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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 2: Denver Broncos

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Let the games begin.

You couldn’t blame the Broncos for being eager to start the 2013 season. They are heavy division favorites, strong conference contenders and legitimate Super Bowl challengers, and they have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Hey, it’s good to be the Broncos, even with the news of a potential four-game suspension for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller surfacing earlier this week.

The Broncos would be weakened without Miller, but they would still be dangerous. After all, they have Manning, still sharp at 37 years old.

But it won’t always be like this for the Broncos and their quarterback.

So forgive the Broncos if they feel a little urgency as they try to better last season’s disappointing one-and-done postseason experience.

Strengths.

Manning added to his already vast legacy with his remarkable comeback season of 2012. In his first year in Denver – with mostly new skill-position players around him, no less – Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. Moreover, he set a career-high in completion percentage (68.6).

Now, the focus to turns to what Manning and the offense are capable of in Year Two.

The addition of slot receiver Wes Welker further strengthens an already potent passing game. He caught more than two-thirds of the passes thrown his way in each of his six seasons in New England. Opposing secondaries also have the difficult task of matching up with wideout Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 scores in 2012. The Broncos’ other outside receiver, Eric Decker, is quite skilled, too. He comes off an 85-catch, 13-TD campaign.

Manning, a master at dealing with the pass rush and defensive-pressure looks over the years, operates behind a solid Denver line. Left tackle Ryan Clady is one of the game’s best at his position. New right guard Louis Vasquez (ex-San Diego) bolsters the interior.

Indeed, this is an outstanding offense.

And Denver’s defense pulls its weight, too.

Should the Broncos sputter in a key spot, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.  Such flexibility can take a team a long way. The Broncos excelled vs. the run and the pass in 2012 and allowed fewer yards per play than any other team.

Miller, who recorded 18.5 sacks last year, is the standout of this stout defense – already one of the game’s top pass rushers. If Miller is suspended, the Broncos will likely turn to ex-Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, still a capable rusher in his own right (team-high 9.5 sacks for San Diego in 2012). The April signing of Phillips could prove a very valuable investment for Denver whether Miller misses any time or not; the more pass rushers a club has, the better.

The same can be said for cornerbacks, and the Broncos have four capable ones in Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Tony Carter.

To review, the Broncos have a Hall of Fame quarterback, a top-caliber passing game, a blue-chip pass rusher and deep, skilled cornerback corps.

There are worse ways to enter a season.

Weaknesses.

The Broncos’ tailback position could prove a strength if rookie Montee Ball or second-year pro Ronnie Hillman emerges as a dependable and playmaking featured runner. However, until that happens, this is an area of concern. Denver was just 25th in yards per rush last season.

Center, where Dan Koppen again gets the call with J.D. Walton out with a persistent ankle injury, is another position to monitor. So is linebacker, where the overall depth has been thinned after the release of veteran middle linebacker Joe Mays.

The Broncos’ defensive end play also needs to be watched. While left end Derek Wolfe showed promise as a rookie, notching a half-dozen sacks, new right end Robert Ayers has never had more than three sacks in an NFL season.

All things considered, though, the Broncos have considerably less to worry about than any other club in the AFC West.

Changes.

In 2012, the Broncos got 16 games apiece and 29.5 combined sacks from Miller and Dumervil. Now, Miller could miss a quarter of the Broncos’ regular-season games, and Dumervil is in Baltimore after “Faxgate.” Make no mistake: the Broncos’ pass rush is still to be respected, especially when Miller is in the lineup. But if Miller misses any games and the rush suffers, it could have a trickle-down effect on the defense, with the pass defense suffering most.

And if the Broncos don’t muster the pass rush they did in 2012, when Dumervil and Miller combined for more than half of the club’s sacks, the inability to keep Dumervil will look all the worse.

The Dumervil episode aside, however, the Broncos had a very good offseason from a roster-building standpoint. Adding Welker was a coup, and Rodgers-Cromartie has the ability to prove a home-run signing, too, especially on a one-year deal. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (ex-Jacksonville) was a nice under-the-radar pickup.

In addition to bringing in Phillips, Denver did well to bring in ex-Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer late in the offseason. Jammer will be tried at safety, a position where the Broncos perhaps needed another option.

Other than Dumervil and Mays, notable Denver departures included tailback Willis McGahee, linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Tracy Porter. McGahee’s release signaled the Broncos would be going young at running back.

Finally, the club begins training camp short-handed in the front office – not an ideal situation, given all the roster movement late in the summer — after the suspensions of director of player personnel Matt Russell and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert due to offseason DUI arrests. Heckert’s suspension is a month, while Russell’s suspension is indefinite.

