Preseason Power Rankings No. 10: Denver Broncos

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The Denver Broncos snapped a five-year playoff drought with Tim Tebow at quarterback, but club brass was never on board with the “college” offense coordinator Mike McCoy was forced to implement, in order to cater to Tebow’s limited skill set. The Broncos tied for the league lead in rushing attempts, playing read-option ball. Broncos V.P. of Football Operations John Elway and head coach John Fox severed ties with Tebow in the offseason, trading him to the Jets for middle-round draft picks.

Peyton Manning, the ultimate “pro-style” passer, has taken over McCoy’s offense while the Broncos will look to hone their young defensive talent under new coordinator Jack Del Rio. Denver will morph from the NFL’s run-heaviest team into one of its most pass happy. On defense, Del Rio will attempt to build on the flashes of dominance shown by Denver’s front seven down the 2011 stretch.


Although Manning is 36 years old and underwent four neck surgeries in an 18-month span, the Broncos now consider their passing game a strength. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker represent the most physical receiver duo with which Manning has played in his career. 24-year-old Thomas will look to supplant Chicago’s Brandon Marshall as the league’s premier run-after-catch wideout after a furious finish to last season. Decker, 25, spent the summer training with Larry Fitzgerald, and may quickly emerge as Manning’s favorite target as a superb and versatile route runner.

Denver’s defensive strength is up front. 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller starts at strong-side linebacker and slides to end in the nickel. Miller recorded 60 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in his first pro season, and Del Rio has likened him to a young Peter Boulware. Right defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s off-field issues are a concern, but he is a dominant pass rusher on the football field with 26.5 sacks in his last 29 regular-season games.

Champ Bailey remains a shutdown corner at age 34, and the Broncos believe they upgraded across from him by signing Tracy Porter away from New Orleans. Porter will replace longtime liability Andre’ Goodman at right cornerback.


The Broncos can get after the passer up front, but they haven’t effectively stopped the run in several years. Denver ranked 22nd against the run in 2011. They’ll hope the return of defensive tackle Ty Warren and addition of second-round pick Derek Wolfe rejuvenate the run defense.

Willis McGahee has some juice left in his legs, but is entering his age-31 season. Third-round tailback Ronnie Hillman needs to learn how to pass protect to earn playing time as a rookie. The Broncos’ 2011 rushing numbers are irrelevant for 2012. The backfield isn’t necessarily a weakness, but there are plenty of reasons to believe it won’t be a strength, either.

Denver’s offensive line is also a concern. Annually overrated left tackle Ryan Clady needs to up his play, and last year’s interior line was a weakness. Manning had a knack for making his pass protection appear better than it actually was throughout his tenure in Indianapolis. Will he be able to do the same in Denver?

Aside from Bailey, the Broncos’ defensive pass coverage has been leaky to say the least in recent seasons. Major question marks remain at safety and nickel back.


Piggybacking off the final “weakness” listed, the Broncos did aggressively address their secondary this offseason, signing Porter and projected nickel back Drayton Florence. Mike Adams comes over from Cleveland to shore up free safety. The Broncos re-signed top nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard, although he may have to play on base running downs early in the season while weak-side starter D.J. Williams serves a six-game suspension.

Manning, obviously, was the Broncos’ biggest spring addition. Following him to Denver are old Indy pals Jacob Tamme, a pass-catching tight end, and Brandon Stokley, a 36-year-old slot receiver. Joel Dreessen will be Denver’s new in-line tight end, replacing outgoing Daniel Fells. Former Bengal Andre Caldwell will battle Stokley for third receiver duties.

The Broncos bring back all five offensive line starters, although it’s questionable whether that’s a good thing. Football Outsiders ranked Denver 29th in pass protection last season, and Pro Football Focus had them tied for 24th.

Camp Battles.

The Broncos will hold surprisingly few camp battles for a roster in such heavy transition. 2011 second-round pick Rahim Moore figures to put some heat on incumbent Quinton Carter at strong safety, although Carter is the clear favorite. Florence will attempt to hold off promising 2011 undrafted free agent Chris Harris at nickel back. Nate Irving, a third-rounder a year ago, will work to unseat Joe Mays at middle linebacker.

