Ranking the 2014 Impact of the Denver Broncos' Free-Agent Signings So Far
The Denver Broncos have torn through free agency like no other team in the NFL, signing big names and apparently getting almost anyone they want. They've filled needs, overhauled the defense and given themselves an infusion of athleticism and nastiness.
John Elway has been working his magic off the field as much as he used to work it on the field, and it has dramatically changed the face of the team. The Broncos should be much more physical in 2014, a team that will beat you by running over your offense and keeping you out of the end zone, not just by scoring 40 points a game.
The big free agents who have been signed so far are T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders.
When looking at the rankings for these players and their impact on the Broncos, it's important to look at three key components:
1. the biggest need
2. how the player transforms the team
3. the player's raw skill and upside
With these things in mind, it is easy to see how each player is going to change the organization, setting it up for another Super Bowl run, and you can see who will have the most impact on a team that was already very close to being the best in the NFL.
4. Emmanuel Sanders
He even has better hands than Decker, according to Sporting Charts.
I mean no disrespect to Eric Decker. He was fun to watch, he gave it all every week and he put up incredible numbers. I wish him all the best in New York, unless it comes at the Broncos' expense.
But Sanders has the potential to be even better than Decker was in this offense, with so many weapons around him and Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.
However, Decker is also the reason that Sanders is so low on this list. You have to look at what the team was like before and how Sanders changes it. Even if he has his best personal year ever, he's not going to go far over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In 2013, he had 740 yards and six touchdowns. He should get more than that in 2014, if he stays healthy, but Decker put up such good stats the last two seasons that Sanders isn't going to improve on them that much. He's a great replacement, but the offense won't look that much different on the whole.
3. Aqib Talib
Talib is a physical, aggressive corner, which seems to be the route that Denver was going this offseason. He likes to get his hands on receivers, push them around, and interrupt their routes. He has good instincts, and he should fill the top corner spot on Denver's defense with ease.
In many ways, his physicality makes him an upgrade over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who held that position last year.
And, while you can't look at stats to prove it, you get the sense that Talib is just a bit meaner than Rodgers-Cromartie. He did start a fight with Steve Smith in 2013, and Smith isn't someone to take lightly.
Not that I'm condoning hitting after the whistle or fighting, but that mean streak is going to be nice. It makes Talib the high-level competitor he is.
Again, the low ranking here is because of the stats from 2013. Rodgers-Cromartie played so well and shut down so many top-level wide receivers that the difference in stats isn't going to be that drastic. In fact, regarding his play last year, Art Stapleton had this to say in The Record:
The 6-foot-2, 193-pound Rodgers-Cromartie was essentially a shutdown corner in Denver’s run to Super Bowl XLVIII last season, intercepting three passes and allowing just one touchdown over the Broncos’ final 14 games.
The difference in toughness and attitude will be notable, though, which is why Talib ranks above Sanders.
2. DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware is a great addition, instantly upgrading the pass rush, which is something Denver needed. It is true that Shaun Phillips had 10 sacks last year, but Ware is vastly more of a force to be reckoned with.
The biggest impact that he will have may in fact not be related to how many sacks he ends up with but to the fact that he is going to draw double-teams away from a returning Von Miller. He could also free up space for Derek Wolfe, whether he lines up at defensive end or defensive tackle.
With Ware getting the majority of the attention, the rest of the defensive line, and especially Miller when he comes on the blitz, should have a far easier time putting pressure on the QB. That, in turn, will help out the secondary and force more turnovers.
Like Talib, Ware also brings an attitude and toughness that cannot be denied. He likes destroying quarterbacks, even in a league that is shifting away from such physical play.
1. T.J. Ward
Ward tops this list because defense was the biggest need, and he is the perfect player to take it to the next level.
The Broncos' safeties struggled last year. Some of it wasn't their fault—Rahim Moore was injured, for instance—but some of it was just that the players on the roster weren't that good.
Duke Ihenacho certainly can throw a hit, but he looked young at times, getting lost in coverage. Mike Adams understands the position, but he was not a big hitter, and his age occasionally looked like it was catching up with him. Quinton Carter, like Moore, battled injuries and could not contribute.
Denver needed a young, fast safety, one with good instincts who could create turnovers. Almost more than that, though, they needed an enforcer. They were looking for a safety who could step up into the box and lay people out, who could help support the linebackers and also shift into coverage without getting burned.
Ward was the best free-agent addition, even though he wasn't the biggest name or the most expensive signing, because he gives the Broncos exactly what they need. He fills a hole, and he should instantly impact the team on every snap. His upside is huge, he's athletic and physical, he's still fairly young, and he can help bring back the "Orange Crush."
The Projected Transformation
On the whole, the Broncos are going to look significantly different in 2014, regardless of who they draft. This will be true on offensive, with a little more explosiveness—something that seems almost impossible after all of those broken records in 2013, but it will happen—coming from Emmanuel Sanders.
The offense, though, is not going to look nearly as different as the defense.
The 2013 Broncos had a defense that was good enough. It did not scare anyone, but it wasn't the worst in the league. It was fine, especially when the offense averaged 37.9 points per game, more than 10 points per game better than the next closest team, according to Sporting Charts.
In 2014, it will be a defense to be feared. They are going to be physical and mean, they're going to cover well and rush the passer even better and they're going to win some games without relying on the offense. They're going to push people around and make them work for every inch.
This offseason has been a giant step toward creating the aggressive, almost brutal defense that the team needs in the modern NFL.