10 Denver Broncos Peyton Manning Could Turn into Pro Bowlers
Under the guidance of Executive Vice President John Elway, and with a return to a more traditional, Hall of Fame type player, the quarterback situation in Denver seems to have come full circle.
There have been several anticipated reactions to the move. One has been the excitement of Manning's new teammates—ecstatic Broncos eager to take the field with No. 18.
Additionally, Denver has become a coveted landing spot for unsigned free agents who wish to add their names to the Broncos roster and play alongside one of the greatest players ever to don a uniform. The Broncos quickly signed a wide receiver, two tight ends, a cornerback and a backup quarterback in the days immediately following Manning's decision to come to Denver.
The hope is not only that Manning will lead Denver to the Super Bowl and reclaim the Lombardi Trophy, but also that he will elevate the play of everyone around him, as he has done in Indianapolis throughout the years.
The following slides present a list of players who have a very real shot to become Pro Bowlers now that Peyton Manning is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
1. Demaryius Thomas, WR
Far and away, the Broncos player most likely to transform into one of the game's elite players due to Peyton Manning's arrival is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Hampered by injuries his rookie season which then lingered into his sophomore campaign, he finally began to scrape the dust off of his potential toward the second half of last season, attempting to find a sustainable grove with then-quarterback Tim Tebow.
Now, however, with the addition of Manning, Denver's first pick in 2010 (taken three picks ahead of you-know-who) finally has the opportunity to become what he was originally drafted to be: a legitimate "No. 1" receiver.
He has all the tools: size, strength, speed, jumping ability, good hands, good route runner, smart. Now he has a quarterback in Manning who can not only get him the ball in stride anywhere on the field, but also has the mental wherewithal and experience to put him in the right place at the right time.
Thomas was already on the receiving end of one of the most iconic plays in Broncos history (perhaps second only to John Elway's Super Bowl XXXII helicopter play) when he ended the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2011 season on an 80-yard touchdown reception from Tebow in overtime of the Wild Card Playoff Round. Certainly, the play call ingeniously bated the Steelers defense, but at least 60 of those yards were a demonstration of Thomas' pure skill—out-muscling cornerback Ike Taylor down the field and then outrunning the angle of pursuit to the end zone.
Coupled with Manning, Thomas now has the chance to make eye-popping plays of that nature a regular Sunday occurrence.
2. Eric Decker, WR
The Broncos may have won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, but in doing so Denver wide receiver Eric Decker has won the lottery.
In the midst of a breakout sophomore season with five touchdowns in his first four games, Decker did not react well to the change to Tim Tebow at quarterback and a new offensive philosophy. After hauling in 22 receptions in the initial pass-oriented offense, Decker caught only 20 balls in the final 11 games of the season.
With Manning assuming the quarterback duties, it means that Denver's offense will once again be pass-oriented, and there is not a player on the field who will benefit more than Decker.
Manning has historically had a knack for utilizing all available weapons at his disposal, and a gritty, handsy, outlet receiver is just Manning's type. Think Brandon Stokley.
Without adding any pieces except Manning, the Broncos may already possess not only the "No. 1" receiver but also the change-of-pace wideout that championships are built upon. Think Ed McCaffrey.
This combination has all of the ingredients for a breakout season from Decker, again.
3. Jacob Tamme, TE
Boy, this looks familiar.
After the Peyton Manning signing, former Colts tight end Jacob Tamme was quick to follow suit and reunite with his former passing-mate once again.
Relatively quiet through most of his first two seasons, an injury to Dallas Clark in 2010 provided Tamme with a chance to play every day and he capitalized on the opportunity, hauling in 56 receptions for 619 yards and six touchdowns, all compliments of Mr. Manning.
Now, the two will likely be wearing their same old numbers, running the same old plays in brand new uniforms in a brand new city for a brand new team. The automatic chemistry that they demonstrated in 2010 will be a huge asset so they can hit the mile-high ground running.
Incidentally, Manning is not the only one of Tamme's former teammates on the Broncos roster. Tamme also played with Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard at the University of Kentucky, and he has great respect for Woodyard and holds him in high regard.
Tamme is in an ideal spot to acclimate to his new surroundings quickly, make an immediate impact as a team leader and take aim the league's tight end reception leaders.
4. Joel Dreessen, TE
Earlier, on the same day that Jacob Tamme signed, tight end Joel Dreessen became the second pass-catcher to sign on with the Denver Broncos after they introduced Peyton Manning as their new quarterback. The Dreessen signing was unexpected, but well received.
The pairing of Tamme and Dreessen not only gives Manning two capable, pass-catching tight end outlets—weapons he has been known to use in the past—but at 6'4", 245 lbs, Dreessen is the type of physical player who can exercise his will on opponents and find the end zone.
(Quick, name another team with two big, physical, pass-catching, game-changing tight ends. Hmm... sounds a little like these guys.)
Over the past three years, Dreessen has increased his touchdown totals every season and amassed nearly 1,200 receiving yards. His versatility and physicality will be a valuable weapon for No. 18, and one that he will no doubt utilize often. All of this could very easily earn Dreessen a free trip to Honolulu.
