I wrote this up a while ago but never got around to publishing it. Alot has happened since I started it but this offseason has basically gone with accordance to my predictions in terms of everything said and done at Dove Valley so not alot really needed tweaking. This post will be my take on the current roster and what it's strengths and weaknesses are.
With the keeping of Xanders, McCoy, and many other coaches and scouts, my current impression is that the Broncos have no desire to completely restart from fresh. There will not be a giant overhaul of the roster (especially with the uncertainty of CBA) and there will not be a large scale construction team over at Dove Valley to rebuild the shattered pieces of this storied franchise. Contrary to popular belief, this team does have talent. Not as much as other teams but enough that a full scale rebuild will not be needed.
Things will change. Zone blocking is coming back and there will be a lot more emphasis on the running game. With Fox as coach and Allen as DC, I see a defense that relys on its d-line to put pressure on the qb and a secondary that will play a lot of man coverage. This team will look much different next time we see them take the field yet the roster will look a lot more familiar then most people expect. Lets take a look why:
In a perfect world (one with a CBA agreement) I've said that the Broncos need to trade Orton for a solid starter on defense. Whether we get a current player or a draft pick to choose that player, I don't care. If we can't trade him for a starter or a 3 round pick (no less) then keep him and let him and Tebow duke it out in training camp. If Orton wins fine, he can start. It won't hurt Tebow learning from the bench for one more year. As for Quinn, I could see him sticking with the Broncos. He makes a good backup and he still has starter potential. I'm sure Brady sitting on the bench learning for one year was just as benefitical for him as it was for Tebow.
Unforunately this is not a perfect world. I have absolutely no confidence the CBA will be signed before the draft which will make it impossible to trade Orton for a draft pick this year. I don't think we'll see a CBA signed till probably August. This means a large chunck of OTA's and team practises will not be held and Tebow will not be able to practise with the coaching staff and team which will greatly hinder his development. I'm sure he already knows the playbook by heart but like we saw in the last three weeks of the season, it takes much more then just knowing the playbook. You've got to be able to practice and perfect it. I'm sure Orton will be rusty as well along with everyone else but Orton is also a 7 year vet with 2 years of starter experience for the Broncos so'd I'd give advantage Orton.
I'm going to make a very unpopular prediction. Kyle Orton will be the starter Week 1.
Moreno when healthy, is solid. I really like him and see a good if not great future for him with the Broncos. Ball is a good backup but he runs very similiar to Moreno. Both will strive in a ZB system. LenDale White (the forgotten Bronco) is the power back we need but is coming off a ruptured Achilles and it's questionable on whether or not he'll ever be the same. I also believe he still has a 4 game suspension to serve. Buckhalter is one of the best screen RB's in the league but is useless in the running game. Larsen is a decent Fullback but like many other Broncos, injuries have plagued him recently. One thing missing from this is a change of pace speed guy in the form of Sproles. My guess is DeAngelo Williams will follow his coaches here but if not there are some good ones available later in the draft and FA. Moreno will be back and my gut tells me Larsen will as well. White will have to show me he hasn't missed a step since his injury if he is to be retained. Unless the active roster size is increased, both Bucky and Ball will probably be cut as casualities but i wouldn't be mad if either was retained.
An interesting idea just came to mind. What about moving White to FB. I don't know how good a blocker he is but he's got the size and strength to do it plus he'd be a very capable runner and weapon from that position as well.
If we go into the 2011 season with the exact same receiving core, I would not complain at all. This is the strength of our team. Lloyd was the best receiver in the league this year. Gaffney is a reliable old vet. Royal's got great speed and reliable hands, and both Thomas and Decker are very promising prospects. We've also got a ton of talent on practice roster. Originally I suggested trading Gaffney for a 4th or something. I'm sure McDaniels would love to have some reliable hands for his new young qb and the Rams would probably be willing to give a 4th and a player to get him. However with DT's recent torn achilles (something I didn't predict) and the uncertainty surrounding him, it be smart to keep a reliable pair of hands like Gaffney's.
