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Published on 09/05/2010 at Sun Sep 05 15:05.
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Part two of our look at the Denver Broncos. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Part two of our look at the Denver Broncos. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Defensive Ends: Ryan McBean, Justin Bannan and Le Kevin Smith

Analysis: McBean played so well in training camp and preseason he made Jarvis Green (and the $3 million plus the Broncos will pay him this season) worthless. If McBean is the bar to which the coaches in Denver want to set for what the team is looking for in a defensive end then Bannan is his equal. Bannan is one year removed from his personal best season and both players function ideally how any team would want their defensive ends to function in a 3-4 defense. Smith likely provided fans a few peaks at the teams line up this preseason, all wondering who number 99 was. He alone had five tackles against the Detroit Lions in week three. You won’t see these guys appearing on the stat line a whole lot as this defense requires the nose tackle and the two defensive ends to primarily occupy the opposing team’s center and guards. You will likely see career years from all of them this season though as most are getting their first opportunity to be featured in a defense.  Marcus Thomas also serves as the Broncos fourth defensive end. GRADE: C+

Nose Tackles: Jamal Williams, Ronald Fields and Marcus Thomas

Analysis: Joe Collier (architect of the Orange Crush) said, “The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy.” The nose tackle is considered the most physically demanding position in all of football. Now, as far as nose tackles go, currently in the NFL you don’t get much better than Jamal Williams and he’s the type of player that Broncos fans have been screaming for, for at least five years. Williams is coming off the second major injury of his career and is three seasons removed from his last pro bowl. Though the Broncos are definitely good at helping players get their swagger back (Brian Dawkins) and I’d expect them to do the same with Williams at 34 years old. Fields started every game for Denver last season at nose tackle last season and seemed to have his best games when the team was losing, he’s an apt backup and does well in a relief role. Thomas has been largely a disappointment in his career and was on the bubble as the Broncos made their final cuts. Thomas was told that he’ll have to step up and could likely be the next one out if the Broncos are to sign someone else this week. GRADE: C+

Outside Linebackers: Robert Ayers, Jarvis Moss, Baraka Atkins and Jason Hunter

Analysis: The loss of Elvis Dumervil to this unit is detrimental. There are two ways to look at it, those being that Dumervil was a good player made awesome by an incredible system or that Dumervil is an incredible player and made a good system look awesome. The unit is full of question marks with the only bright point being potential. Ayers is in his second season and gets a lot of print time with talk of his need to step up, his preseason was filled with near sacks and plays that were almost great. Moss does look better this season than last, but still looks like he hasn’t improved much beyond his rookie season. Moss has stepped up in special teams, but that’s not what’s being evaluated here. There are gigantic shoes to fill here and my concern is that together Ayers and Moss may not have it in them to do it. I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see Hunter start games for a reason other than an injury. Hunter is playing out of position as is Moss arguably, but that doesn’t mean much as talent is talent. Atkins hasn’t notched a statistic since 2008. Though in the scheme of things the inside linebackers are much more important, it’s impossible to force a team between the tackles unless there’s brutal force on the outside and I worry that it’s just not there with this unit. Hopefully they have/can continue to benefit from having had two years under two of the better linebacker coaches in the NFL in Mike Nolan and Wink Martindale. GRADE: D

UPDATE (9/5/10 7:05 PM EST)- Baraka Atkins has been cut to make room for offensive tackle Chris Clark.

