Denver Broncos: Rookie, Free Agent Midseason Progress Report
We’re at the halfway point in the regular season, and the Denver Broncos are still considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl in 2013. Since Broncos legend John Elway took over as the Vice President of Football Operations, this team has completely reshaped the roster. It’s one of the reasons why they could win the AFC West for the third straight year.
The Broncos made a few key free agent additions this offseason, and those players are helping out immensely. Through injuries and suspensions, we’ve seen Denver with the requisite depth to continue playing strong.
The rookie class also features some up and coming players who could be featured more as the season rolls on. Denver even has an undrafted rookie who could earn a larger role in this high-powered offense if he continues to impress.
Let’s take a look at the midseason report card for the rookies, free-agent and trade acquisitions.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Defensive Tackle Sylvester Williams
In the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Broncos selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (28th overall) out of North Carolina. In college he was known for being a hard worker and playing with a high motor.
Williams did not make much of an impression during training camp. He was good in one-on-one drills, but struggled to make plays during team drills and scrimmage.
We’ve seen Williams inactive for the Broncos twice on game days. Both of those times Denver was facing an athletic quarterback (Philadelphia's Michael Vick and Washington's Robert Griffin III). The Broncos simply wanted more defensive speed on the field.
When Williams has been on the field, he's struggled to produce. Even though he has a high motor, there are times when he stops pursuing after a play goes away from him.
Some in the fan base have started whispering the word “bust” when talking about Williams.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, several defensive tackles take some time to make an impact at the pro level. On Twitter I compared this situation to what we saw from former Broncos first-round pick (1997) Trevor Pryce.
He actually chimed in on the social networking conversation.
Denver fans need to preach patience when considering the future prospects of Williams. Graded off what he’s done so far, I give him a below average grade.
Running Back Montee Ball
With their second-round pick (58th overall) the Broncos selected Montee Ball out of Wisconsin. Ball finished his time with the Badgers as the NCAA’s top touchdown scorer with 83 career touchdowns. The Broncos decided on Ball over running backs such as Eddie Lacy (Alabama) and Christine Michael (Texas A&M).
Ball has had a rough start to his pro career, but things might be trending the right way for the rookie. Two lost fumbles earlier in the season had put him in the coach’s doghouse. From Week 5 through Week 7, Ball only saw 13 total snaps on offense.
However, Ronnie Hillman’s fumbling problem came to the forefront in Week 7, opening the door for Ball in Week 8. Ball played 30 snaps in the game against Washington and scored the first touchdown of his NFL career.
On Wednesday Ball talked about what he thought of his performance over the first half of the season. “Not as good as it could have been but [we] always talk about people don’t remember how you start, it’s how you finish. So I’m definitely going to make sure I finish on top.”
So far this season he has 54 carries for 178 yards and one rushing touchdown. Ball also has two catches for 27 yards.
The Broncos may want to keep Knowshon Moreno fresh for the postseason run. This could mean we see more touches split at the running back position. Ball is the first player behind Moreno to get opportunities, and the team will give him plenty of chances to prove himself.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster
When Webster was drafted in the third round (90th overall) of the 2013 NFL draft, I felt the Broncos reached on the pick. I can say with great certainty that I was wrong. Webster has been a fantastic addition to the defense, and he’s an emerging talent on the defense.
Attitude is the name of the game with Webster. He loves to hit and does not shy away from contact. Webster is an enforcer who can intimidate opponents, as he’s a violent tackler.
He has the size to be physical with wide receivers down the field. Webster also has plenty of speed to keep up on deep routes. He is also capable of playing close to the line of scrimmage and help out as a quality run defender.
Webster has been getting more playing time and looks like a future star for the Broncos.
Running Back C.J. Anderson
The Broncos have a long history of being able to find quality players after the draft. Anderson was a priority free agent the Broncos picked up once the 2013 NFL draft was over.
Anderson has a compact build (5'8", 224 lbs) and was a co-starter for the Golden Bears with Isi Sofele in their "Thunder and Lightning" backfield in 2012. After transferring from Laney College, Anderson played in all 25 possible games during his two years at Cal, including two starts. Anderson finished with a healthy average of 5.73 yards over the course of his college career.
He performed well at the scouting combine earlier this year. He ranked top three (tied) at the event in the 20-yard short shuttle. Anderson runs in the 4.5 range but it's his burst that makes him an intriguing prospect. He gets to top speed in a hurry and he can change direction and explode out of his cuts.
Anderson was immediately a standout player during rookie minicamp. He continued his strong play through training camp, and starred in the first preseason game against the 49ers. Anderson finished that game with 15 carries for 69 yards.
He then sustained a knee injury the next week in training camp that knocked him out of the rest of the preseason. Even though he was hurt, the Broncos decided to keep him on the 53-man roster during final cuts.
Anderson waited patiently for his opportunity, and he finally got a chance to prove himself in Week 8 against Washington. He played as the third back behind Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Anderson finished the game with four carries for 22 yards.
He looked good in his brief preseason experience and continued to show well this last week. Anderson is the team’s only true power back, and he could earn a larger role as the season moves on.
The Other Rookies
Below we have a list of rookies who have not earned any playing time this season for various reasons.
Defensive End Quanterus Smith
In the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft (146th overall) the Broncos selected pass-rusher Quanterus Smith out of Western Kentucky. Smith had a three-sack performance against Alabama in 2012, but a knee injury cut his season short, which hurt his draft stock.
