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Broncos top 5 impact players of 2020

The offensive side dominates this list. No. 1 will surprise no one.

DENVER — At some point, there figures to be an NFL season.

Doesn’t there? It may or may not be delayed. It may or may not include fans in the stands.

Barring a coronavirus vaccine, no team figures to ever play a home game before a packed house in 2020. Even if the 2020 season starts in 2021.

The Broncos have a sellout streak going back to the season opener of 1970. Some statistical creativity and forgiveness will be required to keep that run alive.

But if the NFL does figure out a way to reboot its $15 billion (and falling?) business, the Broncos will resume their obsession of trying to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Broncos have lost 9 in a row, dating back 4 ½ seasons, to the Chiefs. Not since the Bradley Roby scoop-n-score of a Jamaal Charles’ fumble late in a week 2, 2015 game have the Broncos prevailed in this AFC West rivalry.

Mahomes turned 20 that day, a birthday he celebrated while a sophomore at Texas Tech. He is four years older and nearly a half-billion dollars richer since.

He is also 5-0 in two-plus seasons against the Broncos. If the Broncos are to beat him once this season – no sense being greedy and asking for a two-game sweep – here are five players who are likely to have the most impact on Denver’s 2020 season:

5. Garett Bolles, left tackle

General manager John Elway was extremely aggressive during the long-ago offseason in both free agency and the draft while attempting to upgrade several positions. He left offensive tackle alone.

While right tackle has been the Broncos greatest void since Orlando Franklin was moved to left guard in 2014, Bolles’ 25 accepted holding penalties the past three seasons have drawn the fans’ ire.

While Elway, head coach Vic Fangio and offensive line coach Mike Munchak will have Elijah Wilkerson -- a 19-game starter at right guard and right tackle the past two seasons -- compete with Bolles for the left tackle job, the preference is for the former first-round draft pick to reach his potential in season 4.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Offensive line

The Broncos also need a 16-game season in return for the $27 million they will have paid Ja’Wuan James in 2019-20. 

4. Jerry Jeudy/Courtland Sutton, receivers

It took Sutton a little more than a season to supplant Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as the Broncos’ top receiver. Elway, though, doesn’t want Sutton to become the one and only.

Jeudy became a first-round pick, No. 15 overall, because he also has No. 1 receiver-caliber talent. Sutton had 72 catches for 1,112 yards and 6 touchdowns last season, but in his final four games he averaged just 51.5 yards with zero touchdowns as opponents double teamed him on nearly every snap.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Receivers

Double-team Sutton this year and the idea is for Jeudy to make the opponents pay.

3. Melvin Gordon, running back

A 1,000-yard running back wasn’t good enough. If it was, Phillip Lindsay would still be the Broncos’ No. 1 running back.

Wanting a more complete back who is strong in both the passing and running game, the Broncos signed Gordon to a two-year, $16 million contract that is all but fully guaranteed.

In five seasons, Gordon has played all 16 games just once – in 2017 when he rushed for 1,105 yards and caught 58 passes for another 476 yards while scoring a combined 12 touchdowns.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Running backs

The Broncos are paying him to repeat that season. If so, how many carries will Lindsay get?

2. Von Miller or Bradley Chubb, outside linebackers

Entering training camp a year ago, this pass-rushing duo was considered the team’s No. 1 asset. The veteran Miller and rookie Chubb had combined for 26.5 sacks in 2018 and there were expectations the tandem could reach 30 sacks in 2019 with the addition of Fangio, a renowned defensive-minded head coach.

But as Lindsay has been telling people this offseason, the game is never played on paper. Chubb had 1.0 sack in four games last year before his season ended with ACL surgery. Miller finished with just 8.0 sacks, well down from what had been his 12.25 sack-a-year average.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Outside linebacker

Miller and Chubb are each confronting serious questions in 2020. Can Miller rebound at age 31 to have another 12-plus sack season? Can Chubb overcome his ACL injury to equal his 12-sack rookie season of 2018?

1. Drew Lock, quarterback

No matter how Lock’s career turns out, he can at least say he had the most convincing 5-game quarterback audition in Broncos history.

The Broncos barely attempted to bring in a proven veteran Plan B, choosing journeyman Jeff Driskell and his 1-7 career record as their No. 2.

Lock will be the Broncos’ quarterback through good and bad. He was mostly good while leading the Broncos to a 4-1 finish, which is especially impressive considering they were 3-8 before he took a snap.

Lock demonstrated a strong arm and athletic mobility – the primary characteristics needed to match Mahomes point for point.

Now that Elway has infused the offense with so many upgrades – rookie receivers Jeudy and KJ Hamler, and Lock’s favorite college target in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam were added in the draft while  Gordon and right guard Graham Glasgow were big-ticket purchases in free agency – Lock’s development has a chance to accelerate.

The Broncos’ 2020 season is counting on it.

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