Much of the media has seemingly determined that the Denver Broncos will do worse in 2010 than 2009.
The primary reason for this seems to be that most "experts" believe that the Brandon Marshall trade will result in a substantial drop in offensive production.
Additionally, the loss of Mike Nolan as a coach makes many feel our defense will be less effective.
Finally, it seems people believe that by drafting Tim Tebow, we somehow shot ourselves in the foot.
However, a closer look at what is happening in Dove Valley shows that the Broncos have most likely improved a little since last season. They will almost certainly win nine or 10 games.
To demonstrate this, let's look at each of the major parts of the team, how they have changed since last season, and what that likely means for the season
Injuries have depleted our O-line. While that is never good, at least it is only May—hopefully, our guys will be 100 percent by September.
Every Broncos fan spent at least one day this offseason hating basketball.
Ryan Clady, our standout left tackle—the most reliable guy on our whole team along with Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins—is down.
There is some hope he will be back by Week One but, even so, he will likely be rusty for the first several games.
Ryan Harris, our standout right tackle, has yet to fully recover from toe surgery to repair injuries sustained during the 2009 season. Russ Hochstein, possibly our starting center, is also currently hobbling.
On the bright side, we drafted three promising and physically imposing offensive linemen in the draft who may be starting faster than initially expected if our veterans don't heal fast.
If our guys heal in time to be ready for Week One, then our line should be among the best in the NFL with respectable depth.
If so, expect excellent pass protection and a healthy run game. If not, we get to see how good our rookies are in their first year.
If the unit is healthy, expect noticeable improvement this year.
Kyle Orton had a career year last year. He has returned and has had an entire extra offseason to process everything he learned in 2009.
Presumably, Broncos fans can rest assured that, barring injury, our QB play will at a minimum, and be competent with some improvement over last year.
The QB position has improved in other ways as well.
Brady Quinn has replaced Simms as Orton's immediate backup (at least for now). Simms was so bad in back-up duty last year that when he had to come in for an injured Orton against the Redskins, his play was bad enough to get him quickly benched in favor of the injured starter.
Many feel that Simms alone lost that game.
There is some controversy as to just how much better Quinn can be in Denver than he was in Cleveland—however, it is safe to say he is a substantial upgrade to Simms.
Finally, consider Tebow and Brandstater. Who knows what the more distant future holds but, this season the addition of Tebow will probably make possible some new gadget plays this season.
He will probably see some time on the field for short yardage scripted QB runs or wildcat type plays.
Brandstater, the 6'5", 230ish guy with the monster arm no one ever talks about, has had one more year of development and should be steadily improving should his number ever be called.
This position should be greatly improved this year.
Last year, Buckhalter and Moreno were a very respectable duo.
Buckhalter, one of the more underrated backs in the league, can be expected to do exactly what he has done his entire career—quietly average about five yards per carry.
Moreno led all rookie rushers and was only half a field short of a 1,000 yard rushing season (note: he was over 1000 total yards).
He should be much improved this year.
It has been reported that he has been working hard this offseason to add muscle and lower body strength. With the added strength and experience, expect him to break the 1,000 yard mark this year.
J.J. Arrington has been brought back. (Though whether it is for the season or just to be an extra body in the preseason is yet to be seen.) If he is kept, he will likely serve as a third and short yardage style bruiser.
Additionally, if Westbrook lands in Denver, he will be a nice addition to help bring Moreno up and to be a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Expect to see improvement this year in this unit.
Much has been made of the loss of Tony Scheffler and Brandon Marshall.
Scheffler is a very talented receiving tight end and, in Shanahan's offense, he was a highly effective tool. But, he was oft-injured, a problem in the locker room, and didn't fit our new power scheme (i.e. he couldn't block well).
Daniel Graham is a much better fit for our system as a starter, and Marquez Branson is a powerful guy with a lot of potential to shine in our system in two tight end formations.
Brandon Marshall is unarguably among the top WRs in the NFL today. However, he was a distraction to the team and just wasn't a team-first, win-first guy.
Consider the black and white glove he was going to pull out a few years back after a TD reception—it was a touching gesture—but, at the time, it was a self-centered act that could have resulted in a costly penalty in a close, crucial game.
Even without Marshall, we are still left with a formidable WR corps.
Eddie Royal had a remarkable rookie year, yet, for some reason, had a terrible sophomore slump. Much of this is due to the fact that he was also the kick returner (where he played very well).
The head coach and the starting QB have stated that they felt they needed to figure out how to get Royal more involved. Expect to see someone else returning kicks and Royal to be catching a lot more balls.
Brandon Stokely remains one of the best slot receivers in the NFL and never fails to be among the most reliable guys on the field. A true heads-up, team-first player. Jabbar Gaffney had a very respectable season (54 receptions for 732 yards).
Damarius Thomas looks like a true number one receiver who will probably have a respectable rookie season. He is struck from the same mold as BM. A huge guy with elite speed. He may end up being a top five receiver himself in a few seasons.
Eric Decker is probably going to have the most immediate impact of any rookie this season. He is another big guy. He is tough, has a huge receiving radius, and fights for the ball in the air.
One last note—in the final game of last season, in which BM and TS were both benched, the Broncos had their best passing game of the season as far as yards go.
All in all, our receiving corps looks to be about the same as last year. Some addition, one major subtraction.
Overall, it looks to be quite adequate.
McD should be well on his way to fully implementing his system. The Shanahan holdovers now have had time to absorb the new system and either buy in or get out.
Last year's acquisitions have had an extra year in the system. Those that are still here have proved themselves. Those that couldn't cut it have been traded or cut. This offseason's acquisitions should have a positive impact immediately.
Expect the offense to improve from 20th in points scored at 20.4 to game to about 15th or so.
