I thought 2012 was THE year for the Denver Broncos. They had won 11 straight games and taken over the number one seed in the AFC despite having lost earlier in the season to the Houston Texans and New England Patriots. It appeared as though they were the team of destiny.
Then the Baltimore Ravens stepped in, and they stole Denver’s thunder and came away with a stunning victory in the playoffs on one of the most bizarre plays of the season where Jacoby Jones was left basically all alone on a mis-played zone coverage by Denver’s defensive backs.
Despite the hurt of that finish to the season for Denver, it looks like this team is going to be a very good one for the next few years with Peyton Manning at the helm. Here are the needs for the Broncos, in no particular order.
1. Defensive Tackle/End
Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan played very well as the starters for Denver this season, but both are free agents. I think both will be retained, but Denver needs to start adding some youth of their own at this position. Derek Wolfe should be able to add some bulk and be a full-time defensive tackle for the Broncos. I include the DE position with this one specifically because of Wolfe. If the Broncos really intend on using him off the edge, then DT becomes more of a pressing need. If they intend to slide him inside more permanently, they need some faster edge rushers.
2. Inside Linebacker
Keith Brooking came out of nowhere and played very well for this Broncos team. He is not a guy they can rely on going forward though, and both DJ Williams and Joe Mays should be cap casualties this offseason. Inside linebacker should be a position of priority for the Broncos this offseason. 2011 third round pick Nate Irving appears to have made the switch to strong-side linebacker behind Von Miller, but he’s an option here if the team decides not to use a high pick at the position.
Tracy Porter is a free agent, and Champ Bailey is approaching his mid-30s. I still think Bailey can play at a high level despite what happened in the playoff game. Let’s not forget his entire 2012 campaign based on that one game. He has clearly lost a bit with his speed, but his instincts at the position are second to none. He can still shut down some of the best receivers in the game.
The Broncos appear to have found a couple of undrafted gems in Tony Carter and Chris Harris, who were big time players on one of the top defenses in the league last year. They should both be retained, but the Broncos should start looking into adding some young corners in the high rounds who can take Bailey’s place someday. There is also talk of trading for Darrelle Revis.
This position should be set for starters with Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter for a while. Moore doesn’t deserve to be cut or traded based on that one play. The Broncos need to figure out a way to coach him better, because he had a breakout season in 2012 and is one of the team’s best tacklers. Carter missed the season with injury, but he had locked in a starting position going into training camp.
The Broncos will likely let Jim Leonhard hit the street as a free agent, and special teams ace David Bruton is also a free agent. This position could be solidified if Denver is able to re-sign Bruton. If not, nothing wrong with bringing in some competition and depth.
5. Wide Receiver
The Broncos have two of the best receivers in the game, but Eric Decker is entering a contract year and Demaryius Thomas’ contract is up after 2014. That’s forward thinking, but the Broncos have little depth outside of those guys. Brandon Stokley should be brought back for another year, but Matt Willis is a free agent and Andre Caldwell made no impact as a free agent pickup last year. He should be out. Trindon Holliday will take up a roster spot at this position as one of the best return specialists in the game.
6. Running Back
Willis McGahee has been injury prone and so had Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos could very well look at a bigger tailback who can handle a heavy load at the NFL level in the middle rounds, or perhaps if the value is right even earlier. Ronnie Hillman improved at the end of the season as a change of pace back.