During the off-season my primary concern for the Denver Broncos surprisingly did not revolve around who would be starting at Quarterback. My concern instead lay with who that eventual starter would be throwing to. Sure, Brandon Lloyd is back, but is he for real? Demaryius Thomas underwent Achilles tendon surgery in February and is said to be not expected back until as late as November. Eddie Royal also had post season surgery in the off-season to correct a hip injury which occurred in 2010's first game; the injury which led to both groin and thigh issues likely also slowed his production throughout last season.
Overall it did not look promising, just having Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney along with possibly Royal and a fan favorite, but mostly untested Sophomore in Eric Decker. There is also Matt Willis who looked great in 2010's training camp and preseason, but sat dormant for most of the year before breaking his foot in October. Along with Britt Davis who spent the first fourteen weeks on the Broncos practice squad before being activated in early December due to the previously mentioned injuries.
As much as new Head Coach John Fox loves to run, the best way to open that up is a pass game. Yet, if you look back to Fox's football past Steve Smith existed within that mentality and Denver's not going to be able to run operating with one Pro Bowler, some guys on crutches and a bunch of players who combined don't have a season of playing experience at receiver.Enter Free Agency:
Gone almost immediately was Gaffney (via trade to the Washington Redskins) and at this point I'm extremely interested in what the Broncos have up their sleeve. Surely Fox cannot expect the receivers to just be cannon fodder and as indicated via the number of undrafted rookie pick-ups, neither do Fox and Brian Xanders. Denver added Mark Dell out of Michigan State, D'Andre Goodwin out of Washington, Jamel Hamler out of Fresno State, and Marshall Williams out of Wake Forest on July 27th.
The team also signed David Anderson who spent the previous four seasons with the Houston Texans, but Colorado natives may remember him most from his days of playing with Bradlee Van Pelt at Colorado State University.
The move for Anderson gave Denver a total of eleven receivers on the roster, which is an average if not slightly below average camp number. However, given the allotment of roster spots this year it can be skewed as below average. It's important to take into account the amount of Tight Ends the Broncos have on the roster (five) I suppose.
When Brandon Lloyd came to Denver, I saw it mostly as Josh McDaniels trying to appease Kyle Orton, but after watching him in training camp I was impressed. I was floored when he didn't play in a game until Week 16 of the 2009 season and in Week 17, he blew up. His entire 2009 stat line was made in that final game practically.
So we were ready for big things in 2010 and Lloyd showed and proved, all the way to the Pro Bowl. Quite a comeback, now the reason i went all the way back to 2009 to begin this preview is to show you that Lloyd is actually well on his way to his third season of producing big numbers for the Broncos (he just wasn't given much of a shot in 2009 being inactive for 14 games). He has taken advantage of every opportunity that he has had since Marshall got suspended in that final week of 2009.
Fox is impressed as well, Lloyd himself has played the Tim Tebow vs. Orton line with incredible veteran poise. Spending most of his off-season with catching with Tebow, but maintaining neutrality publicly. As fans saw last season, Lloyd's numbers don't differentiate much either way no matter who is at Quarterback.
Expect more of the same from Lloyd in 2011 despite the fact that he is now on everyone's radar, that will only make a repeat trip to the Pro Bowl all the more easy.
2010 Season Notes: Lloyd registered his 5th career 100-yard receiving game at Jacksonville (9/12), including a game-long 41-yard reception from quarterback Kyle Orton. He made his fourth 25-plus yard reception of the season on a 25-yard pass from Orton in the second quarter of the home opener against Seattle (9/19). Against Indianapolis (9/26), Lloyd recorded a career-high 169 yards on six receptions that was his sixth career 100-yard single-game output. He made his fifth and sixth 25+yard receptions of the season, to push his average to 24.2 yards per catch, which ranks second (minimum 10 catches) in the NFL (DeSean Jackson, Phi.) through Week 3. The veteran wide receiver also caught his first touchdown pass since 12/22/08, when he caught a 48-yard scoring pass from Orton in the third quarter. He registered the Broncos' longest reception of the season through Week 3 on a 61-yard catch that set up Matt Prater's 34-yard field goal. At Tennessee (10/3), Lloyd set a career high with 11 catches and finished with 115 yards. He pulled in receptions on three consecutive plays in Denver's two-minute offense at the end of the first half that culminated in Prater's 36-yard field goal. The receiver registered his third 100-yard single-game total in 2010 that matches the most 100-yard games he's had in one season. At Baltimore (10/10), Lloyd set a career single-season high with his fourth 100-plus yard output of the season, while registering his second career multi-touchdown game. That included a diving catch of a 42-yard pass from QB Kyle Orton for his first touchdown of the game that was rated as the No. 1 catch from the NFL in Week 5 according to NFL.com and a 44-yard grab from Orton in the fourth quarter. Lloyd recorded the No. 3 ranked catch of Week 6, according to NFL.com, against the New York Jets (10/17) when he hauled in a 29-yard reception on the sideline while sustaining a hit that was penalized for unnecessary roughness to set up WR Demaryius Thomas' 