Welcome to this week’s installment of the Mile High Mailbag. In this column, we answer your questions via social media on pressing matters that concern the Denver Broncos. You can read last week’s article by clicking here.
Without further adieu…
Excellent question, Tiff. In 2012, Peyton Manning’s first year with the Denver Broncos, the wide receiver corps featured Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley, Andre Caldwell and Matthew Willis. You can count Trindon Holliday, who was added in the 2nd week of October, but let’s be real. He was never signed to play WR. He was a return specialist, plain and simple.
That season, Thomas and Decker combined for 179 receptions, 2,498 yards and 23 TDs. Thomas had already experienced his coming out party earlier that year, when he took a short slant, thrown by Tim Tebow, 80 yards to the house to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. But let’s face it, both Thomas and Decker, didn’t really bump their heads against their respective ceilings until Manning came to town.
From there, the world got to see what those two young studs could do with a QB who put the ball where it was supposed to go, on time. 2012 was their true coming out party.
The savvy veteran and original “Slot Machine”, Brandon Stokley, served as a security blanket for Manning, as the aging gunslinger attempted to assimilate to his new Mile High digs. Stokley made A LOT of plays that year, and I think he was under-appreciated, both by the front office, and by the fans. On the season, he had 45 receptions, 544 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad when you consider his age. I was truly sad to see the Slot Machine go. But it led to the acquisition of Wes Welker. More on that later.
Andre Caldwell is an above average WR, who if given the opportunity, could excel in an offense led by an elite QB. (See 2013’s week 15 loss to the San Diego Chargers) In 2012, he only saw 76 snaps but although he’s no Demaryius Thomas, Caldwell is an excellent depth guy and a real asset to the team.
Matthew Willis was a Special Teams body more than he ever was a WR, at least in 2012. He saw 200 snaps; 124 more than Caldwell (a fact I’ve never understood). He was directly responsible for at least one pick-6 on the season, but if memory serves, it was two. Needless to say, the Broncos chose to move on from Willis following the season.
In 2013, the WR corps looked much the same, with two exceptions. Willis was let go and Wes Welker joined the fold on a two-year deal. The team chose to let Stokley walk and brought in Welker. As sad as I was to see Stokley go, there’s no doubting that Welker’s involvement in the offense helped to catapult it into the stratosphere of the NFL record books.
Welker changes the way that teams defend the Broncos and it frees up the outside receivers, like Thomas and Decker. Welker is open on almost every play. Opposing defenses literally have to pick their poison. Do they double team Welker and let Thomas go one-on-one? Or do they roll the dice with Welker and double team Thomas? If a team doubles one of the outside WRs, then Manning will find Welker. And vise versa. The arrival of tight end, Julius Thomas, only compounded the problem for the opposition.
2013’s WR squad was the best the Broncos have ever had. But nothing lasts forever and like 2012, the Broncos chose to let a key cog in the passing game walk. Namely, Eric Decker.
To replace him, the team swept the rug out from under the Kansas City Chiefs, when they signed Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders is a very talented quick-twitch athlete. And he’s FAST. He can burn the opposition with lateral quickness, or he can beat press-coverage at the line of scrimmage and run right by his defender for the long ball. He immediately replaces Decker and if truth be told, likely improves the offense. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
Sanders has never played with a QB like Manning. The ball will come on time and it’ll be put right where it needs to be, which will allow Sanders to take advantage of his skills in the open field, with runs after the catch. Big Ben Roethlisberger is in my opinion, an elite QB, but he’s no Peyton Manning. He’s often indecisive and goes into scramble mode more often than he should. This puts receivers in a difficult position.
The Broncos also traded up in the 2nd round to select Cody Latimer out of the University of Indiana. At 6’2, 215lbs, Latimer is another huge target for Peyton Manning. Not only does he have excellent size, but he’s fast and has excellent hands. With the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders, Latimer will likely get some time to acclimate as a rookie and learn the playbook. I expect that he won’t see a ton of snaps in 2014, unless it’s in the redzone. The Broncos will definitely want to take advantage of his size there.