An elite offense would be shocking, but a solid improvement should be expected.
The Broncos added a lot of beef to the D-line this year.
In our 3-4 system, it is crucial that the front three be nasty enough to eat up a lot of blockers and clog the gaps at the line of scrimmage.
At 6'3", 348 lbs, Jamal Williams can do that.
Broncos fans know him as the dominating NT for the Chargers the last 10 or so years. While he is getting on in years and has battled injuries lately, he remains among the elite at his position when healthy.
Similarly, Justin Bannan and Jarvis Green add quality experience and depth. Notable returning players include promising young player Chris Baker, Ronald Fields (who had a respectable '09 season), and Ryan McBean.
If our FA acquisitions stay healthy and our younger returning players show the expected improvement that should come with an extra year in the system and in the NFL, then we can expect to see our D-line playing substantially better football this year.
Expect good things.
Very little has changed as far as players in this group over the offseason. Marrio Haggan, Robert Ayers, D.J. Williams, and Elvis Dumervil will likely be the starting crew this season.
For the most part, last year's LB play was very good.
Dumervil even led the league in sacks (the first time that has been done by a Bronco). Longtime veteran journeyman, Akin Ayodele, was added in the offseason.
Andra Davis was primarily brought in to stuff the run last year, but with the poor performance vs. the run down the stretch last year, Davis was cut.
Expect to see similar output this year against the pass and improved performance against the run. Dumervil should continue to be an elite pass rusher and Ayers should show huge improvement this year.
However, if the front three show as much improvement as there seems to be on paper, the LBs should look elite as a unit.
This unit should be solid. Champ Bailey should continue to be among the best shutdown corners in the league.
Andre Goodman had a good year last year and should once again fill out one of the better CB tandems in the league. "Goody" had a respectable 44 tackles, one sack, and five interceptions to go along with his 17 passes defended.
Alphonso Smith had a somewhat quiet rookie year but, as he promised, he played like his hair was on fire and made a few spectacular game changing plays last season. He should continue to progress nicely.
Ty Law, who will most likely return in 2010, has had a brilliant career and ought to have enough left in the tank to be an effective player now that he has been with the team long enough to be familiar with his role.
The Broncos drafted two CB's this year. Our Fifth Round selection, Perish Cox, is thought to be among the top CB prospects in this year's draft.
The CB unit ought to be very solid yet again this year, anchored by one of the best in the league.
Brian Dawkins and Renaldo hill were fantastic last year. Expect more of the same from these long-time, crafty veterans.
Promising young guys David Bruton and Darcel McBath ought to continue to progress nicely under the skillful tutelage of our vets.
Expect another solid year of out of our safeties.
The defense should see marked improvement this year. On paper at least, the D-line is much improved, which frees up our solid LB unit to wreak havoc.
Having such a strong front seven allows our secondary, which is one of the best in the league, to look even better.
If our team (particularly such important pieces as Jamal Williams) stays healthy, our defense will be a top 10 unit.
Matt Prater was among the best special teams players in the league last year. He was among the league leaders in touchbacks on kickoffs and he had a good year kicking field goals.
Last year our punter changed a little. However, Britton Colquitt is back and he shows a lot of promise.
In 2009, our special teams play was a strong point. This should remain true in 2010.
In McD's first year, he changed half the players on the team and radically changed the system in all three phases.
In McD's second year as HC, he should be able to fine tune his system and his personnel to achieve improved results.
He has had one year to implement his system, review it, and tweak it based on results and player changes. Expect to see a more refined playbook this year, more schemes and play calling.
The most notable coaching change was the departure of Mike Nolan.
This was reported to be a mutually agreed upon split due to a difference in football philosophy. Don "Wink" Martindale is the new DC. It is not good to have five DCs in five years. Many credit Nolan alone for the defensive improvement from 2008 to 2009.
Time will tell if 'Wink" can cut it as a 3-4 DC but, if the players know anything, he should be good. The players are apparently universally confident that Martindale will be an excellent DC.
I hope they are right.
Side Note on Tebow Controversy
Many have stated that with the selection of Tebow, McD gambled his entire career.
What an exaggeration! Lets review the 25th overall picks of the past decade.
Chris Hovan (five years, decent), Freddie Mitchel (bust), Charles Grant (three good years, four bad ones), William Joseph (mediocre career, mostly a backup), Ahmad Carrol (basically a bust), Jason Campbell (Oakland's new QB, has had mediocre career so far, lets hope it stays that way), Santonio Holmes (great WR ), Jon Beason (pro-bowl LB), Mike Jenkins (Pro-bowl CB), Vontae Davis (had great Rookie season).
So over the past 10 years only about 40 percent of players taken at the 25th spot panned out.
Anything out of the top 10 really is not a must hit selection. Top 10 choices are huge investments.
First, they get the enormous contracts. A number one overall bust like Jamarcus Russell can devastate a franchise for years.
Second, with so many choices, a bad selection means you missed out on some other franchise type player that a smarter team will pick right after you.
At No. 25, there is not that much pressure really, especially considering the draft day trades that essentially resulted in us picking up Tebow for a fourth round pick.
The only pick we gave up to get Tebow that we had going into the first round was a fourth rounder. The other two picks we traded, we obtained that day by trading down from the 11th spot.
The media just has to make a big deal of the selection to save face because they were all wrong and Tebow is so high profile.
If you have managed to stick with me up to this point, then you hopefully see that virtually every position is improved this year, except for those that were already elite (such as safety).
Only WR is arguably worse than it was last year, but it is still among the better units in the league.
With the improvements in personnel, an extra year of fine tuning the system, and an easier schedule than we had last year, you can expect the Broncos to win nine or 10 games this year.