Yesterday, I published a post describing my process for roster evaluation and some the inferences derived from it. Today, with that background thoroughly explained, I supposed it's only fair that I reward your patience by finally sharing my personal evaluation of the current roster of our Denver Broncos. Follow me below the fold and see just how far the rabbit hole goes!
For the purposes of this exercise, free agents will treated much like Schrödinger's cat in the famous thought experiment about quantum superposition: they will be simultaneously re-signed and gone, meaning that I’ll weigh both possibilities equally. Just to be clear, the positions and their grades are in bold, the starters are underlined, practice squad and future contract guys are italicized, and parenthetical notations are made for every impending free agent of every kind. Remember:
The specific definitions of the grades for this assignment are as follows:
A = All set
B = Depth wanted
C = Depth needed
D = Considerable need for a potential starter
F = Desperate need for an immediate starter
+/- = A potential future shift into the adjacent letter grade
Quarterback – Kyle Orton(RFA), Chris Simms, Tom Brandstater: C+
I firmly believe that Orton is good enough to lead a team to a Super Bowl championship (I chose every one of those key words carefully, by the way). While I do have some hope for our own Tom B, it’s imperative that we acquire a better back-up for the time being. There are viable options in free agency, plausible possibilities via trade and intriguing potential in the draft, so I would imagine that an upgrade in the position is impending.
Running Back – Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis, Bruce Hall, Lance Ball: B+
As some of you may recall, I both accurately predicted and actively promoted the idea of drafting Moreno last year; his rookie campaign, while solid, left something to be desired. I was also extremely pleased when we signed Buckhalter, but his impressive performance and even more awesome potential were overshadowed when concerns about his durability were validated once again. Hillis, a fan-favorite and seemingly theoretical ideal for McDaniels’ Ameoba Offense was handcuffed by mysterious issues that kept him in the coachs’ doghouse for most of last season. It would seem to me as though there is room for an additional contributor in this mix, though it would certainly not be a priority.
Fullback – Spencer Larsen, Peyton Hillis: C+
Though FB isn't really a position in our new offense, it sure would be nice to have someone on the roster that could perform these duties effectively at the crucial points throughout the year in which everyone called upon last season failed.
Wide Receiver – Brandon Marshall(RFA), Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd (UFA), Kenny McKinley, Matthew Willis: B-
Without Brandon at the top of this depth chart, this position would be in far more dire straits than most people care to admit. It may make sense to add to this group even if the core remains the same. While Gaffney did amazingly well when pressed into a bigger role for various reason throughout the year, he’s not exactly young. Royal regressed in his second season, Stokley may well be entering the decline of his career and there is no depth to speak of behind them. Regardless of my personal dislike of Marshall at this point, it would be reckless to cut ties with him at the moment.
Tight End – Daniel Graham, Tony Scheffler(RFA), Richard Quinn, Marquez Branson: A+
This unit is at least all set, with or without Scheffler in it. Graham is earning his considerable contract and I believe that Quinn will shine when he gets an expanded role. The potential that Tony flashed in the new system last season, however, is enough to make me hope he remains in a Broncos uniform. Even though he was a guy I wanted on this team coming out of college, I would not be all that upset if his days are in fact numbered.
Offensive Tackle – Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris, Tyler Polumbus, Brandon Gorin (UFA), D’Anthony Batiste: C
There is no better pair of young OTs in the league, but their back-ups proved ineffective when called upon. I have to believe that Harris will be back in top form coming off of his season-ending injury last year, but that event and the huge step backwards that the offense took thereafter should make it abundantly clear that depth at this position is rarely a luxury. Good back-ups are basically underpaid starter-caliber players and, unfortunately, we didn’t have any of those last season.
Guard – Chris Kuper(RFA), Ben Hamilton (UFA), Russ Hochstein (UFA), Seth Olsen, Matt McChesney, Mitch Erickson: D-
Kuper is a fine starting guard in the NFL, but Hamilton looks done to me. I felt that Hochstein was wholly ineffective in all the roles he was tried at and Olsen may profile better as a center, especially now that Casey Weigmann’s departure has essentially vacated the position. These positions could use multiple additions this offseason.
Center – Dustin Fry: F
With the news that Weigmann is done in Denver, our longstanding belief that this position required an upgrade has suddenly been replaced by the fact that we will be looking at a new starter in 2010. Though Olsen may step in to lessen the void, it would be hard to imagine the team not bringing in other options to compete for the job.
Defensive End – Kenny Peterson, Ryan McBean, Vonnie Holliday(UFA), LeKevin Smith (RFA), Everette Pedescleaux: D
This squad vastly exceeded expectations, but they came back down to Earth by the end of the year and a talent upgrade is required. We can all hope that UDFA like Pedescleaux and Chris Baker step up to make an impact along the DL sometime soon, but they were undrafted for a reason.
