The Denver Broncos are no strangers to stealing headlines on ESPN and NFL Network, especially lately. With that whole Tim Tebow thing last year (remember that?) ending in a blowout loss in the playoffs to the AFC Champion New England Patriots, John Elway felt as though he had seen enough to know that while he loved Tim Tebow as a person, he didn’t think he was the future of the Denver Broncos’ organization.
To me, that was a huge bummer, though you could smell it coming from miles away. I have to say, if the Broncos had at least competed in that final playoff game, I don’t know if Elway would have had enough pull with the ownership and fan base to be able to get rid of Tebow, but he was pretty awful against New England despite playing the best game of his career just one week before, providing the AFC West champion Broncos with one of the most exciting playoff victories in years.
Now, the Broncos have brought in a new field general in legendary quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who missed all of last season with a neck injury that has been slowly getting worse for a couple of years, from what I understand. Now, Manning is almost fully healthy and the Broncos hope he is better than ever before, which will be tough, but the change of scenery and a year off might be just what Peyton needed. A blessing in disguise, if you will.
With Manning in the fold, the Broncos went from being AFC West Champions and pretender contenders to being legitimate Super Bowl contenders and potentially one of the top four or five favorites to take over as AFC Champs.
Manning wasn’t the only move the Broncos made this offseason, obviously, and they seriously upgraded some other positions of need. Here is what they were able to do to upgrade the roster through the draft and undrafted free agency.
- Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati
- Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State
- Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State
- Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
- Philip Blake, C/G, Baylor
- Malik Jackson, DE, Tennessee
- Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
- Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas
- Duke Ihenacho, S, San Jose State
- Elliot Coffey, LB, Baylor
- Jamie Blatnick, DE, Oklahoma State
- Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas
- Aaron Brewer, LS, San Diego State
- Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M
- Anthony Miller, TE, California
- Mike Remmers, OG, Oregon State
- Gerrell Robinson, WR, Arizona State
- Wayne Tribue, OL, Temple
- Austin Wuebbels, OG, Missouri
- Eric Page, WR, Toledo
Creates a lot of separation with his route running…Willing to go over the middle, tough…has the ability to be a yards after the catch monster…Really good field vision with the ball in his hands…Speedy…Good return ability for both kick offs and punt returns…I don’t think he’s just a slot WR, I think he can play outside as well at the N.F.L level
Doesn’t have great size, Toledo puts him in motion a lot I’d love to see how he plays against a plus press coverage guy…I’d like to see him catch the ball cleaner with his hands instead of letting it get into his body too much…Fumbles too much…Might not have the kind of dynamic 40 yard dash people expect..small hands
There are a million players who are “like” Eric Page. A productive undersized jack of all trades wide receiver who comes from a small school because he wasn’t heavily recruited and gets drafted and tries to make an impact at the N.F.L. level. Some of these guys excel at the N.F.L. level and I’m betting it has a lot more to do with their inner desire to overcome the huge jump in speed and talent (competition level). Will Page be one of the one who excels?
I think there are many reasons he can. I think he plays much faster than he might actually time and I think he already understands how to run good routes (though he can still improve). He should be able to contribute immediately as a return man and work his way up. Like (Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio) Brown he’s just crafty and competitive. I think Brown is much more reliable in terms of catching the football, but Page might be better once the ball in his hands.
I like Page as a flier prospect if you can grab him in the 4th or 5th round because he goes over the middle and is tough which shows some of the resiliency I was mentioning that separates these kind of smaller “slot” guys from the ones who don’t succeed.
Like Jesse said, Page is already a pretty polished route runner but where he will make an impact for the Broncos is in the return game, at least right away. The Broncos’ receiver position is not loaded like it was a couple of years ago, and there could be some dead weight to cut. If Denver isn’t dead set on some of the more experienced veteran guys they have, Page has a good shot of making the roster specifically for his ability to be the designated kick and punt returner. He was once an All-American kick returner, and while he may be faster in-game than he is on the clock, I think he is a very good football player overall who is obviously given a serious upgrade simply because of the QB throwing him passes.
