How the Broncos Can Improve Most in 2013
We've already seen a few moves take place over the last few days that could change the landscape of the NFL come September. The Atlanta Falcons just released three of their better-known veterans in Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson.
Teams are trying to improve all throughout the NFL. The Broncos—who came up three games short of their ultimate goal in 2012—are no different.
What are several areas that key Broncos players can improve upon in 2013?
Ronnie Hillman was the youngest player in the NFL last season at just 21 years of age—in fact, he didn't turn 21 until after the season began.
Hillman was an afterthought at the beginning of the season, as he was buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball. However, with a season-ending injury to McGahee, Hillman was given more of an opportunity to shine.
The Broncos are in a difficult situation to assess. McGahee will turn 32 years of age this year, and there is a chance he will be released. There have been rumors that the Broncos want to cut Moreno this offseason too.
Regardless of what Denver chooses to do with their running back situation, one thing is for sure—Hillman will be a key contributor for the Broncos in 2013.
Because of this certainty, Hillman needs to improve in a few areas. Luckily, he did this as the season progressed. If Ronnie can improve in pass blocking and taking care of the football, despite his smallish frame, the Broncos should have no concerns about him being more of a "go-to" back.
The problem is, at just 5'9" and under 200 pounds, the Broncos have concerns on whether or not the San Diego State product can ever be a "go-to" guy.
If the second-year back can improve in those two key areas, it wouldn't be hard to envision Hillman as Denver's best running option in 2013.
Demaryius Thomas had a breakout season with 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. All three totals ranked in the top eight in the NFL in their respective categories.
So what could Thomas possibly improve upon?
A couple of areas. The Georgia Tech product tied for second in the league for dropped passes, with 10 on the season.
It is true that the more you're targeted, the more you're likely to drop passes. D-Thomas did rank 13th in number of times targeted in 2012.
Having said that, if you're going to be an elite receiver in the NFL, you're always looking for ways to improve and cut down on the mistakes. Thomas would do himself and the Broncos a favor by trying to cut down on the drops.
Another area is simply the boneheaded mistakes. This was cut down to a complete minimum as the season progressed, but two fumbles by D-Thomas pop out in my mind:
These were both plays that would have ended in the opponents red zone had Thomas not fumbled the football in both situations.
Speaking of dropped passes and Broncos wide receivers, Eric Decker also ranked in the top 20 in dropped passes on the season. His seven dropped passes tied for 16th in the NFL.
Except Decker was targeted less than D-Thomas.
Decker did have a great season, catching 85 passes for 1064 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 13 touchdowns was third-best in the NFL.
But again, the margin for error in the NFL is very small—for example, Baltimore's 38-35 double overtime victory over the Broncos—and the dropped passes don't help the cause.
Decker and Thomas were perhaps the NFL's best receiving duo in 2012. But in order to continue that trend, they need to fix a woe that's bitten them over the past couple of years—dropped passes.
Middle Linebacker/Joe Mays/Keith Brooking
Along with their running back issue, this is Denver's biggest need entering the offseason.
Joe Mays was signed to a contract extension before the 2012 season, but injuries, a one-game suspension and an eventual benching that would lead to a season-ending injury brought an end to a miserable 2012 season for Mays.
Keith Brooking took over the middle linebacker position when Mays was benched in San Diego in Week 6 and he was serviceable. That's about it.
Pro Football Focus sums it up best with these statistics.
Even disregarding the fact that he is a free agent himself, the play of Keith Brooking in 2012 was proof enough that the Broncos need to bring someone in to improve the position. He may not have missed a tackle, but Brooking failed to make much impact against the run, with just 10 of his 22 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop. Among the 50 inside linebackers who played at least 125 snaps against the run, Brookings’ 10 stops bettered only Green Bay’s D.J. Smith and his Denver teammate, Joe Mays.
The struggles of Mays, who started the first four games in the middle of the Denver defense before going down with an injury, highlights the fact that the guy to upgrade the position probably isn’t on the roster right now.
Whoever starts at middle linebacker for the Broncos in 2013 needs to improve in just about every conceivable category.