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2014 Team Report: Denver Broncos

Quarterbacks

Starter: Peyton Manning
Backup(s): Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Bryn Renner

Starting QB: Peyton Manning had a season for the ages in 2013. Operating under first-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Manning put up career-best numbers. His 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards were both single-season records in NFL history. Entering 2014, Manning is ready for an encore performance. The offense lost wide receiver Eric Decker in free agency, but they replaced him with speedy veteran Emmanuel Sanders. This speed will give the team an asset they didn’t have last year in Decker. Manning should appreciate the downfield threat, and Sanders’ ability to create consistent separation could make him a favorite target. Manning is showing no signs of slowing down, but his record numbers could be difficult to duplicate. He should still throw for over 45 touchdowns and 5,000 yards this year, but know the Broncos are going to strive for a bit more balance offensively. These numbers are still astronomical and would once again make Manning a candidate to finish as the best fantasy quarterback in the league.

Backup QB: The Broncos are preparing Brock Osweiler as their quarterback of the future. He’s yet to play any meaningful snaps during the regular season since the Broncos selected him with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. The reason why? Peyton Manning has been spectacular as a starter, and he’s stayed healthy. Osweiler will continue to develop, and he’ll have to wait his turn in Denver. He’s tall (6’7”), has a rocket arm, and has enough athleticism to keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. In fact, if (a big IF) Osweiler hits his full potential he could play a lot like Ben Roethlisberger. He’s worth monitoring in dynasty leagues because of his skill set and the weapons that would be around him in that high-powered offense. The Broncos added Zac Dysert in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft with the hopes of him developing as a pro. Dysert was largely unimpressive during the limited preseason and training camp snaps he had as a rookie. He has a strong arm and the athleticism to be dangerous as a runner. However, Dysert has almost zero consistency as a passer. On one throw he’ll thread the needle between two defenders 20 yards downfield. On the next throw, Dysert will throw it into the dirt on a 5-yard out route. To push Dysert for the third-string job, the Broncos added Bryn Renner as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Renner is a strong-armed pocket passer with enough athleticism to “climb the ladder” in order to avoid pressure. He’s a smart player who was impressive at the team’s rookie minicamp. We’ll see if Renner can push Dysert off the roster in training camp.

Running Backs

Starter: Montee Ball
Backup(s): C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Jerodis Williams, Kapri Bibbs, Brennan Clay, Juwan Thompson
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: It’s not official, but everyone under the sun expects Montee Ball to be the Broncos’ starter in 2014. The second-year pro was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft with an expectation that one day he would be the lead back. Ball struggled as a rookie during the first half of the season. He failed to impress as a runner, often being too impatient to allow blocks to fully develop. Ball also struggled to hang onto the rock, and he worked as a rotational player behind Knowshon Moreno. However, as the season wore on Ball improved as a runner, receiver and pass-protector. Over the final six weeks of 2013, only Jamaal Charles (6.6) averaged more yards per carry than Ball (6.5, 52-337). Ball also led the NFL in percentage of rushes for first downs (40.4 percent) and carries of 10 or more yards (21.2 percent) during final six weeks of 2013. These numbers could easily be a sign of things to come from Ball in 2014. With Moreno moving on to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, the team will turn to Ball as the lead back. They may supplement a few carries here and there with other backs, but for the most part it’s Ball’s time in Denver. He’s capable of being a top-10 fantasy RB because of his opportunity and nose for the end zone. It’s not outlandish to consider Ball a late first-round pick in standard fantasy drafts.

