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2012 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Peyton Manning
Backup(s): Brock Osweiler [R], Caleb Hanie, Adam Weber

Starting QB: The Broncos won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, making possibly the biggest free-agent signing in NFL history. Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, so despite having played the previous 13 seasons without missing a single game, he must be considered an injury risk at this point. Manning had been a near lock for top-five fantasy quarterback status in Indianapolis (in 13 seasons, he was a top-five quarterback 11 times, No. 6 once, and No. 9 as a rookie). In Denver, not only is he trying to come back from injury, but he'll also be surrounded by different personnel in a different system. All the unknowns make him a riskier pick this year than he has been (prior to last season, of course). Nonetheless, if Manning can come back healthy, it is hard to imagine him not being a solid fantasy starter.

Backup QB: The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler in the second round of this year's draft. Osweiler has excellent size and arm strength, but his throwing mechanics are a work in progress. He is trying to adjust his throwing motion so that he keeps a higher release point. While Osweiler may be viewed as Peyton Manning's eventual successor, some initially believed that he may not be as NFL-ready as veteran backup Caleb Hanie. Hanie started four games for the Bears last season in place of an injured Jay Cutler and generally struggled through all four starts. He threw just three touchdowns against nine interceptions, and was held to under 140 passing yards in three out of four contests. Ultimately, Hanie's NFL game experience may not be enough of an advantage to hold off Osweiler, who appears to have an edge for the number two role at the close of training camp. Weber spent his rookie season on the Broncos' practice squad last year after signing as an undrafted free agent. He was a productive college quarterback at Minnesota, where current Bronco wide receiver Eric Decker was his leading receiver.

Running Backs

Starter: Willis McGahee
Backup(s): Ronnie Hillman [R], Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Mario Fannin, Jeremiah Johnson, Xavier Omon
Fullback(s): Chris Gronkowski, Austin Sylvester

Starting RB: Willis McGahee is coming off of a terrific 2011 outing in which he spearheaded a solid Bronco rushing attack, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. McGahee is a solid runner who is not afraid to run between the tackles, and he still has enough speed to break off long runs. He should play a similar role in the offense this year, although his age becomes a concern. He will turn 31 this season, and if he gets as many carries in 2012 as he did in 2011, will break the 2,000 career carry mark.

Backup RBs: The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round this season to replace Knowshon Moreno as McGahee's primary backup. Hillman has 4.45 speed and is a good receiver out of the backfield. He is a change-of-pace back who can also run between the tackles. Moreno is coming back from a torn ACL, and even before the injury he didn't show enough to be counted on. He will need to have a good training camp to make the team. He'll compete against Lance Ball and Mario Fannin for the No. 3 running back position. Ball had a few good games filling in for McGahee last season. Fannin tore an ACL in training camp last year as a rookie, but the Broncos like his potential.

Fullback: Chris Gronkowski is a decent fullback and the middle of three Gronkowski brothers. That's about as close to fantasy relevancy that you'll find here.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
Backups: Andre Caldwell, Jason Hill, Matthew Willis, Brandon Stokley, Greg Orton, D'Andre Goodwin, Mark Dell, Eric Page, Gerrell Robinson, Tyler Grisham

Starting WRs: Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are entering their third NFL seasons, and their fantasy prospects get an immediate boost with the switch from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning at quarterback. Thomas broke out in the second half of 2011. From Week 13 on, including two playoff appearances, Thomas averaged over 100 receiving yards per game in seven outings. Peyton Manning has been impressed with Eric Decker in offseason workouts and indicated that the team will move him around to try to get him the ball in different ways. Decker is the type of receiver Manning has been able to make productive, and the combination of Thomas and Decker could put up big numbers (with tons of receptions) in 2012.

