Jussel: Some musings during Denver’s well-earned playoff bye week

Bronco bits ‘n’ pieces with another week to prepare for ...

... the Indianapolis Colts (a nice piece of revenge), or those annoying San Diego Chargers (they somehow baffle Peyton Manning).

Yes, the Broncos will be playing one of those next Sunday afternoon at New Mile High.

I wonder how many folks in attendance will be stoned.

■ Here it is, the first week of the new year, only another month of football to go, and we’re already being flooded with mock drafts.

It’s strange to me, but from what I’ve seen so far, with the Broncos surely picking somewhere from 28th to 32nd, people seem to think the team will select an offensive lineman.

Say what?

ESPN’s Todd McShay, who teams up with Mel Kiper to provide us all of the draft material we can ever use, has a rather mysterious pick for Denver, saying they will take Zack Martin, a 308-pound offensive tackle from Notre Dame.

Both CBS Sports and SI.com have Denver taking Arkansas center Travis Swanson, a 318-pounder who became the first player in Southeastern Conference history to start all 50 games of his career.

A couple of problems:

First, although the Broncos love “the best player available,” the Broncos picking an offensive lineman in the first round is simply unnecessary.

Of all the Denver offensive and defensive units, the offensive line would rate behind only wide receivers and, of course, quarterback as long as Manning is standing.

Denver will have All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady coming back, and his replacement, Chris Clark, has graded out as one of the best in the business this season. Pro Football Focus, which grades every NFL player on every play, has Clark rated as the 21st-best tackle in the league out of 76 tackles rated. He ranks third-best on screen blocking and 22nd for pass blocking.

The Bronco tackle on the other side, Orlando Franklin, ranks even higher, 17th overall.

Clady, Clark and Franklin are coming back, and you are going to take a tackle?

Don’t think so.

The same would be said of the center spot, where Manny Ramirez just completed his first regular season as a starter and rated fifth-best in the league. Why would you worry about replacing him?

No, Denver will be looking at the defensive side again. They will be trying to upgrade defensively at virtually every position. Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger and Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard, stalwarts who missed much of the season for a variety of ailments, seemingly aren’t getting much healthier.

■ We also need to think free-agency implications. Denver’s list of unrestricted free agents is massive.

Eric Decker might be the most highly regarded wide receiver of all of the free agents. He is going to have to consider what life might be like post-Manning, and he is going to rake in a boatload of money.

Knowshon Moreno is finally being embraced as a workhorse running back, one who blocks, runs and catches the ball. Think another team might want such an asset?

The other starter on the offensive side is guard Zane Beadles, with Andre Caldwell, the wide receiver who replaced Wes Welker late, also an unrestricted free agent.

The defensive side is loaded with players who can walk, including the aforementioned Woodyard.

Other defensive starters who are unrestricted include cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, defensive ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips and middle linebacker Paris Lenon (who replaced Woodyard midseason when Woodyard’s stubborn neck injury forced him into situational play).

Yikes! That’s a bunch.

■ Now, let’s look at Denver’s opponents for the 2014 regular season:

As is usually the case when you win a division, the tough opponents are the rule, not the exception.

Start, of course, with the home-and-home AFC West, where three playoff teams exist.

You think Kansas City and San Diego are going to get worse?

Even Oakland should be improved.

There are nasty foes from the NFC West: Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis.

After that, the AFC East: New England, Miami, the Jets and Buffalo.

Finally, add conference champs Indy and Cincinnati.

Combine those records using the AFC West twice and you get 148 wins and 108 losses from Bronco foes in 2013. The majority of those losses come from one team, Oakland.

Yes, it will be tough sledding in the 2014 regular season.

Let’s hope John Elway, John Fox & Co. make plenty of good decisions between now and then.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher.


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