Backup RBs: Behind Ball we should see C.J. Anderson as the primary backup. He’s the Broncos only true power back, and he runs swiftly between the tackles. Anderson has a quick initial burst, and he has the leg drive to break through arm tackles with ease. He’s mainly a between-the-tackles runner, but Anderson has enough speed to get to the edge once he’s at the second level of the defense. His size and leg drive also makes him a force on short-yardage situations and near the goal line. Anderson was undrafted last year, but he has the skill set to be an effective spot starter if called upon. Ronnie Hillman’s career has been a disappointment so far. He’s in a make-or-break season in 2014. Hillman’s arguably the fastest player on the Broncos roster, and that makes him a unique player in the backfield. However, fumbling problems put him in the doghouse last year. Hillman spent all of last offseason as the team’s top running back. Then, fumbling problems in the preseason opened the door for Moreno to be the starter. Hillman then played a backup role behind Moreno until fumbling again (near the goal line) in Week 7 against the Colts. After that fumble, Hillman was inactive for all but three games for the rest of the season—including all of the Broncos’ postseason run. Hillman did not show resilience when inactive, instead he failed to work hard enough to beat out Anderson for that active role. This was attributed to maturity issues, but the time for excuses is done. If Hillman doesn’t start playing up to his potential, he could find himself out of a job. Kapri Bibbs was one of three undrafted free agent running backs the Broncos added this year. He’s an efficient runner who wastes little motion when carrying the rock. He scored 31 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,700 yards during his lone season at Colorado State. Bibbs is not the biggest or fastest back, and he will have to prove himself in pass-protection before he makes the final roster. The team added a big-play back when they acquired Brennan Clay as a priority free agent out of Oklahoma. Clay doesn’t have the size to be a full-time back, but he could be everything Hillman hasn’t been as a pro. At the team’s rookie minicamp, Clay was the most impressive back because of his quickness, foot frequency and receiving ability. He has a real chance to make the team. Juwan Thompson is a running back/fullback ‘tweener who reminds some in the scouting community of former Falcons RB Jason Snelling. He’s a big back who can grind down an opponent between the tackles. Thompson is a fine receiver out of the backfield, but he

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Cody Latimer, Andre Caldwell, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Greg Hardin, Nathan Palmer, Greg Wilson

Starting WRs: Demaryius Thomas is simply one of the best wide receivers in the game today. He’s not quite Calvin Johnson (who is?), but Thomas is at worst a top-5 receiver in the NFL. Thomas has worked hard to become the best pro he can be since Peyton Manning was added to the roster in 2012. His size/speed combination makes him a somewhat unique talent. Thomas can run “9” routes all day and haul in deep passes over his shoulder. However, he can also run quick slants and drag routes across the middle with great effectiveness. Once the ball is in his hands, Thomas can make defenders miss with his agility then turn on the jets to make big plays. He will win in the red zone with jump balls that are placed “above the rim.” Thomas has no problem moving smaller defenders out of the way with his body, and his wingspan is a great asset when going up to get the football. Quite frankly, he’s the perfect wide receiver for today’s NFL. Last season, Thomas finished the year with 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns. So long as Manning is under center, Thomas should continue putting up these astronomical numbers. Wes Welker’s first season with the Broncos was a fantastic one. He began the season by scoring at least one touchdown in the first six weeks of the year. Welker’s 10 touchdowns in 2013 were a career-high even though he missed three games due to concussions. Injuries are the only things that could hold Welker back from attaining similar (or better) numbers in 2014. He’s still lightning-quick, and his ability to get open consistently underneath makes him a favorite target when the chains need to be moved. Welker suffered a concussion in the Week 3 preseason game against the Houston Texans. There's a chance he could miss multiple games due to concussion problems in 2014. The Broncos lost Eric Decker to the New York Jets in free agency, but they replaced him (and possibly upgraded) with Emmanuel Sanders. The move to add Sanders was a bold one. His speed and ability to create separation are what could help him put up numbers similar to what Decker did in this offense. Sanders is not the red-zone threat that Decker was, and he only has 11 career receiving touchdowns (Decker had 11 in 2013). He gets to abandon the boring and predictable offense of Todd Haley (Pittsburgh Steelers) for the high-powered attack ran by Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. It’s not out of the question to think that Sanders could haul in double-digit touchdowns this season.

