The moment the lower-third graphic flashes “SELECTION” during the NFL Draft, just about every fan base of every team immediately starts to wonder if the name about to appear on screen will ultimately be the next great find. For the same reasons we buy lottery tickets, go to casinos, and allow the E-Trade baby to continue his reign of unmitigated terror (dislike!), the draft is yet another chance to believe against statistics.
The gimmick of “grading” drafts has actually become so cliche it’s spawned its own antithetical cliche of explaining how drafts can’t be truly graded for five years. So let’s go ahead and not do any of that…or at least say we won’t.
Instead, we’ll take the same basic premise of prognosticating the impact of the Denver Broncos’ latest draft haul, but base it off of position rather than player. It seems appropriate to take this approach as the Broncos are not a fundamentally flawed team. As much as some may point to the team’s earlier-than-expected playoff exit, there is no unit on the current roster that remotely approaches woeful status. Yes, the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, and Atlanta Falcons bruised the secondary, but those teams did the same to most every secondary. (It’s also worth noting an equally big factor in Denver losing was its own offense’s inability to adequately respond.)
For our purposes, let’s assume the Broncos were more or less in the ballpark in their assessment of talent (i.e. the personnel crew didn’t greatly overvalue or undervalue any of the selections). With that in mind, we’ll go through each unit, and what influence the latest crop of Broncos should have on each unit.
Addressed in Rounds: 1, 5
Positions Drafted: DT, DE
2012 Impressions: An improved, but still slightly suspect unit. Strong edge rush ability, but significant interior lapses. Inability to sustain pressure in middle against pass, and against strong running games (especially Houston and the Kansas City Chiefs).
2013 Projection: Additions of Sylvester Williams and veteran Terrance Knighton will greatly improve unit’s ability to occupy blockers, possibly making edge rush more effective. Loss of Elvis Dumervil should be obsolete with additions of veteran free agent Shaun Phillips and rookie Quanterus Smith (if healthy). True tackles will allow Denver more personnel packages with versatile Derek Wolfe. Kevin Vickerson and Mitch Unrein allow interior depth with potential for continued development or additional minutes by Malik Jackson.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: Um, maybe. The Broncos should greatly benefit from the added size in the interior, but the big men must have stellar conditioning to make an impact against a hyper tempo offense.
Addressed in Round: 3
Position Drafted: CB
2012 Impressions: Much of what the Broncos did on defense began with the premise that Champ Bailey would take away one side of the field (this mainly happened…yet again). Strong performances by committee opposite Bailey. Susceptible to getting beat deep on the outside, and frequently faced interior mismatches with above-average or better tight ends and slot receivers. Difficulty against elite passing attacks.
2013 Projection: See above. Nothing against Kayvon Webster, but the third rounder probably isn’t jumping Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Tony Carter, and perhaps even Omar Bolden. Sure, injuries and heavy use of sub-packages could get Webster some reps, but this wasn’t a “play now” pick. As much as we’d like to wish otherwise, there likely wasn’t a corner in this draft who would’ve given Denver a decided edge against elite passing attacks. So long as the Broncos get solid special teams play out of Webster, any flashes of competence on defense this season would be a bonus.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: Probably not. The best Denver can hope for is enough drop-off between Wes Welker and Danny Amendola to make the slot threat a wash. Denver should continue to hold up well against New England’s receivers, but the tight ends still remain a conundrum without a clear solution.
Addressed in Round: 2
Position Drafted: RB
2012 Impressions: An effective non-threat. Solid all-around contributions by Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno. Ronnie Hillman billed as home-run hitter, but only showed it in spurts. In general, the ground game was something opposing defenses had to be mindful of, but not scheme against to stop. McGahee and Moreno were as valuable as blockers and receiving out of the backfield as they were running. Unit was good enough to allow Denver to sustain late-game drives with the lead.