Smith was shut down for the season in training camp. The Broncos put him on Injured Reserve and we’ll have to wait until next year to see him play.
Quarterback Zac Dysert
In the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft (234th overall) the Broncos selected quarterback Zac Dysert out of Miami (OH). Dysert was highly rated by some in the pre-draft process, but struggled to impress at the Senior Bowl or the Scouting Combine.
Dysert struggled during training camp and the preseason. However, Denver wanted to keep him around on the active roster so another team wouldn’t scoop him up. Now he runs the scout team for the Broncos.
Guard Vinston Painter
In the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft (173rd overall) the Broncos selected guard/tackle Vinston Painter out of Virginia Tech. He didn’t make the final roster as the team decided his best spot was on the practice squad.
Linebacker Lerentee McCray
McCray was one of the most coveted undrafted free agents the Broncos picked up this year. They wanted him so badly that he was paid a $17,000 signing bonus to join the team.
He was having an outstanding training camp before an ankle injury in the final preseason game. McCray was put on season-ending Injured Reserve.
Defensive End John Youboty
Youboty was signed after the draft as a priority free agent. He is now on the practice squad to gain valuable experience.
Wide Receiver Chad Bumphis
The Broncos replaced Tavarres King on their practice squad with Chad Bumphis. Bumphis is a rookie from Mississippi State University, who was signed by Miami as a college free agent. He finished second on the Dolphins with nine catches for 138 yards (15.3) during the preseason before being waived by the club.
Wide Receiver Wes Welker
Welker was the top free agent for the Broncos this offseason. His impact on the team has been huge in 2013.
Through eight games Welker has already matched a career-high of nine receiving touchdowns. That mark currently leads all wide receivers in the NFL.
He’s on pace to catch 100 passes for the sixth time in his career. Welker has 50 catches for 555 yards this season.
Welker has incredible chemistry with Peyton Manning, and he’s a key cog in the passing game. He can get open on underneath routes with ease. Manning trusts Welker, as he can make key catches in clutch situations.
Right Guard Louis Vasquez
Louis Vasquez came over from the San Diego Chargers in free agency and has been an outstanding starter for the Broncos at right guard.
He’s a powerful player who can control his man at the point of attack. Vasquez is a steamroller when run blocking and can blast open holes for running backs with ease.
Vasquez is also a quality pass blocker who can handle his man one-on-one without the need of a double team. When Orlando Franklin was hurt, it was Vasquez who shifted outside to play right tackle.
He’s been a big upgrade for the offensive line.
Linebacker Shaun Phillips
The Broncos had some trouble with keeping pass-rushers this offseason. They lost Elvis Dumervil via free agency and Von Miller for the first six games of the year due to a suspension.
Phillips has been a big reason why the defense has gotten after the quarterback with regularity. So far this year, he has 6.5 sacks, one interception and three passes defensed.
Now that Miller is back in action it will only help Phillips play better.
Defensive Tackle Terrance Knighton
The move to add “Pot Roast” Terrance Knighton in free agency made a lot of sense. He worked with Broncos’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio during their time together in Jacksonville.
Knighton was benched last year with the Jaguars for C.J. Mosely, and some questioned if he was good enough to make the final roster with the Broncos. He struggled at times during the preseason and was often getting pushed around.
However, Knighton has really elevated his game during the regular season. He can stuff the run because of his size/strength combination.
Knighton has also done a good job getting after the quarterback. After eight games this year, Knighton has two sacks, the same amount he had all of last year for the Jaguars.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Denver was looking to strengthen their secondary this offseason and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie decided to come over in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rodgers-Cromartie has had an up and down season. Early in the year he was playing with a lot of confidence, and he did a good job taking away an opponent's best receiver.
Then he struggled against NFC East opponents in Philadelphia and Dallas. However, this last week against Washington, Rodgers-Cromartie regained some of his swagger.
He finished the game with an interception returned for a touchdown. He has two interceptions on the year and has defended 11 passes.
The Other Free Agents
Below is a list of free agent additions that have not seen any (or much) playing time this year for one reason or another. Their grades are incomplete because we haven’t seen enough of them to make a proper judgement.
Linebacker Paris Lenon
The Broncos needed better depth at the linebacker position, and that’s why they signed Lenon during training camp. He’s had to fill in for Wesley Woodyard at the middle linebacker position this season. The veteran has trouble in coverage and is a below average player.
Guard John Moffitt
The Broncos traded away defensive tackle Sealver Siliga to add Moffitt from the Seattle Seahawks.
Center Steve Vallos
Denver needed help at the center position during training camp with multiple injuries at the position. They added Vallos in free agency to help out and give the team better depth.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall
Marshall was a fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2012. He was signed to the Broncos practice squad after the Jaguars released him in late August this year.
Running Back Edwin Baker
Baker was signed to the Broncos practice squad earlier this year. He was a seventh-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 2012 NFL draft.
Linebacker Stewart Bradley
The veteran linebacker was added to compete at the middle linebacker position. He was lost for the season after a preseason wrist injury that required surgery.
Center Dan Koppen
Koppen was added by the Broncos in 2012 but was not initially re-signed this year. When injuries forced their hands, they signed him back to the roster. Koppen was lost soon after that for the season due to a knee injury.