WR Wes Welker, G Louis Vasquez, DE Shaun Phillips, DT Terrance Knighton, ILB Stewart Bradley, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Quentin Jammer.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Sylvester Williams, RB Montee Ball, CB Kayvon Webster, DE Quanterus Smith. Broncos Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Willis McGahee, WR Brandon Stokley, C Dan Koppen, DE Elvis Dumervil, DE Jason Hunter, DT Justin Bannan, DT Ty Warren, OLB D.J. Williams, ILB Keith Brooking, CB Tracy Porter, S Jim Leonhard.
2013 Denver Broncos Offense:
So much for Peyton Manning being done. Much was made of Manning's health in the wake of his four neck surgeries. Many believed he would just be a game-manager at best. It did appear as though he had some issues with arm strength in the preseason, but his throwing power improved every week. By the time it was the end of September, Manning seemed like he was close to 100 percent. He went on a tear, generating 290-plus yards in seven consecutive contests and maintaining a 18-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in that span.
Manning ultimately silenced all of his doubters, finishing with 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and just 11 picks. His completion percentage of 68.6 was second-best in his entire career, while his 8.0 YPA ranked as the third-highest figure he's ever achieved in a year.
What's scary for the other three AFC West teams is that Manning now has a better supporting cast than he's ever possessed. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are back and should be more potent than ever now that they have plenty of chemistry with Manning as their quarterback. They'll be joined by Wes Welker, who will take over the slot duties. Welker recently turned 32, so he may have declined a bit, but he's still a massive upgrade over Brandon Stokley. Best of all, stealing Welker hurt Manning's arch nemesis, Tom Brady.
Welker wasn't the only major addition to Denver's offense. John Elway signed Louis Vasquez to a 4-year, $23.5 million deal on March 12. Vasquez, formerly of San Diego, is one of the top guards in the NFL. He's a huge upgrade on a unit that had issues protecting Manning in the team's surprising loss to the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The rest of the offensive line is pretty stout. Left tackle Ryan Clady is the best blocker in the group; he surrendered just one sack in the regular season (against Tamba Hali, which is understandable). Unfortunately, he's entering his contract year, so the Broncos will have to give him a big extension. Left guard Zane Beadles is decent, while center J.D. Walton will be back after missing all but four games in 2012 with a fractured ankle. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, meanwhile, needs to improve. His four sacks allowed were just fine, but he was whistled for 10 penalties.
Denver's passing attack will continue to be pretty lethal, but will the team be able to run the ball effectively? Willis McGahee was cut recently. Knowshon Moreno, who is always hurt, just had knee surgery. The second-year Ronnie Hillman didn't show much last season, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry on 84 attempts. He's not an every-down runner anyway, which would explain why Elway spent a second-round selection on Montee Ball. Many expect Ball to seize the starting running back duties, but those who are familiar with John Fox's tendencies know that won't be the case. Fox absolutely hates utilizing rookies, so Moreno is still expected to be the primary ball-carrier. If not, Ball and Hillman will split touches.
2013 Denver Broncos Defense:
Think Bronco fans hate fax machines? A bizarre, fax-related incident in March prompted stud pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil to be released. Denver was absolutely lethal in terms of getting to the quarterback with its Doom and Gloom duo, but now only the latter in that group remains.
Von Miller is one of the top defenders in the NFL. He registered 18.5 sacks in his second season after collecting 11.5 as a rookie. He also happens to be stout against the run and decent in coverage. Opposing coordinators will be able to focus on him, however, with Dumervil gone - unless, of course, the newly signed Shaun Phillips pans out. A Charger for his entire career, Phillips was signed at the end of April after the front office failed to acquire a replacement for Dumervil in the 2013 NFL Draft. Phillips notched 9.5 sacks in 2012, but just turned 32, so his best days are clearly behind him.
Denver did manage to upgrade the interior of its defensive front by selecting Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina. Williams had six sacks as a senior. He'll play next to former Jaguar Terrance Knighton, a 325-pound nose tackle, and Derek Wolfe, a left end who was solid against the rush while recording a sack in each of his final three contests as a rookie.
