It is difficult to argue that the 2011 Denver Broncos did not provide us with one of the most exciting and memorable Bronco seasons ever! With the season coming to an end following the divisional round of the playoffs, it is time to start planning for the 2012 season. Football is back in the Mile High City!
The Big Picture
For many fans, Denver exceeded expectations in 2011. For me, they finished the regular season right where I thought they would; between 7-9 wins. Fortunately, the 8 victories were enough to win the AFC West! For 2012, our top priority again needs to be winning the AFC West along with positioning ourselves to compete for a Super Bowl.
The big question/topic around Dove Valley and the NFL will be what Denver decides to do with Tim Tebow. Let me give you my two cents on Tebow and obviously whatever direction the Broncos elect to move will have a monumental impact not only on the Broncos but likely the NFL.
I think there are two camps regarding Tim Tebow. Camp 1 believes that a player, any player is as good as the God-given skills and abilities that they are born with and no matter how hard they train, get coached, practice, and work to get better they have limited upside for improvement. Camp 2 believes that a player, any player can train, get coached, practice and work to get better improving in certain areas of focus.
If you’re in camp 1, then Denver needs to move along without Tebow. For those in that camp be cautious that you are telling young kids out there that no matter how hard they train and practice, they will only be as good as their God-given skills. If you are in camp 2, then ask yourself if you believe anyone else out there will work harder than Tim Tebow to improve next season? Tebow has worked hard and practiced to be the best spread offense QB at Nease HS and at the UF. That is what his coaches asked him to do. It is up to Tim Tebow and the Bronco coaches to make him a better NFL QB – whatever that means. To me, it means winning games and I believe Tim Tebow gives us a good chance.
Obviously with camp 2, Tebow and the Broncos have a limited amount of time to make Tebow into a better pocket passer before fans give up hope on him. I believe that will be 1 full season in 2012 and 2 more training camps. EFX came out today with a luke-warm endorsement of Tebow as the QB for next season’s training camp and will work to surround him and the team with the best players to succeed. Behind closed doors, they will be working on Plan B which I will address in my mock plan.
Offensively, we are a very young team and I feel that we just need to add quality depth to fill the depth and allow this offense to blossom over the next few years. The great teams in the league are filled with depth that not only help you throughout the season when players go down with injury, but they also help "get-the-best" out of players throughout camp and the season.
Offensive Free Agents
Brady Quinn - Quinn has been linked to the QB spot with other teams including the NYJ; but I am hopeful that he is interested in a "back-up role" here in Denver knowing that he is playing behind a QB that takes a lot of hits.
Eddie Royal - Exclusively as a PR, KR & a #4 WR; he may not be interested in a pay-cut or this role and if that is the case Denver moves along without him.
* Michael Bush, RB - We need to add depth to our RB core and I feel Bush adds value and compliments our backfield while taking away a weapon from a divisional opponent.
Louis Murphy, WR - The Raiders will need picks and are stocked with young potential talent at the WR position. Tebow obviously played with Murphy at UF and from his book I gather that he valued Murphy as a receiver although Harvin received so much of the hype. Denver should be able to get Murphy for a 5th or 6th round pick.
Alex Hernandez, TE - Not because he killed Denver this season, but again to re-unite him with Tebow. I am not sure what the market would be for Hernandez, but I would be willing to make a trade that included Dumervil IF Denver was able to land Mario Williams in free agency (see below). What better way to announce your support and commitment for Tebow than going out and getting a rising star in Hernandez and an under-utilized WR in Murphy? Both positions of need for Denver and with the connection to Tebow, well worth investigating. I am sure that EFX can plant a bug in Tebow’s ear to chat-it-up with his former UF buddies to have them "demand" trades or discuss a new contract for Hernandez. I understand the scrutiny that I will get for even considering a trade of Elvis, but to get an offensive weapon like Hernandez and potentially swap a smaller Dumervil for a larger M. Williams?
Defensive Free Agents
*Jason Jones, DT - A young player that has shown the ability to collapse the pocket and apply QB pressure.
