>\n\nWorst to First: 14. Denver Broncos \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 14. Denver Broncos

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/10/2010

The Denver Broncos got off to a galloping start last season going 6-0 and being heavily tipped to win it all. Then it all fell apart. So what happened? Well from where I sat I felt like this was a young team with a young coach that rode a wave of supreme confidence to 6 straight wins. Then a crushing loss in Baltimore and a home loss to the Steelers sent that confidence into the gutter and they only won 2 more games in the second half of the season. A home win against the also imploding New York Giants and a predicatable win against the Chiefs. This was obviously a team with a fair bit of talent and a coach able to connect with them (well most of them!) but last year was always going to be a rebuilding year and 2010 is going to need to be more of the same as the Broncos continue to transition from a zone blocking Offensive Line to power blocking and from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4. The overhaul in personnel to do that was never going to happen in 1 year, it's a long term proposition but with some key signings in free agency this year the Broncos could be in a situation to challenge for the AFC West title if San Diego can't follow up an impressive year. Time to break down the roster.


2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Andra Davis ILB (Bills,UFA-cut), Chad Jackson WR (Bills,UFA-cut), Casey Wiegmann C (Chiefs,UFA-cut)

Justin Bannan DE (Ravens,UFA), Jarvis Green DE (Patriots,UFA), Nate Jones S (Dolphin,UFA), Jamal Williams NT (Chargers,UFA-cut)

2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
Mitch Berger P (UFA), Mitch Erickson G (UFA-cut), Vernon Fox DB (UFA), Brandon Gorin T (UFA), Nick Greisen LB (UFA), Ben Hamilton G (UFA), Vonnie Holliday DE (UFA), LaMont Jordan RB (UFA-cut), Ty Law CB (UFA), Brandon Marshall WR (RFA), Kyle Orton QB (RFA), J'Vonne Parker DT (UFA-cut), Kenny Peterson DE (UFA-cut), Tony Scheffler TE (RFA), Chris Simms QB (UFA-cut)

J.J. Arrington RB (UFA), Champ Bailey CB (UFA), Josh Barrett DB (RFA), Ronald Fields NT (UFA), Ryan Harris OT (RFA), Tyler Polumbus OT (RFA), Matt Prater K(RFA), Brady Quinn QB (UFA), Brandon Stokley WR (UFA), Marcus Thomas DL (RFA), Wesley Woodyard LB (RFA)
Quarterbacks No Need
Kyle Orton surprised a lot of people after being the "makeweight" in the blockbuster trade for Jay Cutler. He ended up passing for more yards, fewer Ints and a much better QB rating than his more illustrious trade partner. Course there's good reasons for that, the obvious one being one Brandon Marshall. Orton is a restricted free agent but he's received a round 1 tender. What that says to me is that despite trading for Brady Quinn the Broncos want Orton on board badly for 2010. Quinn may be the guy they view as their future at QB but Orton is the present. Unless Quinn comes on extremely quickly. Quinn has been labelled a bust in some quarters but at 25 and landing on a team with some talent (unlike the Browns) he has a chance at a second life in the NFL. What it also does is take the Broncos out of the running for a QB in this draft. With last year's late rounder Tom Brandstater offering some enticing skills to develop as well they won't have to worry about QB again until they are forced to re-sign Kyle Orton.

Runningbacks Minimal Need
Last year's first round pick Knowshon Mereno was going pretty well as a rookie, giving good returns on his runs until he reached what would be the end of the year for a College player. After that? Not so good. A lot of backs hit a rookie wall, it's to be expected to some extent but with a full NFL offseason and conditioning he should go fine. Especially with Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington to spell him. That's a pretty strong threesome, though Arrington is trying to come back from microfracture surgery to his knee which is always a struggle. He'll be a 3rd down back and maybe a returnman at best though. Buckhalter has had big injury problems in the past too but that was early in his career and he's been relatively healthy (bar the odd sprain here and there) since missing 3 of his first 5 years in the league to major injuries. I can definitely see the Broncos looking to add another guy to compete with Arrington as a change of pace/3rd down type of guy. That competition won't come from practice squad fodder like Lance Ball and Bruce Hall. The latter I'm only even name checking because I used to live in a place called Bruce Hall. Denver had a reputation under Mike Shanahan for picking up late round RBs and making them 1000 yard backs. I don't think that's quite going to happen this year but it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see them pick up a late round RB.