Inside Linebackers: D.J. Williams, Mario Haggan, Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays

Analysis: I think this is the year Williams makes the pro bowl, I’ve been saying it since early August. With what the outside linebackers lack, hopefully the inside linebackers can make up for in strength. Williams is and has been one of the top linebackers in the NFL for years, but does not get the national attention he deserves; partially because he’s had his position switched five times since his rookie season. Haggan, who played outside last season is switching inside and that could mean that McDaniels sees something in Ayers and Moss that we have yet to. Haggan has never been a tackle machine, but last season after starting every game at left outside linebacker did very decently. Woodyard has his moments and has shown improvement since switching over last season (when he made a few mistakes likely due to switching over from the 4-3). Denver made an excellent move in obtaining Mays for J.J. Arrington from the Philadelphia Eagles during training camp, as Mays proved his value in preseason. Mays and Woodyard will mostly be seen on special teams, but both are capable of replacing those ahead of them on the depth chart. GRADE: B+

Cornerbacks: Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Nate Jones, Perrish Cox, Syd’Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn

Analysis: I’d put Bailey and Goodman toe-to-toe against any cornerback tandem in the NFL, they are the best. The notion that Bailey has lost a step is ridiculous and anyone that saw him against the Cincinnati Bengals’ Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens in week one of the preseason should agree. Nonetheless teams will target Bailey more this season (under the impression that he has lost a step) and this could mean a drop off in production for Goodman, but another pro bowl season for Bailey. Jones a good free agent pickup looked to be a great free agent pickup prior to the Broncos drafting Cox, Thompson and Vaughn and the rookies playing so well in the preseason. Jones will likely get the nod 90% of the time as the Broncos nickel cornerback, he’s a major threat as a rusher as well and look for him to pick up a couple of sacks this season. The rookies Cox, Thompson and Vaughn will make their impact predominantly on special teams, but if given the opportunity to play corner (especially where Cox and Thompson are concerned) will make retaining some of the older vets in this squad something to contemplate for 2011. GRADE: A+

Safeties: Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, Darcel McBath and David Bruton

Analysis: Dawkins still hasn’t hit his wall and offers so much more than a talented safety as fans are well aware. Hill statistically fell off with his switch from free safety to strong safety, but that’s not a big concern for Denver. Dawkins and Hill coupled with Bailey and Goodman are the best secondary in the NFL and with the incredible young depth behind him this shouldn’t change anytime in the near future. McBath many will remember from jumping a Peyton Manning pass last season and then exiting shortly after for the remainder of the season. McBath serves as Dawkins only backup and may see a lot more time this season when it comes to the defense. Bruton and McBath will also be seen mostly on special teams, but proved very good depth at this position. GRADE: A-

OVERALL DEFENSE- Though the strength of the Broncos defense lies in the teams secondary a newly formatted defensive line and a middle linebacking corps that should be amongst the top in the NFL; the teams weakness is glaring. A duct tape job won’t be able to keep opposing offenses from running rampant on the outsides of this unit. McDaniels seems confident in Ayers and Moss, so we’ll see what they can do, for now I am fearful. That being said, the Broncos defense is nowhere near as bad as some think that they will be. The team will be tested early and often in their schedule facing Jacksonville, Tennessee and Baltimore all in the first five weeks. The other and more plausible opinion I have is that we haven’t seen anything yet, McDaniels and Martindale kept most if not all scheme under wraps throughout the entire preseason. The Broncos (and their defense) could very easily do the same thing in 2010 that they did in 2009 and blow the best offenses in the NFL out of the water. Hopefully this season they have a better plan for the second half of the season, once teams start adjusting. GRADE: C

This is part two of a two part article, part one is located here.

  • anthony33

    Like your offensive assesment, this was great work Ian. Not much to argue here. Thought the nose tackles might grade out a little high and unless Ayers comes through in a big way… an “F” for the outside backers. We desparately need a nasty MF in the LB core. Someone like a Romanowski. Wilson or Mecklenburg type. We are sorely missing that one mean SOB that puts some fear in the offense.

    One other area that needs to be mentioned is coaching. We have an unknown in Matindale. Fair to start him out as a “C” until we have a chance to see him in game situations and what adjustments are made when things get loose. Not impressed with what I see so far, but it was preseason and big chucks of the D were missing in most every game. We'll see how this play out.