17-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Against Oakland (10/24), Lloyd caught his sixth pass for 40-plus yards on a 46-yard reception from Orton in the fourth quarter. At San Francisco (10/31), Lloyd matched the career high he set in Week 3 vs. Indianapolis with 169 receiving yards. He scored his fourth touchdown of the season on a 1-yard grab from Orton in the fourth quarter. He set his single-season career high with 878 yards through Week 8. He also registered his fifth 100+yard game of the season and ninth of his career. The veteran was on the receiving end of Denver's longest play from scrimmage through Week 8 - a 71-yard third-quarter reception that led to Tim Tebow's 1-yard rushing touchdown on the subsequent play. Against Kansas City (11/14), Lloyd made two receptions that landed on NFL.com's top-ten catches of Week 10, his 37-yard catch between two Chiefs defenders was ranked No. 2 and his 15-yard fourth quarter-touchdown catch came in at No. 9. He registered his third career two-touchdown game and second of the season. At San Diego (11/22), Lloyd made his fifth touchdown catch of the season on a 13-yard grab from QB Kyle Orton in the fourth quarter. He surpassed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career with his second catch of the game, an 18-yard reception on the game's opening drive. Against St. Louis (11/28), Lloyd scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help the Broncos outscore the Rams 20-3 in the final period and register his third multi-receiving touchdown effort of the season and fourth of his career. At Oakland (12/19), Lloyd caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from QB Tim Tebow that was initially ruled incomplete and then reversed via replay challenge. The catch ranked No. 2 on NFL.com's list of top-catches of Week 15 and No. 4 on ESPN's top-10 plays of a week. Against Houston (12/26), Lloyd registered his sixth game with 100-plus receiving yards for the season. He caught a 41-yard pass from QB Tim Tebow that ranked No. 4 on NFL.com's list of the week's top catches.
I have to admit, after Eddie Royal's 2009 drought, I was expecting even worse in 2010. Although he didn't quite make me right, he didn't give anyone much reason to call me out on being wrong either.
Is it that Royal is being misused as a slot receiver, should play the secondary receiver exclusively or maybe just limit him to returns? I don't have the answer, but from the reps Royal is receiving thus far in training camp it is looking like Royal will be lining up with the first team come Week One.
I know that Royal is the 'People's Champ' amongst fans, but since his rookie year I haven't seen much reason to go the Keyshawn Johnson route and just get this guy the ball. Don't get me wrong, he has the ability to put the team on his shoulders and he has (remember the San Diego Chargers game two seasons ago and his rookie debut against the Oakland Raiders?).
I hope that I am wrong and 2010 really was due to him being injured nearly the entire season, but if Royal doesn't perform well he's got nothing but even younger guys behind him who will snap away his opportunities.
2010 Season Notes: At Jacksonville (9/12), Royal caught a game-high eight passes for 98 yards (12.3 avg.), including two receptions of 20-plus yards... vs. Seattle (9/19), Royal was on the receiving end of a 34-yard catch-and-run from QB Kyle Orton following a lateral from RB Knowshon Moreno that set up RB Correll Buckhalter's 1-yard rushing touchdown to give the Broncos a 14-0 lead in the second quarter... vs. Indianapolis (9/26), he turned in the most productive game of punt returns for the season with returns of 10-plus yards on three of his four returns... at Tennessee (10/3), Royal registered the fourth 100-yard game of his career and his third-highest single-game output. He caught his seventh career touchdown on a 2-yard pass from QB Kyle Orton in the second quarter and posted his longest reception of the season to date with a 41-yard catch-and-run from Orton in the third quarter that set up Matt Prater's 36-yard field goal... at Baltimore (10/10), Royal made his first start of the season and caught two third-down passes that both went for first downs. He returned his first kickoff of the season for 33 yards... vs. N.Y. Jets (10/17), he returned a first-quarter punt 32 yards, which is his longest punt return of the season. He also carried the ball on an end-around for a 13-yard gain and caught a 24-yard pass on third down that set up K Matt Prater's 59-yard field goal to end the first half... vs. Oakland (10/24), Royal made his 12th third-down reception of the season, converting a third-and-10 attempt in the second quarter. ... Vs. Kansas City (11/14), Royal registered the Broncos' longest run from scrimmage to date with his 91-yard gain in the first quarter that set up WR Brandon Lloyd's 6-yard touchdown reception from QB Kyle Orton. ... Vs. St. Louis (11/28), he registered the Broncos' longest run from scrimmage to date with his 20-yard gain on an end-around in the first quarter, becoming the only player in the NFL to record at least one rush, reception, punt return, kick return and special-teams tackle in a single game in 2010.
As soon as Eric Decker was drafted fans in Denver couldn't say Eddie McCaffrey fast enough, then Decker got his number. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill. Yet I be reluctant to say Decker isn't capable of it.
Decker was a favorite target of Orton this off-season and spent time with both Orton and Larry Fitzgerald in his native Minnesota. Can't imagine that there's much bad that can be said about off-season training with one of the premiere Wide Receivers in the league.
Thus far in training camp Decker has ceased to disappoint and I have a feeling he could be fighting for a starting position come Week One.