*Mario Williams, DE - Williams would immediately add 30lbs. to our front-seven. He is likely one of the most sought after free agents this year, but given his injury and the success that Houston had with some young OLB’s, I think there is a good chance that he leaves Houston for relatively cheap. Houston is not going to pay him as a DE, and he will not settle for OLB money. If Denver was able to trade Dumervil to New England in a deal that sent Hernandez to Denver and we were able to land Williams in free agency – would you make that move?
*Tracy Porter, CB - Familiarization with Allen and a complimentary player opposite Champ. With young guys like Harris and Vaughn coming back, I do not think they will need to draft a CB this year and the corners that are available lack the size to match-up against the WR’s in our division.
*Rashean Mathis, FS (from CB) - Free Safety? What? Mathis is a large (6’ 1" 200lb), older (entering his 10th season), cornerback that is coming off an injury. I do not think there will be a market for him as a #1 or even #2 corner, so if EFX can convince him to come to Denver and be the KEY clog in their defense scheme to cover and shut-down the large TE’s that have emerged? We have invested too many picks into the safety position over the past 3 years and they need to coach the young guys we have. Mathis feels a gap.
Round 1 - Trade - This is Plan B for EFX. Trade this pick for a #1 pick in 2013 and an equivalent latter round pick. That would give us 2 first round picks in 2013 and should Tebow not show the outlined improvement this off-season, the Broncos have the ammunition to go get Barkley or Jones in 2013.
Round 2 - Travis Lewis, OLB Oklahoma
Brian "Boz" Bosworth is one of the biggest names in Oklahoma football history because of his production, larger-than-life personality and ability to bring the 1985-86 national championship to Norman. Lewis grew up in Texas, like Bosworth, and though he lacks the flashy style that made the Boz famous, the fact he broke the lauded linebacker's freshman season tackle record in his first year on campus gave people an idea of what was to come.
Big 12 coaches named Lewis their Defensive Freshman of the Year and second-team all-conference in 2008 because those record-breaking 144 stops included 11.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks, and he also showed quickly his ability in coverage with four interceptions and three pass break-ups. He earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades with excellent production in 2009 (109 tackles, 8.5 TFL, one sack, one INT, two PBU) and second-team honors in 2010 (109 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, three INT, five PBU). Lewis is looking to lead the Sooners in tackles for the fourth straight season at his weak-side linebacker position, quite a feat given the history of the program. He could have entered the draft early in 2011 because of he has all of the physical traits scouts like at the second level, possesses excellent instincts, and could play any second-level position his new team requires. But he returned to enjoy his college experience a bit longer, and put himself in the pantheon of college football players by repeating Bosworth's accomplishment of winning a national title.
Read & React: Combines very good instincts with above-average reaction skills. Almost always finds the ball in traffic. Greet feel in coverage, sees quarterback and receiver, jumps routes to prevent completion, or at least stop yards after the catch. One-man wrecking crew against screens because he sniffs them out and has the quicks to grab the receiver.
Run defense: Tougher between the tackles than many expect. Gap-shooter that grabs backs before they get through the line, also willing to throw his body into the hole to create piles and stands up to blocks to stay in the play. Feels pulling lineman coming, capable of punching to stay clean or take the outside shoulder to keep runners from bouncing to the sideline. Lacks strength to blow up fullbacks and bulk/length to prevent getting engulfed by better lineman at the second level.
Pass defense: Fluid and quick drop into zone, covers enough ground to be Tampa-Two mike and knows where the markers are. Often arrives at the receiver at the same time as the ball, gives up few yards after the catch. Possesses straight-line speed stay with or chase down receivers in man. Creates turnovers with quick reaction time to bring in tipped balls, closes on balls over the middle or baits quarterbacks intro throwing his directions if they do not seeing his deep drop. Loses size battle to many tight ends, easily pushed away on out routes. Caught looking into backfield occasionally instead of getting to receiver in the flat. Tries to cradle throws at times instead of snatching them, resulting in dropped interceptions. Tackling: As secure and reliable a tackler as you'll see in college football. Not necessarily explosive, but more physical than a chase-and-drag linebacker. Breaks down well in space, corrals elusive ballcarriers on the edge or inside by wrapping torso and holding on. Gets leverage inside to stop piles from moving forward. Leaves his feet at times, NFL backs will take advantage.