As for DT, this injury really scares me. When we drafted him I wasn't high on it because he is very raw and needed time to develop. Since I thought the Broncos were looking for a receiver to replace Marshall I thought this was a poor poor pick. After realizing the Broncos did not draft him to replace Marshall (at least not right away) I was quite excited. He's an extremely talented kid who draws comparisons to Randy Moss with his size and speed. Just like our other 2010 1st round pick, he is a very raw talent who if coached up properly could be extremely good in the future. However this torn achilles is going to greatly hinder his development and he could lose alot of that burst that made him so promising. Still I'm not ready to give up on him yet.
When i originally wrote this (before DT's injury) WR was the smallest section lol.
I was going to say this is hands down the weakest part of the offense but in reality it's not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. This group can block, they just can't catch. Graham is still a good blocker but has tragically lost his hands and is no longer able to catch the ball. Richard Quinn's got potential but it doesn't look like he'll pull it together. Hopefully under Foxys guidance he'll be able to turn it around. Gronkowski showed some promise but when he is our best receiving option at TE, serious upgrades in the receiving department need to be made.
An interesting idea was recently brought to light. I'm not going to go into it much because I think we're still along ways away from even considering it but what about moving Bey Bey to TE. One of his biggest strengths out of college was his blocking ability and while he'd be an undersized TE. AT 6-3 230 lbs, that's still pretty big and he's definitely got the frame to put more pounds on. If he loses alot of his burst and speed because of his injury this might be our best option and it's a solid one at that. Shannon Sharpe 2.0.
The o-line is questionable. Everyone is estatic we are going back to zone blocking but they seem to forget McD spent the last two years trying to retool this line to a power blocking form. Clady and Kuper are studs and Walton showed promise. He's not your prototypical zone blocking lineman but as a center he showed enough ability to get up field that I'd definitely keep him. Harris is solid in ZB but is far too injury prone. I think unless we can't get a surefire upgrade, it be best to keep him for a couple years. Beadles i'm real iffy on because he is not a zone blocker. He showed enough to me that i'd be willing to give him one year at guard but I don't think he can play tackle as a zone blocker in the NFL. With all this being said, the Broncos have shown no sign of wanting to retain Harris so expect either a free agent acquistion or a 2nd or 3rd round pick used on a RT (which in my opinion would be a waste). The only other thing I have to say here is depth must be added this offseason. We cannot allow injuries to completely derail our running game like it did last year.
One thing to note is that Tebow is a lefty meaning that the right side is now the blind side. Personally I do not think Harris can be relied upon as a blind side tackle and Clady is far too valuable to be anything but. Yes I know the RT can get help from the TE but I thought we wanted our TE's to be receivers and not blockers in the passing game. I would suggest flipping Clady over to RT but we could end up looking for a really solid tackle to man the right side. People argue that Tebow being a lefty doesn't mean crap but i think that's wrong. If I'm DC going up against Tebow I'd attack his right side, especially seeing as Clady is on the left. A smart DC is going to gameplan towards the weaknesses of the offense, and the qb's blind side is always a major weakness.
Since we are now a 4-3 D, our defensive line is a bit better. Ayers will man one side and someone else will man the other side. Note I'm leaving out someone very important person and I'll get to him in a bit. The middle will most likely be manned by Bannan, Vickerson, J. Williams (if he doesn't retire) and one of our draft picks. M. Thomas will be kept for depth and Hunter will be moved to DE. Fields and McBean will not return, any objections, thought not. As you can see there is good depth here but it lacks one or two solid everydown starter(s) who can take over of a game and give production every play. However we do have one guy who is close to this and it now brings me too... DOOMS!
I've seen many people say that Dumervil should be traded. I don't completely disagree with this but I don't like it. When you have a guy who can get to the qb like Dooms, you have to find a way to use him no matter what. My suggestion, strip him of any actual position, put him on the field and tell him to hit the qb really hard before he releases the ball. Whether he's playing DE, OLB, S, or even WR (joking), he should have only one job and that is to hit the qb. We could also use him the same way the Raiders use Wimbley where he lines up as a SAM LB on running downs and as a DE on passing downs. I'd also like to state that I do like this idea of trading Dumervil for Mario Williams.
While the switch to a 4-3 D strengthened our D-line (somewhat), it really hurt our LB core. At the moment we have DJ Williams at Mike, Woodyard at WILL, and Haggan at SAM. Not the best combination in the league. Joe Mays is my new favoritest person but i'm iffy on him in a 4-3. I don't think he's big enough to play MIKE and he doesn't have the coverage skills to play SAM or WILL. I think the best spot for him would be MIKE and I'd be willing to give him a shot there. The linebacking core needs to be addressed this offseason but I do not think we should waste any draft picks on LB, especially not ILB (I wrote a recent post on the 2012 draft which explains why we should ignored ILB in the 2011 draft but I don't want to get into draft talk here). I would like to state that I am absolutely against trading DJ. He might have his faults but he is still by far our best LB.
