Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts ’10: A Denver Broncos Season Preview

Roster Roundouts ’10: A Denver Broncos Season Preview

See all of the previous LiveBall Roster Roundouts articles: BucsBrownsChiefsJaguarsRamsSeahawksBengalsBillsLionsGiants, Dolphins.

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Denver Broncos (projected finish: 9-7)

Team synopsis: In one of the weaker AFC West divisions in memory, a below average team is bound to make the postseason.  The Denver Broncos have made far more headlines for stripping down their talent in the past two years, but the talent that they’ve built up since 2009 has quietly replaced the brash loudmouths that made up the 2008 Broncos.  This is not to say the drafting has been perfect, but they got A LOT in the Jay Cutler deal, and those players will emerge on the next AFC West champion team.

Best Players

  • RB Correll Buckhalter (signed — Philadelphia/2009 free agent)
  • TE Daniel Graham (signed — New England/2007 free agent)
  • LT Ryan Clady (drafted — Boise State/2008 1st round pick)
  • RG Chris Kuper (drafted — North Dakota/2006 5th round pick)
  • LB Elvis Dumerville (drafted — Louisville/2006 4th round pick)
  • LB DJ Williams (drafted — Miami/2004 1st round pick)
  • CB Champ Bailey (trade — Washington/RB Clinton Portis and 2004 2nd round pick)

Best Prospects

  • QB Tim Tebow (drafted — Florida/2010 1st round pick)
  • WR Demaryius Thomas (drafted — Georgia Tech/2010 1st round pick)
  • WR Eric Decker (drafted — Minnesota/2010 3rd round pick)
  • LG Zane Beadles (drafted — Utah/2010 2nd round pick)
  • C JD Walton (drafted — Baylor/2010 3rd round pick)
  • CB Alphonso Smith (drafted — Wake Forest/2009 1st round pick)
  • CB Perrish Cox (drafted — Oklahoma State/2010 4th round pick)
  • S Darcel McBath (drafted — Texas Tech/2009 2nd round pick)

The differences between the 2007 Giants and the 2009 Broncos weren’t very significant (well, maybe they were, but in favor of the Broncos).  The veteran talent on each team won them a bunch of games at the beginning of the season, but by mid-December, neither team appeared to be going anywhere.  The vets did not hold up of the long haul.

However, while the Broncos missed the playoffs in a weak division, the Giants made the playoffs and went on to win the super bowl.  It’s something the Giants wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without the contributions of that 2007 draft class.  Jeremy Shockey’s injury could have de-railed the Giants.  Instead it made room for Kevin Boss to emerge.  Ahmad Bradshaw became a viable second runner.  Steve Smith was the team’s third receiver in the playoffs.  Jay Alford dominated on the defensive line in the super bowl.  And Eli Manning, the team’s fourth year quarterback, was intercepted just once in the playoffs.

Still, the Giants were lucky to even make the playoffs.  The Broncos weren’t nearly as lucky, as they lost all four of their final games, dropping from 6-0 to 8-4 to 8-8.  They needed their investment in first rounders RB Knowshon Moreno, and LB Robert Ayers to pay off down the stretch, instead, Ayers got no sacks, and the Broncos did not rush for 100 yards in any of their last four games.

People view the Cutler trade as tearing down an established offense, but the bigger problem is that the Broncos might have wasted such a haul of draft picks.  Wasted is the wrong word: these players are cheap, if nothing else, but Moreno and Ayers don’t look like much of a draft class.

The 2010 class appears to be far stronger, but might end up suffering from the same issue at the top with two first round picks being players with college track records that do not point to much of anything.  WR Demaryius Thomas is a physical freak — and more importantly, a burner — who posted a 25.0 yard per catch average in college.  If that number sounds fluky, that’s because it is: Thomas only ran deep routes in the run heavy GT attack.  Thomas has to prove he can run a complete route tree against NFL coverage to be useful, and even then, Brady Quinn is the only member of the Broncos QB depth chart who has a decent deep ball.

The deep ball is not where Tim Tebow will eventually make his mark, but Tebow is the perfect quarterback to blend the spread concepts prevalent in college with the speed of the pro game, a new way to exploit defenses.  Will it work?  A lot of that depends on subsequent moves made by the Broncos on offense.  Tebow’s a good prospect for a quarterback, but as far as becoming a good player, I’m in uncharted waters trying to predict what Tebow’s career will look like.  I’d say that Vince Young and Daunte Culpepper are probably good places to start if you want comps.

The thing is, when you have an established offensive line, and you spend three first round picks in two years on offensive skill players, it’s reasonable to expect more established players across the board than Tebow/Moreno/De. Thomas.  That’s kind of an interesting group acquired most of the draft value returned for Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.  But the Broncos are also trying to rebuild parts of that offensive line, and so it spent three draft picks in this years draft on Zane Beadles, JD Walton, and Eric Olsen.  These three are going to make up left guard and center positions on this Broncos team, and two rookies on the same OL are a tough sell.  Fortunately, the players who will bookend them, Clady and Kuper, are among the five best players in the NFL at their respective positions.  RT Ryan Harris returns from injury, and that fills a big hole on the OL.

