Denver Broncos: Grading the Strength of Every Position Unit Heading into Camp
The Denver Broncos begin training camp this Wednesday at Dove Valley.
However, the week has not started the way the Broncos would have liked it to.
The former No. 2 overall pick claimed his innocence through a tweet shortly after his suspension was announced: "Seeing reports about a 4 game suspension. I know I did nothing wrong. I'm sure this will be resolved fairly. Disappointed Broncos have to open camp like this."
Indeed it is.
The Broncos also released former starting middle linebacker Joe Mays on Tuesday.
In spite of the change of the look of the linebacker core, the Broncos still have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL.
As The Denver Post stated in the Miller article, "The Broncos have the best odds, at 5-to-1, to win the Super Bowl among the league's 32 teams, according to the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino."
If the Broncos have the best odds to win the Super Bowl entering training camp, just how good are their positional units?
The Denver Broncos have a lot of strong units on their roster.
This one features it's best overall player.
As long as Manning remains upright, the Broncos are a Super Bowl contender—even with Von Miller's suspension.
The Broncos have four quarterbacks entering training camp, with two or three to remain by the time the season starts. Of the three quarterbacks not named Manning, none are experienced, and only one has actually taken a snap in the NFL.
The other three quarterbacks on Denver's roster—Brock Osweiler, Zack Dysert and Ryan Katz are all unknowns.
In spite of that, because Denver's starting quarterback is Manning, it's positional unit grade is still excellent.
Of all of Denver's positional units, the running backs have the greatest potential of them all.
The Broncos have three running backs capable of being starting running backs on NFL teams—Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno.
All three are young backs, with Moreno being the oldest at 26 years of age. Ball enters his rookie season at 22-years-old, while Hillman enters his second season at 21 years of age.
All three backs specialize in some area.
Ball can carry the majority of the load. The University of Wisconsin product had 663 attempts during his final two years at Wisconsin.
Hillman can be the change-of-pace back with his speed. He ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard-dash at the 2012 NFL Combine.
Moreno is the experienced veteran who can stabilize the backfield when the two young backs struggle. Although he averaged just 3.8 yards a carry in 2012, Moreno remains a superb blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
Although Hillman and Ball are unproven at the pro level, their potential as a duo is limitless.
The only reason why this unit's grade isn't higher is because we have yet to witness what a Hillman-Ball pairing will look like on the field.
The Broncos may have the best group of wide receivers in the NFL.
As the only team in the NFL that has three 1,000-yard receivers from 2012 entering this season, it's hard to argue against that claim.
At the age of 25, Demaryius Thomas has staked his claim as one of the best receivers in the NFL. He ranked in the top 10 in all three major receiving categories—eighth in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and seventh in touchdowns.
Eric Decker—who is just 26-years-old—proved to be Peyton Manning's favorite target in the red zone, as he nabbed 13 touchdowns receptions, which was the second-best mark in the NFL.
And now, to make matters even better, the Broncos added the best slot receiver, Wes Welker, through free agency in March.
The Broncos not only have three 1,000-yard receivers on the roster, but two tight ends who are more than capable of contributing in the passing game in Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. Add in a possible third receiving weapon at the tight end position in Julius Thomas, and it's hard to find any flaws in this group.
This is as good as it gets.
The Broncos return all five of their starting offensive lineman from last season, but there will be a major change along the line.
Right guard Louis Vasquez was signed as a free agent and will take over the starting right guard position from long-time starter Chris Kuper. Kuper is on the roster for now, but it doesn't look like he'll be starting for the Broncos in 2013. If he is retained, he'll be kept around as a backup.
With Ryan Clady signing a new contract last week, the Broncos settled their biggest worry of the offseason—securing Peyton Manning's security blanket to a long-term contract. Clady has never missed a game in his five-year NFL career and has been named to the Pro Bowl on three different occasions.
Zane Beadles was named as a Pro Bowl alternate at left guard in 2012, and he'll assume that role again in 2013. Orlando Franklin returns as the right tackle, while Dan Koppen will handle starting duties at center for the second straight year due to J.D. Walton's potentially season-ending injury.
The Broncos have Chris Clark, Manny Ramirez, Ben Garland and Vinston Painter as depth.
Denver has stability at the offensive line with three Pro Bowl-caliber players starting in 2013. They gave up just 21 sacks in 2012—the second-fewest in the league.
It's hard to get much better than that.
At the moment, this position lacks superstars.
With the departure of Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos will be looking towards players such as Shaun Phillips and Quanterus Smith to fill his void.
Denver's starting defensive line will likely feature Derek Wolfe, Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and Robert Ayers. If Williams isn't ready to start, Kevin Vickerson will resume his starting duties from last season.
The Broncos have a lot of solid players, but it remains to be seen whether this unit can take the steps necessary in order to be considered "elite." Even with Dumervil in 2012, this unit was above average, but it wasn't "elite."
That wasn't exactly a big deal, because Denver ranked No. 4 in points allowed per game.
This unit is solid and has the potential to be better than how it looks on paper, but the linebacker and defensive back units are clearly stronger than the one in the trenches.
After the four-game suspension of Von Miller, this is still a solid unit with one major hole: middle linebacker.
With Von likely out the first four games, Shaun Phillips will take over the strong side starting linebacker position. Phillips had 9.5 sacks in 2012, and although he was supposed to be a pass-rushing specialist for the Broncos in 2013, he should be able to hold down the fort for four games.
Von finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting to defensive end J.J. Watt, so it's safe to say he's considered the best linebacker in the game. When Miller returns, Denver's defense will be at another level.
Wesley Woodyard is the weak-side linebacker and led the Broncos in total tackles in 2012.
Which leaves the question at middle linebacker—who will start in 2013?
With Joe Mays' release, that leaves Nate Irving, Steven Johnson and Stewart Bradley to battle it out.
The good news is that with the increase in passing over the years, and the defense's increased reliance on the nickel and dime defenses in order to combat vertical passing, there's been less of a reliance on middle linebackers compared to in the past.
Due to Miller's presence, this linebacker unit is exceptional.
This unit has what you want—star power, production and potential.
The Broncos have a group of defensive backs that can play: Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Rahim Moore.
To say the least, the Broncos had an excellent defensive backfield.
Now they're adding Cromartie—a former Pro Bowler—to one of the most stacked defensive backfields in the NFL.
At safety, the Broncos have a few question marks.
Rahim Moore and Mike Adams started all of last season, but during OTAs, David Bruton and Quentin Jammer were getting the first-team reps.
Regardless, the Broncos have a good situation on their hands with elite talent at the starting spots and starting-caliber talent as depth.
The Broncos have an excellent returner in Trindon Holliday and one of the best punters in the game in Britton Colquitt.
Matt Prater has his faults, and his erratic kicking at times (he missed a field goal in Denver's playoff game versus Baltimore) is a cause for worry, but when it comes time to kick clutch field goals in the closing seconds of a game, it's hard to find a better kicker in the NFL.
Holliday was a mid-season pickup by the Broncos, and although he struggled with fumbles during the season, he scored a touchdown each on kickoff and punt returns during the divisional playoff game.
All in all, special teams is yet another strong unit of this stacked team.