Early Stat Projections for Denver Broncos' Top Impact Players
The Denver Broncos will enter the 2014 season with high expectations.
After being thumped by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII, there will be tons of motivation brewing in Mile High from now until the end of the year.
The Broncos were so humbled by the loss in the Super Bowl that the team is now using '35' as motivation during voluntary offseason conditioning workouts.
If the Broncos hope to avenge their Super Bowl loss, however, their big-name players will have to continue to excel at a high level during the 2014 season.
The Broncos made a number of major signings during the offseason, bulking up a defense that was dominated by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
In that same game, the offensive unit that had broken just about every major single-season record laid a big dud, as quarterback Peyton Manning and his receiving unit struggled to establish any sort of chemistry on their way to scoring eight points the entire game.
These aforementioned big-name players will have to continue to excel on the field throughout 2014 if the Broncos wish to get back to the ultimate stage of playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
How will these players perform during the 2014 season, and just what type of stat lines should we expect?
RB Montee Ball
The Broncos allowed former starting running back Knowshon Moreno to walk through free agency, despite a season that saw Moreno rank in the top five of all players at his position in total touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.
At the moment, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are the backs providing depth.
Part of the reason the Broncos allowed Moreno to walk (other than Ball being a second-round draft pick of the team in 2013) was Ball's strong ending to the season.
Over the last seven games of the season, including the three postseason games, Ball ran for 393 yards on 73 carries for an average of 5.4 yards per carry.
Moreno ended the season with just 372 yards on 96 carries for a 3.8 per-carry average in those same seven games.
It becomes clear why the Broncos have placed their confidence in Ball for the time being.
One thing that is also clear is that the Broncos won't have the same versatile threat in Ball that they had in Moreno. While it wouldn't come as a shock if Ball develops into a better runner than Moreno was, Moreno's receiving and blocking abilities will be missed.
Look for the Broncos to split reps between Ball and another running back throughout the 2014 season.
However, Ball is playing with the most stacked offensive unit in the entire NFL. Playing with Peyton Manning will automatically give Ball a 1,000-yard rushing season. Expect a high per-carry average hovering around 4.4 yards per carry.
Stat Projections for 2014: 1,200 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, nine rushing touchdowns
DE DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware was the Broncos' big signing during free agency. As the premier player of the Dallas Cowboys defensive unit over the past nine years, Ware led the NFL in sacks twice and was named to the All-Pro team on seven occasions.
The Broncos hope that Ware provides that same type of impact when he lines up with linebacker Von Miller to form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Ware struggled through a 2013 season that saw him post just six sacks in 13 games, the lowest single-season sack total of his NFL career.
Former Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips led the squad with 10 sacks in 2013. Phillips was a low-key signing by the Broncos during draft day last year, and at the age of 32, he proved to be the Broncos' best pass-rusher throughout the season while lining up as the right defensive end.
Ware will take his spot, and with Miller entering 2014 fully healthy, it's hard not to envision Ware having one of his finest seasons when it comes to sacking the quarterback.
Stat Projections for 2014: 15 sacks, 60 tackles
TE Julius Thomas
Thomas had a breakout season in 2013, catching 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. Before 2013, Thomas had just one reception for three yards through the first two seasons of his career.
Decker was a big receiver at 6'3". With Thomas at 6'5", the tight end will now receive more opportunities catching balls in the end zone.
Decker had 11 touchdowns in 2013. The Broncos have replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders, who is a small receiver at just 5'11" and 186 pounds. Wes Welker is an even smaller receiver at 5'9".
This will give the Broncos offense a different look in the 2014 season. Welker and Sanders will be depended upon to stretch the field and move the chains, while Thomas will be expected to be more of a red-zone threat.
Thomas will become more of the No. 2 receiving option in the passing game. Expect him to have a better season than he had in 2013, and with the exception of Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints, Thomas will establish himself as the NFL's best tight end.
Stat Projections for 2014: 77 receptions, 1,000 yards, 14 touchdowns
WR Demaryius Thomas
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Broncos offense will have a different look with Eric Decker gone. That not only means Julius Thomas will see an increase in targets, but Demaryius Thomas will, too.
Thomas has established himself as one of the elite receivers in the NFL while playing alongside quarterback Peyton Manning. Thomas had 92 receptions for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He ranked fourth in the NFL in receiving yards and second in touchdowns.
The four-year receiver enters the final year of his contract with the Broncos, and he enters 2014 as the clear go-to target of Manning.
Manning is the most prolific quarterback of all time, and he has made just about every receiver he's played with better. Is there really any reason to expect Thomas to slow down in 2014?
As mentioned before with Julius Thomas, with Decker now gone, this means more red-zone opportunities for certain players. This would include Demaryius, who stands at 6'3" and 229 pounds.
The Broncos will continue to be the NFL's best offense. Thomas might just have the best stat line of any receiver in the NFL by the time 2014 comes to a close.
Final Stats: 90 receptions, 1,500 yards, 17 touchdowns
QB Peyton Manning
Many people seem to forget that Peyton Manning had the greatest single season of any quarterback in NFL history.
Well, losing by 35 points in one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history will do that.
Manning won his fifth MVP award in 2013, a season that saw him throw for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards. He broke single-season records in each of those categories.
We can go on and on about Manning's statistical accomplishments, but words won't do justice to illustrate just how dominant Manning was during the regular season last year.
Though one may be worried about Manning's performances in the postseason following last year's Super Bowl loss, there is no reason to believe Peyton will slow down statistically in 2014.
Age is not an issue, as evidenced by last season's performance. Concerns over Manning's neck injuries are long gone.
Will Peyton break the single-season touchdown record again this year? Probably not.
While Manning won't break many major single-season passing records in 2014, his stat line will look similar to what it was in 2013.
Stat Projections for 2014: 47 touchdowns, 4,900 passing yards