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2007 Season Previews
Denver Broncos (Last Year: 9-7)
Veteran Additions:
QB Patrick Ramsey, RB Travis Henry, FB Paul Smith, WR Brandon Stokley, TE Daniel Graham, G Montrae Holland, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DT Sam Adams, OLB Warrick Holdman, OLB D.D. Lewis, CB Dre Bly, P Todd Sauerbrun.
Draft Picks:
OT Ryan Harris, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Tim Crowder, DT Marcus Thomas.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jake Plummer (TB), RB Tatum Bell (DET), FB Damien Nash, OT George Foster (DET), G Cooper Carlisle (OAK), DE Patrick Chukwurah (TB), DE Courtney Brown, DT Mike Myers (CIN), LB Keith Burns, MLB Al Wilson, CB Darrent Williams.

Offense This Year: I don't have the greatest memory ever, but something I do recall is that ESPN posted a graphic following Jay Cutler's first NFL start (a 23-20 home loss to Seattle). ESPN compared Cutler's numbers from that game to Jake Plummer's statistics from the rest of the 2006 season. I think it was Trey Wingo who said something like, "Not much of a difference between the two quarterbacks." Yeah, except Plummer was an 10-year veteran, while Cutler was playing the first 60 minutes of his professional career. Cutler improved each succeeding game, beating Cincinnati in Week 16 with two touchdowns and compiling 230 yards on 21-of-32 passing against San Francisco in Week 17. Cutler finished with a higher completion percentage (59.1 to 55.2) and quarterback rating (88.5 to 68.8), and a lower interception rate (3.6 to 4.1) than Plummer. Not bad for a rookie.

I'm expecting huge things from Cutler in his second campaign. Not only does he have a year of experience under his belt, he will continue to be surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast. The left side of the offensive line, comprised of Matt Lepsis, Ben Hamilton and Tom Nalen, has been responsible for producing 1,000-yard backs for what seems like a billion consecutive seasons. Adam Meadows and rookie Ryan Harris will compete at the right tackle slot, while Montrae Holland was brought in from New Orleans to replace Cooper Carlisle at right guard.

Mike Shanahan was frustrated with Tatum Bell's fumbling habits, so one of his prized acquisitions this offseason was Travis Henry, who rumbled for 1,200 yards with the Titans. Imagine what he can do behind Denver's offensive front. Another great pick-up was tight end Daniel Graham, who will form a solid tandem at tight end with Tony Scheffler. The receiving corps is a bit of a concern, however. Javon Walker is a stud (69 catches, 1,084 yards, 8 TDs in 2006), but 37-year-old Rod Smith took a major step backward last season, registering 52 receptions, 512 yards and only three touchdowns. There's no one really behind those two wide outs. Brandon Marshall caught 20 passes, although he showed some promise toward the latter stages of his rookie campaign; David Kircus was recently arrested; while Brandon Stokley couldn't even do anything in Indianapolis' offense.

Defense This Year: Tragedy struck the Mile High community when cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed this winter. Williams, a young player who looked like a Pro Bowler in the making, had to be replaced, which is why Shanahan traded for Dre Bly. Bly isn't the greatest corner in the world, but he'll be asked to cover No. 2 receivers, unlike the task he was asked to perform in Detroit. Things are a lot easier when you're playing across from Champ Bailey, the best corner in the league by a wide margin. Bailey picked off 10 passes in 2006. Why quarterbacks continue to throw his direction is beyond me.

If you eliminate the defensive line, Denver might have maintained the premier stop unit in the NFL last season. Nick Ferguson and John Lynch effectively complimented Bailey and Williams in the secondary, which is why it was extremely difficult to throw against the Broncos. The linebackers were also outstanding; D.J. Williams, Al Wilson and Ian Gold were one of the top trios in the league. That said, Wilson was mysteriously released this offseason after failing to pass a physical. Wilson hasn't been signed by anyone, so there's clearly something terribly wrong with him. But Denver fans shouldn't worry; Shanahan obtained D.D. Lewis from Seattle, which will allow Williams to slide into the middle, where he's more naturally suited.

As I hinted, the defensive front was a mess last year. The Broncos just couldn't get to the quarterback; they had 35 sacks as a team, led by Elvis Dumervil (8.5), Ebenezer Ekuban (7) and Kenard Lang (6). All three players are back, but will be competing with promising rookies Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, both of whom were chosen in the first two rounds of the draft. Another rookie, Marcus Thomas, was picked in the fourth round. Thomas, who has first-round talent and off-the-field issues, has the ability to replace either Gerard Warren or Alvin McKinley at defensive tackle if Sam Adams and Jimmy Kennedy can't get the job done. It just depends on how hard Thomas wants to work.

