This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Premier Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
The Denver Broncos haven’t exactly boasted one of John Fox’s normal elite defenses that he used to have with the Carolina Panthers. They’ve been solid at times, but for the most part in 2013, they were the weak link on a very good Super Bowl team.
Whether it was the aging and banged up Champ Bailey getting burned, trouble over the top at safety or a fading pass rush thanks to Von Miller (knee) going down, we saw this defense get absolutely torched at times.
See: Cowboys, Dallas.
Things could change for the better in 2014, though. Miller will be returning from his knee injury, Bailey (released) is no longer a liability in coverage and the Broncos have made some amazing additions in free agency.
While they should be a better overall unit in the real world, fantasy owners want to know if the changes will also translate to fantasy success. After all, fantasy owners anticipated them to be a very good unit last year, making them one of the top defenses taken off the board in drafts.
Let’s see just how good they’ll be as we break down the five reasons why Denver Broncos might evolve into an elite fantasy unit:
DeMarcus Ware Can Still Play
Ware is aging and has been nicked up lately. That’s why the Cowboys thought they could safely release the soon to be 32-year old, thinking he’d be and easy, cheap re-signing. They clearly underestimated the market value for a still explosive pass rusher.
Ware played in just 13 games last year and registered just six sacks, but is still a good athlete who can get after the quarterback and make plays on the ball. He’s just two years removed from his last 10+ sack season, and it was just three years ago that he put up 19.5 sacks.
The best part about Denver adding Ware is that he doesn’t have to do it all on his own. He was normally a one man wrecking crew for Dallas, but when Von Miller gets back, the Broncos will suddenly have two pass rushing specialists. Ware can do more than just bring down the quarterback, too, but even if he’s limited to a situational role, he’s going to make a positive impact on Denver’s ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. He’s a major asset that will boost Denver’s sack totals and make them a scarier opponent on a weekly basis.
Aqib Talib is a Massive Upgrade
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a very talented and effective shutdown corner in 2013, but he has always had questionable work ethic, while he even suggested he might retire before last year’s Super Bowl. His drive and inconsistency in question, it’s no shocker the Broncos opted for the much more steady talent of Aqib Talib, who was fresh off of a great season for the New England Patriots.
Talib gives Denver a true lockdown defender on the outside, as well as a true play-maker when the ball is in the air. Talib can be a mental case and can lose focus at times, but if his mind stays right he’ll make Denver’s formerly shaky pass defense a major strength. With some help from his safeties, of course…
T.J. Ward Locks Down the Last Line of Defense
That’s where the newly acquired T.J. Ward comes in, as he’s flat out solid in every aspect of the game, helping out in coverage and run support on equally solid levels. Ward should benefit greatly from playing in a winning environment, as opposed to years of losing with the Cleveland Browns.
Aside from his obvious assistance in pass coverage and against the run, Ward is also a ferocious hitter who isn’t afraid to enforce his will on daring pass catchers that hover over the middle of the field. Even when he isn’t actually making plays, his ability to knock players out of the game will produce a fear factor that Denver’s defense really didn’t have before in the back end of their defense.
Von Miller Will Be Back
The key is probably going to be the health of Von Miller. While Ware still might have the goods as a pass rusher, Denver’s pass rush is probably only going to go as far as Miller will take it. That means he’ll have to make a fairly speedy and complete recovery from a torn ACL.
Miller can do it, though, and with the help of his new veteran teammates, he should be back to playing at a high level before we know it. On pacer for about 10 sacks before going down in week nine of last season, Miller should have enough time to make it back early in 2014. Even if he’s not ready for week one, he should be close to 100% and be ready to make Denver’s defense better than it was a year ago.
A Quality Draft Will Only Help
While the current crop of defenders is imposing enough, Denver could still use some added depth. Their key needs on defense currently are cornerback, inside linebacker and defensive end.
Obviously Ware solves the problem for the most part at defensive end, while Talib also locks down one corner spot. What if Ware gets hurt or what if both free agents end up being bust acquisitions? Denver needs to protect itself by adding both depth and insurance for the future. Adding one more young pass rusher and defensive back at some point in the draft would be a great idea.
Inside linebacker is the other main weakness, as Wesley Woodyard fled to Tennessee in free agency. Denver is really pretty set on offense and only has these few holes on the defensive side, so they should have the luxury of doing whatever they want in the 2014 NFL Draft. If C.J. Mosley slides far enough, they could make him their top pick in the first round, while they could also just look at value picks like Chris Borland or Shayne Skov in the second or third round.
Even if Denver didn’t get a single draft pick, they’re already set on a course to be a vastly improved defense. Add in some picks to round out the depth and create some competition, and they’re going to quickly look like a fantasy defense you’ll want to use on a weekly basis. In fact, they might even become one that can vie for a top-five spot in the fantasy ranks when the season is done and over with.