Wide Receivers Major Need
This one comes down to what happens with want away star WR Brandon Marshall. It's still possible he stays a Bronco as the Broncos want a first round pick in return for him but so far there's been no takers. The Seattle Seahawks seem to be the most likely landing spot and they do have 2 first round picks. But they don't want to give up one of them for a guy who has had suspension problems already. Unless some other team comes out of the woodwork before draft day they could end up having to significantly drop their expectations. The trouble with losing Marshall is without him, the Broncos WR corps is potentially bordering on shambolic. Eddie Royal's production dropped off the map from his stunning rookie campaign. Brandon Lloyd has done plenty of disappointing in his career and not an awful lot else. Brandon Stokley is on the downside of his career. On the other hand Jabar Gaffney showed some stuff last year. Particularly at the end of the season when the Broncos had a lot of injuries amongst it's receivers. In Weeks 16 and 17 his statline read 21rec 282yds 2TD. Promising. But still with Marshall gone this has to be a Major Need. If he's still there and they can successfully work Eddie Royal back into the mix it could almost warrant a No Need. Marshall is that much of a difference maker. 

Tight Ends Minor Need
Tony Scheffler, like Marshall is still on the roster but is highly likely to be traded. It's amazing he's been on Josh McDaniels' roster this long as it's well known they don't get on. Scheffler should find himself a home somewhere in the league, he's a highly talented pass catcher. But it may not be until draft day when the top TE prospects are off the board. Having used a second rounder on the disappointing Richard Quinn, it's too early for them to quit on him and with Quinn and Dan Graham on the roster that may be good enough for McDaniels. Quinn is going to have to develop quickly though and I'm not sure he can fill Scheffler's production.

Offensive Line Major Need
The Broncos line is the blue print for zone blocking schemes the league wide. Turning late round RBs into probowlers. But last year the Broncos started to transition to a more traditional power blocking scheme, which should suit Knowshon Moreno better. It wasn't an easy transition for some of the players though. Ryan Clady suffered some growing pains after his outstanding year in 2008. Ryan Harris got hurt but with a bit more time in the system and a full recovery they should be set at Tackle. At least for starters, and both starters are very young too. They like Chris Kuper inside enough to give him a nice restricted free agent tender and Seth Olsen is highly thought of too. But they do have a potential issue at Center. Russ Hochstein would probably start if the season began now but he's more your journeyman type. A guy like Maurkice Pouncey could come into play with the Broncos first pick. It's pretty early for a Center but Pouncey is thought to be a potential to cover Guard and Right Tackle as well. With only Tyler Polumbus behind Ryan Harris Pouncey may be worth the pick. I doubt he'd last til the Broncos second rounder but there are some other Centers of quality who'll be around later. Mike Iupati would also be worth a look if a team is willing to use a pick as high as #11 on interior Offensive Linemen. Maybe they could trade down and get one of them at a position of better value. I'll call this a Major Need because I think they're short a genuine starter in the middle and depth elsewhere.
 
Defensive Tackles Minimal Need
Well this is a toughie. Obviously last year Denver's new 3-4 Defense didn't perform as hoped, finishing somewhere near the bottom in run defense, traditionally the strong point of a good 3-4 Defense. The reason being Denver lacked the personnel to run the 3-4 last year. The key to the 3-4 Defense, as mentioned in other articles, is a genuine Nose Tackle who can occupy 2 blockers leaving the Linebackers free from having to take on Offensive Linemen. Ronald Fields struggled some last year and the Broncos have moved to address their DL in the offseason, signing the Chargers excellent Jamal Williams. At 34 years of age and coming off a torn triceps he's a stopgap at best. I'm interested in Chris Baker, an undrafted guy out of small school Hampton. He's a long term project but we rated him pretty highly last year and at only 22 he could be the long term solution for them. Jamal Williams is not, but he should dramatically improve the NT position this year, and maybe next at a push. If they believe in Baker like I do there's not much need to draft someone, but the glut of NT types in this draft may have them looking seriously. I'm calling this Minimal Need because I feel Williams' signing will give them time to develop Baker.

Defensive Ends Minimal Need
...and similarly with the DE position, Denver struggled for players there last year, so much so that Ryan McBean, a Steelers cast off started much of the season. Having seen him play when with the Steelers I was surprised to see he actually played pretty well but he is still a project and the Broncos have done the right thing by bringing in a couple of more experienced players in Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green who figure to be the starters. But again both are in their 30s so aren't long term solutions. The Broncos will hope they can hold the fort for a couple of years while they develop McBean, LeKevin Smith and Marcus Thomas. With those guys it doesn't leave much room on the roster for a draft pick anyway but I'm not really sold on the raw materials there.

