RB Michael Pittman, WR Darrell Jackson, WR Keary Colbert, WR Edell Shepherd, C Casey Weigmann, C Dylan Gandy, DT Dewayne Robertson, OLB Boss Bailey, ILB Niko Koutouvides, CB Tyrone Poole, S Marquand Manuel, P Danny Baugher.
RB Ryan Torain, FB Peyton Hillis, WR Eddie Royal, OT Ryan Clady, C Kory Lichtensteiger, DT Carlton Powell, ILB Spencer Larsen, CB Jack Williams, SS Josh Barrett.
RB Travis Henry, RB Mike Bell, FB Paul Smith, WR Javon Walker, WR Derrick Hamilton, TE Stephen Alexander, TE Chad Upshaw, G Montrae Holland, G/C Chris Myers, DT Antwon Burton, OLB Ian Gold, CB Dominique Foxworth, S John Lynch, S Nick Ferguson, S Marviel Underwood, K Jason Elam.
2008 Denver Broncos Offense:
So, your coach sticks his neck out for you when the league is deciding on whether to suspend you or not for substance abuse. How do you repay him? How about not showing up to practice? Travis Henry, hampered by a hamstring injury all offseason, simply stopped attending Denver's organized team activities. Mike Shanahan responded by cutting the soon-to-be 30-year-old running back.
"We did not feel his commitment to the Broncos was enough to warrant a spot on this football team," Shanahan told ESPN.com.
So, big deal, right? Only in the Fantasy Football World. That's because Selvin Young will probably get all of the carries. Shanahan loves using dual-back formations, but he doesn't have much of a choice, as Young, rookie Ryan Torain, Andre Hall and dog-housed Mike Bell are the only halfback options on the team. Not that Denver really needs someone else behind Young, assuming there's no injury. Young started eight games in 2008, notching 729 yards on just 140 carries - a 5.2 average, which was much better than Henry's 4.1. In addition, Young had 35 catches for 231 receiving yards.
Young's production increased late in the season. He compiled 87 yards on 22 carries versus Minnesota's stout defensive line. He totaled 156 yards on just 17 rushes against Kansas City. Barring injury, Young should become Shanahan's next 1,000-yard runner.
The Young-Henry swap wasn't the only upgrade Denver's scoring unit received this offseason. Jay Cutler, who was inconsistent at times last year, found out why he sometimes played so poorly. Cutler was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes this spring. Of course, that sounds awful, but the third-year signal caller had no idea why he dropped more than 40 pounds during the course of the 2007 campaign. With proper monitoring and diet, Cutler will be healthier and better prepared to play football. Cutler finished last season with 3,497 yards, 20 touchdowns, 14 picks and a completion percentage of 63.6.
Cutler's performance also depends on his receivers, and that's where Denver's offense is going to run into a bit of trouble. Brandon Marshall emerged as one of the top receivers in the league last year. If his 102 receptions, 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns weren't enough, check out his numbers in the final four weeks of the season: 37 catches, 411 yards and three scores. Stretch those figures over a 16-game slate, and you have 148 receptions, 1,644 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pretty sick if you ask me. Unfortunately, Marshall suffered nerve damage in his arm when he slipped on a McDonald's bag, slammed his arm into his TV, was abducted by aliens and found that his dog ate his homework. Luckily for Cutler and the Broncos, Marshall is expected to be ready by training camp. He should be fine; as long as he's practicing in camp on time, I don't expect Marshall's production to drop too much, if at all. It's not like he's coming off a knee (thanks, Al Michaels).
Javon Walker's gone, but he didn't contribute much anyway last year (though you couldn't tell by the contract Al Davis offered him.) It's a joke that Keary Colbert, Darrell Jackson and Eddie Royal are battling for the No. 2 job. There's a chance Royal could become a decent wide out in this league, but rookie receivers seldom contribute. Colbert had 754 receiving yards as a rookie but has only 680 in the three seasons since. Shanahan likes him, but I wouldn't expect much. Jackson, meanwhile, is infamous for his drops. He's put up solid figures in the past, but he's way too unreliable.