The Broncos will need Williams, Wolfe and Phillips to help Miller get to the quarterback consistently because the secondary is a big question mark. Rahim Moore was rightfully blamed for surrendering the long touchdown to Jacoby Jones on the Mile High Rainbow play, but he actually performed pretty well in 2012. There are two other glaring problems. The first is the other safety, Mike Adams, isn't very good in coverage. The second is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was signed this offseason. DRC was obtained cheaply, but he has major effort issues. He barely tried in Philadelphia, prompting Eagle fans to call him "Doesn't Really Care."
And then, of course, there's Champ Bailey. A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer, Bailey had an outstanding 2012 campaign but inexplicably dropped off in the playoff loss to Baltimore. He was torched relentlessly, surrendering five catches for 128 yards and two long touchdowns to Torrey Smith. It'll be interesting to see if other teams expose Bailey similarly. If so, young corners Chris Harris and Tony Carter will have to pick up the slack again. Both played well last season.
The largest hole on Denver's defense is at middle linebacker. Joe Mays broke his leg after six games, forcing Keith Brooking to take his spot in the lineup. He was a huge liability, so Mays will be welcomed back. The problem is that Mays isn't very good either. Denver will be hoping that 2011 third-rounder Nate Irving can beat him out. The player who claims that job will start next to weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had seven sacks and covered well in his first full season as a starter.
2013 Denver Broncos Schedule and Intangibles:
Freezing temperatures and thin air should create a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why Denver had an NFL-best 70-18 home record from 1995 to 2005. The team was just 24-25 as hosts the next five seasons, but it went 7-2 in 2012. Unfortunately, one of the two losses came against the Ravens in the playoffs.
After a rocky rookie campaign, Matt Prater has been great the past four years, nailing 91-of-110 field goals, including 10-of-14 from 50-plus. More importantly, he's very clutch. He nailed multiple game-winners in 2011.
Punter Britton Colquitt was outstanding last season, maintaining a 42.1 net average, ranking third in the league.
Denver struck gold with Trindon Holliday. The Texans inexplicably cut him, allowing the Broncos to happily scoop him up. Holliday had two special-teams touchdowns during the regular season and then scored twice against Baltimore in the playoffs.
The Broncos have five games against teams that qualified for the playoffs last year, opening up in a rematch against the Ravens. Battling the Giants will be difficult the following week, but Denver then gets to beat up on the Raiders, Eagles, Cowboys and Jaguars. The Broncos also have an easy stretch at the end where four of their final five opponents are Kansas City, Tennessee, San Diego and Oakland.
2013 Denver Broncos Rookies:
Go here for the Broncos Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos have zero competition in the AFC West, so barring a Peyton Manning injury, they should be able to claim the division quite easily. The question is whether they can make a Super Bowl run. Given that the Patriots, their main competition, lost some personnel this offseason, they definitely should be able to.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: How did the Broncos lose to the Ravens in the playoffs? Their secondary was torched, while their pass protection was easily beaten, thanks in part to injuries at the running back position. Denver must address both the offensive and defensive backfields. And of course, don't forget about the defensive line. Tackle was a need, but now end must be addressed because of Faxgate.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Broncos didn't draft poorly, but their class as a whole was fairly disappointing. Their second- and third-round selections, Montee Ball and Kayvon Webster, weren't very good. Ball is just a Big Ten plodder with tons of mileage on his body, so he's not a very promising prospect. Webster, meanwhile, was considered a sixth- or seventh-round cornerback. It's going to be tough to find a roster spot for him with so many corners already on the team.
It was also discouraging that Denver didn't come away with upgrades at defensive end or safety. The front office made up for the former by signing Shaun Phillips after the draft. He should be a fine short-term replacement. However, the safety position is still a mess.
