Evaluating John Elway's Biggest Moves Since Taking over the Denver Broncos
Can you name the one man that has turned around the Denver Broncos franchise?
(Hint: His initials are not P.F.M.)
The man is John Elway, who has been the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations since the beginning of 2011. Elway—known at the time of his hiring as the legendary quarterback who started in five Super Bowls—joined the Broncos following their 4-12 collapse under former coach Josh McDaniels in 2010.
Elway came to Denver with not only a healthy knowledge of the game, but also as a shrewd business man. The owner of several car dealerships and restaurants, Elway also oversaw the AFL's Colorado Crush from 2002-07, gaining experience in running football operations.
Under Elway, the Broncos have begun to eliminate their "dead money" issues past on from previous coaching staffs and front offices. Heading into 2013, Denver's salary cap situation is much better than it was two seasons ago.
The move made by Elway that everyone talks about is obviously the acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning earlier in the offseason. The signing—and Manning's historic season—have been well-documented, but Elway's many other solid signings have been largely overlooked by the common fan.
However, Elway hasn't been overlooked by everyone. He was named Executive of the Year by the New York Post earlier in the month after securing 23-of-31 players who have started for Broncos this season.
Here's a quick review of some of Elway's best moves since he arrived in Denver:
Outside linebacker Von Miller (2nd Overall, 2011 NFL Draft).
Miller's feats have also been well-documented, but they are worth reviewing. The 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year has recorded 21.5 sacks and 42—42!—tackles for loss in his first 24 career starts. For those of you counting at home, that's .9 sacks and 1.75 tackles for loss per game.
Proving to be much more than just a phenomenal pass rusher, Miller has consistently found his way into opposing team's backfields to bring down both quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage. On Sunday against Carolina, Miller notched six tackles—none of them gained positive yardage (-6, 0, 0, -5, -4, 0 yards), according to the team's PR crew.
Back to the sacks—Miller's 21.5 through his first 24 starts mark more than Minnesota's Jared Allen (20.0), Dallas' DeMarcus Ware (11.0), and Houton's J.J. Watt (16.0) through their respective first 24 starts. One of the game's most athletic players, Miller appears primed to contribute for many years to come in Denver.
Right tackle Orlando Franklin (46th Overall, 2011 NFL Draft).
The Broncos drafted Franklin in the second-round of the 2011 NFL Draft and quickly plugged him into the offensive line's starting lineup. Since joining the team, Franklin hasn't disappointed.
As a rookie, the massive 6'7", 330-pound Franklin helped pave running lanes as the Broncos led the NFL in rushing, gaining 2,632 yards on the ground. Starting in all sixteen games, Franklin helped a Broncos offensive line that cleared the way for Denver to win the AFC West and win a playoff game for the first time in more than five years.
In his sophomore season, Franklin has improved in pass protecting (allowing just 1.5 sacks) and has protected quarterback Peyton Manning well, helping the Broncos offense to rank third overall in the NFL. Gaining 395.1 yards per game, the Broncos offense has been rolling, thanks in large part to an offensive line that has kept the quarterback clean and has given the running backs wide lanes to run through.
Cornerback Chris Harris (Undrafted 2011).
The Broncos found a gem in undrafted Kansas defensive back Chris Harris, signing him after the 2011 NFL Draft. Starting in nine games the past season and a half (four as a nickle back in 2011 and five across from Champ Bailey this season), Harris has recorded 110 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 12 passes defended.
A sure-tackler and playmaker, Harris has started in five games this season while starter Tracy Porter has missed time due to seizure-like symptoms. Just 23-years-old, Harris has the potential to remain a starter in Denver years after Bailey retires and enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Year 1 Draft/Undrafted Rookie Review:
The Broncos acquired five rookie starters (Miller, Franklin, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter and Harris) last April, with Denver's rookie class combining to play in 44.9 percent of the Broncos’ offensive and defensive plays, which was the second-highest percentage in the NFL last season.
Three rookies (Miller, Franklin and Harris) earned All-Rookie honors and Miller was voted to the Pro Bowl after tying the team's rookie sack record (11.5). Many of the Broncos' rookie acquisitions from 2011 have contributed greatly since arriving in Denver, as Elway helps the team gain strength through youth.