On offense, Hillman should make a case for snaps behind McGahee. Former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno is fighting for a roster spot. The Broncos must find a back capable of riding sidesaddle with Manning in the shotgun, and picking up oncoming blitzers. That specialist role is crucial in any Manning-led offense.


The Broncos qualified for the top ten in PFT’s Preseason Power Rankings because we believe Manning has something left in the tank. Reports were mixed about his velocity and downfield arm power during OTAs and minicamps, however. There’s simply no way around it: Denver is taking a leap of faith on Manning considering his age and injury history. It’s worth noting that SI’s Don Banks reported before Manning’s March 7 release that the Colts’ organization believed it “nearly inevitable” that Peyton would at some point require a fifth neck surgery.

He’s not a sure thing.

All that said, we feel more comfortable betting on Manning than against him. And the Broncos have a quality enough supporting cast to run away with the AFC West division and make a legitimate Super Bowl run.

36 responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 10: Denver Broncos

  1. Last year the Broncos averaged 20 points a game. I think Manning will easily add 7 points to their average. John Fox in his career has won 96% of games in which they have scored 26 or more. I think with Manning replacing Orton/Tebow the Broncos will be fighting deep in the playoffs. Go Broncos!

  2. This is madness, but we all knew this was coming. A #10 ranking? Run away with the division and a Super Bowl run? Yeah, right.

    This team is loaded with holes even a HEALTHY Manning can’t cover up. I’ve detailed this all out before. Old running back, poor offensive line, bad run defense.

    Teams will run the ball on Denver all day and keep Manning off the field. When he does get on the field he’ll be under extreme pressure, because the O-line is so bad. The running game will be next to non existent also, because McGahee only excelled last year due to the read option gimmick and Tebow’s presence.

    This is not a team that was close and just need Manning to put it over the top. This is a medicore to bad football team that will be at or near the bottom of the West. Remember, this team was 1-4 and going nowhere with a conventional offsense last year before Tebowmania took off. Look I’m no Tebow fanatic, but this was a better football team with him than Manning, believe it or not.

    The Raiders have the strongest roster in this division. Barring injuries to key guys like DMAC and Palmer, the Raiders take the West. That may surprise some people but not those who truly know football and the personnel in the NFL.

  3. Great point about Manning, he isn’t a sure thing but I have faith in him. If Manning says he can do it I believe he can. As a Panthers fan I hate to see John Fox fall ass backwards into such a great situation but I can’t pull against Peyton. I hope he has a great year and proves the Colts wrong.

  4. An obvious weakness has been overlooked. The Broncos backup QB is Caleb Hanie. If Manning goes down for any reason the Broncos could be at best the 2011 Bears and at worst the 2011 Colts.

  5. I still don’t see how the Broncos are a Super Bowl threat. This didn’t look like a team that was a change in quarterback away from a Super Bowl last year- and other than a few rearranged deck chairs, that’s the only major change.

    I agree that it’s hard to bet against Manning, but if he gets hurt there’s no safety net. And a QB his age, not the most mobile to begin with, a bad neck, and no real ‘A’ caliber receiver to throw to… I think they can win the division, maybe even win another playoff game, but I’d be stunned if this team went anywhere near the Super Bowl.

    (Disclaimer: Die-hard Broncos fan here… just being realistic.)

  6. I think will also see more of a conservative approach with Peyton Manning. not only will he use the running game more then hes used to, he wont be throwing his passes in tight spaces or throwing deep balls. This will be a good year for him if he does this. The Receivers have Pro Bowl potential, there O-Line doesn’t need to pass block for 10 seconds straight anymore, there running game is solid but i wouldn’t say “great.” I think there only true weakness is stopping the run, but hopefully Jack Del Rio can figure that out during the season…

  7. I feel like this is a bit high. I would have had Chicago and Detroit over them. I think it will be very exciting, but ultimately he doesn’t have enough help at the WR position to be successful.

