Predicting the Denver Broncos' Starting Lineup Post Week 1 of Free Agency
The Denver Broncos made a hell of a splash during the first week of free agency.
Denver—coming off of a 13-3 regular season—signed WR Wes Welker, G Louis Vasquez, DT Terrance Knighton, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and LB Stewart Bradley to contracts.
These signings weren't merely done to shore up depth. They were done with the intention of improving positions with valuable playing time available.
Welker will start at slot receiver, improving a receiving corps that already had two 1,000-yard receivers returning from last season in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Vasquez will likely take over at the right guard position, where the Broncos were decimated by injuries to Chris Kuper in 2012.
Knighton will have a chance to take over the starting defensive tackle spot left over by free agent Justin Bannan. Terrance had played for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio when Del Rio was the head coach of the Jaguars.
Rodgers-Cromartie will have a chance to start opposite Champ Bailey at cornerback, while Bradley will have the opportunity to compete for the starting middle linebacker position.
With these signings, how should the Broncos' starting lineup look by the time Week 1 rolls around?
QB Peyton Manning
No, Brock Osweiler will not be the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2013.
In all seriousness, there is nothing to debate about this. Manning is the Broncos' starting quarterback until the day that he retires or the day that he suffers a serious injury.
Until then, get used to No. 18 taking snaps for the orange and blue. Which, of course, is never a bad thing.
RB Knowshon Moreno
As of right now, Moreno should be the starter for the Broncos come Week 1.
Realize the key words are right now.
The Broncos have a shaky running back situation with the soon-to-be 32-year-old Willis McGahee coming off of another serious injury, while Moreno and Ronnie Hillman are utilized best as change-of-pace or third-down backs.
Expect the Broncos to use a pick at some point in the 2013 draft on a running back, and for said back to compete with McGahee, Hillman and Moreno for the starting running back job in 2013.
WR Demaryius Thomas
Demaryius Thomas was one of the top receivers in the NFL last year.
Thomas finished the year ranked in the top 10 in all three major receiving categories—receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
Entering just his fourth year in the NFL at 25 years of age, Thomas will remain Denver's No. 1 receiver on the depth chart.
WR Eric Decker
Speaking of 1,000-yard receivers, Eric Decker also fits under that category.
Decker finished the year second in receiving touchdowns and third in overall touchdowns, proving to be Peyton's favorite target in the red zone.
Decker—also entering just his fourth year and at just 26 years of age—will continue to pair up with Thomas as Denver's modern-day "Rod Smith-Eddie McCaffrey" duo in 2013.
WR Wes Welker
The Broncos signed the best slot receiver in the game—Wes Welker—to replace a slot receiver, Brandon Stokley, who is a fine receiver in his own right.
The Broncos currently have three receivers coming off of 1,000-yard seasons, and they're the only team in the NFL that can make that claim.
Welker will add yet another dimension to an offense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL last season in points per game.
Expect Manning and the offense to be unstoppable yet again in 2013.
TE Jacob Tamme
Jacob Tamme represented a nice addition after signing with the Broncos during the 2012 offseason.
Tamme had 52 receptions for 555 yards and two touchdowns, splitting playing time with Denver's other tight end, Joel Dreessen.
The Broncos will continue to start Tamme at tight end while plugging in Dreessen in two-tight end sets, and in run-expectant formations.
Jacob is essentially a wide receiver playing at the tight end position, so he gives the Broncos versatility and the ability to split him out wide while the more balanced Dreessen provides better blocking.
LT Ryan Clady
The Broncos franchise-tagged Ryan Clady while looking to secure him to a long-term contract in the offseason.
Clady remains one of the premier tackles in the game, as he allowed just one sack last season as Manning's blind-side protector.
Considering Manning's recent neck surgeries and the fact that he is 37 years old, it is imperative that Clady remain a Bronco in order for Manning to remain healthy and in order for the Broncos to remain an elite team.
LG Zane Beadles
Expect Zane Beadles to remain the left guard unless the Broncos sign a free agent before the season starts or address the position through the draft.
Beadles remains a mediocre, if not a below-average, option at left guard. But Beadles is just 26 year of age, and although Vasquez could play either guard position, incumbent starter at RG, Chris Kuper, is coming off of two straight seasons of serious injuries
If the Broncos find a better option—which wouldn't be hard to do—it's not hard to imagine someone else starting at left guard for the Broncos in 2013.
However, if the Broncos don't choose to upgrade, expect Beadles to start for the fourth consecutive season at the left guard position.
C J.D. Walton
It shocks me that the Broncos have yet to re-sign free agent Dan Koppen, who stepped in at center when Walton dislocated his ankle versus the Raiders in Week 4.
However, it also wouldn't shock me if Denver were to re-sign Koppen within the next several months and have him compete with J.D. for the starting center position in training camp.
Either Walton or Koppen will compete for the starting position at center, with a slim chance the Broncos address the position with a high-round draft choice in April.
RG Louis Vasquez
Vasquez will start at one of the guard positions this year. There is no doubt about that.
Louis was Denver's first free-agent signing, and of the five major signings, the only one signed to a long-term contact. He was signed to a four-year contract.
At just 26 years of age, Vasquez is entering his prime and figures to be a fixture along the Broncos' offensive line for many years to come.