Linebackers Major Need
As I predicted last year Elvis Dumervil was made for the 3-4 OLB slot. A league leading 17 sacks being the catalyst for the Broncos excellent pass defense last year. Last year's #18 pick Robert Ayers was a big disappointment but they will probably throw him into the starting lineup opposite Dumervil. As a first round pick he's going to get his chance to fill the position but I don't see he'll fit in the 3-4. To me he's a tweener in the 3-4 and probably better suited to a 4-3 DE slot. Even so they're not going to walk away from him so an early pick at OLB is pretty much out of the question. Depth is suspect and like Ayers, I can't figure out if they even fit the 3-4OLB slot too well. Surprisingly they let Andra Davis walk to the Browns so Mario Haggan is moving inside to replace him. D.J. Williams is a top end performer but basically there's still a lot of pieces on the Defense that don't fit it, especially under the starters. I guess they could surprise me but 270lb guys dropping into coverage? I'm just not seeing it... I'd still call this a Major Need but I doubt the Broncos see it that way on the outside. Rolando McClain should get a lot of thought at ILB in round 1 though.

Cornerbacks Minimal Need
Champ Bailey is still a quality performer but he's in the final year of his current deal and the Broncos haven't made much effort to extend him as yet. He's also 31 and at some point is going to hit the downside of a stellar career. Opposite him Andre' Goodman also had a good year, his first in Denver, but he's also 31. Nate Jones should provide good play at the nickel position and he'll compete with 2009 second rounder Alphonso Smith who much more will be expected of this year. The Broncos had a good passing defense last year, with Jones and a hopeful improvement in Smith they should be pretty set. If they can extend Champ Bailey they'll be set for a while. At the moment I'd call this Minimal Need but you can always add a CB project in the later rounds, especially if they have Special Teams ability. Were Joe Haden to fall to #11 the Broncos could snap him up to prepare for a possible post Champ Bailey year in 2011.

Safeties Minor Need
Brian Dawkins may be 57 years of age but he's still a star performer. How long that can continue at his age is always going to be a question but the Broncos drafted 2 Safeties last year, second rounder Darcel McBath and the prodigiously athletic David Bruton. Bruton is probably a long term project but he's good on Special Teams so he'll likely stick on the roster long enough to see if he does have the talent to be more. Bigger things are expected of McBath in year 2. Renaldo Hill figures to be the starting Strong Safety though and he's not bad. With HIll upgradeable and Dawkins nearing the end of his career you can still legitimately call this something of a Need but they'll give McBath every chance to take one of those slots and while they could conceivably improve their safeties this year their pass defense last year was good. Going in with 2 sophomores instead of 2 rookies should make up for any drop off in Dawkins. This is more likely a position they look at next year when they know more about McBath but still, Earl Thomas could warrant a look at #11.

Specialists No Need
After watching Mitch Berger go through a putrid season the Broncos already have 2 young punters on the roster to compete. They're unlikely to use a pick on another leg. Colquitt should have the inside track being the son of a former NFL punter and brother to fellow punter Dustin (Chiefs). On the kicking side Matt Prater's not going anywhere.

Return Game Minimal Need
Eddie Royal had a nice season on punt returns but they could use a little more on the kick off front from him. But if they're looking to not expose Royal on returns they could be looking for someone.

Dream Day One
 
   
 1.11 Rolando McClain ILB Alabama
2.45 Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
 
Player Visits
Tony Pike QB Cincinnati
Toby Gerhart RB Stanford
Montario Hardesty RB Tennessee
Dexter McCluster RB Mississippi
Arrelious Benn WR Illinois
Marshwan Gilyard WR Cincinnati
Jordan Shipley WR Texas
Armanti Edwards WR Appallachian State
Jared Odrick DT Penn State
Koa Misi OLB Utah
A.J. Jefferson CB Fresno State
Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
Tyson Alualu DE California
Terrence Cody NT Alabama
Dan Williams NT Tennessee
Sean Weatherspoon ILB Missouri
Kareem Jackson CB Alabama
Jacoby Ford WR Clemson
Carlton Mitchell WR South Florida
Al Woods DE Louisiana State
Brandon Graham OLB Michigan
C.J. Lovett CB Fort Hays State
Damian Williams WR USC
Eric Decker WR Minnesota
Vladimir Ducasse OG Massachusetts
J.D. Walton C Baylor
Joe Hawley C UNLV
Matt Tennant C Boston College
Dez Bryant WR Oklahoma State
Jared Veldheer OT Hillsdale
Torrell Troup NT Central Florida
Alterraun Verner CB UCLA

 

Last Edited: 04/10/2010




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