Denver Broncos: Grading the Entire 53-Man Roster
The 2012 Denver Broncos kickoff the regular season in just four days.
And while we have no idea what this season will hold, we can at least evaluate the talent on this year's roster.
Head coach John Fox and company have made their final cuts and have selected the roster they feel is the best.
As the season goes on, there will be injuries. There will be roster changes. The Broncos begin the season with two players (linebacker D.J. Williams and tight end Virgil Green) on the reserve/suspended list.
So before any of those changes happen, let's take a look at the current roster and each player on it.
How does it grade out, and—as a result—what should Bronco fans expect this season?
Zane Beadles: The third year starting left guard is steady if unspectacular. C+
Philip Blake: Blake is a rookie who is currently gong to back up Beadles at left guard. His future may be bright, but he's not there yet. D
Ryan Clady: The fifth year left tackle was elected to his second Pro Bowl in 2011. A
Chris Clark: Clark will see very limited time backing up either Clady or Franklin at tackle. C
C.J Davis: Davis will spend his third season backing up starting center J.D. Walton. C-
Orlando Franklin: The Broncos are big on the starting right tackle with a bit of a mean streak. B+
Chris Kuper: Kuper is consistent if he is healthy, but he has a broken left forearm that will limit him for at least a month. C+
Manny Ramirez: Ramirez will get significant playing time while Kuper is healing. He has looked solid so far. He must stay healthy. C
J.D. Walton: Is he the long term answer at center? Who knows? But he has looked improved so far from last season. B
FINAL ANALYSIS: This is a top heavy group with the majority of the talent on the starting unit. Getting Kuper to 100 percent will be a lift. This group must stay healthy because depth is a problem.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Joel Dreessen: It has been widely known that Dreessen is an above average blocker, but he has looked very comfortable catching the ball as well. B
Jacob Tamme: Tamme has shown the pass catching skills we expected, and he seems to be an early favorite of Peyton Manning's. He may be the most dangerous tight end on the roster. B
Julius Thomas: Thomas was largely invisible in the preseason. In fact, his only memorable plays were dropped balls. He has been suffering from an ankle injury so maybe he'll improve once he is healthy. He needs to step up his game or the return of Virgil Green will mean an exit for him. D
FINAL ANALYSIS: Thomas' inconsistency should lower this unit's grade. However, the prospect of Virgil Green returning coupled with the fact Tamme and Dreessen will get the bulk of the work until then allows the group a fairly positive prediction. This unit is vastly improved over the past few seasons.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Andre Caldwell: He didn't have a great preseason, but Bubba still has the ability to stretch the field—and his hands are better than he showed. He gives this offense a solid third or fourth receiver. C+
Eric Decker: Decker may be the wideout that benefits from playing with Peyton Manning the most. He runs crisp routes, and he's faster than defenders give him credit for. He will battle for the football. A-
Brandon Stokely: The 14-year veteran seems to have been born again with Manning in Denver. He will continue to grind and outwork people. His hands are amazing and Manning trusts him. C
Demaryius Thomas: He has the most talent. Now he needs to work the hardest. His route running must improve or he wont get many looks. Manning is precise, and he expects the same of his wide receivers. Thomas has potential, but he must step up his game. B+
Matthew Willis: Willis has excellent hands, and he provides some much needed depth. He makes tough catches and always seems to manage to make a push for additional yardage. C
FINAL ANALYSIS: There are only five wide receivers on the 53-man roster so this is another unit that needs to stay healthy. They will continue to improve with Manning at the helm.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Lance Ball: Ball isn't flashy, but he does two things that you really like in a backup running back: runs extremely hard and doesn't put the ball on the ground. He is actually a better receiver than we realized which helps him, too. B-
Chris Gronkowski: The big fullback is there to block, and he does that very well. His blocking will help the running game. B
Ronnie Hillman: Injured for most of the preseason, he showed some flashes of what he can do in the final two games. A change of pace back with big play potential, Hillman could be a very interesting addition. B-
