2013 Team Needs: Denver Broncos
Despite an MVP-calibre season from Peyton Manning, and one of the best seasons you’ll ever see from a defensive player in Von Miller, the Denver Broncos were unable to avoid going one-and-done in the playoffs, losing an epic playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
They brought in Manning to lead them to the Super Bowl but the downside to that is, with Manning’s age, the clock is ticking on them to get the job done.
They have plenty of good players on both sides of the ball, and have the cap room to make a move or two to push them over the top and ensure they are Super Bowl contenders again next year.
You can find a list of their own free agents here, but here’s a look at the Broncos’ biggest needs this offseason.
In Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who combined for 2,494 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2012, the Broncos are definitely set at the top two spots on their depth chart. However, with Brandon Stokely out of contract and going to be 37 when the 2013 regular season begins, there is plenty of scope to bring in another receiver.
A reliable target from the slot for Manning, Stokely averaged just 1.43 Yards Per Route Run but dropped just two balls from the 47 catchable passes thrown his way. As reliable as he was, there are receivers expected to hit the open market who could help make the Broncos’ offense even tougher to contain.
Free Agent Fix: Wes Welker
Improving their own roster and weakening a fellow contender in New England? A move for Wes Welker would provide the Broncos with both and, while he won’t necessarily come cheap, this is a Broncos team that is built to make a title run, not a team trying to build for the future.
No receiver racked up more yards than Welker from the slot this past season, with the veteran’s 1,040 yards 173 more than his nearest rival. His YPRR average from the slot of 2.05 yards was third among all wide receivers and is far superior to that of the man he would be replacing. His hands may not be as reliable as Stokely’s, with 13 drops from the slot alone, but even with those drops, he is still a gamble worth taking for the Broncos.
Even disregarding the fact that he is a free agent himself, the play of Keith Brooking in 2012 was proof enough that the Broncos need to bring someone in to improve the position. He may not have missed a tackle, but Brooking failed to make much impact against the run, with just 10 of his 22 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop. Among the 50 inside linebackers who played at least 125 snaps against the run, Brookings’ 10 stops bettered only Green Bay’s D.J. Smith and his Denver teammate, Joe Mays.
The struggles of Mays, who started the first four games in the middle of the Denver defense before going down with an injury, highlights the fact that the guy to upgrade the position probably isn’t on the roster right now.
Free Agent Fix: Dannell Ellerbe
Bringing in someone like Dannell Ellerbe makes sense on two levels for the Broncos. He upgrades their play against the run, with only 12 inside linebackers finishing 2012 with a higher grade as a run defender than him. Seeing extra time due to the injuries to Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, Ellerbe had a Run Stop Percentage of 10.3, with 23 of his 35 tackles against the run resulting in defensive stops.
He struggled in coverage, but was still able to make an impact against opposing teams’ passing games, leading the way as our top pass-rushing inside linebacker. With five sacks, four hits, and nine hurries produced from 79 pass rushing snaps, he lead all inside linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 18.7. Seven of those pressures came unblocked, but his burst off the snap on pass rushes was something that stood out all season, putting opposing quarterbacks under duress up the middle from the snap.
Interior Offensive Line
While there is no question that the Broncos will retain left tackle Ryan Clady, either by way of re-signing or the use of the franchise tag, there are question marks in the interior of the offensive line. At right guard, Chris Kuper was little more than average in the five games he started during an injury-plagued regular season. Offering little as a run blocker, he saved his worst performance of the year for the playoff loss to the Ravens. Guilty of allowing three pressures, committing three penalties and being dominated as a run blocker, Kuper played poorly enough for the Broncos to wonder if they need to look to upgrade in the offseason.
Center Dan Koppen had a strong end to the season, with the exception of that playoff loss, but the former New England Patriot is a free agent himself and, with no guarantees he’ll return, the Broncos potentially have two areas of need along the offensive line.
Free Agent Fix: Brandon Moore
Despite being our highest-graded available offensive guard, Brandon Moore hits the open market at a time when young guards like Buffalo’s Andy Levitre and San Diego’s Louis Vasquez are likely to command higher prices — both under 27 years old and coming off impressive seasons. That could allow the Broncos to bring in Moore without breaking the bank and shore up that right guard spot.
Solid as a pass blocker, where his Pass Blocking Effiency Rating of 97.2 was 19th among players at his position, Moore allowed two sacks, four hits, and 14 hurries from 545 pass blocking snaps. It was, however, as a run blocker that Moore stood out. After struggling to clear the way for running backs in 2011, Moore bounced back to finish with the fifth-highest run blocking grade among guards.
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