Running back Willis McGahee (2011 Free Agent Signing).
The Broncos brought in veteran running back Willis McGahee from Baltimore last offseason to help their suffering rushing attack. Since McGahee's signing, the running game has greatly improved.
As noted above under the notes on Franklin, the Broncos led the NFL in rushing last season, as McGahee rushed for 1,199 yards and four scores. Halfway through the 2012 season, McGahee is on pace to top his 2011 totals with 1,202 yards and seven scores (676 yards and four touchdowns through nine games).
A Pro Bowl selection and workhorse who has been Denver's most productive running back since perhaps Clinton Portis, McGahee was a solid signing by Denver's front office that has helped give the Broncos' offense a balanced attack.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe (36th Overall, 2012 NFL Draft).
With their first selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Broncos improved their defensive line by drafting Cincinnati defensive tackle/defensive end Derek Wolfe. This season, Wolfe has started in all nine games and has recorded 26 tackles and three sacks. A key contributor to Denver's defensive line, Wolfe and his relentless motor has the potential to pair up with Miller and fellow defensive end Elvis Dumervil to create one of the best pass rushing units in the NFL.
Quarterback Peyton Manning (2012 Free Agent Signing).
This acquisition goes without saying.
Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen (2012 Free Agent Signings).
The Broncos' offense has benefited greatly from the additions of Tamme and Dreessen, formerly of Indianapolis and Houston, respectively.
Combined, the duo has paired up to catch 53 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns as Denver's two starting tight ends. Able to both block and catch, the duo has been a versatile pair.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley (2012 Free Agent Signing).
Stokley signed with the Broncos shortly after Manning landed in Denver and has secured the Broncos' slot position. One of Manning's favorite third down targets, Stokley has caught 28 passes for 332 yards and four scores through nine games of the season.
Stokley is familiar with Manning and has been able to coach up the younger wide receivers on Denver's roster. An experienced vet, Stokley can be relied upon on game days.
Center Dab Koppen (2012 In-Season Addition)
Shortly after the season began, Elway and Denver's coaching staff realized that center was position that could afford to be upgraded. To add depth to the line, the team brought in veteran center Dan Koppen from New England.
In Week 5, starting center J.D. Walton went down with a season-ending injury, thrusting Koppen into the starting lineup.
Since Koppen—a Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion (XXXVIII, XXXIXI)—took over command of the Broncos offensive line, he has been penalized only once and is yet to allow a sack, having started the past five weeks (the Broncos are 4-1 during that time frame).
Taking snaps from Koppen, Manning has been on a brilliant stretch, earning a 100-plus passer rating in six consecutive weeks, marking just the second time in NFL history a quarterback has accomplished such a feat (joining Drew Brees, 2011).
Return Specialist Trindon Holliday (Claimed Off Waivers Mid-Season)
In Week 5, noticing a lack of production from their main returners, the Broncos placed a waiver claim on second-year returner Trindon Holliday, who had just been cut by Houston. During the preseason, Holliday had scored three times, but the Texans parted ways with Holliday in a special teams shakedown mid-season.
As it turned out, the Texans gave up on Holliday prematurely, and the Broncos hit the nail on the head with this waiver wire pickup. In the past four games, Holliday has amounted 511 return yards, scoring in back-to-back games on a 105-yard kickoff return and a 76-yard punt return.
Last week, the Broncos started to also get Holliday involved on offense, giving him two screens which he turned into seventeen yards. An explosive returner that has the potential to also contribute on offense, Holliday may have been the best mid-season pickup by any team this season.
Notable Mentions: Linebacker Keith Brooking, Running back Ronnie Hillman, safety Mike Adams, cornerback Tracy Porter, defensive lineman Justin Bannan, safety Jim Leonhard and tight end Virgil Green.
Elway's leadership and presence has helped the Broncos secure several key players that have turned around a 4-12 team from two years ago to being on the verge of winning their division in back-to-back seasons. Under Elway, Broncos fans can be assured the team is headed in the right direction for years to come
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