Position battles.

Hillman and Ball would each figure to have roles in the Broncos’ backfield, with fifth-year pro Knowshon Moreno also in the mix. A second-round pick in April, Ball’s draft status would suggest the Broncos believe he can play right off the bat. That said, Hillman has a year in the offense to his credit, which cannot hurt his cause. No matter who wins the job, the Broncos need some stability to develop at this position for the stretch run, when passing can become trickier in the elements.

Other positions where there could be competition are defensive tackle, where Knighton, first-round pick Sylvester Williams and veteran Kevin Vickerson are the top options; and safety, where Mike Adams (strong) and Rahim Moore (free) are the incumbents.

Prospects.

The Broncos face five 2012 playoff teams (Baltimore, Indianapolis, Washington, New England, Houston) in a schedule not without its potential challenges. For instance, five of Denver’s final eight games are on the road. Moreover, any stretch without Miller would add to the degree of difficulty.

However, let’s be clear: This is one of the NFL’s most talented teams. They should win the West and host at least one playoff game.

The goals are bigger for Denver, of course, and they are within reach.  If it were Denver’s year to win a third Super Bowl title, it would hardly be a surprise.

It would also be the sort of thing celebrated by anyone who’s ever faced a tough deadline with a lot at stake and gotten the job done. That’s what the Broncos are staring at entering 2013. They have the pieces to win, but they aren’t all going to be assembled this way for all that long.

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59 Responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 2: Denver Broncos”
  1. jacobknicks says: Jul 24, 2013 9:11 AM

    I agree that the broncos are the best team in the afc. They almost won a playoff game last year

  2. flash1283 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:11 AM

    They should be great, in the regular season that is.
    We all know what happens when the playoffs start, Mega Head a.k.a captain choke comes out!

  3. sfniners4life says: Jul 24, 2013 9:12 AM

    Niners and Denver for Super Bowl. It’s a all or nothing kinda of season for both of them.

  4. chiadam says: Jul 24, 2013 9:15 AM

    Winning the AFC West is pretty impressive.

    Oh wait..

  5. decon49 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:19 AM

    im a niners fan and I thought Denver would be #1. welker, decker, and Thomas are going to cause problems

  6. raiderrob21 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:21 AM

    Denver is loaded. They need to strike now, the window will be closing shortly.

  7. deathonwings410 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:30 AM

    No Dumervil and no no Miller = big problems week 1

  8. stevent92 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:31 AM

    “It would also be the sort of thing celebrated by anyone who’s ever faced a tough deadline with a lot at stake and gotten the job done.”

    I hope Dumervil’s agent read that comment.

  9. beckzhere says: Jul 24, 2013 9:32 AM

    Falcons vs Broncos Super Bowl….again. This time the outcome will be different.

  10. southpaw2k says: Jul 24, 2013 9:36 AM

    Having a great regular season doesn’t exactly translate to doing well in January. The last three Super Bowl champions have made that pretty clear.

    Still, Denver is unquestionably in a “win now” mode, but if they don’t win a championship between this year and next year, they’ll have to clean house on their roster, starting at QB.

  11. youarejealousof6rings says: Jul 24, 2013 9:37 AM

    Still can’t believe the Steelers’ ranking. Disgusting. We have six rings and the shadow we cast is immense.

  12. buzzbeaubank says: Jul 24, 2013 9:39 AM

    It’s all fun and games until Peyton throws across his body again in January.

  13. dickjagger says: Jul 24, 2013 9:49 AM

    I’ll be happy as long as somebody knocks them out of the playoffs again. Based on Manning’s playoff history, I like the odds.. I mean, it’s not like he will get to face a Rex Grossman led team in the Super Bowl again (if they even get there.)

  14. jmak79 says: Jul 24, 2013 9:55 AM

    Manning vs Manning Super Bowl in New York, the talking heads in the Media will finally explode!!!

  15. theimmaculatedeception says: Jul 24, 2013 10:04 AM

    Looked to me like the 16-game season was too much for Manning’s tired arm last year. Don’t see how he improves this year. I see a 10-6 type campaign, winning the AFC West by default then an early exit at the hands of the, wait for it…MIAMI DOLPHINS in the wild card round!

  16. MDSisAtool says: Jul 24, 2013 10:08 AM

    I personally think the top spots could be flipped around in most of these things and it would be fine but SF and Seattle have to be the 2 best teams on paper right now. I don’t see how they can’t be.

  17. dennisatunity says: Jul 24, 2013 10:19 AM

    Manning’s a great regular season QB. He disappears in the playoffs for some reason. That’s unfortunate, but it’s simply the facts. At playoff time, the best thing that Manning has going for him is the media. For some bizarre reason, they have drunk the kool-aid and ignore the record.

