Skip to content

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Permalink 59 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Denver Broncos, Features, Top Stories

Which draft room would you most like to visit?

WarRoom Getty Images

The draft starts on Thursday night, and plenty of the NFL’s 32 teams will likely provide intrigue.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s PFT Planet poll question for Pro Football Talk on NBCSN:  Which team’s draft room would you most like to visit during this year’s draft?  (I was going to call it being a fly on the wall, but that would entail all sorts of unsavory fly-related activities.)

The choices are the Buccaneers, Eagles, Titans, Browns, and Cowboys.  Pick one, and then tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET for a full hour of NFL-related news and analysis, with Paul Burmeister, Jason Taylor, and Jonathan Vilma in Connecticut and yours truly in West Virginia.

Permalink 3 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jerry Jones: Defensive help, not running back, is major need in draft

jerryjones AP

The Cowboys have been linked with several of the draft’s top running backs in the weeks leading up to the draft, but owner Jerry Jones downplayed the team’s need for backfield help during a pre-draft press conference on Tuesday.

Jones said, via David Helman of the team’s website, that the team is interested in adding a running back to a backfield fronted by Darren McFadden, but that the need is not “not urgent.” Improving the defense, on the other hand, is something that Jones characterized as something that the Cowboys have to do “by hook or crook.”

It’s a sensible approach to take. The Cowboys have a strong offensive line and passing game, which creates confidence that they’ll be able to generate a strong running game even if they don’t come away from the draft with Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. It’s also thought to be a deep group of runners, which helps the Cowboys wait before pulling the trigger on a back.

The defense, on the other hand, needs reinforcing in various spots after outperforming expectations last season. Jones also suggested that some of the help on both sides of the ball will come after the Cowboys move around the draft board, saying that being at No. 27 raises the likelihood that the Cowboys will make a trade before Thursday night is out.

If the Cowboys were to move down and add picks on the second and/or third day of the draft, it seems likely that they’d use one on a back given McFadden’s injury history and the general trend of using multiple backs in today’s NFL.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Peyton Manning: I wouldn’t call this year my farewell tour

Colts Broncos Football AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took his time this offseason before deciding to return to the Broncos for a fourth season, which didn’t do much to quell speculation that he’s closing in on the end of his playing days.

When he reached a deal with the Broncos to return, Manning gave no indication that he plans on 2015 being his final NFL season and he continued on that line Tuesday while speaking to the media on the first day of the team’s three-day minicamp.

Manning said that he doesn’t view this season as his “farewell tour” and that he feels like he’s a “young 39″ as he prepares for his 18th NFL season.   He also said that he’s feeling good physically and that he feels like he’ll do well with what coach Gary Kubiak wants to do on offense this season.

“I like to think I’m pretty versatile, believe it or not,” Manning said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Manning didn’t look like a particularly young 38 as last season came to a close, but the change in coaches and personnel in Denver this offseason may provide a burst of energy to the offense that was missing down the stretch last season. Whether it will be there in the final weeks of next season is harder to answer even with Manning’s confidence about the future.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Vikings continue to insist they won’t trade Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson AP

The Minnesota Vikings continue to insist that Adrian Peterson is not going anywhere.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said today that despite widespread speculation that Peterson could be traded, that’s simply not going to happen.

“We can just end the Adrian Peterson stuff. Our position has not changed since all of the statements we made down at the owners’ meetings. Adrian Peterson is under contract, his suspension was lifted, we’re looking forward to having Adrian Peterson as a Minnesota Viking in 2015. That’s the end of the story. That’s it,” Spielman said.

Spielman reiterated comments from coach Mike Zimmer that the Vikings expect Peterson to be their starting running back this year.

“I think coach Zimmer made it clear that we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson. We don’t. Adrian made a mistake, he’s paid a price for that mistake, but I think if this organization didn’t believe in Adrian Peterson, he probably wouldn’t be here today. I know we believe in Adrian Peterson, but I also know that we’re a pretty good football team with Adrian Peterson in our backfield as well,” Spielman said.

This might not be “the end of the story” as Spielman claims, but it certainly seems like the story is going to end with Peterson in a Vikings uniform in 2015.

Permalink 29 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rick Spielman: Vikings want to trade down

Spielman AP

General managers usually play things close to the vest in the days leading up to the draft, but Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman is stating publicly what he wants to do on Thursday night: Trade down.

Spielman said today that the Vikings are open for business to move down, and that teams interested in trading up to the No. 11 pick should give him a call. The Vikings have seven picks this year, and Spielman would like to increase that number.

“I’m looking forward to potentially moving out of that pick, if at all possible. I don’t anticipate us moving up at this point, but I would love the opportunity to move down and collect more picks. My goal is always to have 10 picks and one of the reasons for that is you get the opportunity to move up and down throughout that draft,” Spielman said.

Having said that, Spielman said the Vikings have a few players they love enough that they’d be willing to stay put and pick at No. 11.

“We may just stick at 11 this year if there’s a player that falls to us who’s just too good, we’re not going to pass and just going to take him,” Spielman said.

