Well, I believe I’ve finally waited long enough following the end of the NFL season in order to more objectively evaluate the state of the Denver Broncos roster. I’ve decided to partition the final result into two parts: now the offense and later the defense. Don’t think that I’m ignoring special teams – or the Forgotten Third, as I like to call them – by not including them in this breakdown: I just think it’s fair to say that we’re pretty well set with Matt Prater as our kicker and Britton Colquitt as our punter for many years to come (I’ll address the return game within my discussion of the offense and defense). I think it’s fair to say that the 2011-12 season was a successful one for our beloved Orange and Blue, but I doubt many would disagree with me when I also say that there is much work to be done before we truly return to the level of play we all desire.
I look forward to seeing just how much our evaluations of the current roster differ and how our own plans of action to improve it vary in the comments section below. As always, I thank you all for reading my work and I hope that you take the time to chime in on our conversation in the comments as well. Please follow me below the jump and we’ll get started. Go Broncos!
I believe in Tim Tebow. I think he can lead the Denver Broncos back to championship contention. I know that he has to improve in order to return us to professional football’s Promised Land, but he’s earned the opportunity to try. Whether or not Dove Valley agrees with that assessment will be revealed by how they address the back-up quarterback position this offseason. If they believe in Tim Tebow, then they will acquire someone that fits one of the following two descriptions: (1) a cheap veteran who has made the transition from scrambler to pocket passer to mentor Tim, (2) an affordable, young, viable spread option signal-caller to serve as insurance in case Tebow is injured. Both of those choices would signal that the franchise is committed to Tim Tebow as their quarterback and that they are willing to stick with him through any growing pains as he develops as a passer. The second alternative includes the added benefit of allowing the spread option to permeate the offense at every level, as I have already advocated for.
If the front office instead chooses to invest considerable resources in another quarterback, if that player is in the more traditional mold, or if he is in fact intended to compete for the starting job, then they will have undermined Tebow and it would be in everyone’s best interest to end their relationship as soon as possible. Since taking over, the Broncos’ new management has really mucked things up whenever anyone in the administration has spoken out about the quarterback position. Actions speak louder than words, however, so their final say with regard to Tim Tebow will be expressed in the form of whatever new quarterback is brought into Denver next. My most fervent hope is that they use this opportunity to end, once and for all, the quarterback controversy that has embroiled our beloved franchise for far too long now.
Late round draft prospects: Darron Thomas and Russell Wilson
The Denver Broncos featured the NFL’s most prolific rushing attack and sent their lead back to the Pro Bowl, so it may come as a bit surprise to some that I believe that the position is in desperate need of an overhaul. The resurgent Willis McGahee is already 30 years old and he has a history of serious injury in his past. The injury-prone Knowshon Moreno has struggled to stay on the field for the Broncos and just hasn’t lived up to expectations when he has been healthy. Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson did the best they could when thrust into action, but neither promises much potential beyond that of spot duty. Mario Fannin is a question mark at best, and unlikely the answer we seek at this key position. Does anyone seriously expect any of these players to remain in Denver past their current contract, or contribute significantly to the next championship team there?
The key to a successful rushing attack isn’t necessarily star quality, but rather solid quantity. Whether or not the Broncos chose to embrace the full potential of the spread option attack, or even continue to employ it alongside a more traditional pro-style offense as they did last season, there is a serious need for upgraded depth at running back. Some combination of speed backs and bruisers is required to maximize the potential of the position, and thankfully there are plenty of options for both available in free agency and through the draft. I would like to see at least one of each brought to Denver this offseason, to expand the rotation and protect against injuries. Just to be clear, I believe we should keep McGahee and Moreno for the time being, but replace the rest with improvements that could eventually step up to the more prominent rolls currently belonging to Willis and Knowshon respectively.
Speed back draft prospects: LaMichael James and Chris Rainey
Power back draft prospects: Bernard Pierce and Tauren Poole
The Broncos have been fortunate at the wide receiver position, in that they’ve extracted at least some significant value from nearly all of their investments at the position recently. There is still a lot of untapped potential and youth throughout the depth chart, but the flashes shown need to become more consistent fires if this corps is going to take the next step in its evolution. Flankers like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are both good fits for the spread option because of their blocking and occasional big-play ability, but they need to rediscover the consistency that maximized their efficiency in college. They would also do quite well in a more traditional offense as well, so I have no concerns about at least the top two spots in the WR depth chart.
Eddie Royal has become an unexpected lightning rod of sorts among the fan base. The upcoming free agent has supporters that insist the Broncos keep him and detractors that would like to see him gone from Denver. I won’t be heartbroken if he leaves, but I would like for him to stay. If he really buys into it, then I think he can excel as the motion receiver in the spread option. And if the Broncos move away from that attack, then we’ve already seen how effective he can be in a more traditional offense. He’s also an explosive return man that could really take to those duties thanks to a lower volume passing game in the spread option.
