I have a confession to make. To this day, I can't help but laugh uncontrollably when people state that Josh McDaniels has ruined the offense that was once a powerhouse. People still haven't gotten over the fact that he traded Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Tony Scheffler. The critics are saying he is making all of the wrong moves. Maybe on the surface there is some substance to that comment. Trading away a young, pro bowl qb and a pro bowl wide receiver in 2 years is controversial to say the least. However, if you look below the surface, you will see that McD has built an offense for the future and it is a damn good one.
Jump with me
There are 4 parts to any offense: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Wide Receivers, and Running Back. The first thing I am going to look at is what I believe to be the most important part of the offense.
The offensive line is the most important part of the offense. Period. I don't care if you combine the traits of Elway, Montana, Marino, Favre, and Manning to make the ultimate QB. If you don't have an offensive line that gives him enough time then he isn't going to be successful. Denver used to boast one of the best offensive lines. However, age and injury has annihilated the o-line that at one point was Denver's best area.
Last season, our offensive line consisted of Ryan Clady, Ben Hamilton, Casey Weigmann, Chris Kuper, and Ryan Harris. Due to injuries and poor play down the stretch, the offensive line was arguably our weakest area last season. The unit wore down and the running game suffered. In the last 4 games, Knowshon had just 1 game in which he had a ypc of over 3 yards.
It is obvious that Josh McDaniels noticed the poor play by the offensive line. Of Denver's 9 draft picks, he used 3 of them for the offensive line. He has put together a very promising unit for the future. Let's take a look at those pieces.
Left Tackle- Ryan Clady
Josh McDaniels is really lucky that Mike Shanahan is such a giving person. Before Shanahan left Denver, he gave McD a lovely parting present. Shanny gave him one of the best, young tackles in the NFL: Ryan Clady. Clady is just 23 years old. He has a long, promising career ahead of him as long as he stays away from basketball courts.
Left Guard- Zane Beadles
Last year, Ben Hamilton was our projected starter. However, he got hurt and then he just played bad. He was replaced by Russ Hochstein. Russ had off season surgery and the position is up for grabs this year. However, the future of the position is pretty set for us. In the 2010 draft, Josh drafted Zane Beadles in the 2nd round. Zane was a tackle primarily throughout college. However, he was projected as a guard in the next level. McD has said that Zane is a tackle, but I don't see him unseating either of our stud tackles. So, Zane projects to the guard position. Barring any setbacks, Zane could be an effective guard for us. At 6 ft 4, 310 lbs, he fits the mold of the new power blocking scheme. His future is bright if he continues to work hard.
Center- J.D. Walton
In 2009, we had Casey Wiegmann. However, he didn't quite play up to his pro bowl caliber status the year before. The Broncos cut Wiegmann after deciding to change to a power blocking scheme. Going into the draft with no true center, the Broncos were speculated to take Maurkice Pouncey, the center out of Florida, who was highly regarded as the best center in the draft. However, after Denver traded down twice, they virtually guaranteed that they wouldn't be selecting Pouncey. In the months before the draft, there were two players that people around MHR were expecting to get some serious consideration by the Broncos. Those players were J.D. Walton and Matt Tennant. When the Broncos went on the clock for the 80th pick in the draft, nobody knew what to expect from the unpredictable Josh McDaniels. Then the following words were announced: With the 80th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select: J.D. Walton, Center, Baylor. MHR was ecstatic with the pick. Trust me, I was among those cheering. J.D. doesn't have the ceiling of Pouncey, but he is certainly capable of being a quality NFL starter for his NFL career. Josh picked up our franchise center in the 3rd round. Not bad.
