STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After starting the 2009 season 6-0 under new head coach Josh McDaniels, the Broncos have crashed, going 6-20 and looking to start over in 2011. With a 4-12 finish last season, the Broncos decided to hand the team over to former Panthers' head coach John Fox, who led the Panthers to a 2-14 finish in 2010, the worst record in the NFL. Fox never lost more than 9 games before last season and did bring the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, qualities that new team president John Elway was looking for in his new coach.
Fox inherits a team with a quality quarterback in Kyle Orton, the NFL's surprising leading receiver in Brandon Lloyd and the 2009 sack-leader, Elvis Dumervil, back from injury. Oh yeah, and they also have a former Heisman Trophy winner named Tim Tebow, who has his share of supporters.
An open competition for the team's starting quarterback spot was announced in conjunction with Orton being placed on the trading block, seemingly opening the door for the Tebow era to begin. Unfortunately, the team couldn't find a trade partner, as Orton demanded a contract extension from the Dolphins, who were ready to acquire the veteran until the contract negotiations went south. So, instead of Tebow being handed the starting job, Orton is back and working with the first-team offense.
That should be good news for Brandon Lloyd, who surprisingly (maybe even shockingly) led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,448, to go along with 11 touchdowns. Starting running back Knowshon Moreno returns and will likely be used more than in past years thanks to Fox's history of emphasizing the run. On that note, Willis McGahee was brought in to add some toughness to the backfield.
Despite many of the same players on offense, the Broncos tried greatly to change their defense, which finished dead last in points allowed, total yards per game allowed, and sacks in 2010. Much of this had to do with the season-ending injury during training camp to Dumervil. He's back at full strength and will be joined in the pass rush by Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. In addition, the team added Ty Warren, Broderick Bunkley and Derrick Harvey with hopes that one, if not all three, can help the defense improve on last year's performance. Defensive stalwarts Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins return as well, although they aren't getting any younger.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, after a 4-12 season in 2010, they face one of the toughest schedules in the league, with road games against the Packers and Dolphins and home games against the Jets, Bears and Patriots. If they are to compete more in 2011 than in 2010, then improved defense will be the key.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (2) Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Could be dangerous opposite Elvis Dumervil in an improved pass rush.
2. (45) Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
May be the starter alongside Brian Dawkins.
2. (46) Orlando Franklin, OL, Miami
Will start at right tackle.
3. (67) Nate Irving, LB, North Carolina State
Provides depth for re-designed linebacking corps.
4. (108) Quinton Carter, DB, Oklahoma
Injury insurance for Brian Dawkins.
4. (129) Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State
Former college basketball player will try to emulate Antonio Gates.
6. (189) Mike Mohamed, LB, California
Will likely do most of his damage in practice.
7. (204) Virgil Green, TE, Nevada
More tight end depth.
7. (247) Jeremy Beal, DL, Oklahoma
Will try to learn from Dumervil.
Willis McGahee, RB (Ravens)
Could steal a number of goal-line touches from Knowshon Moreno.
Ty Warren, DT (Patriots)
Will be an important piece to clog the middle.
Broderick Bunkley, DT (Eagles)
Can he live up to his previous hype with a new team?
Jabbar Gaffney, WR (Redskins)
Second leading receiver traded for defensive help.
Correll Buckhalter, RB (FA)
Contract and RB depth lead to release.
Daniel Graham, TE (Titans)
$5 million for a blocking tight end led to release.
IT'S STILL NOT TEBOW TIME
After putting Kyle Orton on the trading block, and seemingly getting close to a deal with the Dolphins, it looked like the Tim Tebow era would begin in Denver. However, Orton was looking for a new contract that was too big for the Dolphins to hand out and now the reigning starting quarterback in Denver is back. While Tebow was decent in his three starts at the end of the 2010 season, Orton is clearly a better passer right now. Head coach John Fox said at the beginning of training camp that there was an open competition for the starting job between Orton, Tebow and Brady Quinn, but Orton has already won the job and many are left wondering whether Tebow will have any real impact this season.
CAN MORENO CARRY THE LOAD?
Chosen by the Broncos with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Knowshon Moreno was expected to be a workhorse in the Denver backfield. It hasn't worked out that way, as Moreno has yet to break the 1,000-yard barrier in two NFL seasons and he seems to always have some kind of nagging injury. He goes into 2011 as the team's starting running back, but with Willis McGahee lurking behind him, it seems pretty clear that Moreno will lose some touches near the goal line. Head coach John Fox comes from a Panthers team that ran DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart a ton, so it wouldn't be surprising if Moreno's carries went up; he just needs to make sure that he produces with those opportunities.
WHO CAN STOP THE LLOYD DOUBLETEAM?
No one saw the year that Brandon Lloyd had in 2010 coming, catching 77 passes for an NFL-leading 1,448 yards, to go along with 11 touchdowns. Lloyd is expected to be the team's top wideout in 2011, but it's a mystery who will play next to him. Jabar Gaffney was second on the team in receiving yards with 875 last season, but the team decided to ship him off to Washington in exchange for some defensive help. Rookie Demaryius Thomas is still recovering from an Achilles' injury and will likely miss the first half of the season. Eddie Royal, who surprised many people during his rookie year in 2008, took a step back and seems to be just an average slot receiver at best. That leaves the likes of Eric Decker, Matthew Willis and Eron Riley with the opportunity to makes some plays if Lloyd attracts a double team.
Rising: Knowshon Moreno has struggled the past two seasons, but with a run-oriented head coach in town, he should see his carries increase.
Declining: Brandon Lloyd went from an undrafted fantasy player to the league leader in receiving yards in 2010. With a new coach who likes to emphasize the run, it is hard to see Lloyd duplicating his 2010 stats.
Sleeper: While there are a few bigger names on the depth chart, Eric Decker may have the best chance to break out.
Supersleeper: If anything happens to Moreno or Willis McGahee, Lance Ball could become a key piece for a run-heavy offense.
Elvis Dumervil, DE
The 2009 NFL sack leader returns from injury with some help on the other side of the field.
D.J. Williams, LB
Your classic tackle machine.
Champ Bailey, CB
A shutdown corner who doesn't get thrown at too much.
Team Defense: 31