Two years ago, Denver had its season end in a 45-10 beat down at Foxboro, Massachusetts and Denver entered the offseason with the much-maligned Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback. However, after a very intense courting period, Denver’s Executive VP of Football Operations, John Elway, announced that Denver would be bringing in free agent Peyton Manning, signaling in a new era in Denver. Manning rewarded Elway, and the fans, with one of his best seasons ever, passing for over 4600 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading the Broncos to theplayoffs where they lost to Baltimore. Though last season didn’t end as planned, the Broncos, and their fans, have plenty reason for optimism this season.
Last year, Denver’s young receiving corps was able to realize and maximize its potential with Manning, a quarterback who is known for pinpoint accuracy. Demarius Thomas had a monster year, with 94 receptions, 1434 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Eric Decker also had a strong first season with Manning, and totaled 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. Veteran Brandon Stokley rounded out the receiving corps and added five touchdowns for the Broncos. Though Denver doesn’t have any freakishly athletic tight ends, both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme both were serviceable to Manning and provided him a safety valve for when things were breaking down. Denver’s running game was relatively pedestrian last year,fighting injuries to both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno. For Denver, it seemed that a change to the running game was what was needed in order to get this team to the next level.
However, once free agency started in March, it seemed that Denver had its sight set on getting Manning more weapons, and they succeeded by signing the best receiver in the free agency pool, Wes Welker. In doing so, Denver added a receiver who has led the NFL in catchessince 2007, and is one of the best slot receivers ever to play the game. Welker’s precise route running, and ability to improvise in open space is a perfect skill set to allow Manning to utilize. Welker is also the perfect complement to Decker and Thomas, who are both big-bodied receivers who can stretch a field vertically, allowing Welker to find a hole in the middle of the defense. Denver also has return man/receiver Trindon Holiday, who is absolutely electric in the return game, and has brought in five rookie receivers as well as veteran Andre Caldwell to fight for two roster spots. The Broncos didn’t draft a tight end, but did sign undrafted free agent Lucas Reed from New Mexico, whohas the size (6’6 250 pounds) and the speed (4.77 40-yard-dash) to be a playmaking tight end.
Denver also addressed their issues at running back, drafting Montee Ball in the second round. All Ball did in college was score touchdowns for Wisconsin, holding the FBS record for most career rushing touchdowns, 77, and most career total touchdowns with 83. It seems Denver has all but given up on Moreno, and it is likely he won’t make the team with Ball and 2nd year player Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is a much smaller back than Ball and is also a better receiver out of the backfield, so Denver will most likely utilize both during the season. The addition of Ball as an effective running back to the Denver offense is important because of how Peyton Manning runs the offense. Manning is a master of play-action, allowing him to recognize and exploit openings in the defense. If teams have to respect the Denver running game, Manning will be able to find his receivers in the openings created by linebackers and defensive backs playing the run.
Of the two prestige passing records in the league, Manning is most likely to break the single season passing touchdown record (50, T. Brady). Welker should fit seamlessly into the Broncos system, and the 3 receivers should total close to 35 touchdowns this year. Manning only threw one touchdown to a running back last year, and with the emergence of Ball and Hillman, Manning should get more production from his backfield this year. At tight end, both Dreessen and Tamme are reliable receivers. However, if coaching can polish Reed, he could be an impact player towards the end of the year and offer Manning a big target to stretch the middle of the field.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, Peyton Manning is going to be leading the Broncos with a chip on his shoulder. With newly acquired Wes Welker, Denver’s offense should be more dangerous than last year’s. Playing in arguably the weakest division in football, as well as against some of the leagues best teams this year, Manning will have plenty of opportunity to have a record setting season, and possibly lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl.