We invited Broncos fans to "Be the Broncos GM" this offseason. One of the vital roles to being an NFL General Manager is to assess your team's depth. Pat Kirwan, a former NFL General Manager and current CBS analyst, would know, and he posed 13 questions NFL teams should ask themselves when assessing their depth.
Let's look at how the 2014 Broncos shake out in each of these areas. The first, and most important question, surrounds the backup quarterback. Kirwan asks:
Is there a capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch?
Unknown. Denver's backup quarterback is Brock Osweiler, a 2nd round draft pick in 2012 who has yet to start a game in the NFL. I have heard both positive and negative takes on Osweiler - from fans, beat writers, and people who claim to have some insight to what the Broncos are thinking. None of these people have convinced me that Brock is or isn't the answer.
So I choose to ignore the words of these prognosticators and instead look to the actions of John Elway and John Fox. The fact that the Broncos haven't signed a veteran backup, and haven't drafted a mid-round-or-higher QB to compete with Osweiler, suggests to me he still delivers enough confidence for Elway and Fox to move forward with Plan Brock.
So I choose to believe Denver's backup quarterback could go 2-2 in a four-game stretch, if needed, given the weapons around him; it's just not known at this point. Hopefully it won't be until Manning is well retired.
Kirwan goes on to ask 12 additional depth questions.
1. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?
Yes. Chris Clark started at left tackle for the Broncos when Ryan Clady went down in 2013, and now he's slated to start at right tackle in 2014. He played very well on the left side and is expected to do the same at right.
2. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?
Yes. Manny Ramirez, Denver's starting center, made the transition from guard only a year ago. Will Montgomery is a capable backup who also has experience at both guard and center. And let's not forget about Matt Paradis - he made the switch from defensive line to offensive line just a few years ago. I don't think anything would prevent him from practicing at guard if the Broncos asked it of him.
3. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?
No. This expectation seems a little unrealistic to me though. How many teams can say they have a backup who can deliver a 100-yard rushing day? How many teams can say they have a starter who can deliver a 100-yard rushing day, consistently? If we amend this requirement to, say, "50 yards," I would change my answer to yes for the Broncos. I think the Broncos are encouraging competition at the position to see who emerges as second running back out of Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Kapri Bibbs, and a few others.
4. Is there a good second tight end on the roster?
Yes. There are two. Both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme can start in a pinch (assuming Dreessen gets healthy). Tamme had 20 catches last year.
5. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down?
Yes. The Broncos are incredibly deep at wide receiver. The Broncos can use Wes Welker in a two-WR set, and in three-WR sets they could keep Welker in the slot and move Andre Caldwell or Cody Latimer into the #2 spot.
6. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?
Yes. Quanterus Smith is a promising prospect who is healthy and ready to be a pass-rush weapon, while the Broncos boast Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, both of whom are three-down pass rushers.
7. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?
Yes. Sylvester Williams proved this last year when Kevin Vickerson went down. While Vickerson and Terrance Knighton are the starters, the Broncos have that third player who can start at DT in a pinch.
8. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?
Unknown. It is interesting how the Broncos' depth chart will shake out in 2014 at cornerback. I expect Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib will be starters and first round draft pick Bradley Roby will play at nickel corner. His stock was high enough to be a first round draft pick, but that doesn't guarantee success in the NFL.
9. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?
Yes. Kayvon Webster and Tony Carter both have NFL experience, though their quality is hit or miss. The Broncos have a lot of options at nickel and dime, but none of them are certainties.
It's interesting I list Unknown for nickel but Yes for dime. I guess this is because my expectation for dime cornerback is lower than nickel - I think the Broncos will find a dime cornerback out of these three players (Roby, Webster, and Carter). I'm less confident they will find a "quality nickel" corner out of this group. It depends on how well Roby does in Year One.
10. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?
Yes. Duke Ihenacho has been supplanted on the depth chart by incoming free agent T.J. Ward, but Ihenacho can still play a role in big nickel if he steps up this offseason.
11. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
Yes. Emmanuel Sanders has that ability, as well as undrafted rookie free agent Isaiah Burse, who reportedly looked good in OTAs. It's very early to say it, but I think Burse makes the roster in a return specialist role.
12. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?
No. Denver's special teams leader is defensive back David Bruton, and that will likely continue in 2014. As far as special teams linebackers go, the Broncos boast Steven Johnson and Lerentee McCray, while rookies Lamin Barrow and Shaqil Barrett also stand a chance to contribute on special teams and play a backup role as middle linebacker.
That being said, it's hard to argue the Broncos are deep at middle linebacker when they have questions there at starter.
Of the 13 questions, I have nine Yes, two No, and two Unknowns. Do you agree with my assessment? Do the No's make you think the Broncos should pursue any veterans to fulfill those roles?