As a whole, Denver's defense should be just as good, if not better than it was in 2006. All the additions Shanahan made to the defensive line certainly can't hurt.

Schedule and Intangibles: Freezing temperatures and thin air create a hostile environment for opponents, which explains why Denver has an NFL-best 74-22 home record since 1995, although the team was just 4-4 last season. ... At age 37, Jason Elam is still getting it done. He hit 27-of-29 field goals in 2006, including a 51-yarder. ... Punter Paul Ernster is one of the league's worst, which is why the Broncos traded for Todd Sauerbrun. ... Denver hasn't returned a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown since 2003. How is that possible? ... The team begins its schedule with Buffalo and Oakland, so Cutler has a chance to get settled in. Things get rocky, however, as battles against Jacksonville, Indianapolis and San Diego ensue the following the three weeks. The Broncos have one of the easiest slates I've ever seen after their Week 6 bye. They get Detroit, Tennessee, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Kansas City twice, Minnesota and Houston amid just two difficult contests (Chicago and San Diego).

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Kansas City Chiefs: The home team always wins. Well, almost always. The host has claimed 11 of the previous 12 contests. Even though Kansas City has taken a major step backward, expect another split.
Oakland Raiders: Mike Shanahan owns Al Davis. Maybe Davis shouldn't have fired Shanahan in 1989. The Broncos have won 15 of the past 19 meetings.
San Diego Chargers: The home team has won nine of the last 12 meetings, although San Diego claimed both last season, coming back from a 24-7 deficit at Mile High to win 35-27 amid a Jake Plummer implosion. I'm expecting a split now that Denver has upgraded the quarterback position.

Fantasy Football:
Jay Cutler: Cutler started five games and compiled 1,001 yards, nine yards and five picks. That translates to 3,203 yards, 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over the course of a 16-game schedule. That's not anything great, but keep in mind that Cutler was only a rookie in 2006. He threw for less than 200 yards in three contests. That'll happen less frequently this season.
Projected Stats: 3,500 passing yards. 25 passing TDs. 50 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 330.

Travis Henry: As I mentioned above, I'm expecting a lot out of Travis Henry this season. Henry, who registered 1,200 yards as a Titan in 2006, is a tough, physical runner who will thrive in Denver's zone-blocking system. A 1,600-yard campaign is definitely possible.
Projected Stats: 1,600 rushing yards. 175 receiving yards. 14 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 261.

Tony Scheffler: Sleeper. You could tell Jay Cutler and Scheffler developed a rapport last preseason. Scheffler caught just five passes with Jake Plummer at the helm. With Cutler? How about 12 receptions, 219 yards and four scores in just five contests? That translates to 700 yards and 12 touchdowns over a 16-game slate.
Projected Stats: 650 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 113.

Daniel Graham: Graham's a good player, but he's more a blocking tight end. His career highs include 409 yards (2003) and seven touchdowns (2004). He's changing systems, so you never know how that will effect his statistics.
Projected Stats: 325 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 50.

Javon Walker: Javon Walker started hot, but fizzled toward the latter stages of the 2006 season, coinciding with Jay Cutler replacing Jake Plummer under center. Cutler was only a rookie, so it's natural that Walker's stats declined. He'll bounce back in 2007, just as long as Cutler isn't a bust.
Projected Stats: 1,200 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 162.

Brandon Marshall: Like Tony Scheffler, Brandon Marshall played better with Jay Cutler at the helm. With Jake Plummer, Marshall caught only six passes. Paired with Cutler, Marshall had 14 receptions, 233 yards and a touchdown. Take him in the latter stages of your draft as a sleeper.
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 98.

Rod Smith: Prior to last year, Rod Smith notched at least 1,000 receiving yards eight times since 1996. He managed only 512 yards and three scores in 2006. At age 37, Smith's skills are quickly diminishing. This could be his final year if he struggles again.
Projected Stats: 400 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 52.

Brandon Stokley: Stay away. Stokley couldn't do anything with Peyton Manning last year.
Projected Stats: 125 receiving yards. 0 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 12.

Jason Elam: A solid kicker despite his age (37). He hit a 51-yarder last year.
Projected Stats: 24-28 FG (1-2 50+). 43 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 124.

Denver Defense: The Broncos don't get many sacks, but if you take them, you'll get plenty of interceptions and a few single-digit efforts. The unit held five teams to less than 10 points in 2007.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 12 Defense.

Analysis: For the past couple of years, the Broncos have been constricted by Jake Plummer's ineptness. That era has come to an end. Denver's success now rests on the shoulders of Jay Cutler. No one's really sure how good he'll be, but he can't be worse than Plummer, right?

Projection: 12-4 (Tied 1st in AFC West)


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