Key Additions: WR Wes Welker, G Louis Vasquez, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DB Queintin Jammer, DE/OLB Shaun Phillips
2013 NFL Draft: DT Slyvester Williams, RB Montee Ball, CB Kayvon Webster, DE Quanterus Smith, WR Tavarres King, OT Vinston Painter, QB Zac Dysert
Key Losses: DE Elvis Dumervil, RB Willis McGahee, WR Brandon Stokley, DT Justin Bannan, DE Justin Hunter
Key Injuries: C Dan Koppen, C J.D. Walton, LB Stewart Bradley, S Quinton Carter, OLB Von Miller (Suspension 6 games)
Despite winning their division in 2011 and Tebowmania, the Broncos made the wise call to sign Peyton Manning as a free agent and completely change their offense. The move paid off as Manning had arguably the 2nd best season of his storied career and the Broncos ended up with the first seed in the AFC, despite losing 3 of their first 5 games. The Broncos offense and defense were both outstanding last season, and gave Denver a balanced attack that few teams could match. While the Broncos were considered the AFC favorite by many heading into the postseason, they lost a heartbreaker to the Ravens in overtime during the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Broncos had the Ravens on the ropes, with a 7 point lead and just over a minute to go on the clock. A hailmary with 40 seconds remaining tied the game for Baltimore and sent it to overtime where the Ravens completed the upset.
The Broncos went from having perhaps the league’s worst throwing quarterback, to one of the league’s top three with the addition of Peyton Manning last season. Though many wanted to write off Manning as done last year, he responded with being tied for the league’s best completion percentage and finished in the top 5 in most major categories. Manning should be even better this year as the Broncos bolstered the offensive line, and added a big weapon in slot receiver Wes Welker.
The Broncos finished top 10 in the league in rushing attempts last season, but saw their rushing game regress as the season wore on. Things really fell apart after starter Willis McGahee went down with injury. The Broncos released McGahee this offseason, but did draft his replacement in 2nd rounder Montee Ball from Wisconsin. Ball has a lot of potential, and could possibly be even better than McGahee. If Ball struggles though the Broncos will rely on 2nd year back Ronnie Hillman and former first round pick Knowshon Moreno to carry the load. It’s not the best running back group, but there is enough potential here that they should be effective.
The Broncos had one of the best receiver duos in the league last year with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and have now turned that into a trio with the addition of Wes Welker from New England. The three receivers will be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses to cover this year, and give Manning arguably the best group of weapons he’s ever had to work with.
The tight ends are going to be interesting as well this season. Last year’s starter Jacob Tamme, who had 550 receiving yards will now be more of the third tight end, as youngster Julius Thomas is expected to take over the number one duties. Thomas has great size and athleticism, and if there were enough targets to go around would have the potential to put up big numbers. Tamme will still get some use, especially given his familiarity with Manning, but his targets will be limited this year. Joel Dressen will once again be the number two tight end, given his superior blocking ability. Dressen is a solid short yardage and red zone tight end, though it may be tough for him to get many catches this year.
The Broncos offensive line only gave up 21 sacks last year and for the most part did well in run blocking. Denver wasn’t satisfied with the status-quo though and added guard Louis Vasquez from the Chargers. The Broncos did lose their top two centers from last season meaning there are still some concerns with this unit. Overall though the Broncos should once again see another top year from their line and Peyton Manning should have plenty of protection this season.
The Broncos lost star defensive end Elvis Dumervil due to a contract glitch this offseason and replaced him with veteran Shaun Phillips. Phillips can still get after the quarterback and should ensure that the drop-off isn’t too drastic, but he’s no longer able to be counted on as an everydown player. Run stoppers Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers will man the defensive end spots on early downs before giving way to Phillips and Von Miller on passing downs. Along the interior the Broncos should be improved as they drafted Slyvester Williams in the first round and signed Terrence Knighton to rotate with Kevin Vickerson inside. On passing downs Wolfe and Ayers could get some work at the tackle spots as well. Overall this is a strong defensive line unit, but they are relying a lot on new faces like Phillips and Williams to help generate a pass rush.
The ability for the Broncos to rush the passer was further compromised when Von Miller was handed down a 6 game suspension. Miller is one of the elite defensive players in the league, so losing him for any amount of time is hard to swallow for the Broncos. Phillips will get some of Miller’s snaps, but regardless of who takes them they are basically impossible to replace. Now Miller will be back for the stretch run and the postseason so all isn’t lost, but his suspension could potentially cost them a chance for the top seed in the AFC. Miller isn’t the only loss the linebacking corps has suffered as free agent signing Stewart Bradley is out for the year. Bradley was expected to take over the middle linebacker duties this season and be a steady improvement over last year. Now without Bradley, WLB Wesley Woodyard will move inside. He’s a good choice as he had 117 tackles last year to go along with 5.5 sacks and 3 INT’s, but he leaves a hole at weak side linebacker. Danny Trevathan is expected to get the job to start the season. The team is high on him, but it could be a tough job early on, especially without Miller taking the focus of the offense for the first six games.
The Broncos look pretty solid at cornerback where Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are expected to start. Behind them the Broncos have Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Quentin Jammer and 3rd rounder Kayvon Webster. There is always a little concern if Bailey is going to lose a step, but he was still playing at a high level last season. The Ravens did get the best of him deep in the playoff game, but that shouldn’t sour people on his overall season.
The Broncos safeties are a bit more problematic. Rahim Moore is set to start at free safety, after a really good sophomore season last year. He still had some developing to do, and he could take his game to the next level this season if he can build upon last season’s success. Starting opposite him will be Duke Ihenacho who was a rookie free agent in 2012. Ihenacho is a good in the box safety, but it is unclear if he can be consistent enough in coverage. Mike Adams is the primary back-up for the Broncos, giving them at least some nice veteran help.
Matt Prater continues to show a big leg in Denver’s thin air, hitting 15 career 50+ yard field goals, but he’s seen his accuracy go down overall. Each of the last two years Prater has been below 85% accuracy which is a bit of a problem for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Prater missed a 52 yard field goal late in the first half against the Ravens in the playoffs. Not only would the field goal have put the Broncos up by 10, with just over a minute before half-time, but if he made the kick the Ravens wouldn’t have had excellent field position to tie the game before half. If Prater makes that kick, it is very likely the Broncos win that football game. At punter the Broncos have Britton Colquitt who did a good job for them last season and should be effective this year as well. In the return game the Broncos found speedy Trinton Holiday last season off the Texans waivers. Holiday rewarded them with a big season, and capped it off by returning both a punt and kick for a TD in the playoff game.
Though the Broncos have some question marks to start the season, they are blessed with a weak division as well as a quarterback who knows a thing or two about carrying a team on his back. With the weapons that Peyton Manning has and protection along the offensive line, the Broncos should have no problem winning this division. While maintaining the top spot in the AFC won’t be easy, it’s hard to pick against the Broncos. If they can get through their first six games at no worse than 2 losses, then they should be able to lose 1-2 max the rest of the way with Von Miller back on defense.