Denver Broncos' Most Under- and Overrated Offseason Additions
The Denver Broncos had a fantastic season that came up short in 2013. In order to get back to the Super Bowl—and this time win it all—the Broncos were quite active in free agency and the draft this offseason.
Some players they added are going to be able to contribute right away. These players are impact players who can make a difference this season.
Other players are added with a different plan in mind. These guys have talent, but the team may want to bring them along slowly in their pro career.
There are some potentially great performances lurking on the 2014 roster from players some might not expect. There are also players who may have to wait for the opportunity to prove themselves.
Here’s a look at the most over and underrated offseason additions for the Broncos.
Underrated: Lamin Barrow
The Broncos' fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft is a “new school” middle linebacker. Lamin Barrow was a standout player in college at LSU. He played as a weak-side linebacker for the Bayou Bengals, but the Broncos are going to move him to the inside.
Middle linebackers used to be enforcers who played on two downs to stuff the run. Rarely were they asked to make plays in coverage—and most were not athletic enough to do that.
Today’s NFL is very different.
It’s a pass-happy league, and teams want middle linebackers who can stuff the run and also make plays in coverage. The ability to stay on the field for all three downs is a great asset in the NFL. Barrow may not be a two-down thumper as a run defender, but he’s certainly athletic enough to make plays in space.
Barrow has good length and speed to make up ground quickly. He’s a smart player who does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes. This ability regularly puts him in position to make a play on the ball in coverage.
The rookie looked good on film diagnosing plays as they unfolded in front of him. He can bait quarterbacks into bad throws, and he has the recovery speed to stay with tight ends down the deep middle seam.
Barrow is not an enforcer when stopping the run. However, he’s known as a sound tackler who will consistently wrap up.
Nate Irving is going to enter training camp as the starter at middle linebacker. He’s made strides in his pro career, but that has been while playing as a reserve strong-side linebacker. If Irving slips up on passing downs, the Broncos have other options to go to.
One of the best options for them might be Barrow. Denver was ahead of the curve when they picked him to compete at “Mike” linebacker. Barrow could certainly pay off for them sooner than some people think.
Overrated: Will Montgomery
The Broncos made several moves in free agency this offseason, and the addition of Will Montgomery was one that received little fanfare. So why is his addition overrated?
Manny Ramirez does not look like he’s going to surrender the starting spot at center—and that makes the addition of Montgomery an overrated one.
During the team’s recent minicamp, Ramirez worked exclusively as the first-team center. He worked hard last offseason to win the job, even though the Broncos seemed to add centers left and right through free agency. Ramirez established good chemistry with Peyton Manning, and he may be an even better fit at center this season.
Montgomery has plenty of experience and a previous working relationship with Broncos head coach John Fox.
He is a ninth-year player who appeared in 90 career regular-season games (63 starts) and one playoff contest in his first eight NFL seasons with Carolina (2006), the New York Jets (2007-08) and Washington (2008-13). His experience and ability to play in a zone-blocking system were reasons why the Broncos felt compelled to add him to the mix.
Earlier this year at a pre-draft press conference, general manager John Elway talked about the team’s reasoning behind signing Montgomery.
“What it does is Will will come in and compete for a job. I think he’ll make us better inside. No. 1 if he does start, he will because of the competition,” Elway said. “So, that is what we have tried to create to get as many good football players competing for jobs.”
In addition to Ramirez looking good in practice, another reason Montgomery was an overrated addition is the selection of center Matt Paradis in the 2014 NFL draft. Paradis is a talented center with good athleticism and starter’s upside as a developmental player.
There’s a logjam at the center position now for the Broncos. Having competition at an important position is a good thing, but at this time, it looks like Montgomery may not play much for the Broncos if he makes the final roster in 2014.
Underrated: Cody Latimer
The Broncos moved up in the second round so they could select wide receiver Cody Latimer out of Indiana. With his natural skill set and playmaking ability, it’s surprising that he fell to the 56th overall pick.
