At this stage of the preseason, I predict a 9-7 record for the 2011 Denver Broncos. The Broncos have finally addressed the woes that have plagued them over the past few years. Defensively, they struggled to get off the field on 3rd downs. So, they went out and drafted Von Miller, coupling him with sack specialist Elvis Dumervil to create one of the most disruptive pass rushes in the league. The result? The first team defense has yet to allow a touchdown and is tied for seventh in preseason sacks (nine), with Von Miller tied for the league lead in preseason sacks (three).
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos struggled mightily with redzone offense in 2010. They acquired Willis McGahee in the offseason, who has had a nose for the endzone during his days with the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills. The Broncos have taken one of 2010's worst offenses in the league and turned them into a unit with the preseason's 5th best passing game and the 13th best rushing attack, in terms of yards per game. Let's not forget that the Broncos are also tied for 5th most offensive touchdowns (three) in the preseason, a testament to the improved redzone running game.
Best Game On The Schedule
There are a several games on the schedule that will be "must watch", but the Chicago Bears game is circled on the calendar with permanent ink. The return of Jay Cutler to the Mile High City for a regular season matchup is going to have the fans fired up, especially if the Bears pass protection is as bad as it was last season. This is a week 14 game, so playoff implications could be involved, as well. However, even if the Broncos aren't involved in the playoff picture, there's no doubt in my mind that emotions will be high and the fans will be cheering for Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to punish the former Broncos quarterback.
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
I think that Brandon Lloyd takes a step back. It's not that I am concerned that he'll be irrelevant. Far from it, actually. He is still the best receiving threat on this team, but I think he'll have a tough time repeating his 1448 yards and 11 touchdown performance of 2010. 1,000 yards might not be out of the question, but with the emergence of receivers Eric Decker and Eddie Royal, pass catching tight end Julius Thomas, along with Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield, I don't think Lloyd will be targeted as exclusively as he was last year.
Breakout Player Candidates
I almost can't type Knowshon Moreno fast enough. Knowshon Moreno is my Denver Broncosbreakout player of 2011. The work he put into this offseason has made him a more dynamic player than ever before. Coming out of Georgia, scouting reports listed him as a shifty runner who can make people miss, but after losing 10 pounds in the offseason, he has shown to be much more elusive this preseason. His strength is much improved, as well. He's very difficult to catch and, once you do, he has proven to be just as hard to bring down. I expect big things out of Knowshon Moreno, this year, especially if he can keep away the injury bug that has plagued him throughout his NFL career.
Best Player Others Have Never Heard Of
I would go with Eric Decker. This is our second year wide receiver out of the University of Minnesota. He wears the number 87, just like another former Bronco (Ed McCaffrey) and his playing style is pretty similar. He resides in the slot and catches just about everything. He only had 106 yards and one touchdown in 2010, but I expect that production to go up since Jabar Gaffney was traded earlier this offseason. This preseason, he has already eclipsed his 2010 yardage production with 113 yards and one touchdown in just three preseason games, becoming the only Broncos starter to score a preseason touchdown that isn't named Willis McGahee. I don't think he'll be a 1,000 yard receiver this year, but he is definitely capable of being a role player who notches a some important redzone and third down catches as a security blanket for Kyle Orton.
I believe the Broncos running game is pretty underrated. Because the Broncos were so bad in 2010, I think a lot of people are taking a "wait and see" approach. I don't see things quite that way. There's no reason why this running game should be as bad as they were in 2010. Orlando Franklin is a mauler at the right tackle position and is the only player on the offensive line who wasn't on the roster in 2010. Cohesiveness is key when it comes to offensive line play and the Broncos have it. The running game could be in the top half of the NFL, statistically, and I think worst case scenario would be a top 20 rushing attack.
The quarterback controversy is extremely overrated. What kind of article would this be without a Tim Tebow reference? Honestly, I don't see what the fuss is about. People bash him or praise him, but I think it's a non-issue, at this stage. Just let him develop. Tebow isn't the starter, but he has more ESPN segment about him than most starting quarterbacks. I've never seen anything like it. The truth of the matter is that the story/rumor/plague of the Broncos "quarterback controversy" is probably the least significant issue on this Broncos roster, at this point. Kyle Orton is the starter, right now. It's pretty simple. Nothing against Tim Tebow, but he's just not ready to surpass Kyle Orton, at this point. That is not to say he will never be a quality starting quarterback, either. The life of an NFL quarterback doesn't have to be black and white. You aren't a starter or garbage. You aren't a pro bowler or scrub. Tim Tebow will take time. He's not the worst quarterback in the world, like Merril Hoge would have you believe, but he's not the best quarterback in the world, either. He's somewhere in the middle, slightly behind where Kyle Orton is, on that scale. But with all this arguing, wringing of hands, and animosity between the opposing viewpoints, I'd venture to say that this is the most overrated quarterback controversy I have ever seen.
