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Breaking Down The Roster -- Part 9 -- Wide Receiver

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The Broncos head into 2007 with a talented, if inexperienced, group of receivers.  The depth might be the best the Broncos have had in, let's say, 5 years or so, and that bodes well for a young quarterback preparing for his first full season as the starter.  There are a host of questions, however, because with youth comes uncertainty.  But there is also exuberance and optimism.  And not since Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey were lining up in the late 90's have the Broncos enjoyed the type of threats they can unleash on defenses now.  Only time will tell if the youngsters in the group pan out, but with an able-armed quarterback delivering the ball, the Broncos receivers should enjoy their best season in years.  Let's break it down.

  Rod Smith (6-0, 200) --

What more can be said about Smith, one of the best undrafted free agents ever to step foot on a football field.  Since breaking into the League in 1995(Smith spent 1994 on the Practice Squad), Smith has become one of the most consistent, productive receivers in football.   Smith has 8-1000 yard seasons, 2 seasons of over 100 catches, and over the past 10 seasons Smith has averaged 82 catches and 1100 yards per season.  Over a decade that is pretty impressive.  Even more so, those numbers are skewed by a 2006 season that saw Smith drop to only 52 catches and 512 yards.  Disappointing until we found out Smith was playing with a badly damaged hip that required surgery this off-season.  The injury was so severe doctors couldn't believe Smith could walk let alone play football.   That's Smith, however, who has worked hard every day of his career to get better and has never taken his position on the team or within the community lightly.  If Smith could have 2 more relatively productive seasons he'll be on the cusp of 1000 catches and 13,000 yards, two milestones that should equal passage to Canton, if he hasn't punched his ticket already.  There are concerns because of the surgery, but I am not foolish enough to count Rod Smith out.

  Javon Walker (6-3, 209) --

A year ago at this time we were all waiting with baited breath to see if Javon Walker could make it back from the knee injury that cost him his 2005 season.  Walker was being handled with kid gloves, allowing the former first round pick of the Green Bay Packers to get fully healthy.  It didn't take long for all of our concerns to be eased and Javon Walker proved to everyone that he is not only healthy, but might be even stronger than before.   If a quarterback is going to be successful he had better have some serious weapons to get the ball to and Javon Walker is a dangerous weapon indeed.  Just head back to my QB breakdown and watch the pitch and catch against Arizona, or the 83 yard TD in New England.  How about the 72-yard end-around in Pittsburgh?  Yes, Javon Walker is back and better than ever.  Heading into 2007, with a full off-season to condition for football instead of rehab, Walker is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode.  Even in a season with unrest on offense Walker was able to eclipse the 1000-yard mark and could easily approach 1500 yards in '07.  If there is a question, and this can't be ignored, it's how Walker will rebound from the sight of the Darrent Williams tragedy.  The team has done an excellent job, I feel, supporting Walker and giving him his space.  Being on the football field will no doubt be therapeutic, and I expect Walker to turn a horrible tragedy into a positive.  

  Brandon Marshall (6-4, 222) --

Is this the year Brandon Marshall asserts his presence in offense on a game-to-game basis?  Many of the fans think so, including me, and just the thought of having receivers the size of Marshall and Walker lining up outside makes me giddy.  Talk about a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs!  Like Walker, Marshall showed glimpses last year of being a big play waiting to happen.  His 71-yard TD late in the 4th quarter in a loss against Seattle may have been the play of the year and showed everyone what we might be able to enjoy this season.  While dressing for 15 games his rookie season, Marshall got off to a slow start due to a knee injury in his first pre-season game but got stronger as the season went on, and still finished with 20 catches for 309 yards, and a healthy 15.5 ypc.  Marshall even proved to be a versatile player, notching 6 tackles on special teams and even forcing a fumble against the 49'ers.  The sky really is the limit for Marshall, and with guys like Smith and Walker there to tutor him I'd imagine there will be some Pro Bowls in the kid's future.  There was, of course, a small off-field transgression, but a flash in the pan in my opinion.  Cutler to Marshall could be a term heard many times in the future.

