It is still too early to have a good idea of what depth chart Denver will be using. But members of the media and fans at Milehighreport.com will put up depth charts anyway because it is fun to speculate on who will play at what positions. I love depth chart projections because the conversation that ensues serves to educate. Some folks will share information about a player trait that others weren't aware of, and discussions of schemes ensue.
Most longtime members of MHR love the annual depth-chart breakdown that Guru does. It was my favorite feature of MHR before I joined the site a few years ago. If you want accurate predictions, that's your story. If you want some educated guesses and a good discussion, I hope you'll enjoy the following....
As I've written consistently, this is a tough year to guess on our final roster and dept chart. New coaches, new system, a radical change in player-use philosophy, and a major turnover in players makes this year tricky, but very intriguing. We'll know much more when camp is fully underway, but here are some of my thoughts thus far.
One of my most difficult tasks is to guess whether or not Brian Dawkins plays at his historical free-safety position or moves to strong safety. There are strong arguments both ways. Even at his age, Dawkins had a terrific season again last year. He still has speed and range, and can sack quarterbacks from the deep safety position. He still has the hands to intercept. And when he hits a ball carrier, the stadium hears it. Brian Dawkins remains a terrifying force on the field. I would like to see him stay at FS, but I'm starting to lean towards a move to SS. I have a few reasons for this, but I'm not 100% comfortable with making a firm projection.
First, Dawkins will be getting older, and the eventual slowing will make him a better fit at SS. Second, I'll take Dawkins covering a TE over some of the prospects at LOLB. Third, in most schemes the SS will have more run-support responsibilities, and Dawkins is one of those safeties that can consistently bring down even the biggest of RBs.
Renaldo Hill would then become my guess at FS. Coming off of the good year he had last year, I think he is a definite upgrade at FS. Given his age, he will likely be holding the position for a young up-and-coming player in the near future.
Darcel McBath is my favorite for the backup FS spot. He should do well on STs, but I think he will be the future at FS, and a player to watch. I think he'll see some playing time this year. For the fourth spot on the safety chart, we might see a duel between Vernon Fox and Josh Barrett. Fox could win out because there is talk about Barrett getting some looks for an OLB position.
Where does this leave the "other" rookie (David Bruton)? I think he has a shot at being a special teams ace for now, and a project for a future role at safety.
Superstar Champ Bailey is a lock for the #1 CB position. Andre Goodman was brought in to take over at the #2 position, and should do a great job there. Controversial draft pick Alphonso Smith will be exciting at nickel back, and is likely going to be a #2 CB in the near future.
I love what the team has done at safety and corner. We have two future-Hall of Famers at defensive-back positions, a hot rookie, and two solid veterans. The battle for the final spot will be between Jack Williams, Josh Bell, and Rashod Moulton.
In my last article, I wrote that I was proud of myself for predicting that D.J. Williams would again be moving, this time to RILB. It is his natural spot, and one that he is happy with. He will be the anchor for the LBs. At LILB, Andra Davis will be stopping runs and "ted blocking" the way to sacks for the RILB. Beyond these two, nothing is sure.
I'm guessing that Larsen will be a FB / ILB hybrid. Someone pointed out a fact to me in the last couple of weeks, and I buy the reasoning - Larsen would make a great LILB because (as a FB) he is already capable of blocking the way through the trenches. I buy that, so Larsen becomes my pick for #2 LILB. Woodyard is my pick to back up Williams.
With hybrids, this is a very tough call. Until he gets injured, Boss Bailey has a shot at starting LOLB, and Jarvis Moss is my guess to compete for the spot. The more I think about it, I like Elvis Dumervil at ROLB. He isn't big enough to play RDE in a 3-4, but his rush skills would make him a feared presence in a 3-4 played with a 5-2 look. I'm not sure who backs up Dumervil. With safety Josh Barrett getting looks at LB, I think he could go ROLB or LOLB. For now, let's consider ROLB a possibility.
The early favorite is clearly Ronald Fields, who was projected to start for the 49ers this year. Carlton Powell and Marcus Thomas are both bulking up and fighting for a spot, and I think there may be a better competition for the spot than earlier thought.
Let me throw out the names in the mix as I see them (in no special order) - Robert Ayers, Tim Crowder, Ryan McBean, Kenny Peterson, and Nic Clemons.
I think Ayers, McBean, and Crowder compete for the LDE spot. I think Peterson starts RDE, with Clemons or one of the three players competing for LDE backing him up.
Kyle Orton had a lesser offensive line and lesser receivers in Chicago, but still managed more wins than Denver's previous QB. He may not have the physical tools and potential of a Jay Cutler, but he also lacks the drawbacks (forcing the ball into interceptions, not looking off receivers, decision making in general). Chris Simms is not likely to be the starter, but could be a surprise if called in during an injury to Orton.
Tom Brandstater may be a long-term project, or a desperate emergency player in the event of a catastrophic string of injuries. The only real question is, "Do we carry three QBs on the roster, or keep Brandenstater on the practice squad but suited up under the NFL's emergency 'third QB' rule"? Tom is a very smart kid, and may be a surprise in a couple of years.
Denver is loaded at this position. I was sorry to see Arrington not pass the physical, but Denver didn't lose much in the signing. Still, Denver finally has a workhorse RB in 1st-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno. The next question is, do we go committee or run a prime back? Do we spell or rotate? Peyton Hillis is a proven commodity as a power back, but can also block as FB or gash defensive lines running the ball from the FB position. Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordon are solid backs, not castoffs. The running game will not be an issue for Denver this year.
Larsen and Hillis can both play FB. Hillis is good enough to start at RB (with Moreno), and Larsen is good enough to play at LILB (likely rotating behind Davis).
Denver has a lot of options.
Brandon Marshall starts at #1, and Eddie Royal starts at #2. Brandon Stokley is probably still going to be our slot receiver, and that's a good thing. This is a great starting group. Competing for the coveted 4th-receiver spot are Jabar Gaffney, rookie Kenny McKinley, and Chad Jackson.
Daniel Graham is not only the clear starter, but has played in the NE offensive program before. He is an outstanding blocker, but can cause defenses problems if he goes out to catch. Tony Scheffler is too good of a receiving TE not to be in the mix, and will see the field in a lot of two-TE sets. Jeb Putzier and rookie Richard Quinn will fight for the 3rd TE position. Putzier has the advantage in catching, but Quinn is a heck of a blocker.
Casey Wiegmann will start. Kory Lichtensteiger is being groomed as his replacement. Blake Schlueter (rookie) is either going to back up Kory next year, or might back up one of the guards this year.
Ben Hamilton starts at LG, and Chris Kuper starts at RG. Seth Olsen and (perhaps) Blake Schlueter are my guesses to back up.
Ryan Clady is a lock at LT, and Ryan Harris is a lock at RT. Tyler Polumbus is a likely backup, but Brandon Gorin might give him a run for his money.
Special teams is settled at K, P, and long snapper. The only question is whether Royal will be relieved of his return responsibilities.
As mentioned earlier, without knowing the systems we'll be running, and with the added complexity of the Amoeba philosophy and the hybrid scheming, this is a tough depth chart to figure out. I'm certain that I'm going to be wrong on a least a few of my early guesses, but my overarching hope is that we as a group can discuss the roster and use the chart as a good base to exchange ideas.
I look forward to hearing from folks on their thoughts!