Joel Dreessen was a big part of Denver's offense in 2012.
The Denver Broncos were a good football team because of their stars, but also because of the play of several less heralded players. There were several players who had great seasons for the Broncos in 2012 that are not named Peyton Manning.
It’s blatantly obvious that Manning and Von Miller had a huge impact on the Broncos, but it’s not always as clear how much non-stars impact a team. There are also non-stars that are overly hyped by the team or the media every year. Wesley Woodyard would fall into that category.
There are stars that get a lot of hype, non-stars that get a lot of hype and then there are non-stars that don’t get much hype at all. It’s these non-stars that don’t get talked about even when they have great seasons.
Every year and on every team there are players that are underrated. The Broncos have several players who are underrated and were overshadowed by the stars.
The Broncos brought in Tracy Porter to start opposite Champ Bailey last year, but that didn’t last long. Chris Harris Jr. made Porter irrelevant with his solid play by Week 6. You could say that Harris was every bit as good as Bailey was in 2012.
According to ProFootballFocus, Harris allowed only 56.8 percent of the passes in his direction to be completed for 472 yards. Harris allowed two touchdowns, but intercepted three passes. Both Harris and Bailey were targeted 81 times. Harris committed just one penalty to Bailey’s seven.
A fierce pass rush certainly helped Denver’s secondary, but that doesn’t minimize the job Harris did in 2012. Weaknesses are magnified in the playoffs and Harris did a great job limiting Anquan Boldin. Harris is underrated, but if he puts together another strong season people outside of Denver will take notice.
J.D. Walton was having a strong season through three games and losing him for the season could have been a disaster for the Broncos. Outside of the quarterback, the center has the most responsibility on offense.
The center certainly has an easier job with Manning at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he deserves no credit for keeping Manning healthy and off his back. Dan Koppen took over for Walton and had a solid season.
Koppen allowed just one sack according to ProFootballFocus and the Broncos graded out as the best offensive line pass blocking by a wide margin. The season may have gone differently if the Broncos didn’t have Koppen and the offensive line was unable to protect Manning.
It’s too bad Rahim Moore’s season ended the way it did, because he had a solid season. Moore played more snaps than any player on defense which means there wasn’t a defensive package that didn’t include him.
The Broncos didn’t know what to expect from their young safeties coming into the season, but Moore really developed in his sophomore season. ProFootballFocus graded Moore as the fourth-best defensive player on the team behind Miller, Harris and Bailey and 10th best safety in the NFL.
If Moore can mentally get over his gaffe in the playoffs, the Broncos should still be glad to have him at free safety in 2013.
There’s no doubt that Manny Ramirez had some bad games playing in place of Chris Kuper at right guard, but he also had several good games. Two of Ramirez’s best games came in Week 16 and 17 and he seemed to get better as the season went along.
Considering he wasn’t supposed to be a starter, Ramirez did quite well. Ramirez is not the greatest player, but he still graded out as the sixth-best right guard in pass blocking. Not bad for a backup that was pressed into action.
Considering how well Ramirez played, it was odd how the Broncos pressed to get Kuper back from injury and started him in the playoff game even though he played in only five games and hadn’t played in over a month. Kuper also had a horrible game in the playoffs with three penalties while being pushed around by the bigger Haloti Ngata.
It’s worth wondering if a healthy Ramirez and the 20 or so pounds he has on Kuper would have been better equipped to handle the 340-pound Ngata. Ramirez couldn’t have been much worse than Kuper was in that game.
The Broncos are lucky to have a backup guard that is better than a lot of starters in the NFL. Ramirez was often considered the weakest link and maybe he was, but many also believe a team is only as good as the weakest link.
Tony Carter was the other player who made Tracy Porter irrelevant in 2012. Carter became the nickel cornerback when Harris became the starter.
Carter had two bad games in which he allowed four total touchdowns, but those were the only touchdowns he allowed all season. According to ProFootballFocus, Carter allowed just 49.3 percent the passes in his direction to be completed.
Of the 33 receptions Carter allowed, 14 came in his two bad games. That means that Carter allowed just 19 receptions in the other 13 games he played.
There are not many defensive players in the league smaller than Carter. What he was able to do as a nickel cornerback was impressive considering his size limitations. The nickel cornerback is an important player in the NFL and Carter played about as well as any nickel cornerback in the league in 2012.
Orlando Franklin was one of only two players on the Broncos to get graded positively in 2011 and 2012. Right tackles are usually the least athletic players on the team and therefore are often a scapegoat for many of the problems on the offensive line. Franklin is far from the typical right tackle.
Franklin was ProFootballFocus’ sixth-best right tackle in 2012 and the fourth-best offensive player on the Broncos. Franklin was the second-best pass blocker at right tackle to Gosder Cherilus.
At an often unheralded position, Franklin was one of the best in 2012. Franklin should be Denver’s right tackle for years to come and has already been well worth the second-round draft pick the Broncos invested on him in 2011
The Denver Broncos added veteran defensive tackle Justin Bannan last year to help them improve their run defense. It turns out that adding Bannan was a great move when paired with rookie Derek Wolfe and veteran Kevin Vickerson.
The Broncos finished the season as the second-best run defense in yards per carry and Bannan was a big reason for the improvement. It will be interesting to see if the Broncos bring Bannan back in 2013 considering the job he did and his age.
Trying to control the clock with the running game is one way opponents try to minimize Manning’s impact on a game, but with Bannan up the middle that wasn’t an option.
Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley were brought in to ease the transition for Manning. Many wondered how Tamme and Joel Dreessen would coexist at the tight end position. As it turns out, the two tight ends coexisted quite nicely.
Tamme was used primarily as a receiver, but Dreessen was used as a receiver and blocker. Dreessen proved to be a solid run blocker and good pass protector while still being a weapon in the passing game.
Dreessen earned Manning’s trust and was involved in the passing game. Dreessen caught five touchdowns and had 402 receiving yards on 47 catches.
Since tight ends have become more involved in the passing game in recent years, players like Dreessen who are well-rounded tight ends don’t get nearly the publicity of the tight ends that are being targeted over 90 times a season in the passing game.