Every season in the NFL, something unexpected happens. That's part of what we love about the NFL. In fact, just about every team has a few players that are surprisingly good or bad. Expect the unexpected.
With training camps getting started this week, it's time for old-fashioned bold predictions. For this edition, each prediction corresponds to a major question mark headed into training camp. These are bold predictions, which means they are not completely grounded in reality, stats or even sound analysis. Bold predictions are gut feelings, but I'll provide insight into my line of thinking.
A hit percentage over 50 percent on a bold prediction would be above-average, so take these with a grain of salt and make a list of your own bold predictions on the comments section.
The Broncos have a very tough schedule, and Manning hasn't played in a year. The Broncos will want to be cautious with Manning's injury and will let Manning dictate his own pass in training camp. What this could mean for the Broncos is a slow start because Manning is not able to do all the things he likes to do to get ready for a season.
Compared to Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton, Manning will still look like a superstar to training camp observers, but the real test will be how Manning responds getting hit and against tough teams. In my mind, Manning might not look himself once the pressure is on and might have a bad season by Manning's standards.
D.J. Williams is a solid linebacker. Some might say Williams is a good linebacker. When he is suspended for the first six games, Wesley Woodyard is likely to start in his place. Woodyard is probably better in coverage, but not as talented of a pass-rusher, and the Broncos shouldn't be much worse off at outside linebacker.
Unfortunately for Denver, Woodyard playing outside linebacker means Joe Mays will be in on more passing downs at middle linebacker. With a tough early season schedule, it's going to be a major coaching challenge for Jack Del Rio to figure out how to hide Mays' deficiencies.
I have my doubts about Demaryius Thomas' route running and overall ability to stay healthy. Manning will insist on players running precise routes and being in the right place at the right time. Decker developed quickly and seems like the type of guy that will do everything Manning wants.
Thomas certainly has a lot of ability, and I'm not discounting him, but he's never really run the entire route tree and he's had injury troubles. He's going to have to learn on the fly, and by the time he has learned everything, Manning may have already settled on a favorite target.
Willis McGahee's age could be factor and injuries could also come into play. In the case of injury or ineffectiveness, Hillman will be the first player off the bench at running back. Hillman has fresh legs, and that could be a welcome boost if the Broncos struggle early in the season, as Hillman could provide a spark.
Hillman has to improve on his pass-blocking to get Manning's approval, but that's something the coaches will be working with him on during training camp. Hillman should get the opportunity to start at some point, and he will not relinquish the job once he does.
NFL centers are a little unique and teams typically don't draft these players in the first half of the draft unless they are potential starters. J.D. Walton was also the worst center in the NFL last year, as graded by ProFootballFocus. It shouldn't be hard for Blake to match Walton's production.
Normally, the worry for a rookie center would be the mental aspect of the position, but Peyton Manning will make a lot of protection calls at the line of scrimmage, and that will make it easier for a rookie center.
Expect the coaching staff to make the switch at some point during the season, but why not Week 1?
Joe Mays is a two-down linebacker, and his struggles in coverage are well-known. During the early part of the season, Wesley Woodyard will be playing outside linebacker and may not be able to rescue Mays in coverage.
There's little reason to believe Mays will be better in coverage in 2012, and a slow start by the team and overall struggles against the run could make Mays an easy scapegoat.
Nate Irving is expected to push Mays during training camp, and he might just be impressive enough to push the veteran to the bench.
The Broncos defense will face Darren McFadden and Jamaal Charles twice, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Arian Foster, Michael Turner and the Carolina Panthers' three-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton.
All of this with a defensive line that was suspect against the run last season. Ty Warren returns after missing the entire 2011 season and the Broncos drafted Derek Wolfe to help, but will that be enough?
If the Broncos don't get out to a lead to limit the running attack, there's a good chance the run defense will suffer.
Jacob Tamme has chemistry with Manning, but Tamme didn't always have Manning's trust. Until Dallas Clark was injured in 2010, Tamme was a reserve that rarely saw action. It took a couple weeks before Manning started to trust Tamme after Clark was out of the lineup.
Fortunately for Dreesen, he's got all of training camp to work with Manning, and if a couple weeks is all that is needed, he's got plenty of time. The Broncos paid him more, and he's also a bigger target than Tamme.
I wouldn't totally handicap the tight end battle for Tamme just because he's played with Manning before.
Manning doesn't let himself get sacked very much; he's too smart and feels the pressure coming. He's also going to be extra cautious at his age, and he's going to protect himself as much as possible from further injury.
The offensive line in Indianapolis gave up 16 sacks in 2010 and 13 in 2009. In 2011 without Manning, the Colts gave up 35 sacks. The difference is Manning.
The Broncos gave up 42 sacks in 2011, but that number was artificially inflated because of Tim Tebow. The line in Denver is solid in pass protection, and that's Ryan Clady's best attribute. There will be talk about the much improved offensive line, but in reality, it is just Manning and the return to a pro-style offense.
It might not be the boldest of predictions, but it is still a 50-50 guess at this point.
Moreno is coming off an ACL and the Broncos are now deep at running back. With McGahee, Hillman, Lance Ball and Mario Fannin, there's really not a need for Moreno.
It usually takes time for player to regain their burst after an ACL tear, and Moreno has been rehabbing the injury for less than a year. Moreno lacked burst when he was healthy, a classic slow fast guy if that makes any sense.
He's been cleared medically for training camp, but he seems like an easy camp cut provided the Broncos don't have any preseason injuries at the position.