2012 Draft Class Analysis
Scouting Report and Pick Reaction
There are not a lot of guys in the draft, specifically at the defensive tackle position, who are going to work harder than Derek Wolfe. I initially had him as a fourth round draft pick, but his stock was rapidly rising as the draft grew closer, and Mel Kiper Jr. even had him as a first round pick for one or two of his mock drafts. Heck, Kiper even mocked Wolfe to the Broncos in the first round at one point. The Broncos were able to trade out of the first round a couple of times, and while they got pretty terrible value in terms of pick return on their trade backs, the player they got is the player they wanted, and they got him at a reduced price with more flexibility.
The 2011 Big East defensive player of the year is one of the best if not the best pass rushing defensive tackle in the draft, and he has the numbers to back it up. He is a big, long defensive tackle prospect who has a ton of upside because he is going to try to out-work his competition every day. His motor and overall fit for Jack Del Rio and John Fox’s scheme make this a very exciting pick, especially for Broncos fans who have been dreaming for the team to use its top pick on a defensive tackle for a long, long time. I love this pick.
Pros–Pretty strong arm…fantastic athlete…former basketball star (turned down scholarship to Gonzaga) who has good footwork and knows how to avoid the rush… keeps his eyes downfield…gamer mentality…seems to have control of the huddle…plays under Dennis Erickson, some of the best coaching in the country (same throwing coach as Tim Tebow)…good touch on his passes…can make all the throws
Cons–Not many players with his height play QB in the NFL, doesn’t mean he can’t be the first…still very raw and inexperienced…lots of growing pains yet to go through…playing in Pac 12 which is not exactly a defensive powerhouse conference…slightly awkward delivery which doesn’t hinder him because of his height, but is awkward nonetheless…throws a few more interceptions than you’d like…needs more time to learn how to effectively read through progressions
Player comparision--Potentially bigger Philip Rivers
Osweiler is a very talented quarterback prospect with unusual size. He has really come on this year. He throws a few more interceptions than you would like, but all the talent is there. It’s likely he returns for another year because of all the competition ahead of him and because he still has a lot of room to grow, but if he does declare his unique potential could be cause enough for some team to draft him. A comparison you see thrown out there a lot is Ryan Mallett, but he doesn’t have Mallett’s “character concerns”.
Shocker! Or maybe not. Pretty much every Broncos fan felt this one coming, especially when you consider the fact that John Elway, John Fox, Brian Xanders (former GM), and Mike McCoy all made a trip to Arizona to watch Osweiler throw. You have to give the Broncos credit, they had a plan in the offseason and they executed it to near perfection. Osweiler was in their plans from the very beginning, and he will be the team’s quarterback of the future behind Peyton Manning. I love Osweiler’s upside and potential, especially learning with two of the most legendary quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. This was not a shocking move for Broncos fans, but to much of the outside world, it might have been pretty surprising.
It’s pretty amazing that we never got around to making a full scouting report for Hillman, but I think I was under the impression all year that he was a true sophomore for some reason. Hillman is a nice, compactly built running back prospect with excellent speed and athletic ability, something the Broncos have seriously lacked for a couple of years on that side of the ball. They needed a home-run hitter more than almost anything in terms of offensive personnel, and Hillman certainly fits that description. He is a very talented, productive back who can come in and impact the Broncos’ offense right away. They have a very interesting three man rotation with Hillman, Pro Bowler Willis McGahee, and former first round Knowshon Moreno.
When you watch Hillman, you can’t help but be reminded of LeSean McCoy because of his quickness, change of direction, and home run hitting ability. He was under consideration for the Heisman Trophy before last season and backed that up with his second consecutive 1,000 yard campaign, rushing for over 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Initially this pick isn’t all that exciting, but the more you dig up on Bolden, the more impressed you have to be. Bolden has a history of injuries and wound up missing roughly two full seasons in his time at Arizona State, but when he is on the football field, he is a gamer. I was watching a cut-up of him against California provided on YouTube by JMPasq, where Bolden is consistently the victim of not only some perfect passes but also some phenomenal and near-impossible catches.
