With camp going on and the pre-season games underway, I figured the best way to look at some of the camp competitions might be in a few short articles on each battle rather than in one big post that takes forever to read. That means this will be the first of likely a daily series, also if their is a matchup you'd like us to look at, please let us know in the comments section below and we'll get to it.
So today we'll be looking at the #4 wide receiver position, which is an interesting battle. The top three wide receiver positions are all but locked up by Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Andre Caldwell, but the competition for that #4 wide receiver spot is being tightly fought between Matthew Willis, Brandon Stokley and Jason Hill. We'll take a look at each of these players, what they bring and get some input from some of the other staffers.
Willis has excellent speed which allows him to make big plays both as a returner and on the outside as a receiver. While he's struggled when he had chances in 2007 and 2010, but he finally overcame his inconsistency in 2011 due to a lack of depth in the Broncos wide receiving group and finally made the impact he wanted, though it was limited, he looked good in his time.
- Good speed
- Fairly crisp route runner
- Excellent ability to make something after the catch
- Has drop issues
- Isn't a threat in traffic or when pushed around
- Had some fumble troubles in 2011
Outlook So Far:
Willis had a solid outing in the first pre-season game, looking good with Caleb Hanie at quarterback. He has also been solid at camp, though a bit inconsistent. He has also seen work as a returner. Overall it looks good for him making the team, he has a nice skill set and has seen work on special teams, at this point, it looks like he'll make the team.
Stokley was one of the premier slot receivers in the mid-2000's, especially in 2004 when he had a career year, he was shortly thereafter seen in Denver where he was productive in 2007 and 2008 but his production had fallen off since then, though he did have one of the best catches of all time against the Bengals in the 2009 season opener.
- Excellent hands
- Very knowledgeable
- Has a strong connection to Peyton Manning
- Is 36 this season
- Doesn't have the speed he had in his prime
- Hasn't been really productive in three years
Outlook So Far:
While Stokley's production is not going to be enough to make the team, especially with his age and losing speed, his experience and connection to Manning will greatly help his chances of making the team. He was one of the players brought in to convince Manning to come here, releasing him would also look bad. Overall it seems he'll make the team simply for his connection Manning and ability to help the younger wide receivers.
Hill is a physical receiver who is consistent, though not impressive. His best season came in 2011 and then he was released into free agency. Hill has a solid skill set with good size and speed, but isn't a physical beast or speedster, but is a hard worker. He has played both as a slot receiver as well as outside so he is versatile to play most positions.
- Balanced skill set
- Has starting experience
- Has struggles with drops
- Isn't extremely physically gifted
- Has yet to set himself apart from competition
Outlook So Far:
While he has outplayed the bottom feeders of the wide receiver group, he hasn't been able to develop a relationship with Manning or been able have the production with the team like Stokley or Willis. Overall Hill is a solid, young wide receiver but unless he sets himself above Willis and Stokley, he'll have a hard time making the team.
The soft spot in my heart demands that Stokely get another shot with us. Receivers are done when they begin to lose a step. From all indications in the TC reports, this isn't the case with #14.
This is tough. I think as of right now, it's Stokleys to lose. He has been doing well in camp, but doesn't other much besides being a possession slot WR. I'd love to see someone like Gerrell Robinson, Greg Orton, or Mark Dell get that spot. The preseason will ultimately decide which makes it out of the bunch.
Now, I know that alot of fans believe that Brandon Stokley is too old to make the final roster, but I have to wonder if his familiarity with Manning -- despite his not having played with Peyton for five season -- may not persuade Fox to keep him around. He was a Denver fan favorite in 2009 and he has had experience working with Manning that could be helpful in bringing the other receivers up to speed. I see him being kept on for both leadership and situational play. He could also serve as a trainer for Matthew Willis to become his eventual replacement.
Of the remaining eight, there are two rookies (Cameron Kenney, Gerell Robinson), three one-year players (Mark Dell, D'Andre Goodwin, Greg Orton), one two-year player (Tyler Grisham - who missed the 2010 season), and one five-year player (Jason Hill). I believe that Fox/Elway are in a "win now" mode and thus will not want to surround Manning with rookies and one-season players (none of whom have any officially recorded stats). This leaves three players to fill the final two spots (Hill, Willis, Grisham). I think that experience will win out and Fox will go with Hill and Willis.
This would give us a depth chart of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Andre Caldwell, Brandon Stokley, Jason Hill and Matthew Willis.
It's still very earlier in the pre-season , but there are reasons the depth chart seem laid in it's current order, the real question will be who can step up and be that reliable #4 wide receiver, the competition is underway, things can, and likely will change, but as of this point, I'd say Willis seems to have the best chance of winning this competition.
Thanks for reading, let me know your thoughts, and as I said before, if you have a competition you want us to look at, comment and let us know.