  Brandon Stokley (5-11, 197) --

Depth has been an overriding theme of this off-season with the Broncos addressing the depth at several positions.  Wide Receiver is one of them and Stokley is one of the guys Mike Shanahan risked little that could pay huge rewards.  Stokley has been a solid #3 receiver during his career, and anyone you can add to your team with 2-Super Bowl rings is a positive in a locker room.  His 2004 season, easily his career best, saw Stokley haul in 68 catches for over 1000 yards and 10 of Peyton Manning's record-setting 49 TDs that season.  Injuries plagued Stokley last season, allowing him to play in only 4 contests.  A torn Achilles finally ended his season, and nearly his career.  What we'll get from Stokley remains to be seen, and there are no guarantees that Stokley will be able to come back from his latest injury, but having his experience in the locker room and sideline is beneficial and I am pulling for Stokley to get back on the field and be productive.  

  David Terrell (6-3, 213) --

David Terrell seems to have it all, size, speed, hands, but the former First Round pick of the Chicago Bears just hasn't been able to put it together on the football field.  He cannot be described as anything but a bust, but everything you hear about Terrell, from coaches and teammates alike, is positive.  He works hard in practice, he keeps a good attitude, he just cannot perform consistently.  2004, his final season with the Bears, was his best, with Terrell nabbing 42 catches for 699 yards and 1 TD, hardly first-round production.  In his second go-round with the Broncos, this might be Terrell's last chance to make an impact for a winner.  There will always be a roster spot for a guy like Terrell on some team, but it is starting to look like Terrell might be better suited for the AFL.   Ok, that might be my Ohio State allegiance coming through, but can you really argue with it?

  Quincy Morgan (6-1, 215) --

Like Terrell, Morgan was a high draft pick(2nd Round) and has widely been considered a bust as a wide receiver.  Where Morgan has etched out a career is as a return man and a decent one at that.  Brought in to help solidify a weakness of the team Morgan showed glimpses of being a highly effective kick-returner late in the season and earned a return invite to the Broncos for 2007.  Morgan looked to be on his way after catching 56 passes for 964 yards in 2002 for Cleveland, his 2nd year in the league, but the Browns and Morgan quickly spoiled of one-another and Morgan was sent to Dallas in 2004.  That essentially ended his productive days as a wide receiver in the NFL, and after resurrecting his career as a special teams ace with Pittsburgh in 2005, Morgan signed with the Broncos in 2006.  His 24.9 yard return average on kicks for the Broncos showed he still has the evasiveness to be dangerous on special teams and the Broncos desperately need to improve their starting field position in 2007.  Morgan will be given the opportunity to win the return job, and should he not could find him self out of a job.

  David Kircus (6-2, 192) --

The Kircus story is well documented.  After being cut by the Detroit Lions in 2004 Kircus spent 2005 out of football, even working at a Subway restaurant to make ends meet.  The Broncos rescued Kircus from the land of the BMT in 2006 and looked like geniuses when Kircus exploded during the Pre-Season.  While his production did tail off during the regular season Kircus proved to be a dangerous receiver when on the field.   I already considered Kircus a fringe player to make the roster in 2007 when he was arrested for busting up someone's face at a party.  That lead to the infamous lie-detector test, that Kircus passed, but was another incident in a line of transgressions involving Kircus.  Though Shanny said at the time that Kircus had saved his job by passing the test I still imagine that Kircus will have to have another huge Training Camp and Preseason for him to make the roster, barring injury of course.  The Broncos do have an opening for a punt returner, however, and that could help Kircus, but I think he'll miss out in the end.  

  Brian Clark (6-2, 204) --

Clark spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad after spending training camp with the club. He was signed from the practice squad on Oct. 23. As the team's primary kick returner, he has amassed 512 yards on 23 returns (22.3 avg.), including a 36-yarder.  In his second year out of North Carolina State, Clark played 43 career games (23 starts) and totaled 78 receptions for 1,311 yards (16.8 avg.) with 11 touchdowns.  He finished his career at the school ranked seventh in yards-per-reception average, 10th in touchdown receptions and 13th in receiving yards. Clark posted the second-best yards-per-reception average (21.5) in school history in 2005 with 25 receptions for 537 yards with six touchdown catches, including a 96-yard scoring grab against Boston College (11/12/05) that was the second-longest in the nation that year.  Clark possesses good speed and has decent size but could be a victim of the numbers game.  Still a candidate for the practice squad but it is unlikely he would last.