2010 Season Notes: Decker made his NFL debut in the season opener at Jacksonville (9/12)... Made one special-teams tackle at San Francisco (10/31)... Made one special-teams tackle vs. Kansas City (11/14)... Registered his first NFL reception on a 10-yard catch in the fourth quarter and then added a 38-yard reception to set up QB Kyle Orton's 5-yard touchdown pass to WR Brandon Lloyd late in the fourth quarter against St. Louis (11/28)... Totaled the most kickoff return yards (211) for the Broncos in 2010 and recorded the Broncos' season high for all-purpose yards with 218 combined yards at Arizona (12/12). In the season finale against San Diego (1/2), Decker caught his first career touchdown pass on a 6-yard throw from QB Tim Tebow in the third quarter.
David Anderson comes to the Broncos after what John Elway tweeted as being courted the year before by Xanders, Anderson at the time was a Restricted Free Agent. This of course brings up larger issues, like if Xanders was actually given the ability to pursue players than why the mass exodus of veterans that were brought in under Josh McDaniels? I digress.
Anderson is a slot guy, of which the Broncos have a few, Anderson also plays special teams which it seems all of Denver's slot guys do... His career best season however, is only one season removed. I feel like Anderson will have a harder time making the team just based on who is going to be nipping at his heels in training camp and throughout the preseason. However he's only one camp injury away from being one player away from starting.
If there is going to be one surprise out of this corps it is going to be Matthew Willis, what he demonstrated last year prior to the season in training camp and preseason was very impressive. He didn't get much of a shot in 2010 due to overcrowding at the position, but when given his shot he did great and then he was injured.
Willis could push for the second Wide Receiver position, but has stiff competition. I'm even willing to go so far as to say he will battle it out with Decker to see who will be Tebow's favorite receiver (if Tebow stays where he is with the second and third team offense) in preseason.
2010 Season Notes: Willis made his season debut on offense against Indianapolis (9/26) and caught a 17-yard pass on Denver's 13-play, 60-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
OTHER NOTABLE RECEIVERS:
Britt Davis is returning to the Broncos after spending most of the season last year on the practice squad. He was active against Oakland in 2010 and made two Special Teams tackles.
Of all of the undrafted rookies that were brought in D'Andre Goodwin seems to be consistently pointed out as being impressive.
ERON RILEY (6'3" 210 lbs. - 1st Year)
In an off-season that began with surgery and only went downhill from there (investigated in his connection with the Perrish Cox accusation and the controversy at Georgia Tech) it's hard to remember that Demaryius Thomas was chosen not only ahead of Dez Bryant, but also ahead of Tebow in 2010's draft.
Thomas will begin 2011 on the Broncos' non-football injury list and could be unavailable until mid-to-late October if not until November. The team has given no indication as to whether they will reserve one of their 54 man roster spots for him. They may play it by ear by keeping his spot open and maybe an extra one of their undrafted Wide Receivers on the practice squad.
We'll know more soon, all we know now is that Thomas has failed his physical with the team. I would venture to say that Denver feels pretty good about Thomas' status given the number of receivers they currently have in camp.
When healthy Thomas is Denver's best returner and offers strengths that rival if not surpass those that Decker can offer. Fans simply may not be able to see that until 2012.
2010 Season Notes: Vs. Seattle (9/19), Thomas led the team with 97 receiving yards in his NFL debut that ranked fifth among active NFL players in their first NFL game. He caught first NFL touchdown on a 21-yard pass from QB Kyle Orton in the fourth quarter to give Denver a 31-7 lead... vs. Indianapolis (9/26), he made a 16-yard reception that set up QB Kyle Orton's 48-yard touchdown pass to WR Brandon Lloyd on the subsequent play... at Tennessee (10/3), Thomas made his career debut as a kick returner and returned four kickoffs for 144 yards that tied the most return yards in a Broncos rookie's first game as a kick returner (Gordie Sellers, 9/3/1966). In the game, he recorded the longest kickoff return of the season for the Broncos with his 65-yard return in the third quarter that led to a 35-yard field goal by Matt Prater... at Baltimore (10/10), he made his first career NFL start... vs. N.Y. Jets (10/17), he caught his second career touchdown pass on a 17-yard reception from QB Kyle Orton over CB Darrell Revis that was rated as the third-best catch of Week 6 by NFL.com... vs. Oakland (10/24), Thomas made his first career special-teams tackle on punt coverage in the third quarter, and registered his first career carry... at San Francisco (10/31), Thomas recorded his longest career reception on a 31-yard catch-and-run to open the fourth quarter that led to Matt Prater's 32-yard field goal.
I am not as terrified at this point as I was in the off-season, but that's not due to logic as Denver is one major injury and a training camp cut away from having a depth chart which features only one player with more than two seasons of playing experience.
With the defenses the Broncos will pull this season they've got to figure out a way to keep eight or nine men out of the box or it may be a very long season again in Denver. The team does seem to have plans towards something fans have not seen since maybe the '80's at least, just look at the Tight Ends and Fullbacks the team is bringing in.