Because they played in the Hall of Fame Game this season, the Denver Broncos will end up with five preseason games. They play their third on Monday against the San Francisco 49ers, and there are plenty of reasons to tune in. Here are three players Denver fans should be monitoring closely.
3. EDGE Malik Reed
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combine to form one of the top pass rushing duos in the NFL, but a team can never have too many good rushers. Reed is an undrafted free agent who has eight tackles and two sacks so far. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds, but he has good burst and bend around the corner.
He’s been working both as a stand-up rusher and a traditional off-ball linebacker, so versatility will help him compete for a roster spot. Cleveland’s Genard Avery had many of the same shortcomings as Reed, but still had a very productive rookie season and figures to be a big part of the Browns’ front-seven rotation. Reed can have a similar impact for the Broncos in 2019, and should continue to play well on Monday.
2. TE Noah Fant
Denver’s first round pick is going to be depended on quite a bit as a rookie, as the Broncos’ tight end room has been ravaged by injuries, including a season-ending torn ACL for Austin Fort. Blocking is not Fant’s strong suit, but that isn’t his role anyway. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body and a mismatch nightmare; too big for defensive backs to cover and too fast and agile for linebackers.
He played for Iowa, where 49ers breakout star George Kittle also attended. The two players are nearly identical from a physical perspective: Kittle is 6-foot-4, 247 pounds with 33 1/8″ arms and 9 1/4″ hands. Fant is 6-foot-4, 249 pounds with 33 1/2″ arms and 9 3/4″ hands. Fant also bested Kittle’s marks in the 40 yard dash, bench press, and vertical jump.
That’s not to say Fant is going to catch 88 passes for 1,377 yards, but he should be able to put up 40 catches and 500 yards, similar to what Kittle did as a rookie. As Kittle plays for the other side, Fant’s blocking, route running, and general field awareness will be under scrutiny.
1. QB Drew Lock
The second-round quarterback went 7-for-11 for 34 yards in Denver’s opening game, leading head coach Vic Fangio to state that he was expecting more from the rookie. Lock responded by going 17-28 for 180 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against Seattle. He has a rocket arm and good mobility, but Lock’s accuracy, consistency, and decision-making are lacking.
If everything goes according to plan, he won’t see the field at all in 2019. But that’s all the more reason to play him often in the preseason. He needs game reps if he’s going to improve. Lock may very well be the quarterback of the future for the Broncos, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to develop into a playable signal-caller.
His potential is off the charts, but he’s nowhere near ready right now. He should get the bulk of the snaps at quarterback over the next three games, so all fans should be looking for with him is improvement, no matter how small it may be.