    Not sure if you are going to grade special teams, but definitely an area where I think we have dramatically improved. The non starters that made this team made it because of their play on special teams. With Royal, Cox, Thompson and Vaugh returning kicks and punts we are far better than last year. Prater remains solid and no one has mentioned Colquitt… which is a good thing. Special teams are going to win a game or two this year.

  • Rw417

    is royal a good fantasy player this year?

  • Dan

    Not sure how you are grading or why you are hedging down so much, but I would give our defensive line a solid B with potential to move up to an A-, and I would give our outside linebackers the same grade. I would give our overall defense a B+ to A-. The first few drives with a heavy dose of Jones-Drew will be a nice test for the boys. Finally the season begins!

  • areferee

    Courageous 2-parter Ian. Thank you for hanging it all out there. I think a “C” on defense and a “B” on offense is about right. I'm not sure about the B+, but I hope your assessment is correct.

    Thanks for keeping BT afloat during this critical time.

  • Nisse

    nope, huge gamble

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    I would do special teams if people wanted to see one, just wasn't sure if anyone would read it. It's actually one of the more interesting spots on the Broncos roster Anthony. As you said, most improved as well.

    Special teams won the first game against the Chargers last year, remember?

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    Yeah, I wouldn't take him. Much better off with Gaffney and you can pick him up REALLY late, around round 9 or 10. Also, if you want to take a rider out of Demaryius Thomas who should also be available relatively late (due to the fact that he didn't play in preseason and likely won't play in week one).

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    I was very objective Dan, you're right. I did my honest opinion and tried to show my optimism in the final analysis. My overall grade was an average of the grades I had given to every position. I certainly do think the Broncos defense will perform above the grade that I have given them.

    And like you said, Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Shonn Green and Frank Gore. The Broncos will see the best backs in the NFL all before their bye. And it doesn't get much easier after that…

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    It's only going to get better, we'll be firing on all cylinders soon. Don't worry!

    I actually want to thank all of you readers and commenters for this weekend, you guys are the real ones keeping this site afloat. So thank you guys from everyone here!

  • Roy

    I have been picking him up even later than that. 12-14 in a lot of my leagues.

  • http://nation.theorangepage.com/blog Ian Henson

    Gaff or Bey Bey?

    Sorry, I'm a little hidden with all of my fantasy football advice, being that I'm going up against a lot of my BroncoTalk brethren tomorrow night in a Broncos writers only Fantasy Football league.

    Gaffney has been getting a lot of press as a sleeper and if you're in a more intelligent league, you can mess around and see him get picked way earlier than you expected. If you wait longer than the rounds I advised than I can only say that I told you so =)

  • Vince_Marine

    I echo the comments of arereree…Thanks for keeping the fans informed. Your articles are a great read and most importantly you keep them objective!

  • OldCoachB

    You are right on with the exception of one position and that is linebackers. The ILBs are c- at best remember we were the NFLs laughing stock of run D last season with the same 2 guys inside I think the beef will help but I think ILB and OLB are the weakest position on the team. People keep saying OL but we gave up relatively few sacks last year and in preseason . We are also poor in pass coverage at ILB and OLB out flat is always open and underneath middle also always open. Add to this the loss of Doom and the entire LB position group is our weak spot, yet you give them one of the highest grade, I just don't get it

  • Vince_Marine

    I echo the comments of arereree…Thanks for keeping the fans informed. Your articles are a great read and most importantly you keep them objective!

  • OldCoachB

    You are right on with the exception of one position and that is linebackers. The ILBs are c- at best remember we were the NFLs laughing stock of run D last season with the same 2 guys inside I think the beef will help but I think ILB and OLB are the weakest position on the team. People keep saying OL but we gave up relatively few sacks last year and in preseason . We are also poor in pass coverage at ILB and OLB out flat is always open and underneath middle also always open. Add to this the loss of Doom and the entire LB position group is our weak spot, yet you give them one of the highest grade, I just don't get it