Broncos’ success from health, depth

Draft Days are sneaking up, just more than a week away.

The Denver Broncos are hard at work with “voluntary” workouts at Dove Valley.

Peyton Manning and Adam Gase have, to this point at least, escaped incarceration for their alleged roles in TuscaloosaGate.

The National Football League schedule has been released and, as suspected, is miserable to the max for the Orange & Blue.

Take in all these facts, add in any other tidbits you can come up with and it all boils down to ...

HEALTH.

Yes, we know the Broncos have to play two playoff teams from their own division, San Diego and Kansas City, twice each.

And we know they have Super Bowl champ Seattle and AFC title game foe New England on the road. And they face playoff teams Indianapolis, San Francisco and Cincinnati.

That means nine of 16 games will be against playoff teams from last season. Oh yes, they also have 10-win Arizona.

Still, the Broncos will win a fourth straight AFC West title because they are a better team than the Chargers and the Chiefs, who have roughly the same schedule as Denver, and they will continue to lord over the rebuilding Oakland Raiders.

With better luck on the injury front, the Broncos will be the best team in the AFC even though their record might not get to the 13-3 mark of the past two regular seasons.

Consider that the Broncos won a third straight AFC West title, two playoff games and earned a Super Bowl berth despite having to play the last month with roughly one-fourth of their starting roster on the sideline, a living room couch or a hospital room.

And it was well chronicled that John Elway and his staff did a great job in free agency. They added three of the best defensive free agents in the game, safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. And they added center/guard Will Montgomery and wide receiver Emanuel Sanders to the offensive side.

All good moves.

But let’s look at the best moves.

Let’s go back to the start of free agency and pretend for a moment that we are the worst team in the league, the Houston Texans. Let’s pretend we have unlimited salary cap space and sign the following free agents: All-Pro offensive tackle Ryan Clady, All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris, safety Rahim Moore, and defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson.

Folks, if the Texans or any other team signed those players en masse, headlines would be splashed across every media outlet that dabbles in the NFL and the Texans would suddenly be contenders.

Those are the players the Broncos are getting back this season — all difference makers to one degree or another.

Check out that list carefully.

Clady, if not the best blind-side protector in the business, is in the top two or three. Mr. Manning will remain upright and have better protection than last season as long as Clady is on the field.

The rest of the folks on that list are on the defensive side. And, if healthy, what a defensive side this will be.

Let’s do some comparison shopping:

Starting in the defensive backfield in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle were cornerbacks Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey and safeties Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams. Now it will be Talib and Harris at the corners, Ward and Moore at the safeties.

Upgrade?

You decide.

Starting in the Super Bowl loss at linebacker were Shaun Phillips, Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving. Now it will be Miller, Trevathan and, at this point, Irving. Miller is the most disruptive force in the universe and how many teams last season spent practice time scheming to block Phillips?

The defensive line had Ayers, Terrance Knighton, rookie Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson and Mitch Unrein in the rotation in the Super Bowl. Now it will be Ware, Knighton, Williams, Jackson, Wolfe, Vickerson and Unrein.

Ware by himself upgrades the pass rush significantly. Knighton was one of the best run-stoppers in the league the second half of the season. And you add Wolfe and Vickerson to the mix?

Yes, this will be a tremendous unit unless decimated like last season.

As for the offense, keeping Manning on his feet will again be key.

With a healthy Clady, it could be even better than it was last season.

Much better than an 8-point Super Bowl squad.

Rick Jussel is a former sports editor at The Daily Sentinel.


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