According to individual player rankings, the Broncos are among the NFL's best in top-tier talent.
Over the last week, Pro Football Focus has rolled out their annual list of who they see as the Top 101 players in the NFL. While obviously never experiencing the discussions that lead to the final list, rumour (and PFF podcasts) has it that the debates can get quite heated.
While NFL Network's Top 100 players list seems to rely solely on name recognition and popularity of players, PFF's list deviates from this course, identifying the Anthony Castonzo's and Don'ta Hightower's of the NFL.
The Broncos led all NFL teams with seven players selected to Pro Football Focus's list, including two top ten players.
Brandon Marshall (#60)
Marshall was unranked on last year's PFF top 101 players list, but his breakout season for the Broncos had many people taking notice. Excellent coverage numbers were the key to Marshall's success, but he also ranked highly in tackles (4th) and pass rush (5th) when it came to 3-4 outside linebackers. Marshall's top game of the season came in Week 8 against San Diego, where he notched a PFF grade of +4.6.
MHR Key Stat: In 2014, Brandon Marshall incurred a cap hit of $570,000. The remaining players who ranked in the top ten 4-3 outside linebackers averaged $3.3 million in cap dollars.
CJ Anderson (#50)
Anderson managed to record the third-highest rushing grade of all running backs, despite not starting until Week 11 for the Broncos. PFF credits Anderson's elusiveness as his key attribute, and understandably so; the Broncos back created a missed tackle once on every four carries on his way to amassing 44 total missed tackles.
MHR Key Stat:
Demaryius Thomas (#45)
Thomas was ranked 53rd on last year's list, and stepped up his overall game this season; however, PFF points out that Demaryius' rating was hindered by his poor playoff performance, which was his worst of the season. Thomas was the fifth-ranked receiver by PFF grade in 2015, and finished the season with the second-highest yards per route run (2.78) in the league.
MHR Key Stat: Thomas did not drop a single deep target, catching all nine passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
Malik Jackson (#43)
Malik Jackson has gone relatively unnoticed by everyone outside of Denver over the course of the past two seasons. That being said, PFF has certainly done their due diligence in giving Jackson recognition for his strong performances in the Broncos' hybrid defensive front. Jackson was the third-highest ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2015, he could easily top that performance in the new 3-4 defensive front next season.
MHR Key Stat: One of just three 4-3 DE's to grade positively in pass rush (12.1), run defense (12.8), and coverage (2.5) categories.
Emmanuel Sanders (#42)
Emmanuel Sanders didn't take long to earn the respect of Broncos fans, with his ability to catch nearly anything that was thrown at him. Sanders had the third-lowest drop rate in the entire league in 2014, dropping just two of 103 catchable passes. After being unranked in 2014's list, don't be surprised if Sanders takes another jump up next season.
MHR Key Stat: Sanders' PFF grade in the ‘pass' category was third in the NFL. If you remove the penalties he accrued in the blocking (-2.1) and penalty (-2.4) categories, Sanders would have trailed just Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. in overall grade.
Von Miller (#10)
Von Miller was week-in, week-out one of the most impressive defensive players in the league in 2014, despite the fact that he didn't amass the gaudy sack numbers that some people look for. Now, 15 sacks are nothing to scoff at, but some people did, as they failed to look further to see the 73 combined sacks, hurries, and QB hits that Miller produced coming off of a torn ACL. Miller was downright dominant again, and he continues to build his impressive resume for an eventual hall-of-fame bid.
"Sometimes you watch a player and it looks like they are playing a different game than everyone else. Miller would certainly fall into that category." - Michael Renner, PFF
MHR Key Stat: Von Miller was one of just four players to receive a grade of 50+ on PFF for the 2014 season. JJ Watt, Khalil Mack, and Justin Houston were the other three.
Chris Harris Jr. (#4)
Chris Harris Jr. did what Chris Harris Jr. does in 2014; he played shutdown coverage against anyone who lined up against him. Harris' PFF coverage grade was nearly as good as Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis' combined, and as PFF points out, he lets his play do the talking and leaves it at that.
"He was thrown at 89 times during the season but did not allow a single touchdown. He allowed 46 receptions (51.7%), but those catches went for an average of just 7.7 yards per catch and he wasn't beaten for a pass longer than 22 yards all season. He notched three interceptions and 10 passes defensed, and when thrown at he yielded a passer rating of just 47.8."- Sam Monson, PFF
One of the best things Harris Jr. did all season was taking a hometown discount to stay in Denver, meaning that fans will get to see his top-notch coverage continue in the orange and blue.
MHR Key Stat: Opposing quarterbacks had an overall quarterback rating of just 47.8 (2nd in NFL) when targeting Harris in coverage, to go along with an equally-impressive opposing QBR of just 59.8 (1st in the NFL) in the slot.
The Broncos were one of just four teams to have seven players on the final list, with the Cowboys, Packers, and Ravens joining them with the top honors. On average, each team had two players on the list; seven was the most, while the Bears and Jaguars were the only two teams with nobody chosen.
Four of the seven selections from the Broncos' roster were unranked in 2014, while one player (Peyton Manning) from the 2014 list did not make it back onto the list for 2015. The fact that seven quarterbacks were chosen above Manning for the list is matter for discussion; although the PFF staff does give some valid reasons for Manning's drop-off.
As far as PFF grades go, Manning was the 10th quarterback in 2014 (10.1), down from his league-high 47.0 grade in 2013. From Week 10-17, Manning had a grade of -2.9, which ranked him 19th in the league. The jury is out on whether or not the Broncos quarterback deserved to be held off the Top 101 list this season, but his season was undoubtedly weaker than 2013 and left even Manning himself questioning his future in football.
Regardless of the Manning omission, the Broncos remain one of the most talented teams in the league, and the good news is that all seven of the players listed will return in 2015.