Inexperienced Players Who Must Produce for Denver Broncos in 2014
The Denver Broncos have been one of the busiest teams in the NFL since the free-agent signing period started, bringing in big names like DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib before coming to terms with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
But if the Broncos want to make another appearance in the Super Bowl, they will need help from some of the young players on their roster as well. After all, teams, not players, win championships.
The Broncos are putting together what is quickly becoming a star-studded roster, but in order to become a complete team, a few inexperienced players must become productive members of the squad.
Whether these players are used in situational roles or something more, their performance will be key. If the team doesn't get anything out of them, they could be susceptible to another heartbreaking end to the season.
Here is a look at five inexperienced players who must step up for the Broncos in 2014.
Lerentee McCray, Linebacker
Lerentee McCray was an undrafted rookie out of Florida last season who seemed like he was on the bubble to make the roster in training camp.
As training camp progressed and preseason games took place, McCray seemed like a good bet to make the roster or, at the very least, the practice squad.
But he suffered an ankle injury in the team's final preseason game against Arizona that caused him to miss the entire season.
The linebacker position was not a strength of the Denver defense in 2013. Between Von Miller missing much of the season due to suspension and injury and Wesley Woodyard not performing close to the way he did in 2012, the Broncos were reaching for answers.
Denver will have Miller back when the season starts, along with Danny Trevathan, who seems ready to break out. But it can still use more help.
McCray could be that guy.
He is a very athletic player who can pressure the quarterback as well as drop back into coverage. That combination has been rare in Denver in recent years.
Though his durability is a huge question mark, McCray has the skills to become a fixture on the Denver defense.
Kayvon Webster, Cornerback
A third-round draft pick in 2013, Kayvon Webster saw plenty of action in his rookie season, appearing in 14 games.
He tallied 41 tackles, one interception and nine passes defended last season and showed that he does have some promise as a member of the Denver secondary. There were other times when he looked completely lost.
With the departures of Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver will need the entire secondary to step up this coming season. Webster could see an even bigger role.
With Aqib Talib and Chris Harris the likely starting cornerbacks, Webster could find himself on the field often in the nickel package. He will need to sharpen his tackling and coverage skills.
The Broncos don't have much depth in the secondary at the moment, and that is something they still need to address before the season starts. Still, the team will be counting on Webster in a big way in 2014.
Quanterus Smith, Defensive End
Much like Lerentee McCray, Quanterus Smith only showed Denver fans a small glimpse of what he can do during preseason action last season.
Apparently, Smith had a setback to an old ACL injury, and the team decided to shut him down for the entire season, placing him on injured reserve.
But Smith showed during his college career at Western Kentucky that he has a penchant for getting to the quarterback. As a senior in 2012, he racked up 12.5 sacks.
What do they say in the NFL? You can never have too many pass-rushers.
Hopefully, Smith can stay healthy and become a guy Denver can bring in on passing downs to go after the opposing quarterback. The team already has Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to do just that, but a healthy Smith would be a great option to spell either of them off the bench.
His pass-rushing ability aside, Smith is also good at holding the point against the run. He has a quick first step and an attacking style.
If he comes back 100 percent, Denver fans have a lot to be excited about.
C.J. Anderson, Running Back
With Montee Ball the likely starting running back next season, Denver has just Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson and Jerodis Williams behind him.
The Broncos threw the ball 68.2 percent of the time in 2013, but Knowshon Moreno still managed to top 1,000 yards rushing while splitting time with Ball.
With Ball moving into the role of the featured back, Anderson will be in line to be his main backup.
The coaching staff clearly thinks highly of Anderson, who made the team after being an undrafted rookie last season. When Hillman was benched and made inactive due to issues securing the ball, it was Anderson who was activated.
Anderson carried the ball just seven times in the regular season, but he flashed his skills in the preseason opener against San Francisco, carrying the ball 16 times for 69 yards.
If Denver sticks with the running backs it currently has, Anderson is the team's best bet to make something happen as a backup to Ball.
Sylvester Williams, Defensive Tackle
The progression of last year's first-round pick will be one of the most interesting storylines to watch this offseason.
Sylvester Williams didn't have a horrible rookie season, but it certainly wasn't a memorable one either. He wouldn't have even seen the playing time he did if not for a season-ending injury to Kevin Vickerson.
This season, Williams needs to assert himself as a starter on the defensive line. After all, the Broncos didn't use a first-round selection on him to sit him on the bench.
Williams can be a force in the middle of the defense, able to contain the running game while wreaking havoc in the backfield. The two quarterback sacks he collected in 2013 displayed his ability to get to the quarterback, something Denver saw when it drafted him.
Williams will be a key player to watch once Denver puts on the pads again this summer. Can he become a dominant defensive force?