Defensive Tackle – Ronnie Fields, Marcus Thomas, Chris Baker, J’Vonne Parker, Carlton Powell: D+
Fields acquitted himself unexpectedly well as the cornerstone of our new 3-4, but I have to believe that a more commanding presence would further tap into the potential of this defense as a whole. Despite my high hopes for Thomas and Baker, they haven't beaten Ronnie out for the job yet, so a new addition to push him may be needed.
Outside Linebacker – Elvis Dumervil(RFA), Mario Haggan, Robert Ayers, Darrell Reid, Jarvis Moss, Baraka Atkins: B+
Now the whole football world finally knows what our Elvis is capable of – despite his proving exactly that at every level he's ever played; I don’t believe that we can allow him to leave the building now. Haggan earned his starting spot last year, but I've seen enough from Ayers to know he's the future opposite Dumervil and the position looks like it’s in good shape if that’s the case.
Inside Linebacker – D.J. Williams, Andra Davis, Wesley Woodyard, Spencer Larsen, Nick Greisen, Braxton Kelley: C+
D.J. wasn't quite the force we thought he might become last season, but he was plenty good enough alongside the temporarily rejuvenated Davis. Woodyard continues to pleasantly surprise and I'd love for Larsen to get a shot to focus on this position. All in all, I think that this group may see enough internal improvement as to forego any considerable investment in the position unless the value is simply too good to pass up.
Cornerback – Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Alphonso Smith, Ty Law (UFA), Tony Carter, Rashod Moulton: C
This starting pair is probably the best in the NFL, but the jury is still out on Smith as an heir apparent to either of those stellar veterans. Regardless, additional future prospects are needed to stabilize the position for the foreseeable future, as evidenced by the sizeable role given to Law as a midseason pick-up. This is probably an underrated position of need, masked by the excellence of the senior statesmen heading this part of the depth chart.
Safety – Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, Darcel McBath, David Bruton, Josh Barrett(ERFA), Vernon Fox: A+
This group includes a legitimate All-Pro, a could-be Pro-Bowler, a starter-caliber back-up, a TE covering specialist and a stud special teamer... what more could you ask for? Honestly, I cannot envision a scenario where it would make sense to address this position over any other, almost regardless of value.
Kicker – Matt Prater(RFA): A
Thankfully, he's turned things around and is living up to his potential.
Punter – Mitch Berger (UFA), Britton Colquitt, A.J. Trapasso: D+
This position was perhaps the most annoyingly frustrating aspect of our entire team last season and I'd be thrilled to see it settled in a positive manner. I’m not sure that the solution to this problem position is in-house already, so I’d be fine with adding even more names into the mix if necessary.
Long Snapper – Lonie Paxton: A
I think everyone is comfortable with this guy now.
Return Specialist – Eddie Royal: C
Royal’s a great returner, but I'd rather not have a crucial component of the offense doubling as the team’s return man if it can be avoided.
For the curious but lazy among us (I hope no one takes offense to that label, because it fits me far too well) I’ve done the "math" and our Broncos GPA comes out to just over an exact C+. That's only surprising in that this squad proved to be thoroughly average on aggregate last season and this outcome barely supports my prior claim that the normal distribution resulting from this sort of grading system would associate such a mediocre team with the average grade. I suppose the slight deviation from the exact grade of ‘C’ in this case can be attributed to some lurking variable(s), such as the extenuating circumstances associated with the regime change.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that the Broncos have plenty of needs to address this offseason, more than they have selections in the draft with which to do so, and that situation would only be made worse if we were to part ways with any number of our talented restricted free agents in order to acquire additional picks. Furthermore, those potential losses would significantly and negatively affect our positions of greatest strength on both the offense and the defense, perhaps causing exponential damage to the performance of those units that buoyed the team’s overall performance. We should instead focus on adding as much talent as possible along the trenches, while keeping an eye open for good values at the skill positions that could currently use additional depth. Those conclussions may not seem like news to you, but consider the potential implications of such an approach.
For example, popular first round targets like Rolondo McClain (ILB, Alabama) and Dez Bryant (WR, Oklahoma State) would have to be that much better than their peers at positions of greater need for us – such as Dan Williams (DT, Tennessee) and any number of valuable/versatile offensive linemen – in order to be considered likely selections. That is, of course, unless those voids are filled by free agents and/or trade acquisitions prior to the draft. Suddenly potential signees like guard Logan Mankins, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and defensive end Johnny Jolly hold the keys to our entire offseason and dramatically alter the landscape of the NFL Draft for us.
If you made it all the way through this rather length post and its shorter predecessor, I congratulate you for your dedication, thank you for your patience and look forward to discussing it all with you in the comments below. I encourage all of you, especially those particularly interested in the offseason, to go back to this step in the process and become reacquainted with the foundation of our team. It feels as though, with every mock draft and all the other rumored roster moves, we become further detached from that which should most inform and temper our speculation. Do not be confused by echo chambers and instead use all of the copious pertinent information available to you to make up your own minds about these things. Once again, I hope you find all of this valuable and I thank you for your time. Cheers and go Broncos!