Projecting Denver Broncos Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The Denver Broncos had arguably the best free-agency period of any team in the NFL. The Broncos added defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Aqib Talib during free agency.
Considering the Broncos were the Super Bowl runners-up, it's scary imagining the potential of this team. With most of the major signings in free agency over, the Broncos will look toward the NFL draft in May to fill the remaining voids on their roster.
Here is how the team's depth chart looks leading up to the draft.
Peyton Manning will be the team's starting quarterback come opening day, barring an injury or an unexpected retirement. The five-time NFL MVP is coming off his finest season, in which he passed for an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 passing yards.
Manning will be more motivated than ever after last year's embarrassing Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks. At 38 years of age, Manning's opportunity at winning a second Lombardi Trophy is winding down.
2. Brock Osweiler
Brock Osweiler is supposed to the Broncos' franchise quarterback after Manning retires. After being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, Osweiler has seen minimal playing time, as he learns the quarterback position under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
It's possible Osweiler could be challenged for the backup job, as the Broncos don't want any player getting too content with his position within the team. But at the current moment, Osweiler has the No. 2 job locked up.
3. Zac Dysert
Zac Dysert was a rookie quarterback in 2013 who surprisingly made the Broncos' 53-man roster. He spent all 16 games inactive.
The Broncos like Dysert's ability to be a dual-threat quarterback. However, he was a seventh-round draft pick, and the Broncos could either go the route of finding another developmental quarterback to replace Dysert or just go the route of carrying only two quarterbacks on the roster.
1. Montee Ball
It's rather clear the Broncos will give Montee Ball every opportunity in the world to be the No. 1 running back. He has seemingly been groomed for the role since late last season, when Ball started gaining more and more carries while sharing the backfield with former Bronco Knowshon Moreno.
In Ball's rookie season, the University of Wisconsin product carried the football 120 times for 559 yards and four touchdowns.
Considering he was a second-round draft pick, the Broncos will entrust their backfield in the hands of Ball for the 2014 season.
2. C.J. Anderson
The undrafted free agent played in just five regular-season games last season, carrying the football seven times for 38 yards, but he surpassed Ronnie Hillman as the No. 3 back on the depth chart as the team entered the postseason. Anderson even had two carries and a reception in the Broncos' Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks.
3. Ronnie Hillman
Though Hillman was considered the favorite to be the Broncos' starting running back in 2013 at this time of the year last year, there's a plausible chance that Hillman doesn't even make the Broncos' 53-man roster come September.
Hillman has fallen so out of favor in Denver that he was declared inactive for all three of the Broncos' postseason games.
The third-year running back will have to have a strong training camp if he wishes to find himself back in the running back rotation.
1. WR Demaryius Thomas
Demaryius Thomas is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver on the Broncos. With Manning at quarterback, Thomas has emerged as one of the NFL's best receiving threats.
Thomas has made the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons and has ranked in the top 10 in all three major categories at the receiving position over the last two years: receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
2. Emmanuel Sanders
As Pittsburgh's No. 2 receiver last season, Sanders caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns.
Though one can expect the Broncos to fiddle with the offensive playbook by putting Sanders outside and plugging him in the slot, Sanders will likely be listed as the No. 2 wide receiver on the depth chart come training camp.
3. Wes Welker
The best slot receiver in the NFL is coming off another solid campaign after posting 73 receptions for 788 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos.
Welker will remain in the slot role for the Broncos, as the Broncos look to continue their offensive success from the 2013 season.
4. Andre Caldwell
Andre Caldwell was re-signed by the Broncos at the beginning of the free-agency period to a two-year contract.
As Manning's fifth option in the passing game during the Broncos' record-breaking 2013 season on offense, Caldwell contributed 16 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
With the Broncos implementing Sanders into the game plan in his first year in Mile High, expect Caldwell to see an expanded role within the offense as he enters his third season with the franchise.
