The Denver Broncos are a great football team, but they would benefit from some surprise players stepping up.
Denver added a plethora of underrated players this offseason, and its cost-effective signings are bound to help. However, even though the Broncos are expecting some underpaid players to outplay their contracts, some players could exceed everyone's expectations and become household names.
Who will those players be? Here are four Broncos who will exceed expectations this season.
Montee Ball shredded defenses in college, but there are an abundance of pundits who don't think his success will translate to the NFL.
Ball posted numbers that you rarely see in video games with Wisconsin, but he still fell to the end of the second round in the 2013 NFL draft. Denver needed a running back, and it locked up a good one in Ball.
The Broncos are hoping that Ball can be the next Terrell Davis, but a lot of people don't think that's going to happen. Ball doesn't exactly turn heads with his athleticism, though he makes up for it with great vision. In addition, his size is very similar to Frank Gore and Ray Rice.
So far, Ball has done well. The back who accumulated 39 total touchdowns and posted an average of 6.3 yards per carry (YPC) in 2011, is spending extra time working with quarterback Peyton Manning, according to Mile High Report.
Manning talked about how Ball will be a contributor this year, and that's definitely likely.
Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman are going to be Ball's main competitors for the job, but Ball has a great shot. Hillman struggled last year and Moreno has been plagued by injuries. If Ball continues to get reps and turn heads, he'll likely start in Week 1. And if he does get the start, he likely won't look back.
Ball has proven that he can take on a heavy workload. He carried the ball 356 times in 2012, which is an average of more than 25 carries per game.
Concerns about his ability to hold up over time have come up due to his heavy workload, but Ball won't need to carry the ball too many times with Denver's lethal aerial attack. He'll be able to handle the starting job, though.
In addition to a great passing game, Denver has a stellar offensive line, and it will open holes for Ball. Once Ball locates a hole, he bursts right through it. Ball can make plays in the open field, and he'll be in the open field a lot.
Ball can also make an impact in the passing game. He caught 24 passes for 306 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, and he's likely to catch some short passes from Manning.
The former Wisconsin prodigy is going to help the Broncos in multiple facets of the game, and he'll be a key contributor all year. Look for Ball to surprise people, burst through holes and make the Broncos offense even better than it already is.
Shaun Phillips wasn't heavily pursued as a free agent, but he's likely to make teams wish they had sought after him.
Phillips registered 9.5 sacks in 2012, and he's poised to do more with the Broncos. While Phillips isn't great against the run, he can definitely make an impact rushing the quarterback.
The Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil, and while Phillips won't directly fill in for Dumervil, he will help Broncos fans forget about the talented pass-rusher Denver lost in free agency.
Phillips will see a lot of playing time at weak-side defensive end, and if the Broncos run some hybrid (a mix of the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses), Phillips' playing time will likely increase. Phillips was a 3-4 outside linebacker in San Diego, but he says he's a natural 4-3 defensive end.
Robert Ayers is going to play weak-side defensive end as well, and because he's a stronger, better run defender, he'll likely play on running downs. That means Phillips will have to adjust to playing in Denver's 3-3-5 nickel package. Luckily for the Broncos, Phillips is versatile, and he'll be able to handle the new concept.
Defensive ends often two-gap in the nickel, which is basically creating holes for blitzing linebackers. Phillips weighs a mere 250 pounds, so he's not going to two-gap as a defensive end.
Instead, the Broncos could have Phillips and Miller as outside linebackers, which would help both. Miller registered 18.5 sacks last season, and he's going to get special attention from the defense.
That would lead to Phillips getting favorable match ups. While Phillips is far from gigantic, he definitely knows how to get to the quarterback. Phillips ran a 4.69 40-yard dash, and he can use his speed advantage and athleticism to get to the quarterback.
Phillips is versatile, and the Broncos will use him in all of their defensive formations. In addition, he's an athletic pass-rusher, one who will be on the field often.
