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2014 NFL Offseason: Denver Broncos

Draft Grades, Season Previews, Team Needs, Free Agents

Denver Broncos (Last Year: 13-3)

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2014 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Emmanuel Sanders, C Will Montgomery, DE DeMarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib, S T.J. Ward.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Bradley Roby, WR Cody Latimer, OT Michael Schofield, LB Lamin Barrow. Broncos Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Eric Decker, G Zane Beadles, DE Robert Ayers, DE Shaun Phillips, DE Jeremy Mincey, OLB Wesley Woodyard, CB Champ Bailey, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Mike Adams.

2014 Denver Broncos Offense:
Remember when many believed Peyton Manning wouldn't play well in Denver in the wake of his four neck surgeries? Manning silenced all doubters in 2012 and made them look even dumber in 2013 when he set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 55. Manning also generated 5,477 yards, an 8.3 YPA (greatest in his career since 2005) and just 10 interceptions.

With that said, three things could make it more difficult for Manning in 2015. The first, quite simply, is his age. He turned 38 in March, so he could see a decline soon - perhaps even a slight one this upcoming season. The second is a much more taxing schedule. Manning feasted on the horrific NFC East defenses last year, but he'll have to deal with the NFC West instead in 2014. Manning struggled mightily versus Seattle in the Super Bowl, so perhaps that's a sign of things to come when he has to battle the Seahawks, 49ers, Rams and Cardinals, all of which sport dominant defensive units.

The third is a declining supporting cast. Denver lost a number of players this offseason on the offensive side of the ball. From least- to most-prominent, Eric Decker bolted for the Jets, but the Broncos were able to replace him with Emmanuel Sanders and second-round rookie Cody Latimer. Sanders has been far-less productive than Decker, but it could be argued that Manning made Decker, and he'll have the same effect on Sanders and/or Latimer. Knowshon Moreno, meanwhile, also left for the AFC East. Montee Ball will be able to match, or even exceed his running ability, but Manning will miss Moreno's pass-protection and third-down ability.

Left guard Zane Beadles is also gone, and Denver will shuffle its offensive line as a result. Orlando Franklin will move from right tackle to Beadles' old spot, while Chris Clark, who filled in well for an injured Ryan Clady last year, will take over Franklin's former station. Having Clady back will help, so given that right guard Louis Vasquez is still projected to play well, the only other hole up front is at center, where Manuel Ramirez performed poorly in the playoffs.

Wes Welker's dropoff could also negatively impact Manning. Welker, now 33, is no longer the slot receiver he once was. He also has concussion issues, so he could easily miss more time in 2014. Having said that, Manning will still have Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas at his disposal, so it's not like he'll be hurting for firepower.

2014 Denver Broncos Defense:
Whereas the offense lost some key pieces, the departures Denver saw on defense were superficial. Some big names left, such as Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips, but the stop unit figures to be better overall in 2014.

Beginning with the secondary, Denver seems to have improved this area. Bailey won't be missed because he struggled since his brutal playoff matchup with Torrey Smith, but Rodgers-Cromartie enjoyed a fantastic season. He wanted too much money, however, and the Broncos were able to replace him with a superior talent in Aqib Talib, who is one of the top corners in the game when he's completely focused. Denver also used its first-round choice on Bradley Roby, who is very similar to Talib in that he can play extremely well when he's not preoccupied with non-football matters. Roby will have a chance to start because the talented Chris Harris is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in the playoffs.

The Broncos acquired another upgrade in the defensive backfield when they signed safety T.J. Ward away from the Browns. Ward is one of the better players at his position, so he'll provide a huge boost for an area that was a problem this past season. He'll start next to Rahim Moore, who missed the second half of the 2013 campaign, including the playoffs, with a leg injury. Having him back will obviously help the secondary.

Phillips was the other player who was mentioned. He performed well for the Broncos in 2013, registering 10 sacks. However, at 33, Phillips was set to decline. His production can't match DeMarcus Ware's either, as long as the former Cowboy is healthy; Denver signed Ware to a 3-year, $30 million deal. Ware is two seasons removed from 19.5 sacks, but has dealt with injuries in each of the past couple of years. If he's at full strength, he'll terrorize opposing quarterbacks, who won't have much time when throwing against a very talented secondary.