1. Julius Thomas
The three-year tight end finally broke out in 2013 and emerged as one of the NFL's best tight ends. Thomas' 2013 stat line: 65 receptions, 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Thomas is the unquestioned starting tight end in the Broncos offense, and with the departure of Decker, Thomas will see a more prominent role within the offense.
2. Jacob Tamme
Jacob Tamme is currently the No. 2 tight end on the depth chart, but there's the question of whether he'll even be on the roster in the next several months.
Tamme has a cap figure of $3.5 million in 2014. If the Broncos were to release Tamme, it would only result in $500,000 in dead money.
Due to Thomas' emergence, Tamme saw a drastically reduced role in the offense and only had 20 receptions on the season. If Tamme remains on the roster, his role will be roughly the same in 2014 as a bit player.
3. Virgil Green
Virgil Green is a limited receiving tight end, but his role in the Broncos offense is vital, as he essentially serves as an extra offensive lineman in run-heavy packages.
4. Joel Dreessen
Joel Dreessen is in the same category as Tamme—Dreessen has a cap hit of over $3.1 million in 2014. Dreessen is a valuable receiving tight end, but due to Thomas' emergence in 2013, Dreessen became such an afterthought that he was relegated to special teams duty for most of the season after serving a vital role in the offense in 2012.
Expect at least either Dreessen or Tamme to be cut from the team by training camp.
LT Ryan Clady, RT Orlando Franklin
Winston Justice, Vinston Painter
Ryan Clady missed 14 games in 2013 due to injury; Chris Clark ended up protecting Manning's blind side for the remainder of the season.
Clady will return in his starting left tackle role in 2013. Orlando Franklin will continue to start at right tackle for the fourth straight season.
Winston Justice was signed after Clady was lost for the season in September. He ended up playing in four games for the team.
Vinston Painter was on the Broncos practice squad for the entire 2013 season.
Considering Justice was signed merely as a street free agent following Clady's injury two games into the NFL season and also taking into account that he'll be 30 years old this season, it's a realistic possibility the Broncos draft a tackle during the NFL draft and release Justice.
Painter was a sixth-round draft pick by the Broncos in 2013. Whether he makes the roster come September will all depend upon his development in training camp.
RG Louis Vasquez, LG Unknown
Louis Vasquez had a strong first season in Mile High, as he made his first Pro Bowl and was elected to his first All-Pro team in 2013.
At the current moment, the Broncos really don't have any player on the roster who is suitable to be the team's starting left guard. Due to Zane Beadles signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars during free agency, the Broncos will have to find a new starting left guard through the NFL draft.
C Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez had spent his entire NFL career as a guard up until center Dan Koppen tore his ACL during 2013 training camp. The Broncos shifted Ramirez from right guard to starting center.
It may have been the best decision of Ramirez's career.
Ramirez had a solid campaign as the Broncos' starting center and will return in the same role in 2014.
Starting Defensive Ends
RDE DeMarcus Ware, LDE Malik Jackson
Backup Defensive Ends
Quanterus Smith, Derek Wolfe
One of the Broncos' biggest moves in free agency was the signing of DeMarcus Ware. Ware proved himself as one of the NFL's best pass-rushers, totaling 117 sacks over nine seasons.
Ware will replace Shaun Phillips as the starting RDE, while Malik Jackson will remain as the starting LDE. Jackson took over the starting role in the final five games of the regular season and the three games in the postseason after Derek Wolfe missed the last month of the regular season and the entire postseason due to an illness.
The Broncos hope that 2013 draft selection Quanterus Smith can emerge as a pass-rushing force after missing the entire 2013 season while recovering from injury.
Starting Defensive Tackles
Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams
Backup Defensive Tackles
Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein, Sione Fua
Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams and Kevin Vickerson all started at defensive tackle during 2013. The result? The Broncos ranked seventh in the NFL in run defense.
