This last decade of Broncos’ football had a little bit of everything. It opened with the end of the Josh McDaniel’s era, what was unquestionably the darkest time in this fans’ lifetime. When John Elway took over as General Manager it was no sure thing in some circles that he’d prove to be more than a public relations’ stunt. Instead, the Duke struck gold with his first ever draft pick and navigated through the Tebow era to bring championship level football back to Denver.
It’s been easy to lose sight of all this with the rebuild since Peyton rode off into the sunset, but the Broncos won 94 (95 depending on Sunday) games in the 2010’s, including Super Bowl 50. It took some really awesome individual performances to achieve that much success, so what better time to look back on them with 2020 upon us.
Coordinator: Jeff Rodgers
Kicker: Matt Prater
Punter: Britton Colquitt
Long Snapper: Casey Kreiter
Returner: Trindon Holliday
One of the bigger bummers of John Fox’ departure for the Bears was the loss of Rodgers. During his run from 2011 to 2014, the Broncos special teams were actually... you know, special.
Coordinator: Wade Phillips
There ought to be a spot in the Hall of Fame for assistant coaches, because there is no coach more instrumental to the Broncos title in 2015 than the son of Bum. He took over a strong unit from Jack Del Rio, and with a couple of unsung additions turned it into one of the best defenses ever.
Defensive Line: Derek Wolfe
Nose Tackle: Terrance Knighton
Defensive Line: Malik Jackson
This is one of the more obvious position groups. Pot Roast was a stud for his two year run, while Malik Jackson served as one of the better interior rushers in football under Wade. More than a couple of Von’s sacks have come via the dirty work provided by Wolfe, he’s been a consummate pro his entire career and the numbers alone don’t do him justice.
Edge: Von Miller
Edge: DeMarcus Ware
It seems strange, but this was one of the hardest positions to determine for the team. Elvis Dumervil will always be one of those unsung Hall of Very good players in franchise history and he really was one of the few reasons to watch the defense in the latter part of the Shanahan era. But, in the end it came down to a fax.
It’s hard to quantify the impact Ware really had because a large part of what he gave the Broncos lives on in Miller. If you remember, 2013 was the season Von ran into into a true crossroads. He had legal trouble that led to a suspension and tore his ACL. Ware was a true professional and the kind of leader his teammates would run through a wall for.
Kind of like 58 now.
The defining play of the Broncos' 2010's. pic.twitter.com/91usRu1Q0R— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 26, 2019
Linebacker: Danny Trevathan
Linebacker: Brandon Marshall
Elway has notoriously failed to invest major draft capital into the stack linebacker position since he was hired in 2011. Nate Irving has the best draft pedigree of any Elway linebacker after he was taken in the third round of that first draft and still didn’t warrant much consideration for either of these two spots.
D.J. Williams did though. He was the first rookie jersey I ever received way back when he was a first round pick in 2004. Over the course of his career in orange and blue he played four different positions in countless schemes before departing for Chicago in 2013.
In the end, he simply didn’t shine like this duo did. They will always remain a pair in my mind. For one reason, they made up what was perhaps the best off ball linebacker duo in the league in 2015. For another, they serve as a perfect example as to how injury luck is just that.
Rewind back to the 2014 and Marshall only really got his first break into the lineup because of injuries to Trevathan that limited him to just 98 snaps all season. So after 2015 when Elway had to come to a decision on the veteran free agent, he instead let him depart for a 4-year $28 million contract with the Bears. Minus Danny, the Wade Phillips defense would lean on Marshall and a young backup named Todd Davis.
In early 2016 the Duke doubled down on his decision and extended Marshall because of his strong play to start the season. Hindsight is 20-20, and we now know that various ailments would impair the linebacker over the remainder of his Broncos’ career.
So throwing these two together one last time feels like a fitting end to a complicated decade for Denver linebackers.
Corner: Aqib Talib
Safety: T.J. Ward
Safety: Darian Stewart
Corner: Champ Bailey
Nickel: Chris Harris Jr.
It’s hard to breakup the No Fly Zone, so I’m not going to try with Roby for Champ my one exception. I’m sure he’d understand, and if I had to go dime we could do a heck of a lot worse than the former first rounder.
This was an easy group I spent way too long overthinking. Guys like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tracy Porter, and Brian Dawkins were all good to great players at one point in their NFL careers. They simply didn’t do enough in Denver to unseat these five.
Justin Simmons is another guy we could look back on and wonder about in a few years, but after pushing Ward off the roster in 2017 it took the former 3rd round pick some time and Vic Fangio to find his stride.
It's insane that Chris Harris Jr. didn't make his first Pro Bowl until 2014. Strap was balling for years by then, just ask Flacco. pic.twitter.com/DMs7jQ9qBD— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 26, 2019
Coordinator: Adam Gase
There was a stretch of time where I would argue with people that Denver made a huge mistake hiring Gary Kubiak over Gase because of how it’d hurt the team in the long haul. Oops.
Even with how big a mistake he’s been as a head coach, Gase had a run with Peyton that was about as magical as it gets. If I had to actually take this offense onto the field he’d be the coordinator calling plays for it.