Right Guard- The Olsen Brothers
In 2009, Chris Kuper was the starting guard. He is still relatively young at 27. However, he is going to have to convert to the new power blocking scheme. It is impossible to tell how he will make the transition, but Denver fans should not worry. Even if Kuper does not work out, Josh has two players ready to take over just in case. In 2009, Josh drafted guard Seth Olsen in the 4th round. In 2010, Josh drafted center/guard Eric Olsen. Both of these players are waiting for their shot at the starting job. Eric was the heart and soul of the Notre Dame line. Seth came out of college as an underrated prospect who many scouts said could start at guard from day 1. Neither of the Olsen's have gotten an opportunity yet, but if they keep progressing then becoming a solid starter is certainly possible.
Right Tackle- Ryan Harris
Did I mention that Shanny was a very giving person. He gave McD not 1, but 2 of the best, young tackles in the NFL. Ryan Harris is an extremely underrated player who could play a HUGE role in the Broncos offense if Tebow works out. He is still young at age 25. He is a free agent next season, but I would be shocked if McD lets him leave town. Harris is going to be a big part of our line.
So as you can see, Denver has a reason to be very optimistic about their offensive line going into the future. They have players at each position that could be starters for them for a long time. The offensive line is one thing that Denver won't have to worry about for awhile barring any huge setbacks. Now that I've talked about the o-line and made such a big stank about the switch to the power-blocking scheme. Let's talk about the player that benefits most from a good line.
With the 11th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia aka the future of the Denver Broncos running attack. It was shocking to say the least, but everything might work out perfectly. Knowshon was widely considered the best running back in the draft. He is a tough runner that hits the hole hard. He almost ran for 1000 yards in 2009 behind a bad o-line in his rookie season.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic towards the future when it relates to Knowshon. One of those reasons is that he has a year of experience under his belt that will prove invaluable going into the future. A rookie has a lot to learn. He has to transition from the slower college game against weaker competition to the fast paced NFL where the competition is fierce all the time. Knowshon's rookie season would go down as mediocre in my book. He has a chance to be a real impact player for the Broncos going forward.
Other then Knowshon, the Broncos don't have any other player to help with the load going into the future. Correll is past 30 and has never been able to stay healthy. J.J. Arrington is coming of a serious injury that kept him out of football for a full year. Many people are optimistic of the future of Toney Baker. However, he has taken injuries over the course of his college career and has given no indication that he could be a solid contributor. After passing on such prospects as Tobey Gerhart and Dexter McCluster, I expect Denver to draft another running back in next years draft.
Josh McDaniels was hired to a team with a young, promising quarterback in Jay Cutler. Before they could begin to work together, Cutler got traded. Everyone remembers the details so I won't get into them. However, the point I'm trying to make is that he put the future of the spot into question. When he traded Cutler, he got Orton who was not highly regarded. He was regarded more as a throw-in rather then the centerpiece of the trade.
This off season, Josh provided clarity to the situation. He traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tim Tebow all in one off season. Both of these players are young and both have traits/qualites/etc to be optimistic about their futures. Brady is coming into a system that is similar to the one that made him a 1st round draft pick. Tebow is coming into a team that has a quarterback whiz for a coach. He is also coming to one of the few teams that employ some spread offense which is the offense that he ran for all of his decorated collegiate career.
Many people regard Quinn as nothing more then a backup. If that turns out to be true then Denver gave up very little to acquire a significant upgrade at backup quarterback. However, Quinn has potential to turn into something much more. He has the tools to be a starter in this league. He has a reputation for being a hard worker. Denver could have made the biggest robbery of the century if Quinn turns into the player that he was at Notre Dame.
Tebow is widely considered the future of Denver. As soon as Denver drafted Tebow, Bronco country was already dreaming of Tebow leading the team to multiple Super Bowl championships. There are questions about his game (footwork, reads, etc). However, there are things that are unquestionable about his game (work ethic, leadership, etc). Tebow is one of the hardest working players. He has said he will dedicate himself to proving Josh McDaniels was right and made the best decision by drafting him. Tebow is going to be the franchise quarterback we want him to be, or he is going to die trying.
Now that we talked about the quarterback, let's talk about the players that make the quarterbacks lives that much easier.