Knighton and Vickerson started the first 11 games of the season as the team's starting defensive tackle duo; then Vickerson was lost for the season due to a dislocated hip. Williams took over Vickerson's spot and started the remainder of the season.
Mitch Unrein and Sione Fua provide depth and provide little-to-no threat of moving into the starting positions as the season nears.
Starting Outside Linebackers
Danny Trevathan, Von Miller
Backup Outside Linebackers
Brandon Marshall, Steven Johnson
Von Miller had a rough season last year. A year after finishing runner-up to Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, the three-year linebacker missed the first six games due to a suspension before tearing his ACL in Week 16.
Miller missed the Broncos' entire postseason, including Super Bowl XLVIII. Miller will return as the Broncos' starting strong-side linebacker.
Danny Trevathan surprised some with a strong training camp before eventually winning a starting spot in the base defense. Trevathan started the entire season at weak-side linebacker.
The depth chart is rounded out by Brandon Marshall and Steven Johnson, two young linebackers who play on the special teams unit. Marshall was activated to the roster when Miller suffered his injury and stands a legit chance of playing a more prominent role in Denver's defense in 2014.
Starting Middle Linebacker
This is more out of default than anything else. The Broncos don't currently have a legit middle linebacker on the roster at the moment. According to ESPN's Jeff Legwold, the Broncos will take a long look at the middle linebacker position.
Irving started at strong-side linebacker after Miller went down to his season-ending injury. He has played some middle linebacker, but he is best suited as Miller's backup on the outside.
Whomever the Broncos draft at middle linebacker will likely get the first crack at the starting job come training camp.
Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Tony Carter (Nickel)
The Broncos essentially replaced Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with Aqib Talib. Chris Harris Jr. is coming off a serious injury in the divisional-playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers three months ago. Harris tore his ACL and is currently rehabbing his injury. How Harris returns from his injury will go a long way toward dictating how Denver's defense looks come September.
Tony Carter is currently slotted as the nickelback, a role he served in the last two postseason games following Harris' injury. Carter was a solid contributor in 2012 but struggled to find a role in Denver's defense for much of 2013. He played mostly on special teams and in defensive back-heavy sub-packages in the 13 games he appeared in.
Second-year back Kayvon Webster will receive every opportunity for playing time entering the season. If Harris proves unable to fully recover from his ACL injury, Webster stands a great chance of becoming Denver's No. 2 defensive back opposite Talib.
SS T.J. Ward, FS Rahim Moore
Quinton Carter, David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho, Omar Bolden
The Broncos signed T.J. Ward to be the intimidating backbone to the defensive backfield. It's a presence that severely lacked over the last couple of seasons.
Rahim Moore started out the season as the Broncos' starting free safety before missing the final six regular-season games due to a leg injury. He missed the entire postseason and is a huge question mark entering 2014.
Quinton Carter, David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho and Omar Bolden all provide depth at the moment.
Ihenacho served as Denver's starting strong safety in 2013, but he won't start at that position now that Ward is here. Bruton plays a role in defensive-heavy packages and continues to play on special teams. Carter continues to struggle with injuries, while Bolden sees playing time on defense every now and then.
Matt Prater will be entering his seventh season with the Broncos, after having his finest season in 2013. Prater went to the Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro.
Prater not only broke the NFL single-season record in extra points scored, but he also broke the NFL record longest field goal converted when he made a 64-yard field goal versus the Tennessee Titans in December.
As overshadowed as Britton Colquitt is, Colquitt's contributions to the Broncos should not go unnoticed. Colquitt ranked 10th amongst all punters in average return yards per punt with a 9.8 average.
Colquitt ranked in the top 10 in punts, punt-yard average and punting yards in 2010 and 2011. The Broncos signed Colquitt to a four-year, $13 million contract before the 2013 season began.
Aaron Brewer signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent during the 2012 offseason. He has served as the Broncos' long snapper ever since then, and he will continue to do so in 2014.