Backup WRs: The Broncos got a steal in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft when they moved up to select Cody Latimer (Indiana). The rookie has an intriguing size/speed combination and has the makings of a future star in the NFL. Latimer is big, measuring in at 6’2” 215 pounds. He uses that size to his advantage as a route-runner and as a blocker. Latimer can beat press coverage against smaller corners by merely tossing them out of the way. He can then win at the point of the catch with his vertical leap and wingspan. He stands out as a blocker on the edge, and Latimer will be an asset to the ground game. Latimer needs to clean up his route-running as too often he’ll round out his cuts, but he’s only been playing organized football for five years. He is still developing his skill set and has tremendous upside. Latimer is coming back from offseason foot surgery, but even during his recovery he ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash at Indiana’s pro day. He’s a straight-line athlete who can take the top off the defense. His ability to get open deep and dominance in the red zone could help him contribute as a rookie. With Wes Welker in the final year of his contract, Latimer could be in for a starting role in 2015. He’s a star on the rise that all fantasy owners need to watch. Andre “Bubba” Caldwell is the next receiver on the depth chart. The Broncos let a majority of their free agents go this offseason (Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno, etc.), but they chose to bring Caldwell back. He knows the system and he gives them quality veteran depth, but Caldwell has limited fantasy upside unless a player above him on the depth chart gets hurt. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse could end up making the final roster. He was ultra-productive for Fresno State last year, catching 100 passes in 2013. Burse has the speed and quickness to develop into a fine slot receiver. What could win him a job on the final roster is his ability as a return man. Burse has the lateral agility to consistently make defenders miss in the open field. Bennie Fowler is another undrafted free agent from 2014 to monitor. He plays with great strength and can win at the point of the catch. Fowler can make difficult catches seem routine, and that was a hallmark of his college game. However, Fowler will drop too many easy catches as he thinks about running after the catch before securing the football. With an impressive camp, Fowler could wind up on the practice squad.

Tight Ends

Starters: Julius Thomas
Backups: Virgil Green, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Gerell Robinson, Jameson Konz, Cameron Morrah

Julius Thomas had a breakout season in 2013. The former basketball star from Portland State finally stayed healthy after he missed almost all of his first two seasons due to an ankle injury (and ankle surgery). Thomas immediately stood out as a fantasy force to be reckoned with last year. In Week 1 against the Ravens, Thomas burst onto the scene with five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. His season didn’t slow down much after that. He uses his basketball skill set to “box out” smaller defenders, and this helps make him a favorite target of Peyton Manning. Thomas creates mismatches every time he’s on the field. He’s too fast for linebackers to cover, and he’s too big for safeties to contend with. Simply put, Thomas is a threat and he could be a top-5 fantasy tight end in 2014. Behind Thomas we’ll see Virgil Green as the primary blocking tight end. He came into the league in 2011 mostly known as Colin Kaepernick’s favorite receiver at Nevada. Green has worked diligently to improve his blocking, and now he’s a fine all-around tight end. His fantasy value is held down by his role in the offense as mostly a blocker. Jacob Tamme should make the final roster this year even though he has a $3.5 million cap number in 2014. He has long-established chemistry with Manning dating back to their playing days together with the Indianapolis Colts. Tamme is not the same player he used to be, but he’s a plus-player on special teams and that alone should keep him around this season. While Tamme may be safe, Joel Dreessen could find himself cut before the start of the regular season. Knee injuries forced him to the bench for most of last season. Dreessen also counts over $3 million against the salary cap this year with only $665,000 in dead money. His roster spot is certainly in danger. The Broncos converted Gerell Robinson from a wide receiver to a tight end last year. He’s an athletic player with the size/speed combination to be an interesting sleeper at his new position. If Robinson impresses during camp, his emergence could be what pushes Dreessen off the roster. Fantasy owners in super deep dynasty leagues should monitor Robinson’s progress closely.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater, Brandon McManus, Mitch Ewald: Kicker Matt Prater comes off one of his best years, having made 25 of 26 (96.2%) field goals, including 6 of 7 from 50+ yards, and adding a record 75 extra points. Prater will miss the first four games this year, due to an alcohol-related suspension. Heading into 2014, the Broncos again have Aaron Brewer as their long snapper and Britton Colquitt as their punter/holder. After dropping to 26th in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010 and 28th in 2011, the Broncos jumped back into the top ten ranking 6th in 2012 and 3rd in 2013.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Andre Caldwell, Omar Bolden, Isaiah Burse, Emmanuel Sanders