It wasn't all bad though. I loved the Broncos' first pick (Sylvester Williams), who will definitely provide some much-needed pass rush in the interior. Tavarres King and Vinston Painter (Nos. 161 and 173, respectively) were all solid choices.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
28. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: A Grade
It was either Sylvester Williams or Tank Carradine here for the Broncos, and you can't argue either choice. Help was needed all over on the defensive line for the Broncos, and Williams was discussed as highly as No. 18 to the Cowboys. Denver didn't have an interior pass rush, so Williams definitely helps in that area.
58. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: C Grade
This is too early for Montee Ball. He's a Big Ten plodder with tons of wear and tear on his body already. He fills a need, but the Broncos should have waited until later to pick a running back if they were just willing to settle for Ball.
90. Kayvon Webster, CB, South Florida: D Grade
This is the reach of Day 2. Kayvon Webster was widely considered a sixth-round prospect at best. If the Broncos loved Webster enough, that's fine, but he doesn't fill any sort of immediate need. I can't support this pick.
146. Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky: B Grade
This is a bit later than I thought the Broncos would wait to find a potential replacement for Elvis Dumervil, but Quanterus Smith is a solid pick. He fits the range and fills a need.
161. Tavarres King, WR, Georgia: A- Grade
Tavarres King doesn't fill a need at all, but there's no denying his value near the bottom of the fifth round. Why not go with one of the top players available? King will definitely be useful if one of Peyton Manning's receivers goes down with an injury.
173. Vinston Painter, OT, Virginia Tech: A- Grade
The Broncos didn't really have a quality third tackle prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, so Vinston Painter makes sense. I had Painter pegged as a Round 4-5 prospect, so this is nice value.
234. Zac Dysert, QB, Miami of Ohio: B+ Grade
This is great value for Zac Dysert, who was seen as a Round 3-5 prospect. I'm concerned about the reports that say Dysert doesn't love football, but if those turn out to be bogus, he'll compete with Brock Osweiler to be Peyton Manning's successor.
No one expected the Broncos to obtain the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into this season. Some didn't even think they'd make the playoffs, given that Peyton Manning was such a huge question mark. Manning proved everyone wrong, however, as he managed to claim the top spot in the conference on the final weekend of the regular season. Unfortunately, Denver was one-and-done in a shocking loss to Baltimore.
Broncos cut RB Willis McGahee
Broncos sign CB Quentin Jammer
Broncos sign DE Shaun Phillips
Saints sign S Jim Leonhard
Raiders sign CB Tracy Porter
Ravens sign DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil
Bears sign OLB D.J. Williams
Broncos cut DE Elvis Dumervil
Broncos sign CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Broncos sign WR Wes Welker
Broncos sign ILB Stewart Bradley
Broncos re-sign DT Kevin Vickerson
Raiders sign DE Jason Hunter
Broncos sign G Louis Vasquez
Broncos cut OLB D.J. Williams
Broncos cut QB Caleb Hanie
Broncos re-sign S David Bruton
Broncos tender OT Chris Clark
Broncos tender RB Lance Ball
Broncos tender P Britton Colquitt
Two Defensive Tackles: It's pretty barren for the Broncos at defensive tackle. Starters Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan, who aren't very good, both happen to be free agents. There will be tons of options toward the end of the first round. Signed Terrance Knighton; drafted Sylvester Williams; re-signed Kevin Vickerson
Middle Linebacker: Keith Brooking, 37, saw extensive action at middle linebacker this past season when Joe Mays was lost for the year. Neither is very good. The Broncos, however, don't view this as a big need. Signed Stewart Bradley
Defensive End: The Broncos were late in getting Elvis Dumervil's paperwork into the league office, so he was released because of salary-cap implications. Defensive end is now a big need. Signed Shaun Phillips; drafted Quanterus Smith
Safety: Notice a theme here? The Broncos have to upgrade the middle of their defense. Rahim Moore obviously had that bone-headed play on the Jacoby Jones touchdown, but this is more for an upgrade over the inept Mike Adams.