  18. ozymandias121 says: Jul 24, 2013 10:23 AM

    It’s all or nothing with the 49ers!? Dude, they have like a 5 year window open. Last 2 years weren’t a fluke. Kaepernick is about to be a top 4 QB this season and continue to get better. See he’s a pocket passer who can run. Not a runner who can throw like Scam and RGKnee. 49ers number 1 seems about right because Peyton can’t win a cold weather playoff game and the Seahawks can’t win on the road.

  19. ColtsWinColtsWin!! says: Jul 24, 2013 10:26 AM

    The Broncos will be the best team in the AFC west. LOL I know, doesn’t really count does it?

  20. iamthefootballjerk says: Jul 24, 2013 10:30 AM

    A perfect regular season ranking. Cakewalk division. But they’re the third or fourth best AFC team when it comes to playoff time. One of the other three division winners will knock them out again. That’s because Manning is a playoff choker, especially in cold weather.

    Btw, aren’t Steelers fans sick of 6rings? Talk about one bad apple trying to spoil the bunch.

  21. ubepunkedagain says: Jul 24, 2013 10:35 AM

    If only every team played in the high school division they call the AFC West, everyone would seem better than they are. Even the NFC West which was a joke a couple years ago is looking tougher now. Denver is so over inflated from playing 6 games in that cupcake division.

  22. dowhatifeellike says: Jul 24, 2013 10:36 AM

    They have a lot of talent but so does KC and we’ve seen how they’ve played lately. It takes more than just talent to win. The front office and coaching matter, and both have demonstrated poor decision making recently… unless you think taking a knee to go to overtime is a good idea.

  23. channelguy says: Jul 24, 2013 10:41 AM

    This year’s Broncos seem to have very similar strengths and weaknesses to last year’s Packers. And while in the weaker AFC that still makes them the best or second best team in the conference, it won’t be good enough to beat the 49ers, or Seahawks, or Falcons, or for that matter, this year’s Packers.

    I can easily see this team winning the West with ease, and losing their first playoff game in an upset. Kind of like last year.

  24. 64post says: Jul 24, 2013 10:43 AM

    Ravens, Patriots and Bengals should be rated higher than the Broncos IMHO. With DVille gone, Manning’s age and eroded skills and a suspension for Miller, no way are they the #2 team

  25. i10east says: Jul 24, 2013 10:45 AM

    Broncos deep in the playoffs? No doubt, but I’m not too high on getting in a coaching situation with Mr. Ultra-conservative, John ‘Play it safe’ Fox.

  26. jr4real says: Jul 24, 2013 10:56 AM

    I like Elway and he has done a great job improving this team. But they don’t have enough players and Jughead can’t win in the playoffs.

    There are easily 5 AFC teams better

    Ravens
    Pats
    Houston
    Pitt
    Cincy
    Denver
    Indy

  27. bigjim50010 says: Jul 24, 2013 11:07 AM

    There is just No way they are #2… Top 15 and a Lets see who is viable in January…sure.
    I guess it is that time of year when even the Vike Fans think they can win…so why not.

  28. seansds3d says: Jul 24, 2013 11:12 AM

    The Broncos go all the way this year and win the bowl. You heard it here first. They are the most talented team in the league and will prove it this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go undefeated. The only thing I would say that would hold them back is conservative coaching. That’s the only reason they didn’t win the bowl last year as they were clearly the best team in the playoffs.

  29. marcuswelby1 says: Jul 24, 2013 11:17 AM

    Denver belongs at the 2 spot going into the regular season. Come playoff time I like Ravens and Patriots ahead of them. Just don’t trust Manning come playoff time.

  30. shayeezy says: Jul 24, 2013 11:18 AM

    the donkeys will be lucky to repeat as regular season champs in 2013, and peyton’s arm will once again fail to hold up come january. you can only carry a team for so long at that age.

  31. newcomer2013 says: Jul 24, 2013 11:35 AM

    Denver may not win it all, but every AFC team that thinks they will have a push over if they play the Broncos in the playoffs might want to think again. Record or no record Manning is still one of the most feared players in football, regular season or playoffs. You can not tell me any team playing the Broncos in the playoffs will not believe they will need to stop Manning. That will be their number one concern period.

    Congrats to the 49ers I believe they deserve the number one spot going into the season.

  32. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Jul 24, 2013 11:35 AM

    Denver is a solid team and Fox usually fields a good defensive team. No doubt this team is a contender however given the post season history of Manning and his age, I think this ranking is much too high. Broncos more like an 8.