The Broncos roster has remained fairly consistent with last season when it comes to the return game, and especially so for kickoffs. Receiver Andre Caldwell and cornerback Omar Bolden are likely to split most of the returns. Emmanuel Sanders remains an option though is less likely to be used due to his role on offense. Isaiah Burse remains on the roster after being briefly waived last season and provides additional depth.

Punt Returners: Isaiah Burse, Omar Bolden, Emmanuel Sanders

Wes Welker is the lone name from the 2014 returner group who is not back for the new season. This should leave punt returns in the hands of Burse, but creates an opening for his backup. Emmanuel Sanders could be called on for this, and had one punt return last season.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Ryan Clady, LG Orlando Franklin, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Chris Clark
Key Backups: T Michael Schofield [R], C Will Montgomery, T Vinson Painter, T Winston Justice, C Matt Paradis, G/T Ryan Miller, T Ramon Harewood

Getting Ryan Clady back from injury should be huge for the Broncos offensive line. Having missed most of 2013 with a Lis Franc injury, Clady appears to be on track to start the season at 100% health, and reclaim his title as the best lineman on the Broncos. Next to Clady will be Orlando Franklin, shifting over from right tackle to replace Zane Beadles, who departed for Jacksonville in free agency. While a good tackle, Franklin could be excellent on the inside, as he is known as a dominator at the point of attack. Taking Franklin’s right tackle position should be Chris Clark. Clark stepped in admirably for Clady throughout last year’s campaign and should be a strong contributor as a right tackle starter. Clark will face competition from Michael Schofield, the team’s third round pick out of Michigan. Schofield is a natural right tackle and should be the first player off the bench. The left guard position is manned by Louis Vasquez, coming off his first All-Pro honors. Vasquez has made a name for himself as one of the best interior linemen in the league and the Broncos believe they can rely upon that high level of play going forward. It’s not all sunshine and roses however as the center position is still manned by Manny Ramirez Many will remember Ramirez in the Super Bowl, snapping the first play from scrimmage over the head of Peyton Manning. While he actually is a decent player most of the time, Ramirez is not a natural center and that fact was made apparent at the worst possible time for the Broncos. The team seems to be aware they have a problem, as they have signed solid veteran backup Will Montgomery and drafted Matt Paradis out of Boise State in the sixth round. Montgomery could beat Ramirez out this season, but even if he doesn’t it’s a positive development that the team has options. In terms of other depth, Winston Justice continues to linger on the roster and could be one of the tackle backups. He will have to battle it out with Vinson Painter, who the team is reportedly favoring for a backup position. Ryan Miller is an interesting possibility as a backup guard. Ramon Harewood is a relatively well known player but seems to be a longshot to make this roster. Despite the uncertainty at center, overall this line is among the league’s better units, and as Clady plays his way back into the lineup, they have the potential to crack the top five of the offensive line rankings.

Team Defense

The Broncos have taken the "Dream Team" approach on defense, adding a variety of players to the unit. Demarcus Ware comes from Dallas to shore up the pass rush opposite Von Miller. Aqib Talib comes in from New England to be the number one corner, a position the Broncos desperately needed. T.J Ward comes in from Cleveland to provide the last line of defense against the run at safety. The Broncos hope second year player Sylvester Williams can improve and offer some upside in the middle of the defensive line. Danny Trevathan already made a huge leap last year, and should anchor the linebacking corps. The biggest question mark may be whether Miller can fully recover from his ACL injury before the start of the season, and what kind of shape he'll be in. There is talent all over this defense, young and old. If Jack Del Rio can mesh the talent into a cohesive unit, they could be a great complement to an already incredible offense.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Terrance Knighton, DT Sylvester Williams, DE DeMarcus Ware, DE Derek Wolfe,
Backups: DT Kevin Vickerson, DE Malik Jackson

