5 Denver Broncos Role Players Who Will Thrive with Peyton Manning
"The great players make those around them better."
When you think of the best players in any sport, that statement holds true.
This is especially true for quarterbacks.
John Elway made the average players around him better. Steve Sewell, Mark Jackson and Gene Lang all profited from playing with him.
Joe Montana had Wendell Tyler, John Taylor and Dwight Clark.
And Peyton Manning has already had success building up players like Terrence Wilkins and Anthony Gonzalez.
So who will be the newest beneficiaries of playing with an elite quarterback like Peyton Manning?
Here are five Broncos who will thrive the most.
5. Ronnie Hillman
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Ronnie Hillman is the Broncos' third-round draft pick out of San Diego State.
Hillman is probably not big and strong enough to be an every-down back in the NFL. He is only 5'9" and 200 pounds, which is somewhat slight for the running back position.
But Hillman can definitely be a change-of-pace running back.
He is very quick and adept at making defenders miss.
Peyton Manning utilized a similarly sized running back in Indianapolis.
Dominic Rhodes is just 5'9" and a shade over 200 pounds.
Rhodes had averaged nearly 500 yards rushing per season with Manning while playing a comparable role.
With Willis McGahee getting the bulk of the carries, and numerous questions about Knowshon Moreno, this position is up for Hillman to take.
4. Julius Thomas
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Julius Thomas may be the most talented pass catching tight end on the Broncos roster.
The tight end spot has been completely revamped this year.
Last year the Broncos carried Thomas in addition to Virgil Green, Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario.
Only Thomas and Green remain.
New faces Cornelius Ingram, Joel Dreessen, Anthony Miller and Jacob Tamme all join the roster this season.
Dreessen is more of a blocker than a receiver, he has averaged just 18 catches per season in his six-year career.
Tamme is the odds on favorite to get the bulk of the catches. Tamme is more experienced and has played with Manning previously in Indianapolis.
But don't count out Thomas. He may have the most skills of all the tight ends.
A former basketball player, Thomas has the great hands and athletic ability to make him a star.
3. Matt Prater
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I hesitate to include Matt Prater on this list as we know him to be a force...not just a role player.
Yet, what else do you deem a player who plays less than 10 snaps per game?
In his career thus far with the Broncos, Prater has averaged making right around 18 field goals per season. He has averaged almost 26 point after kicks.
Let's compare that to kickers who have played with Peyton Manning.
Adam Vinatieri has averaged 23.5 field goals per season and 45 extra points in four full seasons with Manning.
Mike Vanderjagt averaged 27 field goals per season and 43 extra points in his eight seasons with Peyton.
That averages out to be nearly 40 additional points per season for Prater.
Good thing the Broncos recently re-signed Prater to a four-year deal.
2. Robert Ayers
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Peyton Manning doesn't simply change your offensive scheme. He completely changes the way your defense plays, too.
No longer are you playing from behind as much, with every game being a battle of field position and late-game field goals.
Now you may be playing with a lead and the opposing team may be forsaking its running game.
That couldn't be more ideal for a player like Robert Ayers.
Ayers has shown flashes of being a dangerous pass rusher, but it has not been consistent. In his first three seasons thus far Ayers has averaged just 32 tackles and just over one sack per year.
Ayers now has a chance to become a true force.
1. Eric Decker
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I am a big Eric Decker fan. I like the way the kid works and how he carries himself on and off the field.
Yet, with his knack for making plays, Decker has made defenses take notice.
Eric Decker can be a great slot receiver. He is smart enough to read blitzes and run hot routes in order for Manning to get the ball out quickly. And he is tough enough to go over the middle.
Decker stands to gain the most with Peyton Manning as his quarterback.
Think of Pierre Garcon in Indy catching 67 passes in 2010. Or Brandon Stokley having 68 receptions in 2004. By comparison, Decker caught 44 balls last year.
That is a big jump in production.