I was looking over the Broncos' roster the other day and noticed something that really had an impact on me. With the obvious growth of Julius Thomas’s NFL skills, Peyton Manning now has six targets who stand 6’3” or taller. That’s a lot of big receivers.
It’s a misnomer that cornerbacks have to be taller to defend them - technique is everything, as a long review of Champ Bailey’s career shows.
But if you don’t have Champ’s innate skill, speed, and highly developed technique, covering a guy who’s quick, strong, and 6’5" - especially when you’re 5’10” - makes defeating a high-point pass reception pretty tough. When the quarterback in question can thread a needle at 15 yards, having an entire stable of tall, strong, talented receivers makes defending the pass an even more difficult assignment.
Here’s the rundown of Denver's tight ends and wide receivers:
Welker proves that you don’t have to be tall to be highly effective as a receiver, but Holliday, at 5’5”, might get five receptions all year - they’re the outliers here. The six-foot-tall Andre Caldwell is trying to revive his struggling career, and he added a touchdown against the Ravens. I look forward to seeing how he does over the year.
I have to admit that as much as I like Virgil Green - and he’s not a Pro Bowl candidate by any stretch, I just love his willingness to do anything he’s asked to - I wasn’t aware that he’s 6’5”, matching in that area with new option Julius Thomas, who’s showing people that blocking out in the low post in basketball isn’t that different from using your body to confound a cornerback and snatch the reception in the NFL. Two touchdowns? Nice to have you around, Julius. Joel Dreessen is next at 6’4”, and then the Broncos have Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Jacob Tamme, all at 6’3”.
Height isn’t everything, obviously. Skill at route running, learning to maintain leverage, holding onto the pass, developing head fakes, and all the other little things that separate the elite from the pack all come into it. Welker seems to know all of them.
Even so - when you’re lined up against Peyton Manning, and he’s got four receiving options out there who are three-to-seven inches taller than your defenders (and usually faster, when they’re up against linebackers in zone), you have to realize that you’re in for a long, tough game. Just ask Baltimore. Or take a look at Demaryius Thomas’s fingertip grab for a TD: If he’s just two inches shorter, this one drops incomplete. Instead, it’s a gorgeous touchdown. Double team any of them, and Manning will just move to the others while tearing you apart.
Manning is at his best in the play action passing game, which is why getting the right offensive line and running back positions are essential. That’s why the Broncos spent third- and second-round picks on their running game in the past two drafts, as well as bringing in Louis Vasquez and spending a second-rounder on Orlando Franklin, who’s turned into a surprisingly good pass blocker along with his run mauling personality. The better the run game goes, the harder it becomes to slow Manning.
If the run game isn’t working, you’ve still got a very good OL keeping one of the best QBs of all time’s uniform clean, and a passel of big and strong receivers for him to make use of. His 462 passing yards on opening night might be a picture of things to come.
That should make the Giants' situation a whole lot harder come Sunday. Thank You, John Elway - and, in all fairness, a nice job by Josh McDaniels of choosing both Demaryius and Decker (who needs to hold onto the ball) in the 2010 Draft. As the team is gelling during 2013, having that kind of receiving talent makes them a very strong contender.
After one video-game-like performance, Manning is on track for over 100 TD passes this season, and he’s got the receiving options to make that a reality. Orange Julius looks like the reincarnation of Antonio Gates, and Wes Welker just can’t be stopped - his ability to cut at full speed is incredible. Demaryius is still as big, strong, and fast as ever.
Decker is a good target when he doesn’t drop so many passes - and this from a receiver who dropped only three passes in the 354 times he was targeted (0.8% in college).
Eventually, Denver will get Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen back. Two more big targets won’t dampen Manning’s obvious burning desire to take it one game at a time until he’s at another Super Bowl.
It may have been the first game of the year, but the third quarter showed that when they have a chance to make their adjustments, they become nearly unstoppable. Scorching second halves were one of the hallmarks of the 11-game winning streak last year. Now they’re at it again.