Denver Broncos: Ranking Their Most Irreplaceable Players
Yes, you all know the most irreplaceable Denver Broncos player.
In Peyton Manning's two-year stint in Denver, the team has won 28 games, secured the top seed in the conference twice and has won the AFC once.
The five-time MVP added another one to his collection in 2013, setting records for touchdowns and passing yards.
But the Broncos wouldn't have made the Super Bowl last year without a solid collective effort, and they won't win the Super Bowl this year without another one. They have other players who are of ample value to the team.
But who are those players?
5. Louis Vasquez
If you're a casual fan and you aren't familiar with Louis Vasquez, it's hard to blame you.
Despite his numerous accolades and under-the-radar dominance, Vasquez, like most stud linemen, has failed to garner the media attention he deserves.
Vasquez, who made the Pro Bowl in 2013, gave up zero sacks in 19 games. He also surrendered a mere 15 quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits. His ability to keep Manning clean allowed Manning to have time to do what he does best.
The guard only graded in the red in Pro Football Focus (subscription required) once, and that came in the Super Bowl. He struggled, and without Vasquez performing as well as he usually does, the line fell apart.
Otherwise, Vasquez was the rock in 2013, posting a marvelous plus-31.1 grade on Pro Football Focus (best among all right guards).
He's not higher on this list because the Broncos have a plethora of quality depth on the offensive line.
Denver could use Manny Ramirez, the center, at right guard, while sliding the capable Will Montgomery in at center. Both earned positive marks on Pro Football Focus as starters last year. They could also use tackles like Vinston Painter or Michael Schofield at guard.
However, none of these players are as dependable as Vasquez. Expect another spectacular year from the star lineman.
4. Danny Trevathan
Trevathan, while fairly unknown nationally, made his presence felt in a monumental way last season.
When Von Miller was out, Trevathan answered the bell. Miller missed seven regular-season games and almost all of another one. In those games, Trevathan recorded three interceptions, two sacks and 56 tackles.
More importantly, the Broncos won all of those games.
He stabilized the linebacker position, and he will do the same thing in 2014. Without Trevathan, the Broncos would have to turn to unknowns such as Lerentee McCray, Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson.
Denver would likely use Barrow at middle linebacker and Nate Irving, the expected starter at the position, as an outside linebacker (or the other way around).
Barrow is a fifth-round draft pick who is unproven, so sliding him into the middle linebacker role could be problematic.
Irving has never locked down the middle linebacker job—despite three years of opportunities. Having two average (at best) starters could be a major problem.
As long as the third-year Kentucky product stays healthy, he should impress. His 153 tackles (including the playoffs) and four forced fumbles show his playmaking ability, which he's ready to display once again.
3. Chris Harris
When Chris Harris left the Broncos' playoff game against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter, the team was pitching a shutout.
Then, everything fell apart. After Harris' injury, the Broncos allowed 76 points (in about 9.5 quarters). That equates to about 32 points per game.
Harris' absence was definitely felt in the Super Bowl, as Russell Wilson carved up the Broncos defense en route to a passer rating of 123.1. Opposing quarterbacks thrived when Harris was out, and that wasn't a surprise.
Opponents posted a feeble 64.9 passer rating against him, and he gave up just one touchdown. Without Champ Bailey for most of 2013, Harris was needed, and he responded in a big way.
In 2014, Harris will also be needed. There is uncertainty at cornerback, as rookie nickel corner Bradley Roby and second-year backup Kayvon Webster are unproven. If the injury-prone Aqib Talib gets hurt, Harris will have to play a big role.
However, he's proven to be more than capable of handling it. He's been the rock in the secondary, and he will assume that role again in 2014.
But if he goes down again or fails to fully recover from his ACL tear, it could make a huge impact. Having both Webster and Roby playing in the nickel package, which is used very often, could cause problems.
In other words, Harris' value is enhanced by the lack of reliable depth at his position. Still, even if the Broncos were overflowing with depth at cornerback, Harris would be a critical piece to the puzzle.
2. T.J. Ward
Ward hasn't played in a game for the Broncos. However, in watching film from last season, it's clear that Ward would have helped a great deal last year.
The hard-hitting safety posted commendable numbers in Cleveland. His plus-15 grade on Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last year ranked fourth among all safeties.
The site gave him high marks for his run defense. However, he was no slouch in coverage, allowing a 61.3 opponents passer rating.
Ward will be able to slide into the box on passing downs, when the team employs its nickel package. Since linebacker Von Miller rushes on most downs, one more linebacker is needed to complement Trevathan.
Opponents posted a 101.8 passer rating against Irving last year, and Barrow is a question mark. Having Ward will prove critical on passing downs, and, as his 112 tackles last season indicate, the same thing is true on running downs.
Ward's value is enhanced by the fact that no safety other than Ward seems like a lock to do well in 2014. Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter are both coming back from injuries, and the Broncos don't have much reliable depth at the position.
If he gets hurt, Denver would have to cope with a new starter at safety and an unreliable linebacker in the nickel package. All of this would damage the defense in many ways. This enhances his value greatly.
His presence will be felt immediately, and he will prove to be a huge upgrade over Duke Ihenacho (last year's starter at strong safety).
1. Peyton Manning
Manning is the primary reason why the Broncos have been so successful. Without him, the Broncos wouldn't be poised to contend for a Super Bowl.
He's unlikely to throw 55 touchdowns again, but he hasn't shown any signs of decline yet. His ability to push his teammates and perform well on his own (to say the least) is uncanny. It benefits the team immensely.
If Manning gets hurt, Brock Osweiler, who hasn't started a game, would be thrust into action. This could prove disastrous, and if Manning misses a lot of time, it could doom the Broncos.
Once again, the fate of the team rests on Manning's shoulders. If he struggles, the team will. But if not, Denver could be hoisting another Lombardi Trophy.