Denver Broncos: Stat Projections for Their Top Free-Agent Acquisitions
So far, Denver has signed Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and DeMarcus Ware, bolstering its roster immensely. The Broncos were obliterated in the Super Bowl, and general manager John Elway set out to make changes.
And he did. But how much of an impact will these new players make in the stat column?
DeMarcus Ware is the most popular player the Broncos signed. Aqib Talib is second. But the most important signing was the T.J. Ward deal.
Denver's inability to force turnovers in the playoffs was largely caused by mediocre safety play. Mike Adams was nothing better than average, and he was complemented by the abysmal Duke Ihenacho, the shaky Michael Huff and the awful Omar Bolden.
Poor safety play hurt the Broncos, and Elway didn't want to repeat that. So, he signed the ferocious Ward.
Ward put up marvelous numbers last year. He registered 112 tackles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks last year. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he graded out as the third-best safety in the league.
Look for Ward to clean up with a plethora of tackles, and look for him to make a colossal impact as a pass-defender. In fact, his presence could have a ripple effect on the dynamic of the entire nickel defense.
Why? The Broncos don't have a definite starter at middle linebacker, and they might not find a reliable one. If Nate Irving or Steven Johnson can't assume the role, the Broncos could use Ward in the box as a linebacker covering tight ends.
He helped limit New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 32 yards, and his Cleveland Browns didn't give up more than 72 yards to a tight end in a single game last season. If the Broncos assign him that role, he would certainly be up for the task.
Ward's coverage skills should be on full display in Denver. Look for the 27-year-old to continue his success in Denver.
Stat projections: 99 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks.
Denver’s high-octane offense thrived consistently in 2013, and Eric Decker was a critical component to the team’s success.
However, the free agent exceeded Denver’s price range, and he was inked to a lucrative, multi-year deal by the New York Jets. Denver opted for the cheaper Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders’ career production hasn’t matched that of Decker, but unlike Decker, he wasn’t on the best offense in history last year. The 27-year-old Sanders has untapped potential, and that potential could be brought out by Peyton Manning.
According to Yahoo Sports, Elway believes that Sanders has only scratched the surface. If Sanders does see a significant uptick in his numbers, it could add a new element to the Broncos’ offense that Decker couldn’t provide.
One thing that’s for sure is that Decker doesn’t have Sanders’ speed. According to NFL.com, Sanders ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the 2010 NFL combine. He could do damage on screen passes and other short passes, such as slants.
Manning thrives at giving his receivers space after the catch, and Sanders could be a lethal weapon in this offense.
He only caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns last year, but Manning’s presence will boost Sanders’ stats. According to Pro Football Focus, Sanders' drop rate (6.94 percent) was better than that of all 2013 Broncos receivers.
Manning will target Sanders a lot. While the tiny Sanders likely won’t see much action in the red zone, he should see an increase in overall production this season.
Stat projections: 84 catches, 1,021 yards, seven touchdowns, five drops.
Yes, DeMarcus Ware’s 2013 season didn’t go as planned. And yes, he is on the wrong side of 30.
However, there’s still reason to believe that the standout can contribute in Denver.
Ware has 117 career sacks, and while he had just six in 2013, his production was still solid. An elbow injury hampered him for most of the year, causing him to miss three games and limiting his production in the seven subsequent contests.
Even with the injury, Ware, according to Pro Football Focus, graded out as the eighth-best 4-3 defensive end. Plus, just as recently as 2011, he piled up 19.5 sacks. He still has ample talent, and he’s on a mission to prove that.
In addition, expect Ware to contribute against the run as well. He posted 40 tackles in 2013, and he’s had as many as 84 (in a season). For a pass-rushing defensive end, that’s incredible.
Ware and Von Miller will team up to wreak havoc on quarterbacks. Miller should draw the tougher matchups due to his youth and raw talent, which would give Ware favorable matchups.
And knowing Ware, if he gets those matchups, he would dominate.
Opposing quarterbacks need to watch out. Despite Ware’s age and elbow injury, he’s going to come through with a tremendous performance in 2014.
Stat projections: 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 53 tackles
Many believe that Aqib Talib’s injury kicked the door open for the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
Talib’s injury preceded six catches from Demaryius Thomas, who accumulated a total of 134 yards receiving. He picked up more than 100 yards receiving and scored a touchdown after Talib departed, which played a role in Denver’s victory.
While the Patriots almost certainly would have still lost had Talib played the whole game, New England suffered from Talib’s absence. Consequently, it was surprising to see him leave.
Last year, Talib had some incredible performances. He didn’t give up a single catch to Jimmy Graham, the star New Orleans Saints tight end, in Week 6. This showed his ability to get physical and compete with bigger players.
He intercepted four passes and defended 14 in just 13 games. In his injury-riddled career, he has 23 interceptions. He has averaged nearly five interceptions per 16 games played during his career, which is an exceptional mark.
However, he struggled at times last year. Josh Gordon caught 10 passes for 151 yards against the Patriots in Talib’s worst game. While Talib’s basic numbers were noteworthy, he wasn’t actually phenomenal.
He should intercept some passes, especially with the stellar Chris Harris likely to start opposite him. Harris doesn’t get targeted much, but quarterbacks do target Talib.
According to Pro Football Focus, Talib was targeted 71 times during the regular season. He should give up some big plays, but he’s also likely to make game-changing plays.
Stat projections: Five interceptions, four touchdowns surrendered, 17 passes defended, 46 tackles