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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC West: Denver Broncos - 1st

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 20, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC West: Denver Broncos - 1st

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Peyton Manning's first season returning from a year lost to injury was a rousing success. He was arguably the most effective passer in the league and his transition to the Broncos offense and personnel was seamless. Manning displayed his typically tremendous ball placement and precision, a result of picturesque mechanics. He lacks an elite arm at this stage but he effectively relies on touch, timing and accuracy to make plays downfield. Manning can force the ball into tight windows or coverage, leading to interceptions. But all in all, the signing of Manning made Denver a Super Bowl contender.

Behind Manning, 6'7” second-year Brock Osweiler is expected to be groomed for a future starting job. He is a big time arm, protects the ball and is an underrated athlete. The real question is whether he has the consistent accuracy all over the field as well as if he is too gun-shy.

 

Running Back:

The Broncos had one of the league's most ineffective ground games last year and have turned to the past couple drafts to seek more backfield talent. Productive leading rusher Willis McGahee is gone, allowing second-year speedster Ronnie Hillman to be the leader in the backfield to start. Hillman isn't a powerful guy but has the talent to be a high yards-per-carry player with pass catching ability and big play upside. Behind him, rookie Montee Ball may prove to be a great one with all the necessary power, elusiveness and burst to be an every-down back. Knowshon Moreno has had an up and down, injury-filled career but he still has good short area quickness, elusiveness and hands.

 

Wide Receiver:

Thanks to a well-executed passing game, the Broncos enjoyed two 1000 receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Thomas is a 6'3” 225-pound freakish athlete with terrific speed and physicality. He's been the team's lone big play pass catcher and also led the team with 94 catches. Decker was another high-volume weapon as a tough, possession receiver with reliable ball skills and a dangerous red zone presence. Last year, the team had Brandon Stokley in the slot, but he showed that he had lost some quickness and separation. The Broncos jumped at the chance to upgrade the spot in free agency, signing Wes Welker to perform a third receiver role, yet now it's likely he's gone for the season before it even begins. Denver is also excited about new rookie wide receiver Tavarres King, a lean but legitimate vertical threat with very good hands. Trindon Holliday returns as an impact return man.

 

Tight End:

 

Peyton Manning loves to utilize his tight ends in the passing game and Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen were responsible for 93 receptions. Those numbers could come down some, and it's not because of the wide receivers. Third-year athletes Virgil Green and Julius Thomas are both capable of being match-up nightmares. Look for them, especially Green, who brings good blocking skills, to get more of an opportunity to contribute.

 

Offensive Line:

Though they struggled to be effective on the ground, the Broncos turned in an excellent pass protecting season, allowing just over one sack per season. Led by left tackle Ryan Clady, the Broncos sport an athletic line. But that doesn't mean there won't be change in 2013. Though Zane Beadles and Orlando Franklin return at left guard and right tackle, the Broncos will have different faces at center and right guard. Last year's center, Dan Koppen, tore his ACL in camp. Now, it will be between Manny Ramirez and newly signed Ryan Lilja to fill the gap at center. Last year's right guard, Ramirez brings more power and bulk while veteran Lilja is lighter and quicker. The Broncos signed 6'5” 335-pound Louis Vasquez to upgrade their right guard spot, especially as a pass protector.

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Best Offensive Rookie – RB Montee Ball

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – RB Ronnie Hillman

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Center

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – C Tyler Larsen, Utah State 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

Buoyed by outside linebacker/edge pass rusher Von Miller, the Broncos were one of the league leaders in sacks. Miller tallied 18.5 sacks, devastating pass blockers with his elite athleticism, moves and relentlessness. Currently he is facing a six game suspension in 2013 that he is hoping to get down to 4. With Elvis Dumervil and his 11 sacks gone to Baltimore, the Broncos will have to find an answer on passing downs opposite Miller. The team brought in Shaun Phillips, one of the leagues most underrated rushers with an excellent burst and motor. Phillips should be able to viably replace Dumervil's production. On base downs, the team will start Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe at the five-technique spots. Ayers, strong player at the point of attack, has been a disappointment as a former first round pick, failing to be a dangerous rusher off the edge. Wolfe is a versatile, athletic 6'5” 280-pound penetrator and disruptor, notching six sacks as a rookie last year.

 

Defensive Tackle:

6'5” 305-pound Kevin Vickerson and 6'3” 325-pound new signee Terrance Knighton should start inside in Denver's hybrid front. Both have been under-appreciated in their careers and are handfuls for interior offensive linemen. Knighton, in particular, is a beast. Rookie Sylvester Williams is another huge body inside who has shown strength and stoutness at the point of attack.

 

Linebacker:

The linebacker group benefited a lot from the play of the defensive front in 2012. Joe Mays and Keith Brooking were only adequate at inside linebacker last year and now they are gone. Besides Von Miller, the Broncos look to start middle linebacker Nate Irving and Wesley Woodyard at the other spots. Irving, inexperienced to this point, has the prototypical size, good athleticism, tackling and playmaking skills to stick as a very good starter in the NFL. Woodyard is a fast but undersized linebacker who is probably a better fit in nickel packages. Stewart Bradley is a huge but injury-prone candidate to compete with Irving for a starting job. Danny Trevathan shares a background and a lot of qualities with Woodyard and is hoping to compete for his job. Irving is the big upside guy here.

 

Cornerback:

Because of their cornerback talent, Denver had a ton of success playing press man coverage on the outside and had one of the elite pass defenses. Champ Bailey is still the leader on his way to a Hall of Fame induction one day. He may have slightly lost a step but he is still plenty fast enough to be effective one-on-one. He's long, tough, smart and has top ball skills. The team replaced Tracy Porter, who lost much of the season to injury, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC). Wrongly associated with Philadelphia's defensive struggles, DRC has all the speed, fluidity, length and hands to be an elite cover guy, especially in man coverage. Look for a very productive season from arguably the second best player on the entire defense. Inside, Chris Harris confirmed in his second year that he is one of the premier nickel cornerbacks in the league, displaying tight coverage and physicality. Finally, 5'9” Tony Carter filled in capably for Porter on the outside, showing speed, scrappiness and playmaking ability.

 

Safety:

Rahim Moore and Mike Adams round out the secondary. The Broncos don't expect elite play out of their safeties and often just drop them into two-deep coverage. There was only one interception between them, but Moore and Adams were two of the defense's three leading tacklers and were a large reason the defense excelled at preventing big plays down the field. The team's safeties, including physical second-year player Duke Ihenacho, are secure open-field tacklers but lack top playmaking ability.

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Best Defensive Rookie – DE Quanterus Smith

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – DE/DT Derek Wolfe

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Outside Linebacker 

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State