Luckily, Cutler won't have to rely on Mr. Excuse, Colbert, Jackson and a second-round rookie. Brandon Stokley is very good in the slot, as he totaled 635 yards and five touchdowns in just 12 full games. At tight end, Tony Scheffler emerged as a very potent target; despite missing the first four contests of the season, Scheffler compiled 49 catches, 549 yards and five scores.
Save for the No. 2 receiver position, I haven't really expressed any concern with the Broncos' offseason thus far. Well, that's because I haven't touched upon the offensive line just yet. Starting left tackle Matt Lepsis retired this offseason, forcing Shanahan to spend the No. 12 overall pick on Ryan Clady. I really like Clady as a left tackle in the zone-blocking scheme, but he's merely a rookie. It'll be tough to ask him to protect Cutler's blind side from Day 1 (Shanahan has already named him the starter). Erik Pears, slated to start at right tackle, is very mediocre and may have trouble holding off second-year Ryan Harris.
In the interior, Ben Hamilton will be back from a year off. He missed the 2007 campaign because of concussions. He was a reliable starter prior to the injury, and should be back at full strength. Right guard is fine with Montrae Holland, but there's a huge hole at the center position. In an effort to find an upgrade over the 37-year-old Tom Nalen, Denver signed Kansas City reject Casey Wiegmann, who isn't much younger than Nalen (35). Broncos fans will have to hope that fourth-round rookie Kory Lichtensteiger impresses at training camp. Otherwise, that's three major holes on offense.
2008 Denver Broncos Defense:
Even though Javon Walker, Jay Cutler and parts of the offensive line struggled in 2007, Denver's main crux was its defense. While the offense was ranked 21st, the defense was 28th, as it allowed 25.6 points per game.
One of the main problems the Broncos had was putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Take away Elvis Dumervil and his 12 sacks, and the team's top rushers were Tim Crowder and Josh Mallard, both of whom had four sacks each. To fix this problem, Denver traded a conditional 2009 NFL Draft pick to the Jets for Dewayne Robertson. Robertson struggled in New York, but only because Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense didn't suit his strengths. Robertson is an effective pass-rusher out of the 4-3, and he should become the secondary rushing option the Broncos are looking for.
Or perhaps the tertiary. Second-year defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder have been practicing with the second team, but that may change soon. Rookie ends seldom thrive in the NFL and have more success with a season or two under their belt (see Mario Williams). Crowder had those four sacks, while Moss sat out the final 10 games of the 2007 campaign after breaking his fibula. I expect more out of at least one of them in 2008.
And that leaves us with Denver's other defensive problem, which was stopping the run. The team was 30th in that category, as its defensive tackles failed and put a lot of pressure on D.J. Williams, a weakside linebacker who was playing out of position in the middle. While Robertson will help with the pass rush, I don't see him doing much to address the run. Marcus Thomas, expected to start next to Robertson, is also better as a pass rusher rather than a run-stopper. So, can Niko Koutouvides handle run-stopping duties better than Williams? I'd like to think so, but he's a very average linebacker who really hasn't shown any reason why he should be a starter in this league. Meanwhile, Boss Bailey was signed to be the Broncos' strongside linebacker. Bailey was a complete failure in Detroit. Denver fans will tell you that he will revive his career now that he's reunited with his brother, Champ. I'm not buying it. At least the Broncos are set at weakside linebacker with Williams.
Denver's secondary is easily the strength of its stop unit. Even though Champ Bailey had somewhat of an "off year" compared to his prolific 2006 campaign, he was still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Starting across from Bailey was Dre' Bly, who signed with the Broncos last spring. While I've always seen Bly is an overrated corner because of his high interception totals, he wasn't a liability when you consider Denver's lacking quarterback pressure. One such liability was safety Nick Ferguson, who was benched in the middle of the season. Replacing him was Hamza Abdullah, who played really well down the stretch. Denver didn't really address the position in the draft, meaning they liked what they saw out of Abdullah and have faith in him.