  33. MDSisAtool says: Jul 24, 2013 11:53 AM

    There are a lot of Steeler fans on these forums that clearly don’t understand their own roster. I think that they may be even more delusional than those who predict the Cowboys to do well every year.

  34. mountaingirl39 says: Jul 24, 2013 12:23 PM

    The only way for the Broncos to get anywhere in the post season is to play in a dome or somewhere warm. Peyton has proven time and time again he can’t come thru the big game in cold weather.

    As for Steelers fans….they’re games will now be shown on the History Channel due to their fans constantly talking about the past……

  35. iamthefootballjerk says: Jul 24, 2013 12:40 PM

    Love the history channel reference, mountaingirl. You notice Packer’s fans are not on here everyday to talk about their 13 NFL championships. It speaks to the level of class, or lackthereof, for some of the Pittsburgh fans. Then again, it’s not like they can talk about how nice their city is to visit, so it kind of makes sense.

  36. nelly837 says: Jul 24, 2013 12:52 PM

    I can’t believe how everyone is betting everything on a team that is old, has a suspect secondary, lost their best past rusher, has no running back and a brittle over the hill QB who is one hit away from retirement. Denver will be lucky to win 9 games this year.

  37. biglaj007 says: Jul 24, 2013 1:00 PM

    Denver should have lost to Bmore more than three points if Bmore didn’t give up those two return TDs, how the hell they are ranked higher than the SuperBowl CHAMP. I’ll put my money on the Ravens in week one.

  38. 52lightsxout52 says: Jul 24, 2013 1:01 PM

    I’m not convinced. All this hinges on how well Peyton Manning plays, and he is not getting any younger. I guess we’ll see how this all plays out…

  39. guitarkevin says: Jul 24, 2013 1:08 PM

    Top 3 teams could have been put in any order.

    I like the Ravens chances for a repeat. They only play one game west of the Mississippi and that is week 1 vs. the Broncos.

  40. radrntn says: Jul 24, 2013 1:21 PM

    i would have to agree that they are #1 team in the afc….I am just wondering how would they rank with Brock Osweiler starting….just saying what if?

  41. salutethis says: Jul 24, 2013 1:23 PM

    @biglaj007 Umm the ravens had two non calls that resulted in 14 points too dude. Mannings first int was pass interference and that fumble was the now gone tuck rule. Acting like that game was Baltimore domination and not the ravens getting a Miracle pass that got them out of that game with a win is the talk of a fool looking through purple colored glasses.

  42. iamthefootballjerk says: Jul 24, 2013 1:44 PM

    I am a Ravens fan, and I agree with part of your point Salutethis. The game was close, and it does not matter if it was special team TDs or not. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is saying if something did not happen, things would have been different. Talk about an obvious statement. But bringing up those two calls is ridiculous. Calls went both ways in that game.

  43. jayniner says: Jul 24, 2013 1:47 PM

    And #1 in the power rankings is……wait for it, wait for it….

    BOOM! PFT loves them some 49ers!

  44. harrisonhits2 says: Jul 24, 2013 1:54 PM

    As a Pats fan I have to put the Ravens over the Donks.

    Seen Manning choke in too many big games and Baltimore made a lot of good moves in the offseason to replace the guys they lost. Ravens remain the big dogs to be knocked off.

  45. sbchampsagain says: Jul 24, 2013 2:19 PM

    These guys lost in their first playoff game when that HAD a pass rush. What happens now that one left town and the other will be out due to a positive drug test?

  46. swaggyy says: Jul 24, 2013 2:24 PM

    Jayniner, yeah they to overrate them teams don’t they? I mean, the broncos #2? Lmao. The niners have no business being number one. No wide receivers. Secondary is garbage. Unproven QB. Who knows how Justin Smith will play he’s ancient, and we all know Aldon can’t do a thing without Justin taking on double teams. I look at SF and their roster and its not that special. 8-8 or 9-7 at best. So overrated.

  47. newcomer2013 says: Jul 24, 2013 2:24 PM

    Using the crutch in your comments that Manning is fragile and one hit away from retirement is getting old. Everyone was saying that last year and Manning took all the hits and more. Using that crutch tells me you don’t have anything constructive to add.

  48. brucealmty says: Jul 24, 2013 2:31 PM

    Denver was unbeatable last year; how much better can one team get?
    Go Ravens… lol

  49. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 24, 2013 3:12 PM

    Broncos have the talent to get to the Super Bowl but can Peyton finally perform in the playoffs…

    How many times has he had a first round bye and he’s only made the SB twice, and the one he won was against Rex Grossman in the rain… and if Benson doesn’t fumble they’re doing the Super Bowl shuffle down the Miracle Mile….

