Denver Broncos Predictions: 7 Key Players to 2012 Season's Success
The Denver Broncos hope to build on the success of an AFC West crown and a divisional playoff run with a very different roster heading into 2012.
Beyond Manning’s acquisition, other new arrivals and key returnees from injury will hold the immediate future of the organization in their hands.
Here are seven players who will be critical to the Broncos’ hopes this season.
7. Elvis Dumervil
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Dumervil had a respectable 2011 campaign after missing the previous season with a torn pectoral muscle.
His sack numbers were down from an NFL-leading 17 in 2009, but that was mostly due to the emergence of rookie Von Miller.
While Dumervil's steady play is a must, his larger role will be as a valuable mentor to Miller.
If the veteran Dumervil can build on his solid 2011 production while helping the young Miller progress, the Broncos may have the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL.
One big benefit Peyton Manning will presumably provide under center is keeping the defense off the field more often than Tim Tebow did.
Dumervil was still able to have a strong comeback season despite the fact that the offense led the league in three-and-outs last season.
6. Willis McGahee
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Despite hitting the dreaded age of 30 that usually signals the end for an NFL running back, McGahee had a career renaissance in his ninth year.
McGahee's resurgence can be linked to the dual-threat nature of quarterback Tim Tebow, but McGahee had three 100-yard rushing games before Tebow was named the starter for Week 7.
Even before the arrival of Tebow Time, McGahee's production was trending upward.
It's difficult to gauge how McGahee will do in 2012 with such a different-looking offensive attack, but all signs are pointing to continued prosperity.
The offensive line remains intact, and Peyton Manning will hopefully open up running lanes in bringing a massive upgrade to the passing game.
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, led by Manning's younger brother Eli, proved last year that an elite passing game can counter a lackluster running game.
With uncertainty still as to how the older Manning will play, as well as questionable receiver targets, another stellar year from McGahee is crucial.
In fact, it could prove to be the difference between the Broncos being a playoff team and being a legitimate contender.
5. Von Miller
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The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year showed why he was worth the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
One trend was discouraging, though—as Miller's production dipped, the defense's numbers went up, and not in a positive way.
The Broncos lost every game in which Miller failed to register at least half a sack.
His motor is apparently not a concern, but pass-coverage skills are critical to Miller's development. Defenses around the league are on their heels due to the vastly improved receiving ability of tight ends.
Miller has the athleticism and speed to improve in coverage. Adding that dimension to his game will increase the flexibility of the Broncos' defensive scheme.
New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio should have a field day with Miller.
With Elvis Dumervil as a fellow pass-rusher to lean on and Del Rio as the defensive unit's maestro, Miller has all the right conditions to make him a superstar.
4. Tracy Porter
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Ironically, Porter will be going up against Peyton Manning in practice every day as the team's new No. 2 cornerback.
Many will recall Porter's pick-six of Manning in Super Bowl XLIV to clinch the victory for the New Orleans Saints.
Champ Bailey is a future Hall of Famer at the other corner spot, but the Broncos have been absent another viable corner.
A disastrous AFC Divisional Round loss to the New England Patriots showed that the Broncos needed serious secondary help moving forward.
That is why the Broncos went after Porter in free agency, signing him to a one-year, $4 million bargain.
Porter brings experience and another playmaker into the fold. He also feels that he was playing his best football at the end of last season.
The Broncos certainly hope that confidence can carry over to shore up the back end against the brutal aerial assaults the team will face.
3. Demaryius Thomas
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The former first-round pick exploded in his second season, emerging as the Broncos' top big-play threat.
A crazy thought is that Thomas has never played in an offense—in college or the NFL—with a passing emphasis.
With the arrival of Peyton Manning, that's inevitably going to change. What will be most interesting to see is how Thomas will adjust.
Most of the passes Thomas has caught in his career have been on seam routes, slants and broken plays in simplistic, imprecise passing attacks.
The route tree is now in full swing with Manning in command, and Thomas' grasp on the mental part of the game will be tested.
If he can catch on, Thomas should have a 1,000-plus-yard season.
If not, the Broncos and Manning will still find a way to produce, but they'd love to fully capitalize on Thomas' potential.
2. Mike Adams
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The Cleveland Browns had an elite pass defense a year ago, and Adams—who started all 16 games at free safety—was a huge reason why.
Adams is expected to fill the void left by retiring All-Pro Brian Dawkins, but he can also fill in as a nickel cornerback in third-down situations.
The secondary suffered greatly after Dawkins' neck injury, and Adams addresses the team's most significant need besides quarterback.
Coming off of a season with three interceptions and 64 tackles, Adams is viable not only in pass coverage but in tackling as well.
The state of the Broncos organization points to a winning season, something Adams hasn't experienced as a full-time starter in the league.
A fresh start in a promising situation should serve Adams well.
He will provide more stability to the free safety position than David Bruton would have as the projected starter. Bruton has started just four career games in three NFL seasons.
1. Peyton Manning
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The obvious No. 1 is the former Indianapolis Colts signal-caller.
Despite the magical run to the 2011 postseason orchestrated by—or in spite of—Tim Tebow, Manning is a legend and will presumably end his career in Denver.
Debate over whether Manning is 100-percent healthy will rage on until he is in the heat of the gridiron grind.
That said, if the Broncos felt Manning wasn't capable of extending his career after multiple neck surgeries, they wouldn't have offered him a $100 million contract.
As long as Manning is somewhere near his historically great self, it will be a mountainous task for AFC West foes to topple the defending division champions.
On top of giving invaluable advice to heir apparent QB Brock Osweiler, Manning should give the Broncos a chance to win at least one Super Bowl before he retires.