Left Tackle: Ryan Clady had a fantastic 2012 campaign, so that means he's due a big contract as a free agent. The Broncos have to re-sign him. Franchised Ryan Clady
Running Back: I don't think Knowshon Moreno can be trusted. Willis McGahee is old. Ronnie Hillman's just a change-of-pace back. Drafted Montee Ball
Cornerback: Two of Denver's top four cornerbacks are free agents. Another one, Champ Bailey, looked like a Saints' corner in the playoff loss. Signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer; drafted Kayvon Webster
Wide Receiver: The Broncos need some receiving help beyond Demaryius Thomas and the slightly overrated Eric Decker. Signed Wes Welker; drafted Tavarres King
Guard: Denver could use some stability at guard. Zane Beadles is just OK despite making the Pro Bowl somehow, while Chris Kuper was barely on the field this past season. Signed Louis Vasquez
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Louis Vasquez, G, Chargers. Age: 26. Signed with Broncos (4 years, $23.5 million; $13 million guaranteed)
Louis Vasquez parlayed a strong offseason with a great 2012 campaign. He was rock solid in an otherwise pedestrian offensive front. He should be heavily compensated.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots. Age: 32. Signed with Broncos
Wes Welker produces like crazy fantasy numbers, but he's also one of the league's most overrated players. There's a reason why the Patriots wouldn't show him the money. He drops lots of passes and is arguably a product of the system. He's also about to enter his mid-30s. Still, he's a highly effective slot receiver.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Eagles. Age: 27. Signed with Broncos (1 year)
DRC stands for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It can also be short for "doesn't really care." Rodgers-Cromartie is a very talented cornerback, but he's not all there mentally. He's still young, so maybe he'll get it together, but teams pursuing him this offseason should be careful.
Shaun Phillips, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 32. Signed with Broncos
Shaun Phillips recorded close to double-digit sacks and was stout in coverage this season, though he was a big liability against the run. He'll be 32 in May, unfortunately.
Terrance Knighton, NT, Jaguars. Age: 27. Signed with Broncos (2 years)
It's rare to see a 330-pound nose tackle struggle in run support, but that's why Terrance Knighton was benched in favor of C.J. Mosley back in October. He still played an ample amount though.
Quentin Jammer, CB, Chargers. Age: 34. Signed with Broncos
Quentin Jammer had his moments early in the 2012 season, but really wore down during the stretch. His starting days could be over.
Stewart Bradley, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 29. -- Signed with Broncos (1 year)
Denver Broncos Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Elvis Dumervil, DE, Broncos. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens
Elvis Dumervil has 63.5 sacks in six NFL seasons (he missed all of 2010 with an injury). This includes 11 sacks in 2012. He can be a liability in run support, but his tremendous ability to get to the quarterback makes up for that.
Britton Colquitt (RFA), P, Broncos. Age: 28. Tendered by Broncos
Britton Colquitt was third in net punting this season.
Ryan Clady, OT, Broncos. Age: 26. Franchised by Broncos
Ryan Clady is not a very good run-blocker, but he surrendered just one sack in 2012. Of course, part of that is Peyton Manning releasing the ball quickly, but Clady was still very sound in protection.
D.J. Williams, OLB, Broncos. Age: 31. Signed with Bears
D.J. Williams has missed lots of time over the past couple of years because of injuries and suspensions. He can be a decent starter if he's on the field, but he'll be 31 in July.
Dan Koppen, C, Broncos. Age: 33.
Dan Koppen was released by the Patriots because he wasn't able to get on the field after suffering tons of injuries. He was healthy at the end of this season, however, and performed pretty well for Peyton Manning.
Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos. Age: 31.
Willis McGahee has averaged 4.8 and 4.4 yards per carry the past two seasons. However, he's coming off a broken leg and will be 32 in October.
Kevin Vickerson, DT, Broncos. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Broncos (2 years)
Tracy Porter, CB, Broncos. Age: 27. -- Signed with Raiders
Brandon Stokley, WR, Broncos. Age: 37.
Justin Bannan, DT, Broncos. Age: 34.
Keith Brooking, ILB, Broncos. Age: 37.
Jim Leonhard, S, Broncos. Age: 30. -- Signed with Saints
Ty Warren, DT, Broncos. Age: 32.
Jason Hunter, DE, Broncos. Age: 30. -- Signed with Raiders