2013 Projection: Probably better, maybe the same. Montee Ball enters the league as a workhorse back with a strong record of production at Wisconsin. One frequent concern is he took too much of a beating in college and injuries will catch up to him. This is pretty baseless. You could easily say guys who only started two years in college lack the durability to stay injury-free in the pros. The injury discussion is meaningful though, as Denver has endured successive seasons of injuries to its backfield. Ideally, Ball makes it possible for Denver to dismiss his cousin (not really) Lance. If that can happen this unit can sustain a suitable, if not mind-blowing level of play.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: Yes…provided injuries are avoided, and what Denver does with its roster. Ultimately, the Broncos would be best served to be in a situation where Hillman is no longer asked to be something he’s not (a pounding interior runner). This can be accomplished with a committee of Moreno and Ball, or McGahee, Moreno, and Ball, etc. Depth and health from the bigger backs will allow the Broncos to fuel an up-tempo offense with a fresh backfield and multi-dimensional depth.
Addressed in Round: 5
Position Drafted: WR
2012 Impressions: Statistically strong, but not quite mesmerizing. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker teamed to form one of the league’s most productive duos. Brandon Stokely epitomized reliable in the slot. Aside from them…not much else to love. Capable of big plays. Could disappear at times. No one player consistently inspired spectators to ask, “How is that guy always getting so open?”
2013 Projections: On paper, scary. With a season of experience both Thomas and Decker should now be extremely comfortable with the abilities and expectations of Peyton Manning. Still, both need to develop as route runners and develop more dependability in getting open. Addition of Welker may greatly assist with this. The Broncos now have exactly 1/5 of the league’s 2012 reception leaders on the roster. Still lack a bona fide downfield threat. Tavarres King could be that piece as he’s billed as a quick-start speed guy. If this proves true and he develops consistency (which he’ll need if he wants to see any playing time with Manning), the Broncos passing game alone could pose a world of problems of league defenses.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: Better be…downing elite teams relies heavily on putting points on the board as quickly and often as possible. Denver’s points must come fluidly through the air.
Addressed in Round: 6
Position Drafted: OT
2012 Impressions: Solid unit that too often contended with injuries showing a noticeable lack of all-around depth. While the line inevitably wasn’t able to keep Manning upright all season, it did keep him from getting drilled by unobstructed rushers for the most part. Average run-blocking ability. Run-blocking did improve when Denver was playing with large leads, but then again, doesn’t everything?
2013 Projections: The addition of Virginia Tech’s Vinston Painter doesn’t beef up this unit. However, the addition of San Diego’s Louis Vasquez helps tremendously. A little more fortune on the health front should make this unit stingy once again, and hopefully slightly more effective on the ground. The Broncos don’t need a great running game to win a championship, but if they manage to find one it makes a Super Bowl run all the more likely. Denver has attempted to quietly reinforce the line through late round draft selections the past two years…the hope is returning veterans and free agency fillers allow these players to develop.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: Yes. Vasquez should provide needed strength against big D-Lineman (including massive Vince Wilfork). With the Broncos receiving threats its unlikely teams will be willing to send extra personnel after Manning on a regular basis. If this unit can ratchet up its win/loss record on the line of scrimmage, it will be tough predicament for defenses: Blitz Manning and risk big plays, or let him cut you apart four yards at a time.
Addressed in Round: 7
Position Drafted: QB…shocking, huh
2012 Impressions: (Gleeful laughter)
2013 Projections: STAY HEALTHY, PEYTON!! (If this doesn’t happen, I’ll be real honest, it’s not really going to matter that much that Denver drafted Zac Dysert.) The one thing I will say about Dysert is that while he was likely drafted to compete with Brock Osweiler, he’s more like one of those horses trainers bring in to keep their Triple Crown hopefuls company. While it remains a mystery whether Osweiler will truly be the quarterback of the future, the Broncos obviously want to nudge him without threatening him. The team’s gamble is that Manning stays healthy for at least another full season. Right now, throwing Osweiler in as a starter likely puts him into action ahead of schedule…never a good thing.
Good enough to beat Patriots?: You bet with Manning. Not a chance without.
The Denver Broncos emerged as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2012. By all accounts they’re entering 2013 with more upgrades than downgrades. The team finally appears to have landed a key player in a position they’ve struggled to fill in past drafts (defensive tackle), and bolstered other positions that weren’t necessarily broken, but needed some extra umph. All in all, the one thing we can confidently say is the Broncos emerged from the free agency frenzy and draft without obviously screwing up (Dumervil weirdness aside). This team isn’t far from a championship, but needs to be proven right on its personnel decisions quickly, as the window to a Super Bowl inches ever closer to closed.