January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) following a reception in the second half against the New England Patriots in the first half of the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Broncos compiled possibly the best trio of receivers the NFL has ever seen in 2013 with their combination of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker.
That trio combined for 3,496 yards on 252 receptions with a grand total of 35 touchdowns between the three of them.
Those numbers are staggering, and every stat you break down for the Broncos’ 2013 offense gets crazier and crazier, but the truth of the matter is, Denver could be even better at receiver in 2014 than they were a year ago.
Decker is off to greener pastures, but the Broncos still have star receiver Demaryius Thomas as well as 2013 free agent acquisition Wes Welker, who is in a contract year.
The Broncos also added former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and drafted Indiana’s Cody Latimer in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Essentially, the Broncos swapped Eric Decker for Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. Neither player has the familiarity with the Broncos’ offense like Decker had, but the combination of those two guys gives the Broncos almost inarguably more talent at the position, more speed, and more explosive vertical playmaking ability.
Decker was/is a very good receiver with the ability to make tough catches and fill up a stat sheet. He was a strong #2 receiver but the Broncos didn’t even make him a contract offer.
This is going to be a really fun position to watch in 2014 as Peyton Manning continues to seemingly get better, and now having that added explosive speed and vertical element.
Demaryius Thomas (5th season — Age 26)
In the last two seasons with Peyton Manning as the QB, Thomas has vaulted into the discussion as a top three wide receiver in the NFL. He is such a dynamic playmaker with his size, strong hands, speed, and ability after the catch to create. Thomas makes the tough catches, he makes the clutch catches, and he really can do it all.
In terms of his production over the last two years, his numbers from 2012 to 2013 were nearly identical, except that he caught four more touchdowns (14) than he did in 2012.
Thomas is an elite #1 receiver playing in a contract year. The Broncos are going to make keeping him around a top priority and he should easily be among the highest paid receivers in the league.
This is a superstar. Thanks Josh.
Wes Welker (11th season — Age 33)
Welker just turned 33 this offseason, and signed with the Broncos last year in hopes that the team could put together the best WR trio the league has ever seen.
A lot of people would argue that, but their production over the course of the season makes it pretty tough to deny.
Welker set a personal mark with 10 touchdown catches this past year, but missed some significant time due to concussions. He also had to wear a goofy helmet at times.
The Broncos got pretty much exactly what they thought they would when they brought in Welker. He made tough catches, he was a phenomenal weapon in the red zone and on third downs, but he also dropped some.
The one major concern with Welker at this point is his history of concussions. This could be his last year with the Broncos unless he re-ups at a reduced rate after this season, where the Broncos have a lot of big names to look into the future of.
For this year, Welker is going to be the Broncos’ slot receiver and with Eric Decker gone, he could be Manning’s new #2 most targeted player.
That is, if he can stay healthy.
Emmanuel Sanders (5th season — Age 27)
Sanders came into the league the same year as Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, and was actually taken within a couple picks of Decker.
This is a completely different style of player who comes from the Pittsburgh Steelers and gives the Broncos a whole new dimension offensively.
His speed, quickness, ability after the catch, and burst gives Denver a very versatile offensive look, especially since he can move around the formation as a slot receiver or edge player.
John Elway cited his ability to create separation as a major reason why the Broncos targeted him, and it’ll be very fun to see how his role expands with an offense like Denver’s that is going to spread the ball around.
He is coming off a career year with the Steelers, catching 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns.
Cody Latimer (Rookie — Age 21)
With Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Latimer is the future of the Broncos’ receiving group as the #1a. I won’t say #2 because in scouting him, it’s clear to see he has #1 receiver skills. I think the Broncos could have a more athletic version of what the Chicago Bears have in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, one of the best receiving duos in the NFL today.
Latimer will be given time to learn the Broncos’ system, and he’ll also have the ability to get some time on the field this season as did second rounder Montee Ball a year ago.