Latimer is so talented that he may outperform receivers taken in front of him in the draft. In fact, if Latimer had been a first-round selection, there might not be many in the scouting community who would’ve batted an eye.
The Broncos tried to move up in the first round of the draft for inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. They were unable to make a move, so they stayed put and selected cornerback Bradley Roby with the 31st overall pick.
Had Roby not been on the board at 31, Denver could have easily selected Latimer in that spot.
Latimer has a fantastic size/speed combination—and his upside is through the roof. He does a good job of tracking deep passes over his shoulder, and Latimer rarely drops a pass. During his final season at Indiana, Latimer was credited with only one drop on 119 targets.
His hands will certainly make him a favorite target of Peyton Manning, but that’s not the only attribute that could help Latimer stand out for the Broncos.
Measuring in at 6’3”, 215 pounds, Latimer can be a force in the red zone. He has a wingspan of 77.625", which helps him secure passes away from his body—and away from the defensive coverage. It will be a great asset for the passing game to have three large targets (Latimer, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas) when they get close to pay dirt.
We may not see Latimer start this year, but the Broncos could be grooming him for an eventual starting position on the outside. We could see Wes Welker move on in free agency after this season, Emmanuel Sanders moved inside to the slot, and Latimer inserted as a starter in 2015.
His value to the team cannot be overstated, and that’s why he’s underrated.
Overrated: Marvin Austin
Mark Schlereth, former Broncos great and ESPN analyst, always reminds me that potential is a dirty, filthy word. So many players have potential that goes unfulfilled for various reasons in the NFL.
Marvin Austin is one of those players.
Coming out of North Carolina in 2011, Austin was the standout player during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game. He had a lot to prove after missing the 2010 season for the Tar Heels due to an alleged violation of NCAA and team rules.
The New York Giants added Austin with a premium pick in the 2011 NFL draft with the idea that he could develop into a solid pro. That never happened, as Austin battled injury and inconsistency throughout his entire time with the Giants.
So why add a player who has been injured and is a career underachiever? The answer is easy: he’s incredibly talented and the price was low.
Before the 2014 NFL draft, general manager John Elway explained why the team added Austin:
"He was a guy that really had a first-round grade three years ago. He’s had some injuries and was taken by the Giants in the second round. Then he had some back surgery. We worked him out last week, and he’s healed from his back surgery. We thought he was a guy that could come in and help us.
"He’s had some issues in his past, and I think hopefully he’s outgrown those and he’ll be able to come in and help us," Elway concluded.
It would be great if Austin can stay healthy and push for a spot on the 53-man roster for the Broncos. If he can stay healthy and motivated, then perhaps Austin will finally play up to his enormous potential.
History tells us that he’s a long shot to make the team, and it’s foolish to consider him as anything more than a gamble that could pay off for the Broncos.
Underrated: Emmanuel Sanders
Yes, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders is underrated. Some were excited by this transaction when it happened earlier this offseason. But there still seems to be a contingent of fans and analysts who doubt Sanders’ ability. These people also tend to downplay his potential role with the team in 2014.
That line of thinking could end up being 100 percent incorrect.
Sanders looks like he’s going to be a huge part of the league’s most dangerous passing game. He was added to replace Eric Decker as the Broncos did not offer Decker a new contract in free agency. Sanders is stepping into the largest role he’s ever had as a professional.
Looking over his statistics, there’s nothing that really stands out. Some say that’s a product of his ability, but the truth could be the lower statistics were more a product of the system.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is not known as a visionary when it comes to offensive football. His scheme with the Steelers could have certainly held Sanders back over the last couple of seasons.
According to Jeff Legwold from ESPN.com, the Broncos feel they were right about Sanders' ability and fit for their scheme.
Per Broncos reporting policy, we can’t elaborate on exactly how the team has been using Sanders in practice. However, I can say that Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is being very creative with the way he uses Sanders.
He’s not the red-zone target that Decker was, but Sanders is faster, quicker and can gain separation easier than Decker did. It’s not outlandish to think that Sanders could finish this year with more catches and receiving yards than Decker did in 2013.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.