NFL Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos: 5 Players They Cannot Do Without In 2013

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5 Players The Denver Broncos Cannot Do Without In 2013

Peyton Manning and Montee Ball
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 Denver Broncos were able to successfully ride the return of Peyton Manning all the way into the playoffs with an 11 – 5 record. The arrival of the rehabilitated Manning quickly proved to be the difference in the AFC West division, which saw the other three contestants under-perform in a myriad of ways.

The outlook for 2013 looks about the same for the Broncos. The Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are each in some state of disarray. The division looks to be Denver's, barring some unforeseen circumstances, such as the loss of one or more of five key players.

Manning's comeback from four neck surgeries that preceded his stellar 2012 season are a remarkable story. Aside from the comeback angle, Manning is one of the best in the game at the game's most important position, so it is no surprise that he leads the list of five players the Broncos cannot afford to lose if they expect to make a deeper run into the playoffs than they achieved last season.

The Broncos did not stand pat in the offseason. They added to their already formidable pass-catching duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker by bringing in Tom Brady's former favorite target, Wes Welker. The Broncos' opponents will have their hands full trying to stop Manning's three-headed passing attack and a new-look running game.

The Broncos' defense lost defensive end Elvis Dumervil and outside linebacker D.J. Williams, which will put more pressure on the remaining key defensive leaders. Rookie first-round draft pick defensive tackle Sylvester Williams may be asked to play a major role right away.

Julian Rogers is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter (@mrturophile), or connect with him on Facebook and Google

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No. 5: Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning
Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports

Manning's remarkable bounce-back year in 2012 kept him in the conversation for NFL MVP right until the end. He lost the award to Adrian Peterson, who, like Manning, was another returnee from a significant injury.

Manning finished 2012 third, behind Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, in touchdown passes with 37. He finished second only to Rodgers again in quarterback rating with 105.8. Clearly, the 37-year-old Manning has returned to the elite status he enjoyed before his neck injury. He remains Denver's most important player who will determine their success or failure in 2013.

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No. 4: Montee Ball

Montee Ball
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Willis McGahee, the Broncos' leading rusher from last year, is no longer with the team. The rest of the Broncos' holdover backs averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in 2012.

Rookie Montee Ball was drafted with the expectation that he will bring the Broncos' running game back to relevance. The 5-foot-10, 217-pound running back excels at inside running and should be the featured back in Denver.

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No. 3: Demaryius Thomas

Demaryius Thomas
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

With the signing of Welker, the continued productivity from veteran Decker and two veteran tight ends, there are many capable receiving hands hoping to catch Manning's passes. Expect Pro-Bowl receiver Thomas to continue to be Manning's No. 1 option.

Thomas turned in a stellar 2012 campaign during his first season with Manning. If he can get a handle on his occasional drops, Broncos fans and fantasy football fans should reap great rewards putting their faith in Thomas' catch-and-run abilities.

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No. 2: Von Miller

Von Miller
Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports

Von Miller has quickly become what many consider to be the NFL's premier outside pass rusher. Following an 11.5-sack rookie season, Miller tallied 18.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his second season as a Bronco. Still only 24 years old, Miller has a tremendous upside and the expectation that he will lead the Broncos' defense for years to come.

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No. 1: Champ Bailey

Champ Bailey
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Venerable cornerback Champ Bailey had a rough outing in the 2012 playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. He was burned twice for touchdowns by the speedy Torrey Smith, which prompted conversations about Bailey transitioning to the safety position in 2013. Bailey is 35 years old.

At this point, Bailey intends to stay at cornerback. A transition from cornerback to safety for older cornerbacks is not out of the norm, however. Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber have each made the transition, which enabled them to continue their successful careers.

Even with his poor playoff showing, Bailey ranked No. 4 in Pro Football Focus' Yards Per Coverage Snaps in 2012, giving up just 0.82 yards on those plays. Combined with Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos still have a formidable pair of corners who will have much to say about how well the Broncos do in 2013.