Backup WRs: Andre Caldwell signed with the Broncos this offseason after spending his first three seasons with the Bengals. He was never very impressive in Cincinnati, but as a possession receiver out of the slot, he is the type of player that Peyton Manning can make productive. Jason Hill started 10 games for the Jaguars last season before he was released in November. He has big-play ability, but is inconsistent. Matt Willis caught only 18 passes last season as the Broncos' third wide receiver. If he can maintain his spot on the depth chart in the face of competition from Andre Caldwell and Jason Hill, he could be a fantasy sleeper this season. Brandon Stokley played with Manning in Indianapolis, where he had a 1,000-year season. Greg Orton was arguably the best receiver in the Arena league last season. D'Andre Goodwin lacks experience, but has speed and overall athleticism. Mark Dell missed his rookie season due to injury, but showed promise during training camp last year.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jacob Tamme
Backups: Joel Dreessen, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green, Cornelius Ingram, Anthony Miller

Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen were their respective teams' No. 2 tight ends in 2011, Tamme with Indianapolis and Dreessen with Houston. They will compete for the starting job in Denver, and will likely split time with one another. Tamme is a better receiver than Dreessen, and is the one with greater fantasy potential. He is on the upside of his career (having had his best season in 2010) and could be used in Denver the way that Dallas Clark was used in Indianapolis. Dreessen is a better blocker than Tamme, but is not as athletic. Second-year pros Julius Thomas and Virgil Green are coming off of quiet rookie seasons, but both are projects with decent long-term potential.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater : Heading into 2012, the Broncos still have Lonie Paxton as their long snapper and Britton Colquitt as their punter/holder. Matt Prater will presumably be the kicker. The team placed the franchise tag upon him; however as of press time he has yet to sign the tender. Although a certain cult-quarterback (who is no longer with the team) garnered all the media hype, Prater was a key component in the Broncos run last year with several clutch kicks. After what seemed like an eternity ranked in the top ten, the Broncos dropped to 26th in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010 and 28th in 2011.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cassius Vaughn, Andre Caldwell, Ronnie Hillman, Eric Page [R]

The kick returns will likely be handled by cornerback Cassius Vaughn who averaged an impressive 30 yards per return last season, and he is also expected to compete to return punts. Wide receiver Andre Caldwell should also be in the running.

Punt Returners: Cassius Vaughn, Andre Caldwell, Omar Bolden, Jason Hill, Eric Page [R]

Vaughn will likely get the nod here as well. A new name this year, however, is undrafted rookie Eric Page, who had five return touchdowns in three years at Toledo and is one of the few players on the roster with much experience returning punts. Page is quicker than fast and special teams may be his best opportunity to make the team.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ryan Clady, LG Zane Beadles, C J.D. Walton, RG Chris Kuper, RT Orlando Franklin
Key Backups: G Manny Ramirez, C Philip Blake, T Chris Clark, C\G C.J. Davis,

UPDATE: Starting guard Chris Kuper will miss the start of the season with a broken arm. Manny Ramirez has game experience and will step in while Kuper heals. If Kuper progresses on schedule, he should be back in the lineup around week 4 or 5 of the regular season. Slight downgrade to the line ranking, but hopefully only for a few weeks. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: The best news about Denver's offensive line is their cohesion; the Broncos are only one of three teams in the league to return all five starters at all five positions. Left tackle Ryan Clady is a two-time All-Pro selection but in 2011 suffered a noticeable drop in form that saw him allowing many sacks. He maintains his A-grade for now, but he will be downgraded should the slide prove to be more than just a one-year blip. Left guard Zane Beadles is a smart and tough converted left tackle from Utah who has been an immediately good starter. Center J.D. Walton is actually considered one of the league-worst starting centers and will face competition from fourth-round pick Phillip Blake from Baylor. Walton should survive this competition but only barely (watch this situation in preseason). Right guard Chris Kuper is one of those players that flies under radar but does a good job for the Broncos. He was actually named offensive co-captain in 2010. Right tackle Orlando Franklin started all 16 games as a rookie out of Miami last season and provided good performances all season. Line coach Dave Magazu is one of John Fox's assistants from Carolina, and this grizzled vet is known as a quality coach. The Broncos have some interesting depth as Chris Clark is a possible swing tackle, and two undrafted guards, Austin Wuebbels from Missouri and Wayne Tribue from Temple could battle for a backup guard position. Overall this line was constructed to excel at zone blocking, and the league saw that unfold with last year's Tim Tebow-led running offense. Under Peyton Manning they will be asked to do more pass blocking, but it can be argued this is a better line than Manning ever had with the Colts. Also, Manning's quick release and even quicker decision making tends to help the players in front of him.

