Heading Into The Offseason, What Can Be Gleaned From The Denver Broncos 2011 Season

There is so much analysis and opinion out there regarding what the Denver Broncos need to do to improve over the offseason - most of it coming from analysts who watched little more than highlight reels of Broncos games. I tend to not put much faith in those observations. Instead, I look inward. I look to you, fellow Broncos fans who rabidly watch each and every game just like I do, to help me figure out what our greatest needs are heading into this offseason. Even there, opinions tend to vary greatly.

I think our first step after examining the season as a whole is to attempt to put ourselves ...

... Into The Mind Of Elway

What could John Elway have gleaned from this season? There is much talk about Tim Tebow and his future with the Broncos, but I have to believe Elway saw the same thing in Tebow that most of the rest of us saw. John Fox was able to put what we all witnessed into two words: Competitive Greatness.

That is not to say Tebow is a polished quarterback and Elway has to know that as well. He probably also understands Tebow will be a work in progress next year too, no matter how much he improves. So how does a Vice President of Football Operations harness a raw talent like Tebow? By giving him a chance to unleash his competitive greatness as much as possible. Which means, keeping the game close for that trait in Tebow to take over.

John Elway will need to do this through building a great defense through the draft. The offense needs players too, but I think most of us realize that Tebow can make players around him much better than they are - ironic since Tebow still has a long way to go himself. Elway needs to put most of the draft focus on the defense. He can take a page out of his old friend Gary Kubiak's book. Take a look at how Houston has spent its first four draft picks since 2006:

Houston Texans Draft History 2006-2011
Year Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
2006 DE LB OT x2 TE
2007 DT N/A WR CB
2008 OT N/A CB & RB LB
2009 LB DE C CB
2010 CB RB DT LB
2011 DE LB & CB N/A CB

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The path to a great defense is through the top end of the draft. Five out of Six years, the Texans went defense in the first round. Again, all second round picks except for one were reserved for the defense. The third round seemed to be more about building the offense, but then it goes right back tot he defense in the fourth round. Gary Kubiak built one of the best defenses in football almost exclusively through the draft and I think it's a template that John Elway should attempt to duplicate.

Free Agency

It's hard to stay in tune with mock drafts this early in the game since every one of them will be crap once the free agency period begins. I won't jump into who I would love to see the Broncos sign or who I think they should sign as it has always been impossible to predict. What I will focus on, is the one player on the Broncos roster that I think should be priority number one to resign. That man is Eddie Royal.

What people tend to underrate with Royal is the threat he could pose in a Tim Tebow-led offense. He is perfect for the triple option plays. He is a great return man. He can play the slot receiver. All three of these things are reason enough to keep him on their own, but put them all together and Royal, in my mind, is the second most important wide receiver on the roster. My worry is that Eddie Royal wants to play in a system that is more pass heavy and if that is the case the chance of resigning him is slim.

All that said, I'd like to see the Broncos address their depth issues in free agency. Maybe land one high profile free agent, but for the most part pick up solid role players on both sides of the ball.

Draft

Perhaps it's the Bronco in me, but I have an affinity for middle linebackers. Especially, first round middle linebackers. I have been clamoring for one since Patrick Willis looked like a great replacement for Big Al Wilson back in 2007. Then just about every first round middle linebacker since. Hopefully John Elway agrees.

Of all the first round inside linebackers, it appears Luke Kuechly out of Boston College is the top prospect in this years draft, but I'm just not a believer he is the right fit for the mentality this Broncos team is trying to build. That leaves Dont'a Hightower out of Alabama and Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State as the two other first round inside linebackers. I would probably be happy with either player, but I love the stigma of "The Intimidator" that Vontaze brings. He makes me think of Big Al or Ray Lewis. The fiery competitiveness and passion for the game is exactly what the heart of a defense needs.

If Elway goes with either one of those two middle linebackers, then the rest of the draft would be gravy for me personally, but I think grabbing a running back in the second round might be necessary if one isn't picked up in free agency. This sort of goes against my whole "draft defense" mantra above, but you'll notice that when Kubiak took over there were plenty of holes on that Houston Texan team that needed to be filled. The Broncos really began in that same situation before last years draft, so offense should be mixed in here and there.

Plus, Vontaze wears number 7, so how could I not give him the edge?

2012 Expectations

I think it is important to set realistic expectations for next season. This team is above average, but has plenty of work to do to make that next step. The focus next year again should be to take care of the the AFC West and to win your games at home. Playoff football is something this team should hunger for and play for, but we should all understand this team is two more drafts and two more years of experience away from Championship football. I can live with that, so long as John Elway continues to steer the Broncos ship in the right direction!

GO BRONCOS!

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