Better, worse or the same? A look at the Broncos' changes on offense

Jerry Jeudy shows off impressive footwork and agility (0:43)

Broncos rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy puts his footwork and agility on display in a workout. (0:43)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos were one of the most active teams in a stay-at-home offseason, but it will take a little more than on-paper sunshine and rainbows to shake off four consecutive playoff misses and three consecutive losing seasons.

For an offense that scored 16 or fewer points nine times last season -- the Broncos were a not-so-robust 2-7 in those games -- there is nowhere to go but up.

Let's take a look at the position groups on offense, one by one, to see where the potential improvements have come. The list of returnees includes practice squad players as well as those who were on injured reserve.

Wide receivers

Additions: Jerry Jeudy (first-round pick), KJ Hamler (second-round pick), Tyrie Cleveland (seventh-round pick)

Losses: None

These guys are back: Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Fred Brown, Diontae Spencer, Juwann Winfree, Kelvin McKnight, Trinity Benson

Better, worse or the same: Better

Potentially -- with a capital P -- significantly better with the Broncos having used the first two picks of a draft on wide receivers for the first time in franchise history. Jeudy projects to start, or at least get a hefty snap count, while Hamler should be a regular in any and all three-wide looks.

The draft made this one of the most competitive spots on the roster. Some players who had healthy playing time last season won't make the cut even with improvement. Defenses loaded up on Sutton down the stretch last season, when Emmanuel Sanders finished No. 2 among the wideouts in catches, with 30, despite not being on the roster after Halloween.

"We have guys who can stretch the field vertically and that can take those safeties out of the boxes," Sutton said. "You make everyone pay respect to everybody on the field. It kind of makes all the defenses play their defenses and their schemes the right way. You're not going to be able to cheat to one side. You're not going to be able to load the box for the run game. You're not going to be able to shade safeties over the top of certain places. We have speed and talent in all of our positions in our room."

Tight ends

Additions: Nick Vannett (unrestricted free agent), Albert Okwuegbunam (fourth-round pick)

Losses: None

These guys are back: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt, Andrew Beck, Austin Fort

Better, worse or the same: Better

Another spot on the roster where a few of the guys who were in the building last season can do the new math. It's crowded, folks, and the top three spots might already be taken.

Fant is considered one of the key pieces in the rebuild. He can have a breakout season if he can diversify his route tree just a little. Vannett is a blocker/receiver combo who got a two-year deal in free agency. Oh, and Okwuegbunam, at 258 pounds, was the fastest tight end at the scouting combine by a wide margin and was clocked faster (4.49) than 25 of the wide receivers who ran in Indianapolis.

Heuerman, Fumagalli and Butt, all recent Broncos draft picks, have each spent at least one season on injured reserve and suddenly could be fighting for one spot if the Broncos keep four at this position. Beck has some versatility if offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has a role for a fullback/tight end in the team's new offense.

Running backs

Additions: Melvin Gordon (unrestricted free agent)

Losses: Devontae Booker (Las Vegas Raiders), Andy Janovich (traded to Cleveland Browns)

These guys are back: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Khalfani Muhammad

Better, worse or the same: Better

The Gordon-for-Booker swap is the big move. Denver didn't give Gordon a two-year, $16 million deal to be an ornamental player in the offense, so Lindsay, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in his two seasons, will have to push for each and every snap. But so will Gordon.

Freeman, in terms of carries, is likely caught in the squeeze if both Lindsay and Gordon stay healthy.

"The fact that we have two running backs now that can be very explosive with the ball in their hands whether you throw it or run it, I think is a good thing," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "I really do think you need more than one running back."


Additions: Jeff Driskel (unrestricted free agent), Riley Neal (undrafted rookie)

Losses: Joe Flacco (New York Jets), Brandon Allen (unsigned)

These guys are back: Drew Lock, Brett Rypien

Better, worse or the same: Same

Lock exited 2019 as the starter and will be the starter in 2020. The overall roster strength is the same at the position, but the Broncos hope, and need, Lock's play to be on the rise.

The Broncos went all-in to surround Lock with far more explosiveness than they've had on the roster since Peyton Manning was around. That alone has been a bigger vote of confidence than they've given any of the other quarterbacks who followed Manning.

The impact of a virtual-only offseason remains to be seen as Lock learns a new offense, but he has drawn quality reviews from his work in those meetings.

"I think he's got a really good feel for the game," Shurmur said. "He's developing a good feel for what we want to do."

Offensive line

Additions: Graham Glasgow (unrestricted free agent), Lloyd Cushenberry III (third-round pick), Netane Muti (sixth-round pick)

Losses: Connor McGovern (New York Jets), Ron Leary (unsigned)

These guys are back: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Elijah Wilkinson, Ja'Wuan James, Austin Schlottmann, Jake Rodgers, Patrick Morris, Calvin Anderson, Nico Falah

Better, worse or the same: Same

Look, this group should be better, needs to be better and their talent level is certainly better. And a big part of any growth on offense -- as well as Lock's development -- is tied to these guys. But nobody can say they will be a better group until the left tackle doesn't lead the league in holding penalties and the right tackle plays a significant role for an entire season.

Bolles has certainly taken more than his share of heat over the past three seasons, some of it for things that weren't his fault, but has led the league in holding flags in each of the past three seasons. Whether it's him or Wilkinson at left tackle, that position can't be the league leader in penalty flags for anything.

It will be a surprise if Cushenberry isn't a starter from the first day on the field. Glasgow (four years, $44 million) is a major investment, and the team hopes Risner will continue his rise toward team mainstay.

James' role is certainly important in the big picture as well. The Broncos made James -- briefly, until Lane Johnson signed a new deal -- the highest-paid right tackle in the league when they signed him a year ago, but he played just 63 snaps because of knee troubles. They gave James Pro Bowl money and he needs to be that kind of player if the plan up front is going to work to its fullest.

"We like [Glasgow's] play at guard and center," coach Vic Fangio said. "Any time you can add a guy that has versatility -- not just can go in and play two different positions but play them well -- it's an advantageous thing to do. Right now, we're looking at him as a guard, but we know he can play center very well ... [and] he's been very durable."