John Lynch, meanwhile, has become the weakest link of the secondary. Lynch, who turns 37 in September, could be playing his final season in the league. Don't be shocked if Lynch is benched early.
I expect Denver's defense to be quite a bit better than it was in 2007. With the addition of Robertson, and the expected improvement of Moss, Crowder and Thomas, I doubt the Broncos will be a bottom-10 stop unit. That said, they're far from being dominant. They'll have a lot of work to do next spring.
2008 Denver Broncos Schedule and Intangibles:
Freezing temperatures and thin air create a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why Denver has an NFL-best 79-25 home record since 1995, although the team is just 9-7 the past two seasons.
At age 37, Jason Elam still got it done last year. He hit 27-of-31 field goals in 2007, including a 50-yarder. However, Elam signed with Atlanta this offseason, leaving the kicking duties between Matt Prater and rookie Garrett Hartley. The latter will probably win the job, as Prater is 1-of-4 in his career. Still, counting on an unproven rookie kicker, no matter how strong his leg is, could prove to be disastrous.
Hartley won't be Denver's only unproven special-teamer. Punter Todd Sauerbrun is gone, paving the way for Sam Paulescu, who has only five career punts.
Eddie Royal, who will be competing for the No. 2 receiving job, will serve as the team's punt returner. The team returned one for a score in 2007, but surrendered three touchdowns on special teams. That must improve if they want to make a playoff push.
The Broncos open up with an easy contest at Oakland, but things get considerably tougher after that. Sandwiched in between a game at Arrowhead, the Broncos have the Chargers, Saints, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Patriots on the slate. All but New Orleans made the Doggone Playoff last year. Fortunately for Denver, the team has only one difficult contest (at Cleveland) until battling the Bills and Chargers to close out the year. They'll play Miami, Atlanta, Oakland, New York Jets, Kansas City and Carolina in Weeks 9-15.
2008 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos were so miserable at times last season - they lost to the Chargers, 41-3; Lions, 44-7; and Raiders, 34-20 - it's hard to believe they finished with seven victories. Then again, they were picked by many to win the AFC West before the 2007 campaign even started...
Jay Cutler will be better now that his weight is under control. Travis Henry and the headaches he brings are gone. The defense will improve. But will it be enough to get the Broncos over the Chargers hump? It helps that San Diego's three stars are all injury-ridden, but I'm not sure if it'll be enough.
I have the Chargers and Broncos tying at 9-7, but the former winning out because of more divisional victories (5) than the Broncos (4).
Projection: 9-7 (2nd in AFC West)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Jay Cutler: Jay Cutler put up respectable numbers in 2007 (3,497 yards and 20 touchdowns), but he struggled at times. Turns out he had Type I Diabetes, which would explain why he ballooned up to 245 in August and dropped to 202 in December. Cutler's diet has improved to fit his needs, so look for a possible break-out year for the Vanderbilt product. A sleeper quarterback I will be targeting after the first few rounds.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 3,800 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 150 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 355.
Selvin Young: Mike Shanahan hates using one back, but he may be forced to do so this season. Unlike Travis Henry, Selvin Young has a great work ethic. As a rookie, he ran for 729 yards despite having just one game where he carried the ball more than 20 times. Young's 5.2 yards-per-carry average looks really enticing; the only thing that would turn me off is that neither he nor Henry got into the end zone much (five touchdowns). Also, take note of Young's 35 receptions. Bump him up if you're in a PPR league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,475 rushing yards. 400 receiving yards. 7 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 229.
Tony Scheffler: I pegged Tony Scheffler as a sleeper last year, predicting 650 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for him. Scheffler finished with 549 yards and five touchdowns, but keep in mind that he missed the first four games of the season. If you can't land one of the top tight ends in your league, make sure you draft this guy later on.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 700 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 112.
