamilton was easily one of the best route runners on the draft board in 2018, maybe the best route runner. But he has battled his own confidence at times -- he seemed to struggle for weeks to rebound from a dropped touchdown pass in the season opener last September.
However, he plays with awareness, and in the run game he is the most physical blocker of the Broncos receivers.
He offered a glimmer of his potential down the stretch. In the 11 games before Lock became the starting quarterback, Hamilton had six games when he was targeted one or fewer times. In Lock's five starts, Hamilton had 28 of his 52 targets and had 64% of his receiving yards for the season.
DE Dre'Mont Jones. Jones, a third-round pick last April, didn't start a game until the season finale but certainly showed his potential in Fangio's defense as the season wore on.
He finished with six quarterback hits -- tied for third on the team -- despite playing just 21% of the defensive snaps. With Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis and Shelby Harris poised for unrestricted free agency on the defensive line, Jones will have the opportunity to show he can be a starter in '20.
Athletically he's ready and he showed late in the season that he is a high-motor player with the ability create inside pressure.