I really don’t mind Matt Willis as depth, but in a spread offense he’d likely be on the field too often as our fourth best wide receiver. D’Andre Goodwin and Mark Bell do nothing for me and I’d rather not even consider them in this calculus. Ideally, we’d bring in another player just like Eddie Royal to line up on the other slot in symmetric formations and a true vertical threat to add an extra layer to overloaded formations. I don’t think either of those merits much investment, however. Yet again, I think what the Broncos should be looking for is quality depth, and let the current prospects develop along side of that.
Free agent deep threats: Devin Aromashodu
Deep threat draft prospects: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Devon Wylie and T.J. Graham
Free agent slot/motion wide receivers: Andre Caldwell
Slot/Motion wide receiver draft prospects: T.Y. Hilton, Eric Page and Marquis Maze
Just as much as 2011-12 will be remembered as the Year of the Quarterback, I think that the most memorable and significant aspect of this past NFL season was the tight end explosion. What Shannon Sharpe started all those years ago in our beloved Orange and Blue finally came to its fullest fruition: the inherent match-up problems of highly athletic and skilled tight ends dominated the professional landscape. The league’s best offenses featured at least one impressive target at the position, yet the Broncos lagged behind.
The dire need was seen by Denver’s front office last offseason, and attempts were made to address it. Two draft picks were selected, and two free agents were signed. The overhaul, however, left much to be desired. The rookies Virgil Green and Julius Thomas failed to earn much playing time despite competing against journeymen veterans Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario. None of them provided the sort of receiving threat to challenge defenses, nor did they offer the sort of blocking capabilities to overlook that deficiency. Much was done, but the need remains. I could see the addition of a high profile free agent or an early draft pick, but I think we can all agree that something has to be done at the position. The soon-to-be NFL sophomores need to step up their game, because this offense will not achieve its full potential so long as a key component like the tight end position is occupied by mediocrity.
Free agent targets: Joel Dreessen
Draft prospects: Dwayne Allen, Colby Fleener, Orson Charles and Michael Egnew
It’s most fun to talk about the so-called "skilled positions", but football games are won and lost in the trenches. The Broncos offense is in pretty good shape up front when it comes to the starters, though the weaker links really stand out because of the excellence of the others. Tackle Ryan Clady and guard Chris Kuper have been among the best in the NFL at what they do and they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve for it. Meanwhile, tackle Orlando Franklin struggled in his rookie season, and second year players Zane Beadles at guard and J.D. Walton at center didn’t exactly set the world on fire either. The depth behind the starters – save the possible exception of Ryan Harris – is nothing to write home about. I think this provides an opportunity.
I believe it was the Philadelphia Eagles that articulated what I believe to be the soundest summary for solid roster building in the NFL that I’ve heard to date: find your quarterback, protect that quarterback, and get after the other teams’ quarterbacks. No matter who the Broncos quarterback will be – now and in the future – committing resources to the offensive line in front of him will always be a solid investment. I think that bringing in players that can challenge the likes of Franklin, Beadles, and Walton would be a very good thing to do. Whether the incumbents hold off the newcomers or they are eventually replaced by them, the starting unit would ultimately be better and the depth would be dramatically improved. I understand the camp that believes we should simply allow for the current starters to develop as individuals and gel as a group, so I wouldn’t be all that upset if the franchise is not as aggressive as I would like them to be in bringing in offensive linemen this year, but I think it’s an approach that would pay the most dividends should we choose to take it.
Draft prospects: Nate Potter, Kevin Zeitler and Michael Brewster
All in all, I think our offensive starters are mostly solid right now and they have tremendous upside at key places throughout. The lack of depth is a concern, and thankfully something we can aggressively address this offseason without committing to many resources to the overhaul. The franchise has a fundamental question to answer on this side of the ball that will dictate how that ultimate transformation will take shape: how much of the spread option will they incorporate into the offense? As I have said before, I believe they’re in a unique position to move all-in with the spread option and reap the considerable rewards of being at the cutting edge of the next potential innovation in the NFL. Regardless, I think the above analysis would fit a more traditional offense as well with but minor tweaking, so I hope people don’t get too tied up in that aspect of my evaluation. We have a great deal to be hopeful about, but there is much work yet to do in order to unlock that promise.
I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of our beloved Denver Broncos offensive roster and that you’ll be inspired to comment in the section below. That is why I publish on Mile High Report: to interact with the wealth of bright Broncos fans that constitute the membership of this site. I’ll post my thoughts on the defensive side of the ball sooner rather than later, but I don’t have an exact date in mind as of yet. Anyway, without further ado: go Broncos!