Willis McGahee: How do you follow up a 1,200 yard season? You work even harder and make yourself even better. McGahee is the clear starter and has looked even stronger and faster this year. A
Knowshon Moreno: Moreno was one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. I fully expected this kid to throw in the towel and be a last cut casualty. Instead, he has run harder and more determined than ever. He is listed as being on the second team unit and if he gets an opportunity he may make the most of it. C+
FINAL ANALYSIS: This unit has depth and can attack you in a number of different ways. While this offense is no longer "run first," they will remain to be major contributors to this team's success.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Caleb Hanie: Hanie looked like a rookie with some potential in the preseason. That would be fine if he was a rookie. This is his fifth season in the NFL. That concerns me a great deal. D-
Peyton Manning: Manning has answered numerous questions with his play so far. He has made all the throws and has even taken some pretty good hits and popped right back up from them. His timing and accuracy are just going to get better. A
Brock Osweiler: John Elway seems to be very enamored with this rookie. He throws a nice ball, and he will just continue to improve—but I haven't been overly impressed just yet. He looked better than Hanie against lesser defenses if that means anything. D
FINAL ANALYSIS: Manning is a future Hall of Famer and has looked very sharp. As long as he is healthy this team is a contender. His leadership, intelligence and professionalism can take this team to the next level. However, should Manning suffer an injury, things will get interesting with the lack of depth at this position.
And I mean "interesting" in the way that the Titanic was an "interesting" cruise.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
Matt Prater (K): Prater looks better than ever, and there is no one else in the NFL today you want kicking a field goal with the game on the line. A+
Aaron Brewer (LS): The Broncos thought enough of Brewer to release longtime long snapper Lonnie Paxton. The rookie has been solid and consistent so far. B-
Britton Colquitt (P): The four year punter has been consistent and effective. He seems to be improving each season. A-
Omar Bolden (KR): Bolden's big return against the Cardinals showed what he is capable of. He won't get many returns, but teams have to be wary of him if he gets a shot. B-
Jim Leonhard (PR): The veteran showed a little of what he can do on a return in the preseason. He catches it and he goes forward. He is an upgrade. B
FINAL ANALYSIS: The kickers are one of the top tandems in the league. Now this team just needs to find some returners. Omar Bolden and Jim Leonhard give the return teams a needed lift.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
Justin Bannan: Bannan isn't going to impress you with statistics or his pass rush. He will work extremely hard and will plug running lanes. C
Malik Jackson: Jackson had a very good camp and preseason. He is currently listed at tackle, but can also play end. He may end up being a solid player, but he will struggle to get playing time this season. D
Mitch Unrein: Very similar to Bannan, he works very hard and he will battle for playing time—but he's not overly talented. D+
Kevin Vickerson: If Vickerson can stay healthy and can maintain his weight, he will be one of the best interior run stopppers on the team. C+
Ty Warren: Warren returns this year after missing all of 2011 and most of 2010 with injuries. That makes it very difficult to assess exactly what he gives the team this year. He looked good in preseason playing limited minutes. His presence could improve this defense significantly. C+
FINAL ANALYSIS: There's not a ton of talent on the interior of this defensive line, but they will work hard. This group must shut down the run and provide enough of a push to keep the double teams away from the pass rushers on the edge.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
Robert Ayers: Ayers has the talent, but he does tend to disappear. He is surprisingly solid against the run, but his pressures on the quarterback have been few. He should be the starter opposite Elvis Dumervil. The stage is set for Ayers to finally have a breakout year. Is he up to the challenge? C+
Elvis Dumervil: The seven year pro is the best lineman on the roster and should be primed for another great season. He recorded 9.5 sacks in 2011, and if the Broncos are playing with leads he could easily top that number. In addition to being a dangerous pass rusher, Dumervil excels at causing fumbles. He has forced 10 in his career. B+
Derek Wolfe: I didn't expect much from Wolfe when the Broncos drafted him with their second round pick, but he has showed some good things. He is versatile enough to play either tackle or end, but he will most likely struggle as a rookie. C-