The Broncos could have set unrealistic injury expectations for their offensive skill layers last year, and even those would have been exceeded.
Denver didn’t have any skill players miss significant time other than Welker for the final three games of the season, but can that happen again this year?
If someone in Denver’s WR group goes down with injury, Latimer is going to be the next man up. He is so physically gifted, and has a chance to be a top tier receiver in the NFL. I loved the idea of adding a top level player at that particular position group coming out of this year’s draft, and the Broncos traded up to get a guy who has some of the most impressive physical ability of any kid coming out this year.
Loved the pick, love the player, love his potential.
Andre Caldwell (7th season — Age 29)
When Caldwell was signed in 2012, he was expected to have a much bigger impact than he ended up having. He played in just eight games, catching just one pass. That all changed this past year as Caldwell was involved from the word go, even in a limited capacity.
He played all 16 games in 2013 and ended up catching 16 passes and three scores. He played in relief of Wes Welker in Denver’s Thursday Night loss to the Chargers, but we saw flashes of the “Bubba” Caldwell that showed so much promise in his days at Cincinnati.
In that game, he had six catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns, proving to the Broncos that he is a very capable injury replacement. Because of that fact, he signed a team-friendly, two-year contract after this season, one of the very few Broncos that actually was offered an opportunity to re-sign with the team.
He’ll play the same role this year as the 4th or 5th receiver, and give the Broncos some options in case of injury. He was also invited to this year’s Duke workouts, something he missed out on in the past, but was very grateful to be part of this year.
Isaiah Burse (Rookie — Age 22)
Burse was a hotly contested undrafted free agent pickup for the Broncos, a player that many believe can be the team’s new kick and punt returner, where he proved very effective at Fresno State.
Burse is coming into camp with very unfair expectations for an undrafted player, but the Broncos gave him the highest bonus of any undrafted player this year and out-bid several teams for his services.
He’s not a one-trick pony, however.
This is a guy who proved a very effective slot receiver in college who has excellent short-area burst, quickness, and playmaking ability after the catch. I love what he brings to the table and think he makes the roster as the 6th wideout and return specialist.
Nathan Palmer (3rd season — Age 25)
Palmer was an undrafted player in 2012 for the Indianapolis Colts, played in some games, and ended up getting signed to the Broncos’ practice squad late last season.
He’s had time in the system now, and a chance to develop with some of these dynamic playmakers ahead of him on the depth chart, and he’s got intriguing ability.
I’m really interested to see his speed in training camp and pre-season action.
Jordan Norwood (6th season — Age 27)
Since his days at Penn State, Norwood has bounced around the league for six years after spending some significant time on the Cleveland Browns’ roster in 2011 and 2012.
Norwood was signed to a futures deal by the Broncos at the end of last season, and will have another shot this year. Denver has former Cleveland GM Tom Heckert in its front office, likely a strong contribution to this signing.
Greg Wilson (2nd season — Age 23)
Wilson was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad late last year, and was a former UDFA out of Fordham. He comes in as a potentially exciting young prospect through the eyes of some small school scouts, but he has a daunting road ahead.
The Broncos tried him out during the 2013 season, and ended up signing him later on. Wilson went with the team to the Super Bowl and everything, so he was able to get a tryout for this year and a pretty cool experience last year.
Greg Hardin (Rookie — Age 23)
Hardin put up some impressive numbers at North Dakota, and the Broncos will get their first look at him at their minicamp this week. He had to finish up school before joining the team, so he missed the rookie minicamp.
This is a smaller receiver with big time playmaking skills and some return ability. He’ll be another intriguing option at the position.
Bennie Fowler (Rookie — Age 22)
Fowler is a height-weight-speed specimen that is the type of long player with very intriguing athletic skills that the Broncos would probably love to stash on their practice squad.
He is the type of guy who could impress in the pre-season but reps will come sparingly. He will need to really make the most of them.