The 2020 NFL season has been a painful one for the Denver Broncos. Having already lost Von Miller to a season-ending injury, the team suffered another critical loss when Courtland Sutton tore his ACL in Week 2. With two of their top stars sidelined, the Broncos just added another player to that list. With Jurrell Casey sustaining a torn biceps, the team’s $38 million addition will also miss the remainder of the season.
Now, a Broncos team that entered the year as a potential playoff contender looks like an early favorite to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Jurrell Casey got traded to Denver after dominating in Tennessee
Jurrell Casey entered the NFL as a third-round pick by the Tennessee Titans. Despite going 77th overall, the former USC star showed he deserved to hear his name called much earlier. Though it took Casey some time to harness his pass-rush skills, the 6-foot-1, 305-pounder broke out with 10.5 sacks in his third season in Tennessee.
From 2014-2018, he recorded at least five sacks despite often facing double-teams. Casey’s ability to anchor against the run, combined with his knack for getting after the quarterback, helped him become a rich man.
After playing out a four-year, $36 million extension he signed in 2014, Casey scored another monster payday just three years ago. In July 2017, he signed a four-year, $60.4 million extension that included $24 million guaranteed.
However, after earning his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl selection last season, the Titans surprisingly traded the veteran defensive tackle to the Broncos for just a seventh-round pick. Considering he rarely misses games (137 starts since 2011) and still plays at a high level, the move certainly raised some eyebrows.
For Denver, though, acquiring a player with Casey’s talent and consistent track record of production looked like a home-run move. After all, with about $38 million remaining on his contract over the next three years, the Broncos added a high-character player who could help take their defense to the next level.
Broncos lose their $38 million star
Penciled in as one of the team’s starting defensive tackles, Jurrell Casey entered the 2020 season ready to show that the Titans made a massive mistake by trading him. In his first game with the Broncos, the 30-year-old recorded six tackles, one quarterback hit, and two passes defended. Casey followed up with four tackles and another pass batted down in Denver’s Week 2 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Monday, Ian Rapoport confirmed Broncos fans’ worst fears by reporting that Casey tore his biceps and will miss the rest of the season. Denver now has to deal with another season-ending injury to one of its most important players.
Heading into Week 4 with an 0-3 record, the Broncos’ playoff hopes already look lost. In fact, a team that looked primed for a breakout season now seems more likely to land the top pick in next year’s draft rather than earn a postseason berth.
Injuries have derailed a talented Broncos team
While the San Francisco 49ers have suffered several critical injuries of their own, perhaps no NFL team has seen its season outlook change more significantly than the Broncos. Losing Miller before the season started represented a brutal blow to a defense that looked rock-solid on paper.
Conceivably, with Miller and Bradley Chubb on the edge, and Jurrell Casey in the middle, the Broncos would have boasted three Pro Bowl-caliber pass rushers. Now, the team is down to only Chubb, who missed most of the 2019 season with a torn ACL.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos did well to surround Drew Lock with plenty of weapons. Denver drafted Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to go along with Sutton and 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant. John Elway also signed Melvin Gordon to complement Phillip Lindsay.
Yet, that group has also been ravaged by injuries. Sutton’s torn ACL took away one of the NFL’s most exciting young receivers. Lock sustained a shoulder injury that has forced the Broncos to start the underwhelming Jeff Driskel. Lindsay has not played since Week 1 due to a turf toe problem.
With so many key players injured, Denver has failed to live up to its potential on both sides of the ball. Through three games, the Broncos rank 30th in points scored and 12th in points allowed. Only three teams have given up more passing yards than the Broncos, who have also surrendered seven passing touchdowns and recorded just a single interception.
Now that Jurrell Casey is done for the year, Denver is bound to regress on defense. And given their problems on the offensive side of the ball, that will likely lead to more losses and another playoff-less season.
At least they’ll have a top draft pick in April.