Jussel: Draft places Broncos on firm ground
Drafting of the biggest, fastest, nastiest, absolute bestest National Football League prospects is at an end.
It’s been a busy couple of months at Dove Valley, and now John Elway, John Fox and the rest of the Denver Bronco staff can take a breath — a brief breath.
Free agency, at least the brunt of it, has come and gone. In March they brought in, among others, pass catcher extraordinaire Wes Welker, monster blocker Louis Vasquez and Terrance Knighton, deluxe run-stuffer.
March also brought us Faxgate, with the team losing one of the league’s best pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil. That little foul-up, however, was addressed rather quietly Saturday as the draft wound down with the free-agent signing of ex-Charger Shaun Phillips, he of nearly 70 career sacks, to become designated pass rusher on third downs from the right side.
April’s draft also seemingly brought immediate help.
Help in the middle of the defensive line came in the large form of first-round pick Sylvester Williams. He will be in the rotation immediately. The second round produced a possible starting running back in Montee Ball, the leading touchdown scorer in the history of college football. Think he might know what he is doing running up the gut?
Later in the draft came others who will mostly help in a year or two as starters, now as special-teamers.
So, where does this Bronco team stand?
The foundation is firmly in place, starting of course with quarterback Peyton Manning. And that foundation is firmer than at any time last season when the Broncos managed a 13-3 record.
Let’s check the offensive side:
First, there is Manning, backed at QB by second-year man Brock Osweiler and likely seventh-round draft choice and new prospect Zac Dysert from Miami of Ohio.
At running back, there is Ball and second-year man Ronnie Hillman. Veterans Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, both coming off injuries, are officially in limbo.
At receivers (match this anybody), Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Welker on the outside and four, count ‘em, respectable tight ends.
The offensive line? Ryan Clady will be at left tackle, probably possessor of a long-term contract by season’s start. At left guard will be either Zane Beadles or Chris Kuper. At center will be J.D. Walton or Philip Blake. Vasquez at right guard and Orlando Franklin at right tackle provide 660-plus pounds of horsepower. And there is plenty of depth behind them in veterans Chris Clark and Manny Ramirez if needed.
That was the second-highest scoring team in the NFL last season. It will be better this season.
Let’s check the defensive side:
The foremost question for most going into the offseason was the interior line. That was addressed with the addition of Knighton and Williams. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can now rotate those two with last year’s super rookie Derek Wolfe, who can move from end to tackle and provide pass rush from anywhere, and veterans Kevin Vickerson and Mitch Unrein. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the team re-signs veteran free agent Justin Bannan as well.
The pass rush from the outside was never going to be a problem as long as Von Miller is around to play strong-side linebacker and rush on passing downs. Now, with Phillips on board, the two-headed monster is still alive and well. Phillips will split time with Robert Ayers at defensive end, with Ayers slated to play on likely running downs.
Other returning linebackers are Wesley Woodyard, who many thought should have earned a Pro Bowl slot last season, with Nate Irving or free-agent signee Stewart Bradley in the middle.
The secondary got a boost with the signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in March, allowing Chris Harris to move to slot defender. Champ Bailey is still around to man the other corner and, yes, he can still play.
There was a thought that the team would try to upgrade at safety, but apparently Fox, Del Rio and other coaches are happy with Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. The return of former starter Quinton Carter is also obviously a factor there.
With Del Rio becoming the first defensive coordinator in almost a decade to return to the team and that added beef in the middle, we can safely say the defense will be in good hands.
One other thing not to overlook for next season would be the special-team performers: Britton Colquitt is one of the league’s best punters, Matt Prater ditto as a placekicker. And don’t forget the return heroics of little Trindon Holliday.
Staff from Elway on down on the clock and working well together? Check.
Free agency dealt with? Check.
The draft provides help for now and the future? Check.
What’s not to like, Bronco Nation?
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.