The 2011 season has wrapped up for the Denver Broncos and we will soon be gearing up for the events leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine set for the end of February and eventually the 2012 NFL Draft near the end of April. Still, we haven't had complete closure here on Mile High Report. In the coming weeks, we will take a look at each position in review and looking forward. Meanwhile, I am proposing a series of Bronco player awards as voted upon by the members here at MHR. We can begin with the Broncos 2011 Comeback Player Of The Year.
Defensive End Elvis Dumervil would be the first name I'd think of when talking about having a comeback year in 2011. 2009 saw Elvis attain a franchise record 17 Sacks on the year, becoming the first Bronco in team history to lead the league in that category. He deservedly made the Pro Bowl and was named 1st Team All-Pro that season. But then Elvis left the building. He missed the entire 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered during training camp. Dumervil returned to the field and battled multiple injuries early in 2011, but his perseverance paid off as he became just the seventh NFL player since 2000 to make the Pro Bowl after missing the previous season due to injury or illness.
Doom was named to his second career Pro Bowl this year after finishing the 2011 season second on the Broncos and tied for eighth in the AFC with 9.5 sacks. At San Diego this season, he recorded his 14th career 2+ sack game, ranking him tied for third in the NFL since his rookie season in 2006. He also had a personal-best eight-game stretch (Games 8-15) this year in which he recorded at least a half sack. Dumervil's season totals include 43 Tackles, 10 Tackles For Loss, 18 Quarterback Hits, 1 Pass Break Up and 1 Fumble Recovery.
The Broncos totaled 41 sacks during the 2011 season, representing an 18-sack improvement from last year and the most by the club since totaling 44 sacks in 2000. Part of that is simply because Elvis has returned for an encore.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas should be in the discussion for the Broncos Comeback Player of the Year as well. Selected by the Broncos in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, Thomas missed the season opener at Jacksonville with a foot injury that had sidelined him the entire preseason. Then he was Inactive during Games 11-15 due to a concussion and high ankle sprain. Demaryius ended up playing in 10 games (2 starts) as a rookie, finishing sixth on the Broncos with 22 receptions for 283 yards (12.9 avg.) with two touchdowns. He also ranked second on the team with 16 kickoff returns for 398 yards (24.9 avg.) and added three Special-Teams Tackles.
During the offseason, Demaryius' injury history had another setback when he ruptured the Achilles tendon on his right foot in February while doing lateral drills. The injury was supposed to take 10-12 months to heal, but Thomas rehabbed and recovered quicker than anticipated. He started 2011 on the Non-Football Injury list after failing his physical at the onset of Training Camp. The team chose to place him on the 53-man Roster, thinking he would be available before Week 6. However, a few days later, Bay Bay suffered a broken finger in a practice session after CB Champ Bailey broke up a pass that struck Thomas square on his left pinkie. Yet another surgery was required to insert a pin in the broken digit. Demaryius finally made his 2011 season debut after the Bye week in Miami and caught Denver’s first touchdown pass of the day, a diving grab on a ball thrown by QB Tim Tebow that withstood an officials’ review.
He totaled a career-high 144 receiving yards on four catches (36.0 avg.) with two touchdowns against Minnesota in Week 13. His 36.0-yard average marked the fourth-highest figure in franchise history (min. 4 rec.) and the highest since Steve Watson (36.4 avg.) in 1981. Thomas went on to lead the Broncos in receiving yards in each of the final seven games of the season (including the postseason). During that span, he averaged 106.4 receiving yards per game.
Demaryius snagged 25 catches for 448 yards (17.9 avg.) with three touchdowns in Denver’s final five games, which ranks second in team history during the last month of a season (Dec./Jan.). Then there was his Postseason debut. The 2nd-year Wide Receiver dominated in Denver’s 29-23 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round with a four-catch, 204-yard performance, including an 80-yard game-winning touchdown reception on the first play of overtime.
Those 204 receiving yards set a mark as the most by a Bronco in postseason history and was the 7th most in NFL playoff history. His 51.0 receiving average also stands as the 2nd-highest receiving average in any NFL game (min. 4 rec.).
These two Broncos have been through a Trial by Fire and have emerged on the other side. Let's just hope that their good health continues so they can be productive.