Starting DL: DeMarcus Ware was one of many huge additions to this defense from Dallas. Ware was arguably the best pass rusher in the league from 2006-2012 with 103 sacks over 7 years. He showed signs of decline in 2013 as he battled injuries and tallied a career low 6 sacks in 13 games. Opposite Ware will be 3rd year player Derek Wolfe. Wolfe has racked up 10 sacks in 26 starts in his career, but also struggled with injuries in 2013. Terrance Knighton will man the middle with second year player Sylverster Williams. Knighton was one of the few Broncos defenders to start 16 games last year. Knighton has been a reliable tackle for 5 years, missing only 3 games because of injury. Williams is a 313 pound tackle out of North Carolina. He showed progress through the year as a rookie and the Broncos are hoping that development continues in 2014. Williams has the highest upside of all the Broncos tackles.

Backup DL: Kevin Vickerson is entering his ninth year in the league and his 5th in Denver. He'll likely give way to Williams as a starter but he'll still be heavily involved in the rotation. Vickerson is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher but he provides good depth. Malik Jackson was a bit of surprise in 2013 with 6 sacks and 30 solo tackles. The third-year end will be used to spell Ware and Wolfe on the end.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Von Miller, OLB Danny Trevathan, MLB Nate Irving
Backups: MLB Lamin Barrow (R), OLB Steven Johnson

Starting LBs: Miller saw what looked like a surefire Hall of Fame career derailed (if only temporarily) in 2013. He missed the first 6 games due to a suspension and then tore his ACL late in the year. The team is hopeful that he'll be back in time for week 1 but it remains to be seen if that's just hope and what kind of shape Miller will show up in. On the opposite side Trevathan was a huge bright spot for a Broncos defense needing one. In his second year he totaled 129 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 10 passes defensed. The middle linebacker position could be a rotating door this season but Nate Irving figure to get the first crack at it. Irving has been a slight disappointment in first three years in the league and still only has 4 starts to his name.

Backup LBs: Lamin Barrow was a 5th round pick out of LSU that could be the team's middle linebacker in the nickel. There are questions if Barrow is big enough to play linebacker in the NFL but he isn't fast enough to play anywhere else. Steven Johnson has played sparingly in his first two years in the league but the Broncos may need him to step up if Miller isn't ready for the start of the year. He's ideally a weakside linebacker but the Broncos don't really have an ideal fill-in in case Miller isn't ready.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Aqib Talib, CB Bradley Roby (R), SS T.J. Ward, FS Rahim Moore
Backups: CB Chris Harris, S Duke Ihenacho

Starting DBs: Rahim Moore is the only likely returning starter for a completely revamped Broncos secondary. Moore enters his 4th year in the league as an adequate backstop for the defense and should be helped by the arrival of Ward and Talib. Ward is a thumper that's outstanding in run support but also underrated against the pass. He had 112 tackles in Cleveland last year and should draw the task of covering the other team's tight end. Aqib Talib has the skills to be one of the best corners in the league, and he's shown that several times throughout his career. He also has a history of the off the field issues and a troubling injury history. Chris Harris is recovering from an ACL injury suffered at the end of last season. Before the injury he was developing into a fine young corner and has 6 picks in the last 2 years. It was doubtful that Harris could be 100% by week 1, but he's made an incredibly fast recovery thus far.

Backup DBs: Bradley Roby was taken in the first round by the Broncos to shore up the other side of the secondary. Roby would probably be best suited as a nickel corner as a rookie but may need to start if Chris Harris isn't ready for week 1. Roby has decent size and good speed. Ihenacho started 14 games last year and racked up 56 tackles. He has a lot of development to do in coverage if he wants to be a starter again in the future.

Last modified: 2015-05-03 21:23:27