The Broncos signed him to be a utility player, as evidenced by his $1 million contract (which could end up netting Phillips $3 million with incentives). Most people aren't expecting a lot out of Phillips, but he'll be on the field and surprise pundits with stellar play.
Because he was picked in the fifth round and recently tore his ACL, Quanterus Smith's expectations aren't high.
However, the former Western Kentucky standout can do more than just live up to expectations. Smith was tied for first in the nation in sacks last season with 12.5, and he registered 2.5 sacks against a dominant Alabama offensive line.
Two of Alabama's linemen were picked in the top 11 of the 2013 NFL draft, and three were picked in the first four rounds. Smith didn't get to go up against top-tier competition much in the powerless Sun Belt Conference, but he has proven that he can handle NFL-type competition.
Unfortunately for Smith, he tore his ACL. Smith only played in 10 full games, but he still managed to make his presence felt. Now, he's looking to do the same thing on a much bigger stage.
The Broncos already have Phillips, Ayers and Derek Wolfe at defensive end, but Smith can work his way onto the field. Ayers isn't a great pass-rusher, and if Smith recovers ahead of schedule, he could take Ayers' spot on nickel packages.
Many analysts believe that Smith would have been picked a lot higher if he didn't suffer the brutal injury. Smith has proved that his injury isn't going to be much of a problem, as he's already participating in offseason drills (via The Denver Post).
Smith is an amazing pass-rusher, and while he is just 250 pounds, he is athletic. Smith is quick off the line of scrimmage, and he can work his way by big offensive linemen. Sigmund Bloom of Bleacher Report thinks that Smith is the most advanced pass-rusher in this rookie class.
Because of the progress he has made, Smith should see time on passing downs. Smith was a 4-3 defensive end in college, and he could see time there as well. It would be realistic to expect Smith, who will be able to practice rushing in the nickel in training camp, to play frequently from the get-go.
Smith is making progress, and he's going to be on the field this season. His expectations are low, and he's going to shatter them and kick off a great career with a solid rookie campaign.
Quentin Jammer intercepted a Peyton Manning pass in 2012, and he'll be intercepting passes from other quarterbacks in 2013.
Denver made another low-profile, cost-effective signing when it brought in Jammer, who resided in San Diego with the Chargers last season. Jammer has played 11 years (all with the Chargers), and has accumulated 21 interceptions.
Jammer intercepted three passes in 2012, and one of those was a pick-six against the Broncos. While he isn't the same player who defensed 19 passes in 2008 and intercepted four in 2006, Jammer is still a solid player.
The former Charger will fill a big hole in the secondary. Jammer is going to move to free safety, and if he starts, he will complement Rahim Moore in the back of the secondary. The Broncos were looking for veteran help in the secondary, and they found a perfect fit in the 34-year-old Jammer.
Even though he has experience as a cornerback, Jammer feels he can operate as a safety. Jammer is fast, as he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. Free safeties need to be fast, and Jammer's speed makes him a great fit at the position.
Because of Denver's nickel package, Jammer will rarely be forced to cover receivers. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he ranked 107th in coverage last season. Jammer has the ability to cover if needed, but he's better off as a safety.
Last year's strong safety starter Mike Adams isn't great, and while Moore had a very good year last season, his lack of experience was a major factor in the play that led to Denver's downfall last season. Moore will still start, but he'll likely move to strong safety. Jammer's leadership will benefit the Broncos on and off the field, and he'll help the Broncos in key situations.
Even if Jammer makes an impact, he's not going to make more than $1.5 million this year. If he makes the team, Jammer will earn $1.1 million, meaning his expectations are fairly low. The Broncos signed Jammer nearly three months after free agency started, so he wasn't exactly a hot commodity. Jammer isn't expected to transform the secondary, and he's not going to.
But if Jammer can use his speed and provide the leadership the Broncos lacked last season, he'll exceed expectations and make his presence felt in his new destination.