  50. taosravenfan says: Jul 25, 2013 1:47 AM

    No running game to speak of, Peyton is 38 and doesn’t have the velocity he did. Besides he gags in really big games. That has been his HC since he was at UT. The ravens are younger, better, and meds I remind pft they are THE REIGNING SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS

  51. salutethis says: Jul 25, 2013 4:35 AM

    Iamthefootballjerk, Well, thanks for understanding some of my point. I know the Ravens fans are gonna be riding high and full of bravado, the team earned that right. I do try to be honest and admit if my team got lucky… or a call went the wrong way. I am a fan. Its not like my opinion will change the out come of the game. I still will say the int was a huge deal. Cary Williams hit Decker’s hand clearly before the ball got there. The result was a int for a TD. That was huge and the most I saw go against the Ravens was a ticky tack pa on D.Thomas that was a penalty but they hadn’t been calling it all game, so why start then? Please show me where Balt was getting hosed or home towned in the Denver game, I will look it up because I have watched that game 4-5 times and am still trying to see the calls (or non calls) that Balt had to overcome and was significant. The game where the calls went against Balt to me was the Pats game (and past steeler games). Balt just beat the Pats up.
    Domination? No. A hard fought game that took a miracle pass and a lot of calls going their way to win? Yes. Call it what it was. If I am wrong show me. I will happily admit it if I am just looking through orange tinted glasses.

  52. iamthefootballjerk says: Jul 25, 2013 10:52 AM

    @salutethis
    The holding call against Cary Williams on Thomas was bogus. Huge drive extender on a 3rd down in 3rd quarter that led to a TD.
    On the Manning fumble, he even admitted it was a good one after the game.
    I will say, I was a little surprised that the refs were not good to the home team as much as the away.

  53. salutethis says: Jul 25, 2013 12:14 PM

    @Iamfootball
    That hold was a ticky tac penalty. Williams did hold Thomas slightly out of his break and turned his torso left when Thomas was going right. That hold kept Thomas from getting to the ball, but I agree that was small hold that had not been called all game. That was 5 yards and a fresh set of downs at what the Baltimore 35? I will take a non call pick six any day over that. And the fumble that Peyton had should be a fumble, I was annoyed because like I said the tuck rule could have been used. Tom Brady would have gotten a tuck rule call( the rule is gone and he still might get it). So I may have a little orange tinting there. Honestly that one is not my biggest gripe, my point was that the gloating is warranted for the other playoff games for the ravens, they dominated the rest of their post season. In Denver it took everything going Baltimore’s way to get that win. Thanks for at least acknowledging that the calls were favoring Balt.

  54. iamthefootballjerk says: Jul 25, 2013 1:40 PM

    @salutethis
    No way should there be any gloating on the part of Ravens fans in that game. That was a heart attacker any way you slice it. In fact, the only game that Ravens fans can gloat was the Pats game. It was nice payback from the year before. Otherwise, I wish my fellow ray bird fanatics would take the high road and simply be good sports.

  55. ravensbob says: Jul 25, 2013 10:02 PM

    P Manning 9-12 in post season. Enough said.

    Yawn….another Lombardi for Baltimore……

  56. salutethis says: Jul 27, 2013 11:55 AM

    Well at this site everybody is pretty outspoken… so I usually don’t care… its good to get replies from a fan that’s open to a real conversation. Not just a p1$$1:# contest!!!

  57. forsbergler says: Aug 2, 2013 1:51 PM

    Raven’s get a miracle Long bomb, get dominated in the SB and again luckyly squeak away with another victory and you walk around like Exreme amounts of luck had nothing to due with your SB victory last year. The funny thing is that every Raven fan I knew had already thrown them to the wolves after week 15 when my broncos spanked them 34 – 17. A miracle hail mary and a lucky goaline stance later and you all are walking around sounding like Patriot fans. SMH how bout you take your season for what it was and realize your SB victory was extemely fourtunate and that sometimes in sports the best team doesn’t always win, I.E. Blatimore Ravens. The fan base should feel very forunate vice talking smack like there team deserved to win the SB because it was the best team in the league.

  58. jredshoes says: Aug 3, 2013 3:17 PM

    Ravens and Broncos fans please quit living in the past. We all know that preseason predictions have ZERO value (the Chiefs will win the AFC West last year for example). What is known is both the Broncos and Ravens have issues and personnel changes they will have to deal with. They could both just as easily be watching the playoffs from home as participating in them come January

  59. natelan69 says: Aug 9, 2013 5:03 PM

    One good hit from Freeny and Peyton will be a permanent bobble head doll.

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