This guy was pretty much a high-impact player from the moment he stepped on campus, earning Freshman All-American honors and really building a fantastic resume’ from that point forward. As unfortunate as it was for him, I think he is fully healthy now, as evidenced by his full participation in the ASU pro day. He doesn’t have great speed, but speed isn’t really the name of his game.
He is a bigger, more physical cornerback who excels in bump coverage with his upper-body strength (24 bench reps helps). Bolden has the ability to knock receivers off their routes and will be physical down the field. He is coming to Denver with the opportunity to learn from one of the best in NFL history at his position, and he will compete with a deep group of role players for early playing time.
As of right now, my best guess is that Bolden makes his early mark on special teams. As you can see up above, he was a pretty efficient kick returner the last time he was out on the field, taking one of his mere 11 returns back for a score. He wasn’t used on punt returns, though, so we’ll have to see if that’s an area where he contributes for Denver.
Bolden also has a nose for the end zone. He scored a few touchdowns throughout his ASU career, including one as a true freshman back in 2007-08. The only year when he didn’t record a touchdown was the 08-09 season. Coming out of high school, he was a four-star prospect by Rivals and Scout, and used to have “blazing” 4.35 speed, according to his official ASU bio.
This is a guy who has starting upside, and is likely another addition for depth for the Broncos who really struggled against the pass against some of the elite teams last year. He will be 23 years old as a rookie.
Blake will be an older rookie in 2012, but I think the Broncos feel like he can come in and potentially start at any of the three interior line positions. Blake was drafted to the CFL in 2011, and he was a first team All-Big 12 performer last year blocking for a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the NFL. Started all 38 games in his three years as a member of the Bears, where he was twice a Rimington Award watch list performer. He is one of the strongest players on the team and as for his abilities as an offensive lineman, I think he really has some upside.
Blake isn’t an overly athletic guy, but he’s extremely powerful and he uses good technique. I had him rated as a third round pick potentially, so this was a really solid slot for the Broncos to get him. There have been question marks about the interior offensive line, specifically the center and guard position for the Broncos. The former All-Big 12 second team selection provides the Broncos with versatility up front, and when he gets to camp, he’s going to immediately contribute and compete for a starting position. The Broncos wouldn’t have drafted a 26-year old player without the intentions of getting him into the lineup as soon as possible.
Blake started at right tackle for the Bears when he first got on campus (because of Walton and Eagles first round pick Danny Watkins on the interior) and he excelled there but he found a niche as an interior lineman. Despite a relatively compact build, Blake has great length and that will work to his advantage working in phone booth situations. He sometimes struggles with balance but he is a very solid player and I think the Broncos could start him at left guard as soon as 2012.
Many thought the Broncos had selected a prototypical 3-4 defensive end prospect here in Malik Jackson, and there’s no question about it–3-4 teams would probably love to have him. Jackson’s best accolade to me is the fact that he made 1st Team All-SEC last year. That is a conference that I respect more than almost any other, and with the incredible depth on the defensive side of the ball in that conference, for him to make 1st-Team is pretty remarkable. I don’t fancy myself much of a prophet, but here is my pre-season report on Jackson here at NFLMocks.com:
Big, strong defensive line prospect who emerged last year with five sacks, six tackles for loss, four passes broken up, an interception, and five quarterback hurries. Jackson can play both inside at defensive tackle and at defensive end for the Vols, but he has the size and abilities of a five technique in a 3-4 defensive scheme. His skill-set is not unlike that of Cam Jordan at Cal, and he has the frame to add some weight and become a force at the end position in the NFL. If he sticks in a 4-3 scheme, he could be used as a power end in the base defense and kick inside to tackle in nickel or dime situation. Transferred to Tennessee from USC with Lane Kiffin (who is obviously no longer there) where he was a 245 pound end, so he obviously has added some bulk to his frame already. Should be primed for a breakout season as Tennessee’s top defensive lineman this year.
