The importance of wide receivers in Denver this season is no secret, Peyton Manning.
Manning and the Broncos have two options at slot receiver, Brandon Stokley and Andre Caldwell.
I believe Caldwell will win the slot job based on his consistency, versatility and his fit with the rest of the receiving group.
Bronco fans love to talk about their quarterbacks, even when Tim Tebow was in town, but often lost in the shuffle is the importance of the wide receiver.
As Bronco fans saw in the first preseason game, you can have the best quarterback in the league but if your receivers can’t hold on to the football it really doesn’t matter.
Dropped or tipped passes can lead to interceptions, incompletions and stalled drives.
Arguably the most important wide receiver for moving the chains is the slot receiver.
Who is a slot receiver? Wes Welker.
The Denver Broncos have a bit of a competition at slot receiver between Stokley and Caldwell.
Stokley is a former target of Manning’s in Indianapolis and former Bronco.
Caldwell is a former Cincinnati Bengal.
While Stokley may be a more familiar face, Caldwell may have an inside track to the starting job. Here’s why.
Peyton Manning is one of the most consistent and accurate quarterbacks of all time.
Manning is currently third in the NFL in passing yards (54,828) and third in pass completions (4,682). He has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes.
Consistent hands are a must for a Manning-led offense to succeed.
As any wide receiver will tell you, the only way to stay consistent with routes and pass catching is to be in the lineup.
Stokley has played in 14 or more games in just five of his 13 NFL seasons. His most recent was 16 games in 2009-10 with the Broncos.
Caldwell is entering his fourth NFL season. He played in all 16 games in his second season and 15 in his third year.
Last season, Caldwell played in 11 games for the Bengals and notched just 315 receiving yards.
Caldwell is a consistent player, averaging 31 catches per season as a Bengal and the Bengals never had Manning.
The Bengals didn’t have a prolific passing attack in any of Caldwell’s seasons in Cincinnati. The highest they ranked was 13th in passing yards in 2010.
With a consistent quarterback, Caldwell could be the more consistent option.
It’s unfortunate to hold Stokley’s age against him but in this case it’s a valid point.
Stokley is 36 years old. His most productive year in the NFL, the only season where he notched 1,000 yards, was back in 2004-05.
Since then, he hasn’t broken the 700-yard mark since. He got close in 2007-08 with the Broncos (635) but hasn’t sniffed it since.
Caldwell, on the other hand, is still searching for the 500-yard mark. But, he brings a new level to the game the Broncos may use: kick returning.
Stokley hasn’t returned a kick in his NFL career.
Caldwell has 45 kick returns for nearly 1,000 yards. If this position comes down to versatility, Caldwell should certainly get the nod.
Caldwell also has the speed advantage.
Stokley runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash.
Caldwell runs a 4.35.
Caldwell's 4.35 is the fastest of the Bronco receivers.
You have to assume that the Broncos’ leading wide receivers from last season will be the two outside wide receivers. Those two are Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Praise is high for both of those young receivers, despite being in a run-heavy offense last season. Via broncos.com:
“I'm very pleased with where they are at this point in time,” wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said of Decker and Thomas. “Going into their third season, they've seen some things that are going to help them be able to
grow. They take coaching very well and they try to do everything that you ask them to do. When they do that and have success, that permeates them wanting to learn even more, be it from me, be it from (Offensive Coordinator) Mike McCoy, be it from Peyton, it doesn't really matter.”
The Broncos wanted a third receiver who could run and make plays. The addition of Caldwell seems to fit that mold.
“His addition to our receiving core has helped us tremendously,” Tolbert
said of Caldwell. “Believe it or not, he's the fastest guy out there. He can really run and he's made a lot of plays this spring. One of the things we
targeted in the offseason is we wanted to get a third guy who had some pretty good size but was really fast, who could make plays. We think we have that in ‘Bubba’ Caldwell.”
If Caldwell starts, he will be the veteran of the receiving group.
This receiving group has three guys with the ability to stretch defenses, making it harder for opponents to load the box and stop the run—if that is how they want to approach defending Manning.
Thomas averages 15.4 yards per catch.
Decker averages 14.4 and Caldwell averages 9.5.
Not a bad group of young receivers. They could all see significant stat increases playing with Manning.
Unfortunately for Stokley, he is going to be the odd-man out. He will take on more of a tutoring role than a playing role in 2012-13.
If they can stay healthy, the Broncos may have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL for the next few years, even after Manning.