The other defensive linemen will undoubtedly benefit from Ware's presence. Derek Wolfe will need the boost, as he struggled in 2013 before landing on injured reserve in November. It'll also be interesting if 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams improves. Williams barely did anything in the first two months of the season, but showed some improvement toward the end of the year. He'll continue to rotate with elite run-stuffer Terrance Knighton and pass-rushing specialist Malik Jackson.

Of course, it'll be extremely difficult for opposing offenses to double team Ware, given that they'll have to worry about Von Miller on the other side. Miller is one of the top defenders in the NFL, and he's joined in the linebacking corps by Danny Trevathan, who performed well as a second-year pro in 2013. The one huge question, however, is what the Broncos plan on doing at middle linebacker. There's a massive hole there, and it's so bad that fifth-round rookie Lamin Barrow will have a chance to beat out the other challengers, including Jamar Chaney, Nate Irving and L.J. Fort.

2014 Denver Broncos Schedule and Intangibles:
Freezing temperatures and thin air create a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why Denver had an NFL-best 77-18 home record from 1995 to 2005. The team tailed off after that, but has since reestablished its great homefield advantage. With Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos are 16-3 as hosts, including the playoffs.

After a rocky rookie campaign, Matt Prater has been great the past five years, nailing 116-of-136 field goals, including 16-of-21 from 50-plus. More importantly, he's very clutch. He connectedon multiple game-winners in 2011. The most-impressive thing of note is that Prater drilled an NFL-record 64-yard field goal this past December.

Punter Britton Colquitt was outstanding in 2012, maintaining a 42.1 net average, ranking third in the league. However, he dropped to 24th in 2013 with a 38.8 average.

Trindon Holliday scored on two special-teams touchdowns, but he fumbled 11 times. The Broncos didn't tender him as a consequence, so they'll have to find someone new to return kickoffs. They'll also need to defend returns better, as the opposition maintained superior averages.

As mentioned, the Broncos have a brutal schedule. They have to battle the entire NFC West, as well as the Chargers twice. Also on the schedule: Patriots, Colts and Bengals. They'll have easy games against the Jets, Dolphins, Bills and Raiders (twice).

2014 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.

2014 Denver Broncos Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):

Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2014 Denver Broncos Analysis: The Broncos are all in for 2014. Their window won't be open much longer, but they have a huge opportunity this year. Given the upgrades on defense, and the fact that the AFC is still a weak conference, it'll be surprising if the Broncos don't make it back to the AFC Championship at the very least.

Projection: 13-3 (1st in AFC West)

2014 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2014 NFL Season Previews

Follow @walterfootball for updates.



NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Broncos aren't worried about the future. They're all in for a potential championship this year. Thus, look for them to draft prospects who were productive in college and could contribute immediately.

2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Whereas the Patriots did everything in their power to sabotage their chances for this year, the Broncos took additional steps to ensure a Super Bowl victory. They began with taking Bradley Roby, a talented corner who thrived in 2012, but struggled this past season because he was concerned with getting hurt. Roby has character issues, but Denver won't have to worry about any long-term ramifications, given its goals.

Some other solid choices included Lamin Barrow, a potential starting linebacker, and Cody Latimer, who will replace Eric Decker. Latimer was a steal at the end of the second round. I only question one selection Denver made. I wasn't a fan of Michael Schofield going as early as he did, but he should still provide adequate depth on the offensive line.

The Broncos did a great job of accomplishing its goal and drafting quality players. They deserve one of the highest grades.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

31. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: A- Grade
You know what's great about Denver's win-now philosophy? They won't care very much if Bradley Roby gets into trouble down the road. The Broncos had to find players who could help them win right now, given Peyton Manning's career status, and Roby should help them do that. Roby had a brutal 2013 campaign, but he was stellar in 2012. Had he declared last year, he would've been a top-10 pick. Denver can coach him up and have him perform up to his ability.

56. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: A- Grade
Peyton Manning gets another receiver. Well, he needs one, considering Eric Decker left for the Jets and Wes Welker isn't going to be around much longer. Cody Latimer is physically impressive, and he provides great value at this selection, given that some projected him to sneak into the first round.