Again, as hard as it is to believe, and despite the departure of Eric Decker, the Denver Broncos improved their WR corps for 2014. Sanders will ignite this offense in ways that Decker could not and Latimer will be a weapon in this offense for years to come.
This is a difficult question to answer. My heart wants to say yes, but my head says no. The aforementioned arrival of Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer, could tell us how the Broncos perceive the duration of their relationship with Wes Welker.
Should the Broncos choose to let him walk, following the 2014 season, they would move Sanders inside to the slot and Latimer would start opposite of Demaryius Thomas. By the end of this season, Welker will almost be 34 years old. He struggled with multiple concussions in 2013 and if he suffers any this year, it could force him into retirement. If I had to bet on it, I’d bet that Welker will not be in Orange and Blue in 2015.
I was shocked when the Broncos chose inexplicably to carry 3 QBs in 2013. I felt it was a waste of a roster spot. As much as I like Zac Dysert, he isn’t talented enough to outweigh the value of an extra defensive back, or offensive lineman, on a “Super Bowl or Bust” roster.
But this season, if Dysert hopes to make the 53 again, he’ll have to do it at the expense of Bryn Renner. Renner went undrafted this year out of the University of North Carolina. I’m still trying to understand why he didn’t get drafted because the kid has skills. He’s smart, savvy, and seems to effortlessly throw the football. Whereas Dysert relies on his arm strength and athleticism to get by, Renner uses his head, as much as he utilizes his arm. I could see Renner absolutely thrive under the direction and tutelage of Adam Gase and the Broncos’ offensive coaching staff.
To answer the question, no, I don’t think the Broncos will carry 3 QBs this year. But if I’m wrong and they do, I think it’ll be Renner, not Dysert.
Joel Dreessen underwent knee surgery this February, his 3rd since May of 2013. He’s still rehabbing. His absence form OTAs has created a vacuum that guys like Virgil Green and Gerrell Robinson have filled and taken advantage of.
In his first season with the Broncos, he caught 5 TD passes. It’s really sad to see Dreessen’s career take a turn like this and although it isn’t over yet, I don’t expect the Broncos to carry him on their 2014 53-man roster, especially when you factor in that his cap number is $3.5M. The Broncos should do him a favor and cut him now, so that once healthy, he’ll have a chance to catch on with another team.
FROM ENEMY TERRITORY…..
Thank you for the question, Seth. This will be (hopefully) a regular segment in the Mile High Mailbag. Your question is a painful one to answer. But we must. First and foremost, the single most impactful thing the Seahawks did to thwart the Broncos was they pressured Peyton Manning, both on the edges, and especially inside.
I say “especially”, because unlike most quarterbacks, Manning can sense edge pressure and step up in the pocket, or climb the ladder, and buy enough time to make his read and throw the ball. And like most QBs, Manning get’s all flustered when the pressure is inside, and literally in his face.
The Seahawks did a phenomenal job of this. Missing an All-Pro left tackle in Ryan Clady finally caught up to the Broncos on the big stage, no less. Would Clady’s presence have stamped out the pressure? No. It would have mitigated it though. Chris Clark was straight up abused in that game.
Another thing that the Seahawks did was they brought the wood. They’re always going to be good in coverage and play smart and honor their individual assignments. But their level of intensity and the way the hit and swarmed the ball carrier; I think it intimidated the Broncos’ WR corps and got in their head. Guys were short-arming receptions and bouncing away, even when wide open, from the shadow people. The Seahawks blanketed the Broncos and not only got in their heads, but prevented them from getting yards after the catch, which was one of the Broncos’ fortes throughout the season.
Can what the Seahawks did be duplicated? Yes. But you’d have to have the roster to do it and I’m not sure that there are any other defenses in the NFL, besides the Seahawks and including the 49ers, who could pull it off.