Linebacker Wesley Woodyard of the Denver Broncos celebrates after causing a fumble against running back Marion Barber of the Chicago Bears in overtime at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bears 13-10 in overtime. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
This series has covered the Broncos 2011 Comeback, Overachiever and the Most Inspirational Players of the Year. This time, we're looking for the Most Improved Bronco in 2011. You might have noticed that there hasn't been any duplicate names. It was my intent to show appreciation to as many players as possible. After all, it took a team effort to go from a 1-4 beginning to a 9-9 finish. Add in the bonus of a playoff appearance after missing the postseason for what seems like an eternity, shows promise for the immediate future of this team. Granted, there is a ways to go, but there were more than a few surprises this year. Perhaps the 3 players below qualify in that regard for you too.
The first nominee for MHR's Most Improved Player of the Year is Linebacker Joe Mays. In 2011, Mays won the starting MLB spot pretty much at the beginning of Training Camp. The Broncos drafted Von Miller for the Strong Side and already had a good Weak Side LB in D.J. Williams. Coming out of a lengthy Lockout and no offseason practice time as a team, Denver chose the experienced Mays over faster Wesley Woodyard to begin the season at the MIKE. Joe had played in 12 games (5 starts) during the 2010 season and made 31 Tackles and had one Pass Break Up. This year, Mays made 83 Tackles and broke up 3 passes appearing in all 18 games with 13 starts. For a guy who left the field when the Nickel package was used, those are pretty good numbers.
Wesley Woodyard had a similar season as Mays in that he was Joe's replacement when the Nickel Defense was deployed. Last year, Wes made 37 Tackles and one Sack in 11 games (3 starts). In 2011, he led the Broncos with 97 Tackles, 2 Pass Break Ups and 2 Forced Fumbles in 15 games (7 starts). He also had 8 Tackles, 2 Downed punts and 1 Forced Fumble on Special Teams. He was also a Team Captain, a role he's had for the last 3 seasons. Woody led the team in Tackles for two consecutive weeks (vs.Cincinnati and at Tennessee) with 22 Tackles. In the Jets game, he forced a fumble on a kickoff return in the third quarter that was recovered by CB Cassius Vaughn.
Wesley was signed by Denver as a college Free Agent from the University of Kentucky in 2008. He leads the Broncos in Special Teams Tackles (35) since his rookie year, including a team-best 15 stops in just 11 games in 2010. That ranks him 5th in the NFL with 1.36 Special Teams Tackles per game.
Brodrick Bunkley had 43 Tackles in 16 games (13 starts) for the Broncos in 2011, filling a hole middle of the Defensive Line as a run stuffing Tackle. That was in stark contrast to his 2010 season in Philadelphia, where he had 20 Tackles and one Batted Pass in 14 games (5 starts). Bunkley has been a good acquisition for the Broncos, even though his price tag remains unknown at this time. You see, Brodrick was originally traded to the Browns by Philadelphia last July. The trade was voided by Cleveland after Bunkley did not report. Apparently, he didn't want to play for the Browns. So when that fell through, he was sent to the Broncos on August 1st in exchange for an unspecified pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.