Grading Every Denver Broncos Starter's 2013 Regular Season
It was a fantastic season for the Denver Broncos in 2013. The Broncos came out in minicamp talking about winning a Super Bowl, and they are well on their way to doing that after going 13-3 in the regular season.
The Broncos have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and have a first-round bye to rest before they begin their postseason run.
This year has seen the Broncos shatter many records offensively.
The offense set the record for points scored in a season (606). They are the only team in NFL history to score more than 600 points in a single season. The Broncos are also the third team in league history to surpass 7,000 net yards in a season (7,317).
This season will be remembered as historic, especially if the Broncos win the Super Bowl.
Each week throughout the season I assigned grades for players' performances. Now, it’s time for the season-ending grades for the Broncos starters at each position.
It’s time to find out who passed and who failed for the Broncos in 2013.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Records and statistical information are provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning: A+
Manning was simply amazing this season. For the first time in his illustrious career, Manning passed for more than 5,000 yards in a season. This is the best season of his career, and Manning certainly flourished in the new Adam Gase offense.
He seemed to break or extend records nearly every week of the regular season. Manning was able to pass for over 300 yards in 12 of 16 games. In Week 17 against the Raiders, he passed for 266 yards and four touchdowns in one half and did not play in the second half. Manning had four games with over 400 yards passing in 2013.
He had four or more touchdowns passing in nine games this year. It’s no mystery why he set a new mark for touchdown passes in a single season.
He could simply go down as the best quarterback in NFL history, and 2013 was his greatest season.
Knowshon Moreno: A-
Moreno is the heart and soul of the Broncos offense. His aggression gives the team energy as he will not back down from a challenge. Moreno fights for every yard he can get, and he is relentless when tough yards need to be picked up.
2013 was a career year for the fifth-year veteran. For the first time in his career, Moreno rushed for over 1,000 yards. Moreno also became the first Broncos running back to have over 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. He was a big part of the passing game in 2013. Moreno was targeted 74 times and hauled in 60 receptions.
To top it off, Moreno scored 13 touchdowns.
The Broncos finished the year ranked 15th in rushing offense, averaging 117.1 rushing yards per game.
The Broncos have arguably the best starting trio of wide receivers in the league today. The passing game finished the season ranked first in the NFL, averaging 340.3 yards passing per game.
Demaryius Thomas was Peyton Manning's favorite target this year. He was targeted 142 times and caught 92 passes for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns. Thomas was used on wide receiver screens where he could use his elite run-after-the-catch ability. He was also targeted several times on deep passes and made defenses pay with several big plays in 2013.
Eric Decker continued his strong play in 2013. He was targeted 136 times and caught 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. Decker had problems with drops early on in the season, but he worked through that and improved his play. He was crucial to this team’s success late in the season.
Wes Welker came over from the Patriots in free agency earlier this year, and he gave the Broncos another quality weapon in the passing game. Welker only played 13 games this season due to a concussion, but he posted career-best numbers in certain categories.
Welker caught 10 touchdowns this year, a career high. He was targeted 111 times and caught 73 passes for 778 yards.
This talented trio must have given opposing defensive coordinators nightmares in 2013.
Julius Thomas, Virgil Green: A
In 2013 we finally saw Julius Thomas stay healthy and play up to his potential.
A fourth-round pick in 2011, Thomas suffered an ankle injury his rookie season that essentially cost him two years of his career. The former basketball star from Portland State became an integral part of the Broncos' passing game in 2013.
Thomas creates a mismatch every time he’s on the field. He’s too big for safeties to cover, and he’s too fast for linebackers to keep up with. Thomas can also use his basketball skill set to “box out” smaller defenders and get the ball.
Peyton Manning targeted Thomas 90 times this year. Thomas hauled in 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Virgil Green wasn’t used much as a receiver, but he saw plenty of time on the field as the primary blocking tight end. He came out of college known mostly as a trusted target of Colin Kaepernick at Nevada. Green has transformed his game, and he’s now one of the best blocking tight ends in the game today.
Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, Orlando Franklin, Ryan Clady (IR): B+
The Broncos had to overcome the loss of All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady early in the season. Clady went down with a knee injury in Week 2 against the Giants, and the Broncos had to adjust quickly.
Chris Clark stepped in to start, and he has done a fine job most of the season. He’s struggled in certain contests against elite edge-rushers like Robert Mathis (Colts), but for the most part Clark has protected Peyton Manning effectively.
On the season, Manning has only been sacked 18 times on a whopping 676 dropbacks.
Zane Beadles deserves a lot of credit for his strong play as well. Beadles has always been a mauling run blocker, but this season he showed better ability as a pass protector.
Center Manny Ramirez took over for an injured J.D. Walton this offseason and never looked back. He went from an injury replacement to a quality starter. Ramirez holds up well in the middle of the line, and he can stonewall most defensive tackles.
Louis Vasquez was added in free agency earlier this year. He’s arguably the most important free agent the team put in place this offseason. Vasquez shored up the right side of the offensive line, and he’s a standout player as a pass and run blocker.
Right tackle Orlando Franklin did a good job improving his footwork as a pass protector. In the game against the Colts, Franklin did such a good job on Mathis that they moved him over to attack Clark’s side instead. Franklin is, and has always been, a road-grading run blocker.
Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips, Derek Wolfe: C
This unit has had to overcome injuries, but it has managed this season. Wolfe went down with a mysterious illness around Thanksgiving. He’s still not back on the field, so there has been more pressure on guys like Ayers and Phillips to make plays.
Ayers is the 2009 first-round pick who has never quite lived up to his draft stock. Last year he became a quality edge-setter against the run. This season he’s flashed a bit more as a pass-rusher.
Phillips came over in free agency after the team lost Elvis Dumervil (Ravens). Without Von Miller in the lineup the first six weeks of the season, Phillips compiled 5.5 sacks. He finishes the regular season with 10 sacks this year, and Phillips will be the most important pass-rusher once again as Miller is out for the season with a knee injury.
Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Kevin Vickerson (IR): C+
Knighton was added in free agency this year. He had experience working under Jack Del Rio from their time together in Jacksonville. Working together again, we saw Knighton have a career resurgence.
He’s been able to stuff the run consistently this year as the centerpiece of the defensive line. Knighton has also been able to push more up front, and he’s made opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Vickerson was lost for the season with a hip injury. Before the injury he was also a key member of the defensive line, and “Big Vick” helped the Broncos have a top 10 run defense in 2013.
Williams was the team’s first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He struggled to make an impact early and was even inactive for a few games. After Vickerson went down, Williams has done a fantastic job of elevating his game.
Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving, Von Miller (IR): C-
Trevathan improved his play as the season went on. He finished the year with more tackles (84) than any other defender on the roster. Trevathan has the speed to make plays in coverage, and he was able to pick off three passes this season. He even defended 10 passes from the weak-side linebacker position.
Woodyard moved from weak-side to middle linebacker this season. The veteran isn’t really made to play in the middle, but early on he did a good job holding up against the run.
A neck stinger against the Cowboys caused Woodyard’s play to suffer. He was benched for a time as the team tried veteran Paris Lenon as a starter. Woodyard was able to get his job back for the season finale against the Raiders.
Nate Irving was thought to be the middle linebacker, but he failed to make a positive impression there in training camp. He was thrust into the starting lineup as the strong-side linebacker after Von Miller was lost for the season with a knee injury against the Texans.
Irving looked good against the Raiders, and the team is hoping he can continue to shine in the postseason.
Miller missed the first six games of the year due to a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He came back about 15 pounds heavier to help improve his play as a run defender. Miller didn’t look like himself, and then he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 16 against the Texans.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Champ Bailey, Kayvon Webster: B
The Broncos added Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency earlier this year. He seemed to have lost his confidence during his time with the Eagles, but the veteran corner regained his swagger this year with the Broncos.
He was regularly assigned to an opponent’s best receiver, and he did a fine job shutting them down. Rodgers-Cromartie had 25 tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defensed in 2013.
Harris moved from nickel corner to the outside after Bailey suffered a foot injury in training camp. He proved himself as a feisty outside player who did not back down from a challenge. Harris became a leader in the secondary. He finishes the year with 58 tackles, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
Bailey has missed most of the season due to his foot injury. He returned once in the middle of the year, but he only re-aggravated the injury. Bailey finally was healthy enough to play in Week 16 against the Texans. He did a good job playing nickel corner for the first time in his career. Bailey was even asking Harris for pointers on how to play the position.
Duke Ihenacho, Mike Adams, Rahim Moore (IR Designated to Return): C+
There were plenty of question marks surrounding the safety position entering the year. Will Moore regain his confidence after getting burned against the Ravens in the playoffs? Can Ihenacho develop into an impact player?
Yes and yes were the answers to those questions.
Moore looked good as a leader in the secondary this season. He was staying deep enough, yet he played close enough to the line of scrimmage to help out in run defense from time to time.
Moore was put on the injured reserve/designated to return list after suffering a rare lower leg compartment injury. The team is hoping he can be ready for the AFC Championship.
Adams came in for an injured Moore, and he’s done a fine job. A starter last year, Adams was asked to take on a backup role to begin the 2013 season. The veteran did not complain; instead he worked hard to keep improving his game. Since Moore’s injury, Adams has stood out as both a run and pass defender.
Ihenacho immediately stood out in training camp. The second-year safety quickly earned a reputation as the enforcer on the defense. He’s always looking for the big play, and he can get the ball in a hurry.
He was concussed in the season finale against the Raiders. The team has him going through the NFL’s protocol for dealing with concussions at this time, hoping he can be ready for the first playoff game in two weeks.
Matt Prater, Britton Colquitt, Trindon Holliday: A
The return game has been mostly Trindon Holliday this year. He’s made some big plays, but he also lost the ball a few times. He’s a dangerous return man, but he’s also dangerous for his own team. Broncos fans have to worry every time he fields a kick.
Kicker Matt Prater has been nearly perfect all season long. He kicked an NFL-record 64-yard field goal against the Titans in Week 14. Prater finished the year with a 96.2 field-goal percentage, and of course he was perfect on extra points in 2013.
Punter Britton Colquitt is a weapon who rarely gets the attention he deserves. He only punted 65 times this year due to the Broncos' high-powered offense. Colquitt had an inside-the-20 percentage of 35.4, good for 15th in the league. His inside-the-10 percentage was even better (15.4), ranking sixth-best in the NFL.