5. J.D. Walton, C
Originally thought to be out of the mix had Denver signed free-agent center Jeff Saturday, the Broncos' lackluster effort to lock down Peyton Manning's long-time snap-mate sent one message loud and clear: they have a lot of confidence in J.D. Walton.
A third-year pro out of Baylor, Walton is young and able. Although now he will have a much larger weight of responsibility placed on his shoulders having never run a Peyton Manning-style offense—where the play is called at the line of scrimmage and the center is responsible for conducting the offense. He will certainly have his work cut out for him.
However, if he is able to form a strong bond with Manning, and prove himself, and the two can work well together, Walton's youth and exuberance may be equally beneficially to Manning. And if Manning's wisdom and experience can rub off on Walton, he may very well find himself headed to the Pro Bowl.
6. Orlando Franklin, T
Already playing opposite a Pro Bowl tackle in Ryan Clady, sophomore tackle Orlando Franklin has a chance to punch his ticket to the Hawaiian Islands this year as well.
No longer having to protect the blind side of a inexperienced, easily-flustered, left-handed quarterback as a rookie, Franklin can leave protecting the blind side to the veteran Clady. Meanwhile, he will be able to utilize Peyton Manning's calm pocket presence, Manning's quick release and Manning's vision to the right side of the field to his advantage.
As Manning has done throughout his career, he has the ability to make the players around him better. And Franklin, already a developing talent from the University of Miami, is in a position to have the caliber of his play accentuated by Manning's technique. It might just be good enough to land him on the beach.
7. Matt Prater, K
Pop quiz: What do Pro Bowl kickers Mike Vanderjagt and Adam Vinatieri have in common? Correct: Peyton Manning.
Now that Manning will be leading the Broncos offense, Denver kicker Matt Prater is perfectly positioned to add his name to that Pro Bowl list of kickers.
While Prater did receive much of the credit for Denver's success in 2011, especially from those who were loathe to assign any credit to former quarterback Tim Tebow, he was never regarded as one of the league's leading kickers.
With Manning at the helm, Prater will probably see his number of game-winning field goals from a year ago decline, but with his accuracy and distance, he should see his overall point production skyrocket—possibly to the top of the league. And that, overall scoring, is what will typically get a kicker selected to the Pro Bowl.
Prater could very well be on his way. Thank you very much, Mr. Manning!
8. Tracy Porter, CB
The most powerful image of Super Bowl XLIV was cornerback Tracy Porter's interception return for a touchdown to seal the victory for the New Orleans Saints. When Porter signed with the Denver Broncos last Thursday, it was well documented that this memorable moment came at the expense of his now-teammate Peyton Manning.
Some have tried to paint the two players as adversaries, however, it is doubtful that any lingering animosity will exist between them. In fact, it will likely have the opposite effect.
Being an extreme competitor, it's foolish to assume that Manning has forgotten the play, especially since the stakes surrounding it were so great. Still, it will likely be the spark that ignites the competitive fire in both players, as they push each other to succeed daily in practice.
With Super Bowl heroes on either side of the football, it should bode well for the Broncos. And with Manning there to challenge Porter to be at his best every single day, he could be making plays this season in the Pro Bowl.
9. Wesley Woodyard, LB
It is true that Peyton Manning makes his fellow offensive teammates better, but he also contributes to making his defensive teammates better as well.
The Broncos led the league in three-and-outs last season, and even though their defense played admirably all year, they did so on short rest. If Manning is right, the Broncos should be able to move the chains, which will allow the defense time to catch its collective breath.
One player who could derive extreme benefits from this is linebacker Wesley Woodyard. On a team of leaders, Woodyard is quietly one of the most respected members of the team, and possibly the least appreciated—at least nationally.
However, Woodyard's performance on the field has seen marked improvement. He had a career-high 97 tackles last season, and showed a knack for coming up with the big play when it mattered most—like forcing a fumble against the Chicago Bears' Marion Barber in overtime that led directly to the Broncos dramatic come-from-behind win.
With Manning adding his solid character, competitive nature and ability to possess the ball on offense, it could be the recipe for a player like Woodyard to rise above his anonymity outside of the Broncos locker room, both in the eyes of the media and around the league.
10. Tim Tebow, QB
I know, it sounds crazy.
And I know, he is now a former-Bronco, but it just might be crazy enough that it could potentially happen.
One thing is for sure, there is no way Tim Tebow could have made the Pro Bowl languishing under Peyton Manning on the Broncos depth chart. But now, with his jettison to New York, Tebow has a chance to make an even bigger impact on the biggest stage this nation has to offer—the Big Apple.
And who knows? If he is able to unseat another starting quarterback, string together another rash of unthinkable, improbable victories, change the course of his new team's season, lead yet another team to the playoffs and possibly earn his second-career playoff victory—all under the bright lights of Broadway—it may very well be enough to send him to Hawaii.
Imagine the irony: if Manning and Tebow were reunited as teammates once again, playing for the AFC in the 2013 Pro Bowl. It would definitely be poetic justice, and just the kind of miracle that Denver has grown all too accustomed to from the play of their quarterbacks.