Pass Rush/Blitz: Works more in space than attacking the backfield, but flashes closing speed and agility to reach passers from the blind side or up the middle before they can escape. Knocks down some quarterbacks with just a glancing blow. Takes advantage of large holes to get to the quarterback, but must work on using violent hands to rip off lineman and defeat cut blocks from running backs. Also needs to build a variety of pass rush moves. Intangibles: Team captain who leads the team on and off the field with words and by example. Four-year starter for one of the top programs in the country. No known character or off-field issues.
Round 3 - Kevin Zeitler, G Wisconson
Pass blocking: Anchors against larger defenders in the middle, resets hands to maintain distance. Athletic enough to help on nose tackle then pick up twist or late blitzer. Mirrors quick interior rushers. Looks to help the center, or even the tackle a few yards upfield, if he is uncovered.
Run blocking: Good fit in a zone system, uses mobility and strength to move defender down the line. Dips shoulder and moves his feet to get outside leverage when needed. Strong and low coming out of his stance, effective in short-yardage situations. Finds the mike quickly and negates him when it is his responsibility. Gives effort to hit as many targets as possible, even if on the ground. Need to work on keeping outside leverage when doubling on the nose.
Pulling/trapping: Good foot quickness working behind the line, though losing a few extra pounds around the middle would help his agility. Brings hips to knock back linebackers in his way, maintains block until running back finds the hole behind him. Gets down low quickly to defeat defenders trying to cut down running backs. Ducks his head at times, must keep his posture to see and sustain against his target. Initial Quickness: Possesses adequate quickness off the snap to get his hands into defenders and attack linebackers at the second level, but is not elite in this category and can be a step late at times.
Downfield: Regularly hits second-level targets, uses strong hands to latch on, and keeps legs churning to carry them out of the play. Knows correct blocking angles inside, gets into position with good footwork. Will punch at smaller defenders at times instead of latching on, allowing them to get off the block.
Intangibles: Dependable, no-nonsense mauler who works hard in the weight room and on the field. Did not start the first four games of 2010 due to a high ankle sprain suffered during the summer.
Round 4 - Marvin McNutt, WR Iowa
Strengths: A tall, long big-bodied athlete with a solid upper body ? long arms and uses his upper body limbs to beat press coverage. A long strider and gliding athlete with build-up speed. Does a nice job using his size to create separation with good body control to shield defenders ? fearless in traffic. Has outstanding body control and ballskills, showing very good hand/eye coordination with large, soft hands ? won?t drop many balls and plays confident. Highpoints the ball well and makes many of his catches away from his frame ? strong possession target who can move the chains and make some ?wow? one-handed, acrobatic receptions. Tracks the ball very well to make tough catches look easy and shows very good awareness, always knowing where the sticks are. Has the physical nature and toughness to fight for every yard after the catch. Still improving as a route runner, but does a nice job of using headfakes to hold defensive backs. Showed steady progression at the position and improved each season ? a natural, despite only three years at the position. Was consistently productive (28 career TDs), leading the Hawkeyes in receiving the past two seasons and finished his career with several single-season and career records.
Weaknesses: Not a sudden or dynamic athlete and is more of a one-speed guy who lacks natural burst. Not explosive and appears herky-jerky in his actions, lacking the quick-twitch movement skills to quickly change directions and create consistent separation. Still maturing as a route runner and needs to sell routes better to keep defenders off-balance ? will round off and tip his intended route. Needs to use his body to be effective and shows streaky focus at times. A former QB, McNutt has only three years at receiver and is still developing and learning the ins and outs of the position ? quiet final two games of his career lined up against two very good cornerbacks (Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska and Jamell Flemming, Oklahoma). Has some durability concerns, battling wrist and shoulder injuries as a senior ? also has asthma and struggled managing this condition early in his career.
Round 5 - Chad Diehl, FB Clemson
Strengths: Has a stout physique and excels at blocking. Accelerates off the snap, stays low, bends knees, sinks hips, punches well, and almost always hits the mark. Has good power and will drive defenders back. Has a comfortable set in pass protection and knows how to use hands effectively.
Weaknesses: Doesn't offer much more than blocking. Is not a great athlete. Not fast and doesn't turn that well either. Was not given much opportunity to do anything except block in college.
- Use this pick to trade-up and make sure you get the guys above. 7th rounders rarely make the team.