Basically, Spielman wants any team that has an interest in trading up to No. 11 to call him. There’s a good chance that the Vikings will say yes to a trade that yields them more picks.

Permalink 38 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Bills exercising fifth-year option on Stephon Gilmore’s contract

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Bills don’t have a first-round pick this year, which means, barring a trade on Thursday or down the road, they’ll avoid having to make a decision about a fifth-year option on a member of the 2015 draft class.

They do have to make one about their 2012 first-round selection, however, and Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the team has made it. Per Breer, they will exercise their option on cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s contract, which leaves the 10th overall pick of the 2012 draft set to make $11 million next season.

The Bills can rescind that option, but an extension that keeps Gilmore in town beyond 2016 seems a likelier option. He’s set to be the team’s top corner again this season and coach Rex Ryan has prized having talented corners able to lock up opposing receivers on the outside of his defenses.

After a slow start to last season, Gilmore showed that he can do that at a high level and the three-year starter should continue to benefit from playing behind a defensive front that creates a lot of problems for quarterbacks.

Permalink 5 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Texans “encouraged and impressed” by Jadeveon Clowney’s progress

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

It’s been almost a year since the Texans made linebacker Jadeveon Clowney the top pick in the 2014 draft and the team’s hoping for a bigger impact from the former South Carolina star in his second pro season.

His first season was almost a complete washout because of a knee injury that forced him to miss 12 games and led to a pair of surgeries, including a microfracture operation that set up an offseason of rehab. Clowney said recently that he’s encouraged by the progress he’s made in rehab and General Manager Rick Smith said the same thing on Tuesday while adding that the team has big plans for him in 2015.

“I’ve been encouraged and impressed. He’s doing well. We expect him to be a major contributor this year,” Smith said, via the team.

The Texans had the best defensive player in the league last year in defensive end J.J. Watt and the prospect of putting a healthy Clowney on the field with him conjures up images of a defense that can overwhelm opposing offenses. Until Clowney gets on the field, though, we won’t know what impact the surgeries might have on his ability to fulfill Smith’s expectations.

Permalink 13 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Stephen Jones takes exception to criticizing Cowboys over Greg Hardy

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones is pushing back against a perception that the Cowboys were unprepared for the 10-game suspension the NFL handed down to Greg Hardy.

Asked if the NFL’s 10-game suspension of Hardy shows that the league considered it a more serious matter than the Cowboys realized when they signed him, Jones shot back, “I take exception to that.”

“I think we were very aware that there was a suspension pending and knew that it could be of that length, so I would disagree with you there. I think we were very aware of that. I don’t think it turned out any different than we thought could happen. I think we structured a contract to deal with that and knew very well — our eyes were wide open on that,” Jones said.

Asked if the NFL found something in its investigation that the Cowboys weren’t aware of, Jones said that’s not the case.

“I think we were very aware of the things that went on,” Jones said. “This was not a surprise to anybody.”

Although Hardy’s contract had a maximum value of $13.1 million, the Cowboys structured the contract to protect themselves in the case of a suspension, and if Hardy loses his appeal, the Cowboys will end up paying him about $5 million for six games. The Cowboys think that’s a fair deal for one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, who also happens to be one of the poster boys for the NFL’s domestic violence problem.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Falcons taking a look at former first-rounder Adam Carriker

Adam Carriker AP

Another member of the vaunted NFL Veteran Combine Class of 2015 has gotten a job, or at least an application for one.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Falcons have brought former first-round pick Adam Carriker to minicamp this week on a tryout basis.

Carriker was the 13th overall pick in 2007 by the Rams, and got a lucrative free agent deal from Washington, before a pair of quadriceps tears and three surgeries derailed his career.

He hasn’t played since early in the 2012 season, but for the price of free, the Falcons figured it couldn’t hurt.

The Falcons have also brought in 10 other players on a tryout basis for coach Dan Quinn’s first minicamp: Cornerback Derek Cox, cornerback Kennard Cox, wide receiver B.J. Hamilton, tackle Nate Menkin, running back Horace Miller, running back Carlton Mitchell, fullback Collin Mooney, running back Evan Royster, guard Tevita Stevens and wide receiver Stephen Williams were practicing with the Falcons as tryout players.

Permalink 8 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Texans looking to deal safety D.J. Swearinger

D.J. Swearinger AP

A recent second-round pick is reportedly on the trading block.

The Texans are efforting to deal starting strong safety D.J. Swearinger, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported.

The No. 57 overall pick in 2013, the 23-year-old Swearinger has started 22-of-32 games in two seasons with Houston, making 144 tackles, defending 10 passes and hauling in three interceptions.

Swearinger has two years left on his contract at affordable salaries ($722,390 in 2015, $881,085 in 2016), and his affordability and youth could perhaps make him attractive to another club.

The Texans’ secondary is somewhat thin beyond the starting ranks, and the news of Swearinger landing in trade talks only adds to possibility of the club looking to add to its defensive backfield in the draft. What’s more, the Texans met with free agent safety Stevie Brown last week.

