Denver Broncos: Boldly Predicting All 22 Starters
The slideshow is based on assumptions of who will win position battles, who will be traded and which players will be picked up in free agency.
Additionally, we'll take into consideration that there's a new head coach in town. Comments are always appreciated.
Quarterback: Tim Tebow
Although many people believe that Kyle Orton will be the starter for the Broncos as the team heads into week one of the 2011 season, that is far from certain.
The fact of the matter is that even though many teams picked up a quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft, many teams still don't have a quarterback on their roster that should be starting in week one.
Mike Shanahan is a smart guy, and there is no way that he’s truly comfortable with starting John Beck in 2011. It's simply a smoke screen to make the Redskins look less desperate.
However, the longer the lockout continues, the more desperate many teams will get to fill their positions of need. I believe that Kyle Orton is a good fit for the Redskins, and the Redskins are a good fit for him.
Tailback: Steve Slaton
One can certainly claim that Steve Slaton’s stay in Houston has had its ups and downs. He's just two seasons removed from a season where he racked up1,600 all-purpose yards, and he's still very young.
However, he has been pushed down the depth chart in Houston.
The 25-year-old is entering his fourth season in the league, and he is set to be the fourth string running back for the Houston Texans.
This player is flat-out too talented to be used as just a kick returner. He has proven that he can be effective in a zone blocking offensive scheme, and he will almost definitely be traded to a team that can put his talents to good use.
We expect John Fox to bring zone blocking back to the Broncos. The scheme is highly popular in Denver, as it produced several 1,000+ yard rushers in previous years.
Before the 2011 season kicks off, I fully expect Steve Slaton to be the Denver Broncos’ starting running back. Slaton will share carries with the underrated (but so far disappointing) Knowshon Moreno.
Fullback: Spencer Larson
John Fox is known for leading teams with great running games. For many teams, one of the key factors to an effective running game is the fullback, and John Fox hasn't ignored the position in the past.
Although there are some people who believe Spencer Larson isn't talented enough to claim a starting job, he's the Broncos’ best option at the position.
He will be an important factor as Fox tries to reestablish the running game in Denver.
Additionally, Larson is entering a contract year—and we all know what kind of effect that usually has on NFL players.
Wide Receivers: Brandon Lloyd & Jabar Gaffney
Brandon Lloyd’s 2010 season speaks for itself to the degree that there's really no point in discussing who will be the number one receiver entering week one.
Jabar Gaffney is a different story. The experienced receiver from the University of Florida also had a very good 2010 season, but there are other factors to be considered.
The fact of the matter is that the Denver Broncos have a very talented group of receivers. There have been rumors indicating that Gaffney's days in Denver are numbered.
However, injuries to both Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal have helped provide some job security for Gaffney.
Gaffney is the best option for the Broncos on the other side of Brandon Lloyd in 2011.
Tight End: Virgil Green
Now that’s something you don’t see very often—a rookie tight end taken in the seventh round starting for his team in week one. He is certainly talented enough to steal the job from Julius Thomas.
Prior to the draft, there was speculation that Green would be drafted much higher than he eventually was.
The reason the highly talented tight end fell to the seventh round was because many organizations feared that Green is injury-prone. There was never much doubt about the man’s talent.
The Nevada alumnus takes great pride in his run blocking ability. The Wolf Pack ran the ball frequently during Green’s collegiate career.
However, make no mistake—the former basketball player has great hands. He was, in fact, Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target. He is, simply put, everything you want your starting tight end to be.
The Offensive Line
There are no doubts when it comes to the left tackle position for the Denver Broncos—it belongs to Ryan Clady.
Clady is the very best pass protecting-tackle in the business. Many people would even argue that he's the best tackle in the league.
Either way, Clady is the Broncos’ best player and there will be no competition at the left tackle spot.
When it comes to the right guard position, Ryan Harris appears to be one of the players that will not return to Denver for this upcoming season.
The Broncos added some much needed nastiness in Orlando Franklin during the 2011 NFL Draft, and we fully expect him to claim the starting job at right tackle.
Franklin is a run-blocking beast, and might well be the off-season’s most important signing when it comes to reestablishing the running game.
Continuity is often a key factor in the success of offensive lines. Therefore, look for J.D. Walton to keep his job as the starting center in 2011, while Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper will man the guard positions.
Defensive Ends: Robert Ayers & Elvis Dumervil
According to the Denver Post, the Denver Broncos are planning to move players around the defensive line this year.
The idea is that Ayers will play left end while Dumervil will play right end. Ayers will move to tackle during passing situations.