  Domenik Hixon (6-2, 185) -- Hixon is like a rookie draft pick, in many ways, after missing his first year in Denver recovering from a broken foot.  Now, fully healed, Hixon is ready to show Broncos fans what he can do and trust me, you'll be excited.  Having watched many of Hixon's games at the University of Akron I can tell you the guy is one hell of an athlete.  After starting as a defensive back his first two seasons with the Zips, Hixon made the move to receiver in 2004 and became a standout performer.  He lead the team in receptions, yards and TD catches.  Hixon was also impressive on special teams, ranking 1st in the MAC and 6th in the nation in punt return average.  Hixon was one of only 5 players in '04 to score via punt and kickoff return.  He bettered those totals in 2005, breaking the school's single season receiving mark and becoming only the second Zip receiver to eclipse the 1000 yard mark.  On defense?  In 2003 Hixon led the Zips with 111 tackles, and started 8 game his Freshman season at Free Safety, finishing 4th on the team in tackles with 65.  All that and Hixon didn't miss a single game his entire college career.  His broken foot aside, Hixon has proved to be a durable, productive player, regardless of position and I really think the Broncos are going to find a spot for him.  

Glenn Martinez (6-1, 183) -- Glenn Martinez (6-foot-1, 183 pounds) is a second-year wide receiver who saw time on Detroit's practice squad during the 2006 regular season. Martinez played all five career games (0 starts) with the Lions in 2005, posting one reception for 11 yards and returning two kickoffs for 42 yards (21.0 avg.).  Martinez, who was allocated to NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in 2005, entered the NFL with Pittsburgh as a college free agent on May 6, 2004, but spent his rookie year out of the league after the Steelers waived him on Sept. 3, 2004.  He finished his career at Saginaw Valley State University ranked third in school history in career receiving yards (2,663) and fourth in career receptions (136).

Marquay McDaniel (5-10, 205) -- Marquay McDaniel is a rookie wide receiver who joined the Broncos as a college free agent on May 2.
He totaled 4,109 all-purpose yards and tied the school record with 22 touchdown receptions in 46 career games (31 starts) at Hampton University. A three-time All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection, McDaniel posted 151 career receptions (13.4 avg.) that marked the second-highest total in school annals. His 2,026 career receiving yards rank fifth in school history. He set school single-season records for receptions (59) and touchdown catches (14) as a second-team all-conference choice as a senior in 2006. The wide receiver also set a Hampton career record with 1,907 yards on 144 punt returns (13.2 avg.), including two that he returned for touchdowns.  A solid candidate for the practice squad.

My Depth Chart
1.     Javon Walker
2.    Brandon Marsall
3.    Rod Smith
4.    Brandon Stokley
5.    Domenik Hixon
6.    Brian Clark
7.    Quincy Morgan

There is a lot of talent and depth along in the receiving corp, more than I can remember in a long time.  There are a lot of questions, to be sure, but the Broncos look to be in solid shape.  I am pulling hard for Rod Smith and Brandon Stokley to come back healthy and play at a high level, but I think it is the time for Javon Walker and Brandon Marshall to be the main threats on the outside.  With Cutler at the helm the vertical passing game figures to be a big part of the Broncos game plan and those two guys are probably the best fits to get it done.  That could, in fact, increase Rod Smith's production, seeing that he would be going up against nickel backs, safeties or linebackers instead of a top-notch defensive backs.  If Rod Smith or Brandon Stokely are Jay Cutler's safety-valve that is a pretty good position to be in.  The Broncos had the most dangerous offensive attack when they were winning Super Bowls, and with Cutler at quarterback, Walker and Marshall, Smith and Stokley, it appears the team is on the cusp of offensive greatness once again.