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How Can Colorado Quarterback Shedeur Sanders Improve For the 2025 NFL Draft?
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Who’s up next for the Denver Broncos?

The Denver Broncos are a young team loaded with youthful talent. If the team wishes to make a post-season push to the playoffs, someone has to make the jump from role-player to problem-causer. Here are three young prospects who are likely to bloom in their own right from future contributors to active stars in 2020.

Drew Lock – QB – 2nd Season

The second-year quarterback out of the University of Missouri is the obvious requirement for a run in the post-season. On paper, the Broncos are loaded with talent, but ultimately the fate of the Broncos is going to come down to the player under center, the most important position on the field. 

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Last season, after seeing starts and failures from Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen, Drew Lock became the starter with five games left and saw success finishing the season 4-1. He didn’t necessarily look like John Elway, but he did enough to excite Broncos country about the team’s future and his potential as a playmaker. 

The former second-rounder is set up for success. The Broncos signed Melvin Gordon and Graham Glasgow on big-money deals to take the pressure off of Lock. But the Broncos’ organization went further and drafted big-play pass-catchers Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam in the early rounds of the draft. Let’s not forget that the Broncos still have Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, two standout offensive threats from seasons past.

There are no excuses for Lock; this is his time to shine. In those five starts last year, Lock tossed for 1020 yards and seven touchdowns, including some big-time plays in clutch moments, something the Broncos have been missing for years. Lock has a cannon of an arm and is capable of throwing the ball deep down the field. If he is able to gain chemistry downfield with the young talent around him, the sky is the limit for what the young Broncos quarterback is capable of.

Because of the weapons at his disposal, he won’t have to do everything for the Broncos. Limiting turnovers and generating points and being a versatile threat who can get yards in multiple ways are all things that Lock is not only capable of doing, but they are also things that will be key in Lock blooming and making the Broncos playoff contenders. The era of dink and dunk and a defense that carries the offense is in the past. 

Lock is only 23 years old and will have room to grow, but if he doesn’t shine, the Broncos may be forced to look in another direction at the quarterback position. This is a make-or-break year for the team, and president of football operations and general manager Elway is growing impatient. In terms of blooming as a player, the talent is there, but that will only take Lock so far. The big reason he will likely make the leap to becoming a household name is because of his attitude. Lock plays with a contagious swagger. Both his teammates and himself have confidence in his abilities; team morale is higher than it has been in years. 

A.J. Johnson – LB – 3rd Season

A.J. Johnson is already a stud, but he should only improve from here. Johnson came into the league late because of alleged criminal charges that were eventually acquitted. The Broncos gave him a chance, and although he didn’t produce much his rookie season, he jumped onto the scene last year as a starter and proved himself. 

He received one of the best grades in the league for inside linebackers by Pro Football Focus with an 88.5 grade. The site that analyzes every snap by every player ranked Johnson as the number three linebacker in the entire league, and this was with him not starting until week five. Johnson is now a full-time starter and one of the leaders of the defense. He is already recognized as a star by Broncos fans and analyzers like PFF, but another great year will put Johnson in the national spotlight. 

Johnson is extremely versatile. He is a stud against the run, the pass and as a rusher. Johnson was already the top dog in the middle last year, but surprisingly to Broncos country, Todd Davis was released during a cut last week. The absence of Davis and the insertion of Josey Jewell into the starting lineup will force Johnson to take on even more responsibilities. He is more than up to the task. Look for the dinosaur claw celebration that Johnson pulls out after big plays to become a league-known signature. 

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Bradley Chubb – Edge – 3rd Season

Expectations were already high for the return of Bradley Chubb who missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL, but now the Broncos will be relying on the former fifth overall pick even more. Von Miller, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer and Broncos Super Bowl 50 MVP, went down with an ankle injury. The leader of the defense and the other half of perhaps the league’s most talented edge-rushing tandem is likely done for the season. Although this is a devastating blow to the Broncos as a team, it means that Chubb will be expected to produce on a similar level of the future Hall of Famer. 

Only getting double-digit sacks isn’t enough anymore. Chubb may need 15-plus sacks for the team to produce to the level they were expected to before the Miller injury. Chubb is more than capable of taking on this burden. He had 12 sacks his rookie year, and his combination of size and speed is overwhelming for opposing lineman. Chubb stands at six-foot four-inches, 275 pounds, and is a monster of a man compared to most edge rushers. 

More attention will be paid to Chubb in Miller’s absence but Chubb will be more relied on by his teammates and this should motivate him to be the defensive star the team now needs in the front seven. Chubb was drafted to be a top tier linebacker and now is the time for Chubb to make that leap.

Bailey Bassett can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @baileybassett_.

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