Permalink 20 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Evan Mathis came up in Eagles trade talks with Dolphins

Evan Mathis AP

Any interest the Eagles might have had in Dolphins outside linebacker/defensive end/cautionary tale Dion Jordan was rendered moot when Jordan was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

But it’s clear in the aftermath there was interest.

Via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles discussed a trade involving a conditional late-round pick in exchange for the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But guard Evan Mathis was also discussed during the process, which ultimately led to nothing.

Mathis is skipping the Eagles’ voluntary workouts, amid reprots he could be released if he’s not traded. He’s due $5.5 million and $6 million the next two years, a valuation Chip Kelly clearly doesn’t agree with.

You’d think he’d have a degree of a market this offseason, since veteran guards with big contracts have been dealt already (Ben Grubbs), but the fact he’d come up in what amounts to a throw-away deal for Jordan should indicate exactly how the Eagles feel about him.

Permalink 19 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Dion Jordan to be suspended for the 2015 season

Dion Jordan AP

One of the top picks in the 2013 NFL Draft will miss the entire upcoming season.

Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall selection two years ago, will be suspended for the 2015 regular season after a positive substance-abuse test, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday.

According to Schefter, Jordan’s positive test stems from a diluted test sample, and he is not appealing the ban. The defensive end served a four-game suspension in 2014 for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Furthermore, ESPN reports the latest positive test has scuttled a potential trade between the Dolphins and Eagles for Jordan, who played collegiately at Oregon under now-Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

The 25-year-old Jordan hasn’t had much of an impact in his first two NFL seasons, notching just three sacks in 26 regular season games. And now, he has suffered a significant setback.

Permalink 118 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Panthers G.M.: “We made our statement” on domestic violence

Dave Gettleman AP

The Panthers could certainly use a game-breaking wide receiver, and picking 25th in the 2015 NFL Draft, the guys with flawless resumes will be gone.

But it seems safe to assume they won’t be using their first-rounder on former Missouri/Oklahoma wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, not based on General Manager Dave Gettleman’s response to a general question about character Tuesday.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Gettleman blew that possibility out of the sky, without even being asked about the player specifically.

In terms of domestic violence, we made our statement,” Gettleman said, a clear reference to letting former franchise player Greg Hardy walk unfettered into the market.

Green-Beckham was investigated but not charged following a domestic violence incident, and also has drug issues in the past, making it easier for some teams to steer clear of a first-round talent.

Of course, drug issues alone might not be enough to knock a player off the Panthers’ radar, as Gettleman admitted having “more discussions” about some players with character questions this year. The Panthers brought pass-rusher marijuana test-failer Randy Gregory in for a visit, and Gettleman seemed to suggest that the scrutiny of players such as Gregory (and perhaps Shane Ray) was intense.

“It’s take no prisoners now,” Gettleman said of his interviews. “When they come in here, they get grilled pretty hard. We’re not hitting them with feather dusters; it’s two-by-fours. We have to find out what it’s about, what he’s about.”

Picking at the bottom of the first round, the Panthers might find a player who falls into their laps because of those questions. And it seems there are certain things they’ll abide, and certain things they won’t after paying Hardy $13.1 million for one game last year.

Permalink 6 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

NFL will give up its tax-exempt status

Super Bowl Football AP

The NFL has often faced scrutiny over its status as a tax-exempt organization. Now the league is deciding to give up that status.

According to Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal, the NFL will change its status to taxable from tax-exempt. The federal government has granted tax-exempt 501(c)(6) status to the NFL since 1966.

That may reduce the criticism the league takes for being a tax-exempt organization, but more important to the league, it removes the requirement that the NFL disclose the compensation of Commissioner Roger Goodell and other top executives. So Goodell’s salary will no longer be public record.

Although the league has been classified as a tax-exempt organization, the 32 teams are all taxable, for-profit businesses, which means the money made by the league is taxed. This move will not affect the tax burden faced by the teams.

Permalink 42 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Teams expressing “legitimate interest” in Ray Rice

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

Ray Rice’s NFL career as we knew it ended the moment TMZ got its hands on a videotape of him punching his wife in the face.

Now, they’re saying that career might not be over.

The website reports, citing multiple sources, that “there are a handful of teams that have expressed ‘legitimate interest‘ in the embattled running back.”

Frankly, it’s a little hard to believe there are multiple teams willing to take on the public relations risk for a running back who was closer to the end of his career than the beginning before he knocked his wife’s lights out.

Since many had hoped he’d get a chance but none were offering one, the idea that the former Ravens running back wouldn’t just jump on the first thing smoking seems dubious.

Of course, if it happens, it’s hard to imagine that it would before the draft, since any team could get a younger, cheaper, less complicated back at any time Thursday through Saturday (or Saturday night through Sunday or Monday).

But with so many willing to play the second chance game for talented players involved in domestic violence (cough, Jerry Jones and his daughter, cough), maybe a market will emerge.

If it does, you can bet the runners-up will deny they ever had any interest, however.

Permalink 28 Comments Feed for comments Back to top