Daniel Graham: People know Daniel Graham by name, and I laughed when I saw several people draft him over Tony Scheffler last year. Don't bother with Graham; he's merely a blocking tight end.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 300 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 42.
Brandon Marshall: I said Brandon Marshall was a sleeper last year, but I didn't expect him to emerge as one of the better receivers in the league. In only his second season, Marshall notched 102 receptions, 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. Not bad, huh? I'm a bit concerned with the nerve damage in his arm, but they say he should be ready by training camp. If it weren't for that injury, Marshall would be one of my top fantasy wide outs; as I mentioned above, his numbers in the final four weeks of the season were sick: 37 catches, 411 yards and three scores. Stretch those figures over a 16-game slate, and you have 148 receptions, 1,644 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,275 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 175.
Brandon Stokley: Despite missing three games, Brandon Stokley managed 635 yards and five touchdowns. He's a really good slot receiver. However, this doesn't mean much in fantasy football.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 78.
Darrell Jackson: I expect Darrell Jackson to win the No. 2 job over Keary Colbert, though in a perfect world, Eddie Royal would swoop in and claim the gig right off the bat. Jackson has terrible hands and is prone to injury. Stay away.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 525 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 64.
Keary Colbert: Keary Colbert is currently penciled in as the No. 2 receiver. I don't know how that's possible. I don't expect that to last much longer either; despite his horrific hands, Darrell Jackson may pass Colbert on the depth chart. I wouldn't draft either guy.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 300 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 36.
Garrett Hartley: A rookie kicker with a powerful leg. Will Mike Shanahan trust him enough to give him field goal attempts from 45-plus? Will he even win the starting job?
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 21-28 FG (0-1 50+). 41 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 126.
Denver Defense: The Broncos should be able to get more sacks this year, which could lead to more turnovers. That's all speculation, however. Draft them only if your top defense's bye matches up well with the team Denver will be playing (i.e. Chiefs, Raiders).
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
The Broncos made the right decision at No. 12 when Ryan Clady fell into their laps. In the wake of Matt Lepsis' retirement, they had nothing at left tackle. Clady, considered by many to be the best left tackle in the draft, should be able to start right away ... I'm not crazy about Eddie Royal, but I don't hate the pick. Royal was a second-round talent, though there were better prospects out there, like Limas Sweed and DeSean Jackson. Royal fills a need though ... Center was a huge need going into the draft. That's not the case anymore with the addition of Kory Lictensteiger ... Ryan Torain, chosen at selection No. 139, was a great value pick. Don't be shocked if he becomes Shanahan's next 1,000-yard runner ... Josh Barrett and Peyton Hillis, both fourth-round prospects, were steals in Round 7.
I'm disappointed the Broncos didn't address the middle linebacker position until Spencer Larsen was chosen at 183. Looks like D.J. Williams will once again struggle in the middle. Denver could have taken Jonathan Goff where they selected Jack Williams. I don't have a problem with Williams, but Goff would have filled a bigger need.