The pass rush is, from all accounts, outstanding. I think that rating is spot on. Barring injury, theBroncos have the best pass rush in all of football. I'm diving headlong into the pool of orange and blue koolaid, on this one, but for good reason. In 2009, the Broncos had the NFL leader in sacks, Elvis Dumervil. This year, we get that player back from a 2010 pectoral injury, along with college football's best linebacker, Von Miller. It's almost unfair to the opposing offense to have two outstanding pass rushers on the same defense. If the offensive line has a weakness, this defensive line will exploit it. All preseason, it seems that Dumervil and Miller have been having races to see which one can hit the quarterback first. Often, these races have ended in a tie, which means twice the pain for opposing quarterbacks. The Denver pass rush is as good as advertised.
Fantasy Football Outlook
I've got a deep, deep, deep sleeper for fantasy owners by the name of Julius Thomas. He comes from the Antonio Gates mold, a college basketball player converted to tight end. Will he be an Antonio Gates, this year, in terms of fantasy value? Probably not, but if you have a weak group of tight ends, you can pick this guy up from waivers (since he hasn't been drafted in a majority of fantasy leagues) and he just might surprise you. He has played football for only 15 months and the biggest question mark about this guy is his blocking ability. Fortunately, fantasy tight ends aren't penalized for missed blocks, which could mean solid fantasy numbers for this rookie tight end.
I'd be nervous to start Kyle Orton as my lone week-to-week fantasy quarterback. Kyle isn't going to put up huge numbers in John Fox's run oriented offensive system, but if the top tier of quarterbacks are already taken, Orton would be a good bye week quarterback or a solid number two quarterback in leagues that require more than one starting quarterback.
The running back position, however, is a much stronger fantasy position, if you choose the right player. Pick your poison with Knowshon Moreno or Willis McGahee. It is going to be a similar struggle that fantasy football players had when choosing between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart when John Fox was the head coach in Carolina. It's hard to tell which back will have a better fantasy day, but if you choose correctly, you could have a great fantasy season. Knowshon is the feature back and will get a lot more carries, not to mention his receiving abilities out of the backfield, which could mean a bunch of yards and a lot of fantasy points. However, John Fox has said that Willis McGahee will be the "redzone back". I don't see McGahee notching a touchdown every single week. So, for that reason, I'd go with the consistent, week in and week out, rushing and receiving yardage of Knowshon Moreno.
The only wide receiver that you should draft from the Broncos is Brandon Lloyd. Like I said, earlier, he had 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010, making him an excellent fantasy wide receiver. This year, I don't expect the same level of production, but I think he can still be a really good number two fantasy receiver. His value is certainly better with Kyle Orton behind center than Tim Tebow. The connection between Orton and Lloyd is pretty good. Behind Lloyd, however, the value really drops for reliable receiving fantasy players on the Denver Broncos. The Broncos have a clear number one receiver, with the rest of the wide receiver receptions being shared by Eddie Royal and Eric Decker. "Sharing" is not a good word when it comes to fantasy wide receivers.
Best Media Personality In Denver
In my opinion, the best media personality in the Denver market is Woody Paige. Love him or hate him, it's hard to ignore him. He's always saying something that gets the fans talking. As a regular on ESPN's "Around the Horn", he's probably the most nationally known media personality from Denver, as well. Many people talk down to Woody for some of the silliness that he displays on the show and he's often the pariah of the other analysts, but he's actually pretty good at what he does. I don't agree with what he has to say 100% of the time, but I respect that he says what he believes, regardless of how popular (or unpopular) it is.
Best Player To Follow On Twitter
Eddie Royal (@eddieroyal19) is the best Broncos player to follow on twitter. I'd also encourage everyone to friend him on facebook, too. Eddie is always interacting with fans, asking/answering questions, and giving away prizes. Last season, he had a contest where he gave away tickets to aBroncos game. He's a true professional and a great ambassador for the Denver Broncos.