The Broncos got a guy who is going to come in and contribute right away, and I think they have a very interesting rotation at the defensive end position with Jeremy Beal also coming in off of what essentially amounted to a redshirt rookie season.
Tennessee is one of the best I’ve seen in terms of their athletic department covering all bases with football players, so there’s a ton of information and videos and features and all of that on Jackson’s official bio.
Jackson’s been steadily putting on weight since being a mere 240 pounds at USC, and now he’s up to 285. He’s obviously a hard worker and knows his role. He has excellent length for a defensive lineman and gets a really good push in one on one situations. He definitely knows how to work his way into the backfield and knows how to read ball-carriers when he gets in there, but sometimes he can be engulfed by bigger linemen, which is why he is putting on weight to rectify that.
He has the athletic ability to set the edge and play some strong-side defensive end, or he can kick it inside and play defensive tackle. I really like this guy’s versatility. I had a late third-early fourth round grade on him going into the draft so he is good value where we got him.
This guy was wildly productive at Kentucky, which is significant to me again because he played in the SEC and started for three straight years. He timed at 4.75, but he plays as fast as his size indicates he does, and that’s because he is incredibly instinctive. He was a 1st Team All-American in 2010 as a junior when he finished the season with an incredible 144 tackles and 16.0 tackles for loss along with two sacks.
In 2011, he had arguably an even better season, finishing with 143 tackles and not only the first interceptions of his career, but four interceptions in total as well as a career-high five sacks.
There is no doubt in my mind Trevathan will provide the Broncos with depth at the WILL linebacker position, where D.J. Williams is currently suspended pending his appeal to the league. Obviously, the Broncos wanted to get younger at this position, and they are certainly no strangers to bringing in Kentucky linebackers of late, but one guy whom Trevathan tried to model his career after has made a nice career for himself here in Denver (Wesley Woodyard).
Trevathan isn’t great at getting off blocks and making plays on his own, but with the Broncos he is only going to be working in space, mostly, especially with the depth of the defensive line should all of our players stay healthy by some stroke of luck.
He doesn’t have great strength but he has excellent length and quite honestly is always around the ball. He will be a good special teams player for the Broncos, at the very least.
Overall Draft Thoughts
This was a slightly different draft than many Broncos fans expected, but the team upgraded its defensive line, got a quarterback of the future, and added some very solid reserve and role players. Maybe the biggest impact player for this season will be rookie running back Ronnie Hillman, who could be the team’s most explosive ball carrier. I really like this draft for the Broncos to supplement their offseason moves in free agency.
Depth Chart Projection (offense)
QB: Peyton Manning, Caleb Hanie, Brock Osweiler (R)
RB: Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman (R), Lance Ball/Mario Fannin
FB: Chris Gronkowski
WR1: Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Jason Hill
WR2: Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley, Eric Page (R)
TE: Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green
LT: Ryan Clady, Tony Hills
LG: Zane Beadles
C: J.D. Walton, Philip Blake (R)
RG: Chris Kuper, Manny Ramirez
RT: Orlando Franklin, Ryan Harris
Projected Depth Chart (defense)
DE: Elvis Dumervil, Jason Hunter
DT: Ty Warren, Justin Bannan
DT: Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe (R)
DE: Robert Ayers, Jeremy Beal, Malik Jackson (R)
OLB: Von Miller, Mike Mohamed
ILB: Joe Mays, Nate Irving
OLB: D.J. Williams, Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan (R)
CB1: Champ Bailey, Drayton Florence, Omar Bolden
CB2: Tracy Porter, Chris Harris, Syd’Quan Thompson
FS: Quinton Carter, Rahim Moore
SS: Mike Adams, David Bruton
K: Matt Prater
P: Britton Colquitt
LS: Lonie Paxton