RT Orlando Franklin
Orlando Franklin played well at right tackle in just his second year in the NFL.
The Broncos have three fixtures along the offensive line and Franklin is one of them, along with Vasquez and Clady.
The Broncos won't look to address this position through the draft in the early rounds, as Franklin is just 26 years of age and was drafted by the Broncos just two years prior.
LE Derek Wolfe
Derek Wolfe entered the 2012 season as the only rookie of the 2012 Broncos draft class as a starter. He ended the season as the only Broncos rookie as a starter.
Wolfe was expected to start or provide depth along the interior of the defensive line at tackle. However, injuries to Jason Hunter and inconsistent play by Robert Ayers in training camp led to Wolfe being inserted as the starting left end.
Wolfe had a solid season starting opposite of Elvis Dumervil, notching six sacks along with 40 total tackles. Expect the second-year pro to start out the season at left end yet again.
DT Kevin Vickerson
Kevin Vickerson was re-signed to a two year, $5 million contract at the beginning of free agency.
Vickerson had entered 2012 as a backup, but an injury to Ty Warren in the season opener led to Vickerson starting at defensive tackle for the rest of the season.
With the Broncos not re-signing Justin Bannan, who started alongside Vickerson for the entire 2012 season, look for him to remain as one of their interior starters along the defensive line.
DT Terrance Knighton
Terrance Knighton was signed to a two-year contract by the Broncos at the onset of free agency.
Knighton will be reunited with Jack Del Rio, the current Broncos defensive coordinator and former Jaguars head coach.
At just 26 years of age, and with the Broncos choosing not to re-sign Justin Bannan, the former Jaguars starter will have every opportunity in the world to prove himself over the next two years.
RE John Abraham
In case you were wondering about this selection, I expect Elvis Dumervil to sign with the Ravens.
Dumervil reportedly wants to feel "wanted" by his next NFL team. In cases like this, when a player feels this way and he's only played for one team his entire career, chances are he's leaning towards leaving said team for a new team in order to feel "wanted" and to prove himself.
And so, because of that, the Broncos will sign a cheaper alternative at defensive end such as John Abraham.
However, Freeney is undersized and is notoriously known for being a one-dimensional pass-rusher. Abraham represents a more balanced option.
Expect Denver to sign Abraham and draft a defensive end in 2013 to take over next season.
OLB Von Miller
Von Miller finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. He recorded 18.5 sacks in just his second NFL season, shattering Denver's franchise single-season mark.
I could go on and on about Von's accomplishments through two seasons, but the point is that he'll be the starting outside linebacker entering 2013.
OLB Wesley Woodyard
Wesley Woodyard led the Broncos in tackles last season with 117.
The second best on that list? Mike Adams with 80 total stops.
Woodyard started virtually the entire season at outside linebacker. With Von attracting attention from blockers with his playmaking ability, Wesley is the perfect complement at outside linebacker.
MLB Brian Urlacher
This is a wild guess.
The current options for the Broncos at middle linebacker are Joe Mays, Nate Irving and Stewart Bradley.
Bradley hasn't been a regular starter since 2010, Irvin has never been a stable starter and Mays is coming off of a disastrous 2012 season.
The Broncos could look towards the draft to fill their middle linebacker void.
However, with the team in a "win now" mode, the Broncos have no problem filling holes with short-term veteran solutions.
That's where Brian Urlacher fits in. And with the market being less than desirable for the 13-year veteran, the Broncos would have no problem signing him.
With two young linebackers on the outside making plays, Urlacher would fit in perfectly with the Broncos. He could provide leadership and would detect schemes and audibles before plays even occur due to having played in the league for so long.
If a 37-year-old Keith Brooking, who was expected to be nothing more than a backup, can look decent manning the middle for the Broncos, Urlacher sure as hell can too in 2013.
CB Champ Bailey
Champ Bailey remains Denver's No. 1 cornerback because he's still that damn good.
Prior to the divisional round playoff game that saw Bailey get torched by Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, Bailey had given up one receiving touchdown all season long.
Bailey ranked No. 4 in Pro Football Focus's Yards Per Coverage Snap.
Although Bailey will be 35 years of age in June, he remains one of the best corners in the league.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Rodgers-Cromartie was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million.
Chris Harris started opposite of Bailey for most of the season after Tracy Porter went down, and he too, ranked in the top for Pro Football Focus's Yards Per Coverage Snap statistic.
Expect Dominique to start opposite of Bailey while Harris returns to his nickelback role in the 3-3-5 defense.
SS Mike Adams
Adams was second in tackles for the Broncos in 2012 and although he's nearing the end of the line with a lot of wear and tear on his body at the age of 32, he remains the Broncos' best option at strong safety.
Denver has Quinton Carter returning from injury, so expect Carter to challenge the veteran Adams for the starting strong safety spot in training camp.
FS Rahim Moore
Rahim Moore will likely forever be known for this one play during and after his NFL career.
Despite that one atrocious play which played a large role in the Broncos' season ending earlier than expected, Moore is a young safety who is coming off of a solid season.
No matter how good of a career Moore has, when people think of the name "Rahim Moore," that play will always pop up in their heads. But Moore is just 23 years of age and his best years are ahead of him, contrary to what that one play may suggest.
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