Grade give on 4/29/08: B+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
12. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
I guess I have to endorse this pick because I had it in my mock. In the wake of Matt Lepsis' retirement, the Broncos had to address the left tackle position. They obtained the best left tackle in the draft at No. 12, so Denver fans should be thrilled. (Pick Grade: A)
42. Eddie Royal, WR, Virignia Tech
Limas Sweed probably would have been better, but Eddie Royal is a decent receiver. I'm not going to complain about this selection, especially with all the madness that transpired on Saturday. (Pick Grade: B)
108. Kory Lichtensteiger, C, Bowing Green
Good luck to anyone covering the Broncos for any newspapers in the Denver area. Solid pick despite the media's disdain. (Pick Grade: A)
119. Jack Williams, CB, Kent State
I wasn't aware cornerback was such a huge need. Jack Williams is a decent player, but the Broncos should have pursued an inside linebacker or running back. (Pick Grade: C)
139. Ryan Torain, RB, Arizona State
I like Ryan Torain A LOT. And I'm not surprised Mike Shanahan drafted him here. Looks like Denver found its next 1,000-yard runner. (Pick Grade: A)
148. Carlton Powell, DT, Virginia Tech
I expected the Broncos to add defensive line depth early on Day 2. Carlton Powell is a decent player. I still don't get why Denver hasn't gone after an inside linebacker. (Pick Grade: B)
183. Spencer Larsen, ILB, Arizona
Finally, an inside linebacker. The shame is Denver could have obtained Jonathan Goff 30 picks earlier. (Pick Grade: C)
220. Josh Barrett, SS, Arizona State
I can't believe Josh Barrett made it all the way to Round 7. The Broncos found a gem. (Pick Grade: A)
227. Peyton Hillis, FB, Arkansas
Some had Peyton Hillis as the top fullback on the board. It's amazing Denver was able to land him in the seventh round. (Pick Grade: A)
The Broncos are yet another team to fail to live up to playoff expectations in 2007. Jay Cutler wasn't terrible, but threw a decent amount of interceptions and was the recipient of Philip Rivers' "you're a doo-doo head" taunts. I'm not sure if Cutler has recovered from that yet. The defense, meanwhile, was horiffic, failing to put pressure on the quarterback and stop the run.
Broncos trade CB Dominique Foxworth to Falcons for undisclosed draft pick
Broncos trade G Montrae Holland to Cowboys for a 2010 fifth-round pick
Broncos cut WR Samie Parker
Broncos sign CB Tyrone Poole
Broncos cut S John Lynch
Broncos announce retirement of OLB Ian Gold
Broncos cut RB Mike Bell
Broncos cut WR Taylor Jacobs
Broncos cut RB Travis Henry
Broncos cut S Marviel Underwood
Broncos sign RB Michael Pittman
Broncos sign C Dylan Gandy
Broncos cut FB Paul Smith
Broncos receive Dewayne Robertson from the Broncos for a conditional 2009 draft pick
Broncos re-sign CB Domonique Foxworth
Broncos re-sign SS Hamza Abdullah
Broncos sign WR Darrell Jackson
Broncos cut TE Chad Upshaw
Broncos cut WR Derrick Hamilton
Broncos sign P Danny Baugher
Broncos sign WR Samie Parker
Broncos cut DT Antwon Burton
Broncos re-sign FB Cecil Sapp
Broncos sign C Casey Weigmann
Broncos trade G Chris Myers to the Texans for a 6th-round pick
Broncos sign S Marquand Manuel
Broncos sign OLB Boss Bailey
Broncos sign WR Edell Shepherd
Broncos sign MLB Niko Koutouvides
Broncos re-sign DE Ebenezer Ekuban
Broncos sign WR Keary Colbert
Broncos cut WR Javon Walker
Broncos cut OLB Ian Gold
Broncos re-signed TE Nate Jackson
Defensive Tackle: As mentioned in my Season Summary, Denver struggled mightily versus the run and just failed to get to the quarterback. The void of talent at the defensive tackle position is very concerning. As of this publication (Feb. 23), I have the team taking Dre Moore in the second round of April's draft. Traded for Dewayne Robertson; drafted Carlton Powell
Middle Linebacker: D.J. Williams really couldn't cut it at middle linebacker and was part of the reason the Broncos were inept on defense. They need someone who can play on the inside and allow Williams to slide over to strongside linebacker. Someone like Beau Bell is an option in Round 4. Signed Niko Koutouvides; drafted Spencer Larsen
Free Safety: John Lynch is approaching the century mark in age, meaning the Broncos will have to find a young free safety to take over his spot in the lineup. I currently have them taking Kenny Phillips 12th overall. Signed Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel
Offensive Tackle: With Matt Lepsis retiring, the Broncos have just Ryan Harris and Erik Pears manning the offensive tackle positions. They'll have to draft a tackle relatively early in April. Ryan Clady is a realistic option at No. 12, as is Duane Brown in Round 4. Drafted Ryan Clady
Strongside Linebacker: Yet another position that needs to be addressed on the Denver's defense.
