[Chart last updated: 7/8/14]
• There’s no question this is a quality team. While the Super Bowl wasn’t pretty, it’s not easy to compete with a team as good as Seattle with three of your top players injured; all of Von Miller, Ryan Clady and Chris Harris Jr. would have contributed to making the game a much closer affair. What’s impressive is since then they’ve only got better. Even if you only call Aqib Talib for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a wash there’s no way you can view the pick-ups of Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward as other than significant upgrades. Once again they will be the team to beat in the AFC.
• Derek Wolfe is the only player we have in the starting line-up marked as less than average (unless you think Bradley Roby won’t make an immediate impact) and I’m constantly reminded by fans we shouldn’t be as harsh on him because his key role isn’t to get pressure on the quarterback. I do understand that, but if that’s so (and I do believe it is) then he has to be a very good run defender and even that slipped this year (-2.4 grade). What made it worse was when Malik Jackson was asked to take up the slack after Wolfe’s Week 12 injury he showed the art of the possible, grading well against the run and, although his pass rush productivity dropped, still doing reasonably well as a rusher.
• I’m maybe being a little generous seeing Nate Irving as an “average” starting middle linebacker. He only played there a few snaps in his rookie year so the grade above is for how he played in relief of Von Miller on the strong-side last year and that doesn’t always translate. It’s not even as if the Broncos are happy with the situation trying and failing in free agency to replace him and then also coming up short in an attempt to get C.J. Mosley. I still can’t help but remember, though, when he was asked to take more snaps, he actually played better – and that’s why the grade is maybe higher than it should be.
The mark of a good group is often the lack of obvious position battles and that’s definitely the case here. In the areas where there could be some competition it’s likely both of the key competitors will get snaps and the tag starter becomes a little irrelevant. In this category I mentioned Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson earlier and could also add Virgil Green and Joel Dreessen in the role of blocking tight end. Which simply leaves:
1. Right Cornerback in Nickel
Last year Denver drafted Kayvon Webster in the third round and for a while all looked great. Up until Week 12 he played 373 snaps and was actually grading out overall with a small positive (+3.6). However, the next three weeks, he fell to pieces logging a combined -7.5 and only seeing 12 more snaps during the run in to the Super Bowl.
Now while Chris Harris Jr. (when healthy) and Aqib Talib will play in base, when Harris moves to the slot in nickel who will play outside? Given Tony Carter’s awful season (and Super Bowl) it looks likely they may need first-rounder Bradley Roby to step straight in. Carter played well in 2012, so I think it’s too early to write him off completely, but trust will be in short supply.
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