FINAL ANALYSIS: This group took a hit when probable starter Jason Hunter went down with a season ending injury. They can still be effective, but the margin for error is smaller with depth being a major concern.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Keith Brooking: If this was five years ago, I'd be excited about Keith Brooking. As it stands, I'm not confident we will ever see him play meaningful minutes. He is highly intelligent, but his body has 15 years of wear on it. D
Nate Irving: The second year linebacker will be used to spell Von Miller. Don't be surprised to see him make a few plays. He has a high motor and seems to be more comfortable this year. C
Steven Johnson: Johnson came to the Broncos from the University of Kansas after going undrafted. He is a very good tackler, but will most likely struggle to get much playing time on defense. Expect to see Johnson contribute on special teams. D
Joe Mays: He has struggled against the passing game, but he is a solid run stuffer. Mays totaled 75 tackles in 2011. B-
Von Miller: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio says Miller reminds him of former Baltimore Raven pass rusher Peter Boulware. Miller has the size and speed to be great. A-
Danny Trevathan: Another tackling machine, Trevathan was a sixth-round pick out of Kentucky. He may eventually be a defensive starter, but should contribute this season on special teams. D+
Wesley Woodyard: Woodyard should be the starter with D.J. Williams serving a six-game suspension. He is slightly undersized, but Woodyard plays very hard and is a solid tackler. C+
FINAL ANALYSIS: This group is going to eventually be very good if young players like Irving, Trevathan and Johnson continue to improve. They'll be slightly better than average this year.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Champ Bailey: The 14-year veteran is absolutely amazing. He takes care of his body and manages to maintain his skills year after year. He is still a top notch corner and will make you pay if you go at him too often. A
Omar Bolden: Bolden probably won't see much playing time with the defensive unit this season, but he could be an exceptional return man on special teams. D
Tony Carter: Carter came out and turned some heads in camp this year. He may get an opportunity to get some playing time in nickel or dime situations, but should see most of his work on special teams duty. D+
Chris Harris: Harris had an amazing rookie year and should continue to grow and improve. Harris works very hard and has good natural instincts. B-
Tracy Porter: Playing opposite Champ Bailey, he is going to be tested—but Porter should be up for the test. Don't be surprised if he racks up a few interceptions this year. B+
OVERALL ANALYSIS: This a very good unit, but make no mistake—their job depends heavily on the people around them. They can be great on every play, but only for so long. If the front seven gives them some help this unit will be very productive.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Mike Adams: Coming from Cleveland, Adams has to be excited about playing in a vastly improved backfield. He isn't a top notch safety, but he is certainly serviceable—at least until Quinton Carter is ready to take the job. C
David Bruton: A special teams ace, Bruton will see limited time on the defensive side of the ball barring injury. D
Quinton Carter: Carter is coming off slight knee and hamstring injuries so he will be a little behind schedule, but Carter should eventually be the starter at strong safety. C-
Jim Leonhard: Brought to Denver as an insurance policy, Leonhard brings eight years of experience to the defensive backfield. He will also contribute on special teams. C-
Rahim Moore: Moore had a largely forgettable rookie season, starting seven games and looking lost much of the time. He seems to have come back stronger and smarter which has to bode well for this team. C+
FINAL ANALYSIS: The safeties on this team aren't exactly a strength but they can improve if players like Adams, Moore, and Carter step up and begin making plays in coverage.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
So what does this all mean?
There isn't much depth so the Broncos have to stay healthy—especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
This group has some ability, but much of it is young and still unproven.
The veterans will have to lead and help mentor their younger teammates early in hopes that they catch on late and begin to improve.
Can Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Elvis Dumervil, and Champ Bailey bring the younger players up to par?
If so, this group can be a contender to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.
If not, they will struggle to win a very winnable division.
OVERALL TEAM GRADE: B-