95. Michael Schofield, OT, Michigan: C Grade
Michael Schofield probably should have gone a couple of rounds later, but the Broncos are getting a tough lineman who should provide solid depth in the wake of Zane Beadles heading to Jacksonville. The Broncos are moving Orlando Franklin to guard, so they had to find someone to play behind Chris Clark.

156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU: B Grade
The Broncos really wanted C.J. Mosley, but he didn't make it to their first-round pick. Better late than never for a linebacker, I guess. Lamin Barrow was viewed as a fifth-round prospect, so this is a logical selection.

207. Matthew Paradis, C, Boise State: B Grade
A center is a need - especially after what happened in the Super Bowl - and Matthew Paradis fits the range, so this selection makes sense.

242. Corey Nelson, OLB, Oklahoma: C Grade
More linebacking depth makes sense, but the Broncos probably could have chosen a superior prospect.

Season Summary:
Peyton Manning put together the best statistical season of any quarterback in NFL history. More importantly, he came through in the clutch and was able to lead his team to the Super Bowl.

Offseason Moves:
  • Colts sign S Mike Adams
  • Saints sign CB Champ Bailey
  • Giants sign DE Robert Ayers
  • Broncos sign C Will Montgomery
  • Broncos re-sign OT Winston Justice
  • Titans sign DE Shaun Phillips
  • Dolphins sign RB Knowshon Moreno
  • Giants sign CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
  • Broncos sign WR Emmanuel Sanders
  • Titans sign OLB Wesley Woodyard
  • Jets sign WR Eric Decker
  • Broncos sign DE DeMarcus Ware
  • Cowboys sign DE Jeremy Mincey
  • Broncos sign CB Aqib Talib
  • Broncos sign S T.J. Ward
  • Jaguars sign G Zane Beadles
  • Broncos re-sign WR Andre Caldwell
  • Broncos announce retirement of G Chris Kuper
  • Broncos tender CB Chris Harris
  • Broncos tender DT Mitch Unrein
  • Broncos tender CB Tony Carter
  • Broncos cut CB Champ Bailey

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Cornerbacks: The Broncos have some major problems at cornerback. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be a free agent come March. Champ Bailey is no longer the same player at the age of 36. Chris Harris tore his ACL in the playoffs. Quentin Jammer can't cover anyone anymore. Denver will need two new cornerbacks if it can't retain Rodgers-Cromartie. Signed Aqib Talib

    2. Inside Linebacker: You know a team has issues at linebacker when it has to use Paris Lenon. Wesley Woodyard was asked to play middle linebacker this year, but he struggled mightily. His contract expires in March anyway, so one of Denver's top two draft picks should be used on an upgrade.

    3. Safety: Rahim Moore bounced back after costing Denver its playoff chances last year, but the other safety position needs to be addressed. Mike Adams will be an impending free agent, while Duke Ihenacho is sub par at best. Signed T.J. Ward

    4. Defensive End: Shaun Phillips, 33 in May, surprised many by playing extremely well after struggling in San Diego the previous season. Unfortunately, his contract expires in March. Signed DeMarcus Ware

    5. Wide Receiver: Eric Decker is set to become a free agent. Considering the resources the Broncos have dedicated to their receivers and tight ends, they won't be able to keep Decker. If that happens to be the case, they may spend an early pick on a wideout. Signed Emmanuel Sanders; re-signed Andre Caldwell

    6. Left Guard: Zane Beadles was the weak link up front for the Broncos this season, as he struggled to pass protect. He'll be a free agent anyway. Signed Will Montgomery

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2014 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. DeMarcus Ware, DE, Cowboys. Age: 32.
      Signed with Broncos (3 years, $30 million; $20 million guaranteed)

      DeMarcus Ware, when healthy, is arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL. He'll turn 32 in July and happens to be coming off a six-sack campaign, but he was banged up last season. He still has the potential to have several Pro Bowl-caliber seasons if he can remain injury-free.

    2. T.J. Ward, S, Browns. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos

      Known for knocking out Rob Gronkowski for the year with a torn ACL and MCL, T.J. Ward is a top safety. He thrives in run support and doesn't have any weaknesses. He won't be 28 until December.

    3. Aqib Talib, CB, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Signed with Broncos (6 years, $57 million)

      Aqib Talib is awesome when he's on, but he can have meltdowns when he's struggling, which is what happened against the Panthers in a Monday night loss. He's a legitimate No. 1 corner though, provided he stays out of trouble.