Wide Receiver: I'll be completely shocked if the Broncos don't cut Javon Walker before the middle of March. Once that happens, they'll need another solid receiver to join Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley. If Denver doesn't draft anyone at wide out, it could pursue D.J. Hackett, Bryant Johnson or Donte' Stallworth via free agency. Signed Darrell Jackson, Keary Colbert, Samie Parker and Edell Shepherd; drafted Eddie Royal
Special Teams: Denver surrendered three punt or kickoff returns in 2007. Something must be done about this.
Cornerback Depth: Domonique Foxworth and Karl Paymah are both restricted free agents. If they're not brought back, the Broncos will need depth at corner. Re-signed Domonique Foxworth; drafted Jack Williams
Defensive End Depth: Take away Elvis Dumervil's 12 sacks, and the Broncos registered only 21 on the year. No player on their defense, with the exception of Dumervil, had more than four. Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, two second-year players, will get an opportunity this year, but Denver will need depth if it doesn't re-sign John Engelberger and Ebenezer Ekuban. Re-signed Ebenezer Ekuban
Denver Broncos Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 23): $16.77 million
Jason Elam, K. Age: 38. Signed with Falcons (4 years, $9 million)
I have Jason Elam listed as a 4-star kicker because of his age. His days of nailing 50-yard field goals might be over.
Chris Myers, C. Age: 26. Traded to Texans for a 6th-round pick
Chris Myers took Tom Nalen's spot this season and did a solid job. At only 26, he must be retained.
Travis Henry, RB. Age: 29.
Travis Henry had injury and lethargy issues, and was consequently cut. Unlike Shaun Alexander, Henry still has something left in the tank. He may play hard if he signs a 1-year deal; after all, he'll need another huge signing bonus to pay all of his child support.
Cecil Sapp, FB. Age: 29. Re-signed with Broncos (1 year)
The Broncos are bound to re-sign one of the top fullbacks in the league.
Hamza Abdullah (RFA), SS. Age: 25. Re-signed with Broncos (1 year, $927,000)
Hamzah Abdullah played really well in place of Nick Ferguson. He'll continue to improve, as he has just eight starts under his belt.
Erik Pears, OT. Age: 26.
A solid tackle, but the Broncos need an upgrade.
Javon Walker, WR. Age: 29. Signed with Raiders (6 years, $55 million)
A huge risk - Javon Walker is talented, but he's coming off a major knee injury. No one even wanted to offer a late-round pick for him.
John Lynch, Broncos. Age: 36. Signed with Patriots
John Lynch asked for his release from the Broncos. Apparently, he wasn't happy with taking a reserve role. Lynch is thinking about retirement, though he would still be a solid backup.
Ian Gold, OLB. Age: 30.
A solid backup at this point in his career. Nothing more.
Karl Paymah (RFA), CB. Age: 25. - Tendered by Broncos
Nick Ferguson, SS. Age: 33. - Signed with Texans (1 year, $730,000)
Paul Smith, FB. Age: 30.
Stephen Alexander, TE. Age: 32.
Antwon Burton, DT. Age: 25. - Signed with Bengals (1 year, $445,000)
Marviel Underwood, S. Age: 26. - Signed with Raiders
Samie Parker, WR. Age: 27.
Taylor Jacobs, WR. Age: 27.
Derrick Hamilton, WR. Age: 26.
Divisional Rival History: Kansas City Chiefs: The home team always wins. Well, almost always. The host has claimed 12 of the previous 14 contests. Oakland Raiders: Mike Shanahan owns Al Davis. Maybe Davis shouldn't have fired Shanahan in 1989. Oops. The Broncos have won 16 of the past 21 meetings. San Diego Chargers: The home team has won 10 of the last 14 meetings, although San Diego has claimed the previous four.