If, however, Ryan Clady cannot return from a knee injury suffered in April playing pickup basketball, this unit goes from a strength to a weakness.  A replacement level tackle plus two rookies in the middle would certainly change the way Josh McDaniels calls a game.  We saw last year how scaled down their playbook became when the Broncos thought they needed to protect Kyle Orton from himself, and basically give him one receiver option routes in the last three games.  You can just imagine what would happen if the Broncos couldn’t trust their OL.

Beyond Thomas, the receiver position appears to be highly unsettled.  Third round pick Eric Decker is a better value, and probably a better prospect than the other highly drafted Big Ten receiver in this class, Arrelious Benn.  The team has veterans Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney who are probably the favorites to start at WR this year with Marshall in Miami.  Then there’s Brandon Lloyd, Kenny McKinley, and Eddie Royal.  Royal will probably make the team for special teams value, while Lloyd could make it because I don’t think the Bronco coaches have truly learned to loathe his “effort” level just yet.

It’s hard to predict much of an offense when the OL is both rebuilding and getting healthy, and the receivers are so unimpressive, but between Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, the quarterback play should be just as sound as it is undistinguished, so this years team should be able to outscore last years team.  It’s going to be the most boring 340 point offensive season in memory, but the Broncos can hope that the defense will give fans something to get excited about.

The Broncos will trot out an all-free agent defensive line, but these three aren’t scrubs.  Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green, and Jamal Williams will relegate last year’s defensive line, minus it’s most productive member, Vonnie Holliday (signed with Washington), to backup duty.  This is a good unit, but if Jamal Williams can’t both play (he’s on the PUP list right now) and play at a high level, this is a significantly weaker unit with last year’s least productive Broncos player, Ronald Fields back at the nose.  Darrell Reid, Ryan McBean, and Le Kevin Smith, while passable starters, are excellent depth.

The linebackers were the strength of the defense last year, and figure to be so as long as Elvis Dumerville and DJ Williams are happy.  Robert Ayers is the weak spot, but it’s better to let younger players struggle in a good unit than to bury him on the bench and pay him to like it.  Wesley Woodyard, in particular, plays an interesting role: when the Broncos shift to their nickel package, Woodyard and Williams play the linebackers.  That makes him a critical linebacker in this defense, and he’s good at the role.  Either Mario Haggan, Joe Mays, or Akin Ayodele will be the other linebacker in the 3-4.  Ayodele can still play after all these years and all these teams (Miami, Dallas, Jacksonville).

Champ Bailey still plays at a very high level, though additional zone schemes have assisted his aging process.  The Broncos have little choice with Andre Goodman, Ty Law, and Brian Dawkins in the same secondary.  After all these years, Dawkins still finds his way to the football.  Though he wasn’t among the best players on the defense last year, he wasn’t a waste of a contract either, and will be expected to play at a similar level this year.  Goodman is back, and Law is not.  The young talent on defense is concentrated in this unit, which is good since it’s where all the old players were.  Alphonso Smith is an acceptable nickel player and kick returner.  Perrish Cox was a flat steal in the fourth round.  His first round talent could project to either corner or strong safety.  Darcel McBath could start at free safety as soon as this year.  All three of those players should be starters in the secondary in future seasons, and if the fourth starter was 2009 4th rounder David Bruton at SS, that wouldn’t be surprising either.  This team is still a corner away from being able to play without Bailey, however, so veterans Bailey and Jamal Williams are the key to the defense this year.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

QB Brady Quinn’s college numbers were excellent, and when you translate his numbers from Cleveland (setting Derek Anderson 08-09 at replacement level), his numbers compare favorably to Kyle Orton’s in Denver.  But I can tell you from opportunities to watch some training camps a few years back that Orton is a significantly better player in a practice setting than Quinn is, and that goes back to college as well.  It’s likely that Orton will get first crack at being the Broncos starting QB this year, and also that he will be the week one starter.

Yesterday’s trade of RB J.J. Arrington to Philadelphia for LB Joe Mays means that waiver pickup RB Kolby Smith should be the third RB this year.  This is perhaps the one unit on the Broncos that is less deep than last year.

Undrafted second year player Marquez Branson could be in line to be the number one receiving TE.  Daniel Graham is the starter, and is more of a blocker, and Richard Quinn is a pure blocker and goal line player.  Branson helps stretch the field, and could be a star someday in this defense.  Ultimately, there are fewer players the Broncos should keep on their offense (22) than the number they will keep (25), so this team is a prime landing spot for a cut by another team.

The Broncos are fine on the DL (though a youth infusion will be needed very soon), but they are thin at outside LB.  Right now, PUP’ed DL convert Darrell Reid is the no. 2 LOLB behind Ayers.  That’s their weakest position.  And this could be a prime landing spot for Adalius Thomas.

The basis of that secondary is four draft picks from the last two years — Smith, Cox, Bruton, and McBath — and four very, very old veterans — Bailey, Goodman, Renaldo Hill, and Dawkins.  While the starters will probably be a mix of that group, there’s just one spot on the roster from neither of those groups remaining.  That’s going to Nate Jones, who the Broncos signed away from Miami because he’s 28, which means he’s neither too young or too old.  If Denver underachieves my expectations for them this year, this out-of-prime unit will probably be a key culprit.

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