    4. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Broncos

      The Steelers could've turned Emmanuel Sanders into a third-round pick last offseason. They're probably regretting not pulling the trigger. Sanders is a sub-par No. 2 wideout.

    5. Will Montgomery, C/G, Redskins. Age: 31.
      Signed with Broncos (1 year, $1.3 million)

      Will Montgomery is decent at opening running lanes and has some versatility because he can also play guard. However, he's on the wrong side of 30 and was whistled for a ridiculous 11 penalties in 2013.

    Denver Broncos Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Chris Harris (RFA), CB, Broncos. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Broncos (2nd round)

      Chris Harris entered the 2013 season as the team's nickel, but he officially entered the starting lineup halfway through and never looked back. He put together a great third year in the NFL.

    2. Wesley Woodyard, OLB, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Signed with Titans (4 years, $16 million)

      Wesley Woodyard was a quality linebacker for the few seasons before 2013, but struggled this past year because of a stinger he suffered in early October. He was ultimately benched, but he should rebound as long as he can play the weak side again.

    3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Signed with Giants (5 years)

      "DRC" stands for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but it could just as easily mean "Doesn't Really Care." The former Cardinal and Eagle had a stellar 2013 campaign, but he plays hard only when he feels like it. He can't be counted on to give maximum effort, though he's a stud when he actually does.

    4. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Dolphins (1 year)

      The Montee Ball draft pick seemed to light a fire under Knowshon Moreno, who is coming off a career year. There's definitely concern, however, that he didn't start giving maximum effort until his contract season. Also, don't forget how injury-prone he's been before 2013. Caveat emptor.

    5. Eric Decker, WR, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jets

      For those who say Eric Decker is just a product of Peyton Manning, Decker can just point to the eight touchdowns he caught with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Decker does have an issue with drops sometimes, however.

    6. Shaun Phillips, DE, Broncos. Age: 33.
      Signed with Titans (2 years, $6 million)

      So much for being done. Shaun Phillips came off a disappointing season and logged 10 sacks for the Broncos. Unfortunately, he'll turn 33 in May.

    7. Mike Adams, S, Broncos. Age: 33.
      Signed with Colts

      Mike Adams has been an average starting safety over the years, but his play could decline soon, given that he'll be 33 in March.

    8. Champ Bailey, CB/S, Broncos. Age: 36.
      Signed with Saints (2 years)

      Champ Bailey had a great 2012 regular season, but was torched in a playoff loss to Baltimore. He was even worse throughout the 2013 campaign, though nagging foot injuries are to blame. Bailey almost certainly won't be great ever again, but he could perhaps rebound and be solid, especially if he's moved to safety, much like Charles Woodson was.

    9. Zane Beadles, G, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jaguars (5 years, $30 million)

      Zane Beadles has played well in the past, but he struggled this previous season, especially in terms of pass protection.

    10. Robert Ayers, DE, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Signed with Giants (2 years)

      Robert Ayers is an inconsistent pass-rusher, but he also happens to be a strong run defender.

    11. Tony Carter (RFA), CB, Broncos. Age: 28.
      Tendered by Broncos

      Tony Carter is a solid nickel corner, but he missed a chunk of the 2013 season with an ankle injury.

    12. Jeremy Mincey, DE, Broncos. Age: 30.
      Signed with Cowboys (2 years)

      Jeremy Mincey recorded eight sacks in 2011, but hasn't done much since, registering just five combined sacks the past two seasons. Mincey didn't fit Gus Bradley's defense, so he was released this past year. He flashed some potential with Denver down the stretch, but he was just a rotational end.

    13. Mitch Unrein (RFA), DT, Broncos. Age: 27. -- Tendered by Broncos
    14. Chris Kuper, G, Broncos. Age: 31. -- Announced retirement
    15. Winston Justice, OT, Broncos. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Broncos
    16. Andre Caldwell, WR, Broncos. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Broncos (2 years)
    17. Quentin Jammer, CB, Broncos. Age: 35.
    18. Stewart Bradley, ILB, Broncos. Age: 30.
    19. Dan Koppen, C, Broncos. Age: 34.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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