The Denver Broncos have had a pretty solid pre-season all things considered. Amidst so much negativity from the media, a new coaching staff, and a ton of new players and personnel, the Broncos took care of business on the field and put out a product that held opposing starting units to just nine points, and showed some promise and depth offensively.
Despite a quarterback "controversy" that was essentially non-existent in Dove Valley the moment Kyle Orton came in for his physical, the Broncos have really managed to stay under the radar and compile a solid roster that by my count featured about 42 locks to make the team in some way or another.
Not all of those players wound up making the roster, and some that I predicted would get let go were retained, but for the most part, I think this is a team that has improved from its 2010 version, and it is one that I believe could surprise a lot of people in 2011.
Without further adieu, my preview of the 2011 Denver Broncos.
Predicting the Broncos' Final Record
As of right now, I will say over. I think the Broncos could come out of the gates facing three average, below average, or rookie quarterbacks, and if all goes according to plan (does it ever?) this team could start the season 3-0.
The reason I set the Broncos' record at an over/under of 6.5 is because I feel the defense--specifically the pass rush--is worlds better than last year's version, and this year, we have some depth at the defensive end position, unlike years past.
The Broncos' achilles heel this year will undoubtedly be their defensive tackle position, which is sadly probably the second worst unit on the team overall only to the tight end position. I like Brodrick Bunkley and I think he is/could be a keeper, but the Broncos have to be very careful with all of those guys on the interior, as three of their top four options have already gone down with injuries.
I think this team has a good enough offense to win two or three games based on that side of the ball alone, and I think the defense is good enough in the pass rush department to help us win about three or four games. Combine it all together and you could be looking at doubling last year's win total, or even better.
Game to Watch
What else but game one, Monday Night Football, under the lights--our first home game in the regular season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Optimism will be brimming, the stadium will be sold out, and we have a chance to exact revenge. It's our only currently scheduled nationally televised game, so if you're going to watch just one Broncos game this year, let it be this one.
I will personally be attending the games against Cincinnati (**cough, blowout, cough**), and I will make the short trip to Minneapolis to watch the Broncos take on the Vikings in what I hope is a meaningful late-season matchup.
Breakout Player Candidate
There's no question about this one--it's OLB Von Miller. The guy is an absolute stud. I really don't know what else to say, I mean--with him and Dumervil rushing the passer, this defense goes from a junior college brand to a BCS contender brand.
Miller is fast, he is quick, he hits hard, and he's smart. I think he could be in line for the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and there's no doubt in my mind he will be as much of an impact player to our defense as Ndamukong Suh was to Detroit last season.
Best Player Other Fans Don't Know About
Andre' Goodman is a vastly underrated NFL defender. He was injured a lot last year, and he had to play injured as a result of it, and was clearly missing a step. When Goodman's game is on, he and Champ form one of the most potent pass defending duos in the NFL, and nobody really takes note of that in the main stream.
Goodman helped us to one of the NFL's best pass defenses in 2009 when we had at least a semi-legitimate pass rush, and now that our pass rush is back to above average status at worst, I think he will see a lot of action on his side of the field. I thought he was deserving of a spot in the Pro Bowl two years ago in his first season with the Broncos.
Elvis Dumervil is quite possibly the most complete player on this team, even though Von Miller is probably the best combination of youth/size/speed/talent/upside right now. Champ Bailey is a star, Brandon Lloyd was a star last year, and Ryan Clady is a potential All Pro at left tackle, but Elvis Dumervil has been a game-changer in the NFL since day one, and the only problem is that the Broncos never put anyone legitimate on the line along with him.
I'd say that has changed considerably, and I think Dumervil is the best player on our team right now. His contract probably reflects that pretty well.
Top Five Prospects (3 Years or Less, in no particular order)
1. Von Miller, OLB
2. Knowshon Moreno, RB
3. Rahim Moore, S
4. Demaryius Thomas, WR
5. Tim Tebow, QB
Top Practice Squad Player
There will be calls here for Kyle McCarthy, but did anyone see what Eron Riley did in the pre-season? I pegged him as a lock to make the team after he showed speed, big play ability, and most of all--he produced when not many other guys did. He was this year's Matt Willis, only he didn't make the 53. I think he will be upgraded at some point this season, and for sure probably next season.
Most Overrated Aspect of the Team
I believe fully the Broncos have a good duo at running back, but we're sorely mistaken if we think that right now we could sustain an injury and be okay. If Knowshon Moreno hurts a hamstring, can Willis McGahee and Lance Ball carry a full load? Maybe, but I would not be comfortable with it.
IF HEALTHY, the Broncos have an enviable duo at running back. Two guys who run hard, who can catch passes out of the backfield, and who are effective and slippery between the tackles. If not healthy, the Broncos are flat out screwed, in my opinion. They will have to rely heavily on a young offensive line to open holes all season long, and if one of those guys goes down, it could be bad news.
Most Underrated Aspect of the Team
Special teams is down pat. The Broncos have an elite kicker in Matt Prater, whom they obviously haven't gotten word of any ramifications from the league for his drunken driving arrest. Britton Colquitt is a rising star at the punter position, at least based on the artistic display he put on in the pre-season. Lonie Paxton is one of the elite long snappers in the league, and that is an underrated position as it is.
These guys are one of the best crew of special teams core players in the NFL, and the Broncos also boast one of the best overall return men in the league in Eddie Royal.
Stock Report: UP
It doesn't get any worse than last year. The Broncos were mired with injuries, inconsistencies, cheating accusations, and just an overall terrible roster that has been slightly dismantled. This is a team that hired smart front office people, a smart head coach, and they are building this team the right way--with a full on youth movement.
2012 NFL Draft top Needs and Projection
CB, RB, OL, DT
Depending on how free agency shakes out for us next year, these could be our top needs heading into the draft, and that's assuming we re-sign Brandon Lloyd/Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas is healthy enough to be our #1 receiver for the future, otherwise that opens up other needs. I'm also not so sure the Broncos are done adding elite pass rush talent to that front seven, and DE could be an option as well if Robert Ayers does not produce.
Thus, since the Broncos will obviously be picking 32nd, here are some of the players we should be looking into as top targets at potential positions of need:
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Dre' Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, West Virginia
Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State