  8. The running backs and offensive line are better than this article gives them credit for. They led the league in rushing last year when everybody in the country knew they were going to run. And no, the loss of Tebow won’t hurt the running game. The threat of a pass will improve it.

    Oh, and that wasn’t a “college” offense. That was a “high school” offense.

  9. 10? Ridiculously too high. Denver has just as many questions as the rest of the AFC West.

  10. way to high. Manning will take the first snap of the first game. Get his 28 million and then he’ll be injured before the game finishes. I think AFC west is between raiders and chiefs.

  11. Let me get this straight… they were in the “Final 8” with Tim Tebow as their QB. They go out and get Peyton Manning and now they are #10. The strangest part of it all is that it all makes sense. It’s only a matter of time before Denver and Elway realize they should have stuck with Tebow.

  12. Re villa41: You were right on the money until you mentioned the Faiders. Raiders will again be on the bottom of the West.
    Tamba Hali will end Payton Manning’s career. BOOM! Actually anyone who gives him a hit to the head – doesn’t even need to be a hard hit and he’s done. Then what? Who is the #2 Donkey QB? Thats right, Caleb Hanie. This Ranking is all set Payton Manning. At 36 years of age and fragile I don’t see any valitity to this.

  13. Opinions and bias’ aside, here are the facts from someone who watches every Broncos game:

    1. The offensive line is not as bad it appears. Tebow (who I like) made them look bad because his style was bad for pass protection. He never utilized any sort of pocket. Also dismissed by EVERYONE is the fact this offense line broke records and was the #1 rushing team in the league. Sure they weren’t traditional but they executed!

    2. The defense carried this team last year. While they did give up running yards, they gave them up when they were exhausted or on un-orthodox running plays. Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez put up numbers. Also ANY defense will give up rush yards when their offense goes THREE AND OUT for 3 and 1/2 quarters.

    3. Peyton brings proven leadership to a team that has solid veterans. By simply walking through the doors he made this team better. How? PREPARATION. They’ll be better prepared then they have been since Shanahan was removed.

    4. This team is just as talented as the team Manning had when Indy lost the super bowl to the Saints. Manning’s defense that year was terrible against the run and he had no-name receivers (outside if Wayne). This Bronco team will surprise teams in a much more traditional way then they did last year.

  14. we’ll see. they could be a deep playoff team because their defense is better than most manning has ever had and the afc is on a downslide. but they’ll never beat the packers or 49ers. this entire season hinges on mannings ability to take hits. and that should be a serious concern. i hope the broncos knocked this guy around (hard) before they signed him. the neck is rather important.

  15. 36 years old, 4 neck surgeries in 18 months. Hmm. 6 months ago, he couldn’t throw a football. Hmm. He’s playing in a high altitude city known for harsh winters, which does nothing to help the rehab process. Hmmm. How’s the offensive line? Oh, terrible. Terrible offensive line. Also, he replaced all of the good karma from a Jesus Christ Superstar QB, who led a team with two gigantic flaws ( 1. couldn’t stop the run and 2. couldn’t block pass rush ) into the divisional round of the playoffs. Not to mention he was the hero of the fanbase and the heart-throb of America at large.

    Is it too soon to predict The Curse of Tebow?

  16. I feel dumber for reading most of these posts. Remember Raider, Chief and Charger fan… wishful thinking does not qualify as insightful analysis.

  17. Pre-season rankings are useless and the Broncos at “#10” is further proof that the so called “experts” ranking these teams are based solely on biased opinions and pure idiocy.

  18. Last year was a huge fluke for the Broncos. It’s why Tebowmania took off. The Broncos had one of the worst records the past two seasons before he took over a 1-4 team and led them to the playoffs. The Broncos easily are the least talented team in the AFC West and were in full rebuild mode. A fluky 8-8 season doesn’t change that. Plus they lost their defensive coordinator who kept them in the games. The reason Manning is so good is because of consistency. He’s for the 1st time in his career walking into a completely new system and going to have to learn to play with new guys and learn a new system.