Left Tackle: Ryan Clady
Left Guard: Zane Beadles
Center: Matt Paradis
Right Guard: Louis Vasquez
Right Tackle: Orlando Franklin
One of the more interesting groups to put together as the Broncos made a noticeable shift with their blocking schemes over the decade. It shows in this list, and it’s going to be interesting going forward how the team continues to blend gap and zone blocking to make the most of the personnel on the roster, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Chris Kuper may be a name some are wondering about here because he did finish out his playing career in the 2010’s, but because so much of it was spent on I.R. I couldn’t place him.
Clady came in as a rookie from Boise as a worthy heir to Matt Lepsis and was quietly one of the better left tackles in football ‘til injuries derailed him. He was cat quick with smooth mobility for his size.
Which makes him quite the contrast for players like Franklin, and Vasquez. Both were built to maul an opponent and excelled in power schemes. The latter is one of the more peculiar successful free agent signings of the decade as he came over from the Chargers, eventually played some tackle, and disappeared from football after the 2015 season at 28.
Zane Beadles was a McDaniels find that turned into an solid blocker in space and along the second level during his Broncos career. As good as he was, Elway probably made the right call to let him take a big deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars after Super Bowl 48.
Matt Paradis was one of those afterthought selections in 2014 that turned into a gem under Gary Kubiak. He served as the one bright spot on a line in turmoil these past few years, with 3,850 consecutive snaps to begin his career. A broken leg ended the streak and eventually his career in orange and blue in 2018.
Wide Receiver: Demaryius Thomas
Wide Receiver: Emmanuel Sanders
Slot Receiver: Wes Welker
Tight End: Julius Thomas
It sure does feel like we spent the vast majority of Bay bay’s career overlooking how great he was. Thomas averaged a little under 73 yards a game during his Broncos’ career and caught a touchdown almost every other game. Yes, he had Manning for four years, the only average quarterback he had for that eight year run that includes his rookie year and a fullback throwing passes.
E and Eric Decker could ruffle a few feathers, but one chose to come to Denver while the other chased reality TV stardom in the Big Apple. We’ll never know, but it’s worth wondering what Sanders could have done in the 2013 offense. He went for 1404 yards and 9 touchdowns the next season even as Manning began to break down.
Like some others on this list, both Welker and Thomas’ run in Denver was really short but very memorable. The Manning offense was notorious for heavily relying on 11 personnel and these two forced defenses to pick their cyanide on every single down.
Running back: Phillip Lindsay
Fullback: Andy Janovich
If take issue with this one because of C.J. Anderson I’m not going to fight you on it. The Broncos’ bowling ball of a back was a key part of the playoff run in 2015. Rookie Scouting Portfolio’s Matt Waldman was ahead of the curve on Anderson back in 2013 when he said:
I think he has the best combination of physical dimensions, agility, burst, and balance of the backs on this roster. Knowshon Moreno is a better passing down back, but I think Anderson offers more as a runner and, with more experience, he has the potential to be as good as Moreno in the passing game.
He compared Anderson to the Bengals’ warhorse Rudi Johnson, and said he’d surprise upon receiving an opportunity. I’ve valued his opinion on backs ever since.
Knowshon Moreno also warrants a bit of love because he became a trusted backfield mate during the early part of the Manning era. His injury is an underrated part of the 2012 overtime loss to Baltimore. I’ll never forgive myself for overlooking his chances in the backfield competition in 2013 and losing out on an obvious steal in fantasy football. That year he wound up as the first back in Broncos’ history with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
In the end though, I’m going with what I see over what the numbers and history say. It’s very early, but health willing Lindsay’s has a chance to be the kind of back we’re still talking about at the end of the 2020s.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning
We’ll never see another Sheriff.
Remember that time Peyton Manning threw for 7 touchdowns in a single game? pic.twitter.com/P8BWrFnp03— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 26, 2019
What coach should lead the Broncos’ 2010 team?
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Jack Del Rio
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Dak Prescott did not practice on Christmas and Jason Garrett said the team will treat the QB and his injured shoulder on a day-by-day basis like the previous week. “Hopefully, we can get him on the same path where he’s able to go on Sunday.”
As the Cardinals try to end the season on a three-game winning streak, two of their key players would have been limited in practice on Wednesday, if the Cardinals actually had practiced.
The Texans, like most teams in the NFL, did not practice on Christmas Day. They still had to file a practice report, and based on their estimation, quarterback Deshaun Watson would have gotten limited work. Watson has a back injury.
The Chiefs added some help on defense, and put yet another running back on injured reserve. Via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, the Chiefs put running back Spencer Ware on IR because of a shoulder problem, and activated defensive lineman Xavier Williams from IR.
As the Saints close in on possible a playoff bye, they definitely could use it. Two of the best players on the team emerged on Wednesday’s injury report, from a practice that didn’t happen.
Devlin Hodges will be playing quarterback for the Steelers in their final game of 2019 and the team is hopeful that they’ll get a chance to play a postseason game in 2020. Whether they advance to the playoffs or not, another quarterback has designs on making starts for them next year.