First rounder Von Miller will line up at left end opposite Elvis Dumervil. This allows the Broncos to have their three best pass rushers on the field on passing downs.
Ayers was slow to catch on to the outside linebacker role in Denver’s 3-4-scheme, but now that the organization is moving back to the 4-3-scheme, the Broncos have high hopes for Ayers, who will be moving back to the position he played in college.
Although he was sidelined for the entire 2010 season due to injury, Elvis Dumervil is set to be the clear starter at right end for the Broncos. His pass-rushing ability is expected to be a huge boost for the defensive line in 2011.
Defensive Tackles: Barry Cofield & Kevin Vickerson
Barry Cofield has silently been waiting for a long term contract from the New York Giants for a couple of years now. He has been a starter on their dominant defensive line since 2006, and is still only 27 years old.
He has stated that although he wishes to remain a Giant, he has no intention of playing another year as a tendered restricted free agent.
The Broncos are expected to pick up at least one veteran defensive tackle during this offseason, and we believe that Barry Cofield might fit the bill.
Cofield is fantastic against the run, and has vastly improved as a pass rusher in recent years. He’ll be the man for the Broncos.
You’ll find Kevin Vickerson playing opposite from Barry Cofield in 2011. According to reports, teammates did double-takes when the massive lineman arrived at the players-only practices held three weeks ago.
According to the Denver Post, the big guy has lost a lot of weight. He used to be listed at 321 pounds, while he now reportedly weighs in at 285 pounds.
That shows plenty of commitment to prove his worth in 2011, and we believe that Vickerson is determined enough to win the second defensive tackle position.
Middle Linebacker: Nate Irving
Unless you follow the ACC, it's highly likely that you'd never heard of Nate Irving before the draft.
Many people rated him as the best inside linebacker in this year’s draft class, and he appears to be a very good selection in the third round.
Irving spearheaded one of the best pass-rushing defenses in college football last year.
His obnoxiously long arms, good tackling ability and amazing instincts will help him land the starting job at middle linebacker. It will be his position for years to come.
Weak Side Linebacker: D.J. Williams
There have been rumors indicating that Broncos might be looking to part ways with Williams due to his recent legal troubles, but we don’t buy it.
Williams is part of the foundation of Denver's defense, and the extremely versatile linebacker will be important as the team switches from the 3-4 to the 4-3 scheme.
Whatever position Williams plays for the Broncos, he seems to be racking up tackles faster than we can say Tebow—and we expect him to continue to do so in 2011.
Strong Side Linebacker: Von Miller
The second overall draft pick will immediately become the starting strong side linebacker for the Denver Broncos.
It’s possible that fans will find themselves frustrated by Von Miller’s performances during the first couple of weeks in 2011, but have no fear—he will improve.
Von Miller is moving from outside linebacker in a 3-4-scheme to outside linebacker in a 4-3-scheme, and the scheme change might take some time to get used to as the highly talented pass rusher enters the NFL.
Elway and Fox both understand that Miller needs to play in order to learn, so he will start from day one. We expect him to have a stellar second half during his rookie campaign.
Cornerbacks: Champ Bailey & Perrish Cox
Obviously, Champ Bailey is the face of Denver’s defense, and we truly believe that he will retire as the Broncos’ number one cornerback.
Denver’s cornerback situation is a very interesting topic nowadays as young cornerback Perrish Cox was recently accused of sexual assault.
Cox has pleaded not guilty, but this is certainly a situation that the organization is following as closely as it can during the lockout.
If Cox is cleared from all charges, we expect him to be named the number two cornerback in 2011, beating out both André Goodman and Nathan Jones for the second starting spot.
Free Safety: Renaldo Hill
Although the Broncos drafted Rahim Moore in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, we expect Renaldo Hill to keep the starting spot over the summer.
He didn’t play badly last season, and will definitely have an edge on Moore due to all of the experience that the veteran brings to the table.
However, we can't rule out the possibility that he'll lose the starting spot at some point during the season. Moore is a very talented safety and let’s face it—Hill is getting older every season as well.
Strong Safety: Brian Dawkins
It seems evident that Brian Dawkins will need to take a pay cut to remain on the Denver Broncos in 2011. We believe he'll do it.
Dawkins is a fan favorite and just like Champ Bailey—he'll retire as a Bronco. He has been organizing team workouts during the lockout, and appears determined to be back with the team.
Although Dawkins is probably entering the final season of his career, he is still a serviceable starter in the league. Because the fans love him and the team has no better option, Dawkins will remain the starter in 2011.