  19. this is homerism, defined.
    i think there should be one ranking point for the entire afc west and put it around the midway…

    as a raiders fan, i feel my team has a chance at winning the division but is not at all a championship threat. i don’t think the afc west is superbowl material yet. across the board, each team is about one piece shy of being a major threat and all of them are in the midst of some major reworkings…

    kc and oak are a qb away from being elite for a long time

  20. Mile High altitude and the no huddle will be challenging on opponents. Von Miller and Dumervil should be even more effective if Peyton can get some points on the board and opponents are forced to pass. I think Von Miller wins defensive player of the year award, he is just absolutely sick. Never seen anyone so quick.

    Tough schedule though. As one other commenter mentioned, if Peyton goes down this team is toast. Picking up Caleb Hanie was the first obvious blunder, the draft picks it’s just to early to tell how they did there.

    I don’t really get it, people are always obsessed with ranking systems when ranking a football team is pretty difficult to do given all the variables and the “any given Sunday” effect.

    In the end I am glad to see the AFC West getting better.

    And in the end of that end, no matter what, please PLEASE NO MORE PATRIOTS OR GIANTS in the Superbowl.

  21. This article (and comments on it) are a little misleading, the Broncos weren’t good defensively against the run last year BUT there’s a huge asterisk to that, when the Broncos were in their base D and the offense was in a 2 back or ace two tight formation the defense was actually fairly good against the run. When the Broncos had trouble was when teams would go to a 3×1 ace, for whatever reason Allen’s nickel defense was a 3-3-5 (with Miller and Dummervil usually as ends) rather than the standard 4-2-5, this was a horrible mismatch for the Broncos and led to huge gains by the opposition.

    Enjoy that 3-3-5 Raiders fans, you’re gonna be hating it by the bye week, meanwhile we’ve now gotten a proven DC who can make that adjustment, hopefully he’s around longer than the 1 year.

  22. What a lot of, if not everyone forget is that the last time Jack Del Rio and John Fox coached together, they had the second rated defense in the NFL with less if not equal talent than the Broncos currently have.

  23. I think this is more about the culture change at dove valley. I understand it’s hard for people to see success before it happens so they only look at the past to try and predict the future, but you can’t do that with this team because it is so different now than it was even last year. For me, adding Del Rio and Manning are going a long way towards changing the mentality of this organization. Payton Manning knows this game better than any player out there and he wouldn’t have made Denver his team if he didn’t think they had what it takes to win a Super Bowl. Manning went to Denver because he thinks they are a top 10 team. Good placement.

  24. How do you figure Ryan Clady is “annually overrated?” When he first came into the league, he was one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Then he got hurt playing basketball in the offseason, and he hasn’t been the same player since.

    It’s like calling Shawne Merriman “annually overrated.” That’s wrong. Both players were truly dominant until they had devastating injuries, and they’re both trying to fully recover.

  25. I’ve loved my Broncos as long as I can remember, but there is a couple of concerns I have. First & foremost, the biggest concern is if Manning stays healthy. Should he go down, there’s not a chance in hell Denver will win a game with Hanie. I truly would rather have Weber at #2. Also, everyone is looking right past the much improved Chiefs & Raiders, which are going to be “dogfights”, actually they will be tougher than the Chargers. I have much faith in my Broncos, & #10 don’t seem too off the mark, but expect a war in the AFC West this year, one that without Manning, Denver don’t stand a chance!!

  26. Hmm. Sub par defense with elite pass rushers. Average o-line. Best run game Peyton’s had since Edge James left. Sounds like all those teams of the 2000’s in Indy. Minimum of 10 wins.

  27. Why is it the Broncos replaced one of the worst passers the league has ever seen with one of the best passers the league has ever seen and there are still some people that insist that the Broncos will regret making the move?

    Even if Manning never plays a down for the Broncos it was worth it…….

  28. If you saw what Denver’s defense was able to do in this offensive driven league last year anyone with any football knowledge would know this team will be on of the best in the AFC as long as Manning can play. The team has talent on it and started to come together last year under their new coach. Yes it was the team coming together that helped as much as the Tebow gave them a spark.

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