Team Defense

The one-two punch of Elvis Dumervil at defensive end and rookie linebacker Von Miller made for a lot of havoc in opposing team's backfields. Adding Derek Wolfe in this year's draft will solidify the middle of the field more and help keep offenses honest. It's possible that Wolfe might swap to end, but either way, he's a beast who automatically upgrades the defensive line. The secondary is more of a question mark. Champ Bailey is still a very good cornerback, though time is catching up to him. Beyond that there are many question marks. It remains to be seen if rookie Omar Bolden will be able to break out from the pack or if second year corner Chris Harris is ready to step in. This is not a tough division, in many ways most of the teams are rebuilding again. The Broncos were able to play well once former quarterback Tim Tebow was under center, and at least some of that was due to the defense. The Broncos added a few more pieces and appear poised for a big season in 2012.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Ty Warren, DT Kevin Vickerson, DE Elvis Dumervil, DE Robert Ayers
Backups: DT Justin Bannan, DT Kevin Vickerson, DE Jason Hunter, DT Marcus Thomas, DT Ryan McBean, DT Derek Wolfe [R]

Starting DL: The loss of DT Brodrick Bunkley to the New Orleans Saints means the Broncos lack a quality 3-technique. Bunkley played exceptionally against the run last season and will be difficult to replace. ty Warren returns after a triceps injury and should slot in at the NT spot. Elvis Dumervil and former first round pick Robert Ayers will play base defensive downs, with Von Miller contributing in a pass rushing role on third down. Ayers produced six sacks and 30 tackles last season, and similar statistics are on the cards in 2012. Elvis Dumervil's 13 sacks in 2011 were par for the course for him; expect nothing less than a 12 sack floor this year, but be wary of a possible suspension stemming from his recent infraction.

Backup DL: Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson are expected to be rotational defensive linemen for John Fox's 4-3. Jason Hunter will continue to rotate in at defensive end as he did last season. Marcus Thomas and the suspended Ryan McBean should figure as well in the defensive tackle rotation, but not all of these players will make the final roster. Recent draftee Derek Wolfe will be a rotational player at best in his rookie season.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Von Miller, MLB Joe Mays, OLB D.J. Williams (suspended)
Backups: OLB Wesley Woodyard, MLB Nate Irving, OLB Cyril Obiozor

Starting LBs: Usual weakside linebacker starter D.J. Williams is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances. The knock-on effect is that Wesley Woodyard, who the Broncos re-signed this offseason, will slot in at WLB until Williams' return. Woodyard has been solid in spot duty for the team, his strength being in run defense. Von Miller, who had a phenomenal maiden campaign with 13 sacks, will play SLB. On passing downs, he will put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. The middle linebacker position is up for grabs between Joe Mays, the solid veteran, and Nate Irving, the second year player who had scant opportunity in 2011. Mays is the favourite entering training camp.

Backup LBs: Wesley Woodyard, if called upon, can do a decent job in relief until D.J. Williams returns from his suspension. Woodyard produced consistent tackle numbers last year, notching 67 solo tackles. Nate Irving may be considered strictly a back-up at this time by Denver's brass, as the signing of Joe Mays may indicate.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Champ Bailey, CB Tracy Porter, FS Mike Adams, SS Quinton Carter
Backups: S Rahim Moore, CB Drayton Florence, CB Chris Harris

Starting DBs: The inimitable Champ Bailey returns to the Denver defensive backfield for another season. Bailey played at a reasonably high level last season and will look to be a disruptive force as the defense figures to be playing from ahead often in 2012 after the Peyton Manning signing. Tracy Porter was signed on a one-year deal and he has a chance to start opposite Bailey, meaning plenty of opportunity in terms of tackles and interceptions or pass break-ups. Former Brown Mike Adams was signed to solidify the safety position with a veteran presence. The retirement of Brian Dawkins means that last year's fourth round pick Quinton Carter should start at SS. Adams is likely to get the starting nod at FS.

Backup DBs: Nickel cornerback Chris Harris played a lot of snaps last season (573) and was productive in that time. If called upon due to injury, Harris can be a productive CB in fantasy leagues, if for no other reason than he would be playing opposite Champ Bailey. Former second round pick Rahim Moore has a chance to be the starting FS for Denver if he can beat Mike Adams in camp.

Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:03:16

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