The Denver Broncos concluded the 2012 regular season with a 13-3 mark, winning the AFC West divisional title and clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference in the process.
It was more than any Bronco fan expected heading into the season. Even with the Broncos coming off a divisional title and a playoff victory from 2011 and the acquisition of Peyton Manning, there were high expectations for this team to perform well.
An AFC West title and maybe a conference championship game were in the cards entering the season in the expectations of many.
However, the Broncos exceeded those expectations big time. The Broncos not only concluded the regular season with an 11-game winning streak, but clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Broncos now wait to play the Baltimore Ravens in Denver's first playoff game this Saturday in the Divisional Playoffs.
The Broncos' 2012 draft class featured seven selections, three of these selections which were acquired in player trades.
A few of Denver's rookies made an impact during one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history.
Who are the rookies of the 2012 draft class that shined brightest?
Danny Trevathan was Denver's last selection of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Danny was drafted with the 188th overall pick in the sixth round. This selection was acquired by the Denver Broncos as a part of the deal that sent Tim Tebow to the New York Jets shortly after Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos.
Considering Trevathan was a late-round selection with very little expectations coming in, Danny had a good rookie season. He ranked second amongst all Broncos rookies in tackles, behind Derek Wolfe, with 33 total tackles. He had a sack and three pass deflections on the season.
From the onset in training camp, the sixth-round draft selection out of Kentucky made an impact. Before Derek Wolfe took over the starting position at left defensive end after Jason Hunter's season-ending injury, Trevathan was the Denver rookie that was making the greatest progress at the beginning of training camp and the preseason. He was already playing in nickel packages.
Although his playing time during the first few regular season games didn't match the playing time he received early on in camp, Trevathan eventually found his way into the defensive rotation and was featured in key defensive packages throughout the season.
After one year, Denver's last pick of the 2012 NFL Draft can be considered a gem.
Defensive lineman Malik Jackson was drafted by the Denver Broncos out of the University of Tennessee in the fifth round with the 137th overall pick. This draft pick was acquired by the Broncos from the St. Louis Rams in the Brandon Lloyd trade right before the trade deadline in the 2011 season.
Jackson didn't have high expectations coming into the season, but he was expected to play his way into the defensive line rotation and find a role with the team in his rookie season.
Jackson made the team and did play in 14 games, but he had very little impact. He didn't really find his way into the rotation as expected, although in a lot of the games that he played in, he did make appearances on the defensive line. He totaled five tackles on the season after racking up three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in his first three preseason games.
The lineman who can play both end and tackle out of Tennessee made very little impact during the 2012 season as he was passed over on the depth chart by guys like Mitch Unrein.
The Denver Broncos had two fourth-round draft selections and one of the fourth rounders was used on center Philip Blake out of Baylor. It was the 108th overall selection of the draft and the pick was acquired in the Tim Tebow trade.
Blake was expected to push incumbent starting center J.D. Walton even during his rookie season. However, a thumb injury ended Blake's season after he was inactive for the first two games of the regular season. He was placed on injured reserve by the Broncos.
There were high expectations for the product out of Baylor. Mike Mayock actually stated that Blake had the greatest value of any offensive lineman in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Here's the thing with Blake; the thumb injury simply cannot be used as an excuse for his lack of impact. Before the thumb injury even occurred, Blake was well behind J.D. Walton on the depth chart and gave no sort of threat that he could challenge him for the starting position.
For a guy that is 27-years-old and who was expected to be the guy to eventually replace the "mediocre" Walton, he's been a disappointment thus far.
Unfortunately, because of the fact that he was injured this season, I can't give him a grade.
The Denver Broncos drafted cornerback Omar Bolden out of Arizona State with the 101st overall pick.
Bolden really wasn't expected to make a huge impact in his rookie season. With Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter ahead of him on the depth chart since the very beginning of training camp and with the signing of veteran cornerback Drayton Florence in the offseason, Bolden didn't have a lot of pressure coming into 2012.
What was expected out of him were contributions in larger defensive package sets where the Broncos are forced to play numerous defensive backs in passing situations. Quarter packages, dime packages etc.
What ended up happening was Florence was released, Porter was sidelined for most of the season due to complications revolving around a seizure-issue and young players such as Chris Harris and Tony Carter stepping up in Porter's absence.
Therefore, it left very little room for the first year-corner to make a true impact on defense.
However, Bolden did play in all 16 games. He played a little bit in the larger defensive back packages and ranked third on the team in special teams tackles with nine.
On another note, the Arizona State product actually started out the season as Denver's kick returner, but was eventually replaced by Trindon Holliday.
The Denver Broncos drafted running back Ronnie Hillman out of San Diego State in the third round with the 67th overall pick.
The youngest player in the NFL at just 21 years of age, Hillman was slow out of the gates. He was actually the fourth-best running back entering the NFL season on the Broncos roster. Willis McGahee entered the season as the starting running back, with Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball behind him.
However, with McGahee's injury, which pressed Moreno into the starting position, Hillman actually started to receive playing time.
Many people expected the San Diego State product to unseat McGahee as the starting running back for the Broncos at some point during the season. That never transpired as Hillman continues to work on his pass blocking.
Still, considering he turned 21 years of age during the NFL season, Hillman has made a nice contribution as Moreno's backup and Denver's change-of-pace back since McGahee's injury. He has run for 330 yards on 85 carries.
The Denver Broncos drafted quarterback Brock Osweiler out of Arizona State in the second round with the 57th overall selection.
There really isn't much to say about Osweiler's rookie season. First of all, nothing was expected out of him in his rookie season. It's been known since he was drafted that he will sit behind Peyton Manning as long as Manning continues to throw footballs for a living. Secondly, he received a very small amount of snaps during the regular season that only occurred when the Broncos were blowing teams out.
Brock Osweiler's 2012 stat line: 2-4 for 12 yards and a 3.0 yards per attempt average.
The fact that Osweiler served as Manning's backup instead of the third-string quarterback is an accomplishment in itself. Caleb Hanie was signed to be Manning's primary backup but that didn't transpire as expected.
Nonetheless, you can't really grade Brock's season because he simply didn't play.
The Denver Broncos drafted defensive lineman Derek Wolfe with their first pick. He was drafted in the second round with the 36th overall pick out of Cincinnati.
Wolfe simply made the most impact out of any Broncos rookie. He was the only one to become a full-time starter. In fact, he was the only one to actually start a game.
The Cincinnati product started all 16 games, registered 40 tackles and had six sacks. Both the tackles and sacks marks led all Broncos rookies. He finished third on the team in sacks.
Wolfe had a great rookie season. He may be overshadowed by guys like Von Miller, Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Wolfe had the greatest impact of any Broncos rookie in the 2012 season.