5 Denver Broncos That Will Have a Huge Impact in 2013
The Broncos Have Mile High Aspirations for 2013
The 2012 NFL season for the Denver Broncos was not a complete waste after failing to reach their goal of a championship. Players stepped up in a "next man up" philosophy, and the Peyton Manning experiment was better than expected.
After another quality offseason in the free agent market, executive vice president of football operations John Elway can now look to the draft for one or two immediate needs, as well as for the future.
We already understand what the Broncos will receive when players such as Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton step on the field. Coaches and fans alike know what to expect when Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Champ Bailey and others line up. But there are a couple of unknowns that can bring it in 2013, which will make this team that much better.
These players were role players in 2012, and if they are able to improve, then we will see the gaps closed and the opponents wavering in the rear view mirror. We saw three of these players on a game to game basis last season, and while contributing, we would like to see if their game can be brought to the next level.
Here is a look at five players that can make a huge impact for the Broncos in their respective positions if health is not an issue. Forget about the current additions in free agency. Ignore those players whose stats will be guaranteed to stand out at the end of the year. These five players will undoubtedly play a part in either winning or losing a championship in the upcoming season.
So far, Elway has confirmed that the starting middle linebacker position is Nate Irving's to lose. The Broncos brought in Stewart Bradley from the Arizona Cardinals to push him a little, but if Irving can improve in what will be his third season, the Broncos will be that much better.
Jack Del Rio received good hustle and play from Keith Brooking in 2012 when he filled in for the injured Joe Mays, and now it is time for the youngsters to step up. Irving was used sparingly throughout last season, but when he got on the field, his energy and good tackling was a welcome sight. As most Broncos fans would think that middle linebacker is a major need for the team going forward into the draft, Irving is capable enough to command the position with the occasional help from Steven Johnson.
Irving will get the bulk of the work in the offseason in preparing to be the quarterback of the defense. It is safe to assume that if he can handle the position and the Broncos do not need to rush into another option in the draft(Manti Te'o) then they will be vastly improved in 2013.
Lost in the frenzy of the Elvis Dumervil debacle is the fact that the Broncos may have an answer for the pass rush already on their roster. As a rookie, DE Derek Wolfe recorded six sacks, two pass deflections and played in all 16 games in 2012. While he learned on the job, he proved to be up to the challenge.
If Wolfe can improve his sack total to around 10 with better protection against the run, his presence will be felt by opponents. His physicality and versatility to play both the end and tackle positions will make Wolfe stand out amongst the other linemen. If Wolfe can avoid a sophomore slump, Broncos fans may not miss Dumervil as much as they think. Having a healthy and productive player like Wolfe will be key for the Broncos moving forward as he offers the perfect compliment for stud LB Von Miller in the pass rush.
Since being drafted by the Broncos in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, J.D. Walton was a stalwart as center on a very talented offensive line. He had started every game for the Broncos up until breaking his ankle in the team's fourth game of 2012. Although Dan Koppen filled in admirably, Manning will be thrilled to get his center back.
Walton was part of the line that allowed the Broncos to rush for a franchise-record 2.632 yards in 2011. Manning worked exhaustively with Walton throughout last offseason and was "sick" after hearing that his center was going to miss the rest of last season. If Walton can come back, stay healthy and reform his connection with Manning, there is no doubt he will be a huge key to any championship hopes the Broncos are having.
Willis McGahee is getting old and worn down, missing the last six games of the 2012 season with a knee injury. Knowshon Moreno, who was inactive for eight straight games until McGahee's injury, ran well in his absence, then got hurt himself in the playoff game against the Ravens. Rookie Ronnie Hillman was the lone back to make it through the full year, but he had issues with pass blocking, and his size prohibits him from being an every down back.
Yet as a change of pace back, Hillman can be effective, as long as he keeps improving this offseason. I agree with my fellow writer, Joe Morrone, when he says do not sleep on Hillman. In his second year, Hillman may have to step up more, and that means knowing his assignments, covering Manning's back and using his speed to tear the seams. With as impressive an offensive line as the Broncos have, it is not unreasonable to expect a 1,000 yard season from Hillman if he is used in a more primary role.
New offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be lucky to have this speedster in his backfield, for the sheer fact that the receivers and tight ends will allow the backs to work effectively since their opponents will not be able to stack the box. With Hillman running effectively, the Broncos will have every opportunity to advance towards their goals.
This image will be ingrained in our memories forever as Broncos fans. Yet there is one person who needs to have amnesia when it comes to remembering: Rahim Moore. He is an extremely talented safety that proved he can play with the big boys in 2012. Moore was part of a secondary that only allowed 199.6 passing yards per game, good for third in the league. He accounted for 72 tackles, seven pass deflections, and one interception in 16 games. Now in his third year, Moore needs to prove one more thing: that he can move on from disaster and regain his form as the 10th best safety according to ProFootballFocus.com.
If Moore can move on, then so can the Broncos. With the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Denver secondary will receive extra help, but it will be up to Moore to prove he is a commodity, not a detriment. With his youth and ability to cover his ground adequately, Moore can have a huge impact on the road to a Super Bowl next year.