I suggested this in the last paragraph but i'll bring it up here. Dooms could play SAM on running downs. I'm not high on this since it would force him to cover Gates, Moeaki, and Miller each twice a year but it's an option none the less.
First thing I would do if I was EFX would be to go to Champ Bailey and ask him, "How much do you want to stay a Bronco". If he replies badly, I'd work my butt off to keep him and offer him a contract. If he says no, I'd let him go and that be that. With all this being said, my gut tells me Bailey will not be a Bronco in 2011. I like Cox and each day it's looking like he won't be convicted or sent to jail. Cox will be a solid #2 for us down the road. Now we need to find a new #1. There are some decent CB's in the draft this year to choose from or we could dip into free agency to try and find him. If this can't be done, we could use a top pick on a corner next year since there are some really good ones in next year's draft as well. Plus we still got Goodman. He's no Bailey but he will suffice until we find a permanent replacement. Thompson is a good nickel corner and Vaughn is a great special teams guy. We have some good young talent at CB. Doubtful Jones is retained so that'll leave room for one or two pick ups this offseason.
I didn't change a single word in this paragraph since I wrote it over a month ago and yet so much has happened in terms of our CB issues. A month later and it's looking even more like Bailey won't be a Bronco in 2011... I'm a sad panda : (
EDIT: All I'm going to say is I was wrong here and I am very happy to be wrong as well. Champ is staying in Denver!
Last year I loved this group, this year not so much. I know this isn't a popular opinion but I believe that Renaldo Hill was by far our best safety last year and one of our better defenders. That said, he is definitely on the downswing of his career. Dawkins was hurt too much and when he wasn't, he was getting burned. I love Dawkins and he is the leader of the D but he does not have it anymore. The Broncos don't need Dawkins the player and I think it be best for him if he doesn't retire to find a team that actually has a shot at doing something next year. He's still got the fire and is a strong leader and could be very useful to a team with a shot (the Jets). I still have hope for McBath but he needs to put on some muscle this offseason and do some serious conditioning. He has potential to be a good FS but he he's too injury prone. Bruton adds good depth and is a solid ST'er but strong safety is a glaring hole that needs to be addressed. I think with Hill and McBath at FS we're fine but we need to address SS this offseason.
Prater is awesome and Colquitt showed some potential. For kick/punt returns Royal is great and we had some other guys show potential. The only way to really improve special teams is to add depth to every other part of your roster. When your forced to start players who would normally be only special teams guys on good teams, it not only hurts your starting offense/defense, it hurts your special teams as well. Paxton is good but i still think he's a waste of money.
My guess is the CBA will not be signed till earliest August. That means we will not have much time to sign free agents and pull off trades. We will only have 6 picks in the upcoming draft (1 1st, 2 2nd's, 1 3rd, as well as a late 6th and early 7th). It will be really tough to meet every need this offseason and don't expect it to be done either.
Another thing to remember is that a cap will probably return which will likely mean the Broncos will once again get stuck in the dead money issue we had two years ago. According to Jeremy's recent article, the broncos would only have about 15-20 million of cap room to make any moves (including draft pick signings) and cutting players will only add to the total. This will be a tough offseason.
One mock drafter I read summed us up best. He said "For a team as bad as the Broncos, they have so few glaring holes." This sums us up perfect. When I look at this team, I don't go "man, there will be 32 players unemployed come next season" like the 08 team. This team's defense is built up of a bunch of decent rotational backups and a few past their prime starters. They are definitely deserving of the #2 pick but it also has the talent to bounce back easily and quicker then most people expect. The depth is set, now it just needs an infusion of youth and starter level talent. My biggest fear with McD getting fired was that the new coach would come in and overhaul everything but with the retainment of Xanders and a bunch of other coaches, it's obvious we are still heading the same direction but with a new driver. Changes will definitely be made and the defense will be vamped up but even after the crap that was this year, I'm still excited for the future.
Go Broncos, Orange Cruch FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!