With the 22nd pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos decided to pass on Dez Bryant, a player who is regarded as the best receiver in the draft, and instead drafted Demayrius Thomas. Thomas was a highly successful, but injured player from the run-based offense at Georgia Tech. Demayrius is a smart player with impressive measurables (6 ft 3, 224 lbs). He is arguably the best deep threat in the draft. There are legitimate concerns (ability to run the NFL route tree, convert to NFL offense after being in run-based offense all of his collegiate career, etc), but Demayrius is another hard working, high character individual. He is in the class room learning as I write this. Once he gets healthy, he is going to have a chance to be productive right from the start.
I can describe the moment to you perfectly. The Broncos were on the clock. Nobody knew what the Broncos were going to do. Were they going to grab a running back? Were they going to grab another offensive lineman? Were they going to draft a front 7 player? With the 87th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select: Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota. The MHR open thread was flooded with: "YESSSSSSSSS!" "Wooooooooooo!" and "SLDFJKSDLFJSDFFSD". It was a fun moment. I think I did some mixture of all 3. It's safe to say that Bronco Country was excited to have Eric Decker on the team. Eric is an underrated receiver who dropped because of a foot injury. He is a smart, but extremely reliable receiver. He is 6 ft 3, 217. Combined with Demayrius Thomas, they are going to make for a beastly combo. Decker has the potential to be one heck of a possession receiver as long as he stays healthy.
Eddie burst onto the scene his rookie year and set Bronco County on fire. He nearly totaled 100 catches and 1000 yards. Unfortunately, Royal had a disappointing sophomore year and caught just 37 passes for 345 yards. Eddie has worked hard this off season to get back to his rookie form. Reports from OTA's have been overwhelmingly positive as it relates to Royal. Reports of him making impressive catches in double coverage have Bronco Country excited to see what Royal can do from the slot this year. Last year, Eddie played a little bit of slot, but this year he is going to play a lot more of it. With reports being very positive, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic going into this season and beyond.
In addition to Thomas, Decker, and Royal, McD has a couple of other players that have some real potential going into the future. Kenny McKinley was drafted in the 5th round of last years draft. Josh has stated that Kenny is one of the fastest players on the team. He doesn't have as impressive measurables as Thomas or Decker, but Kenny still has intriguing potential for the future. He received high praise from his old coach, Steve Spurrier. He could turn out to be a very solid slot/possession receiver.
Another player that is intriguing is Matthew Willis. Matt is a former UCLA track star (BRUINS SUCK, GO TROJANS) that is looking to maximize on his speed. He is an attractive special teams player as well as a deep threat. His speed and 6 ft, 200 lb frame have some decent potential going into the future.
Marquez Branson is the last player that I want to talk about. Marques is going to be playing an H-Back role in our offense. He has successful as a receiving tight end at Central Arkansas. His biggest weakness was his blocking and he has reportedly taken big strides in that area. If Denver starts to implement more 3 TE formations, then Branson could play a big role in the offense. He is arguably the best receiving tight end on the roster despite not playing in one NFL game.
So lets recap shall we? Stud Offensive Line? Check. Talented Running Back? Check. Potential Franchise QB? Check. Big, Talented Receivers? Check. The best part? Most of the players I have talked about are under the age of 25. This likely means that there best football has yet to be played. If they can all hit the peaks of there careers at the same time then you can expect Denver to have one of the best offenses in the NFL. If they all continue to progress as planned then I see very little weakness in Denver's offense going forward.
Of course there are those who are going to say that the chances of Tebow being a starter are slim. People are going to say that Denver is taking a lot of risks. Demayrius is going to have trouble adjusting and blah blah blah. Anyone who drafts a player is taking a risk. There is no such thing as a sure draft pick. Any draft pick could turn into a bust. I just believe that Denver is drafting the right people going forward into the future. I see very few busts when I look at the players Denver has drafted since Josh McD took over. Then again, there are people like McGeorge and Negative Nelly who probably see it differently. Time will tell who is right. But for now, I am excited about the future of our Denver offense. Are you?