You Got Served - More rosterbation

Happy Friday, friends, and welcome to part two of Ted’s Grand Rosterbation Exercise.  I haven’t gone blind yet, so maybe it’s just a myth.  Whatevs… I’ll risk it.  Armed with a starting point of 20/15 eyesight (thanks to the fine people at LASIKPlus), the comfort of having completed two midterms this week, and the home state pride of seeing both UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Final Four (again), I’m getting this thing underway.  Ready….. BEGIN!!!

I came with some serious mockery last week, and I decided that I’d close the circle today and create and discuss my conception of a Rational Actor roster for the Broncos.  First, let’s revisit where we are vis-à-vis the Draft:

  • We traded Kyle Orton to San Francisco for a 3rd-round pick, and a conditional 2012 pick that could be as high as another 3rd-rounder.
  • When Carolina took Cam Newton first overall, we sold off the #2 pick to the team that wanted Blaine Gabbert the most, the Arizona Cardinals.  To move down to #5, we acquired #38 and #69, as well as a 3rd-rounder in 2012.  (Yes, that’s a reasonable deal.  Think of the Giants/Chargers Manning/Rivers deal in 2004, and you’ll see it’s comparable.)
  • We drafted the following players:

Round Player Position School
1 Von Miller OLB Texas A&M
2 Marvin Austin DT North Carolina
2 Stephen Paea DT Oregon State
2 Kyle Rudolph TE Notre Dame
3 DeMarco Murray RB Oklahoma
3 Martez Wilson ILB Illinois
3 Ahmad Black FS Florida
6 Charles Clay FB Virginia
7 Justin Trattou DE Florida
7 Adam Grant OT Arizona

Now, assuming that free agency starts after the Draft, which strikes me as more likely than not at this point, let’s take a breath and analyze what we have.  (We’re also assuming that 2010 rules prevail, and that it takes six seasons for unrestricted free agency, so all players with expired contracts and less than six seasons who were tendered, will be assumed to have signed their tenders.)

Quarterbacks (2 on hand)

With the trade of Kyle Orton, the Broncos signal their intention to let Tim Tebow prove what he can do.  Whether you love him or not (and I do), this is the wise move.  If Tebow is the starter for 16 games and does poorly, chances are the Broncos are picking highly next season, and they can then look at other options.  I think that 19 starts is an adequate body of work with which to judge if a guy is likely to grow into a good NFL starter. 

It’s a lot more than Broncos backup Brady Quinn got in Cleveland, after all.  Quinn is theoretically a solid backup, but I’d like to look at a cheap-ish free agent to push him.  I’d consider finding another body a fairly high priority, actually.

Running Backs (10 on hand)

It didn’t get a lot of press, but Knowshon Moreno improved a lot in the second half of the 2010 season.  I think it’s best to limit his carries to about 20 per game, but there wasn’t really anybody else on hand who earned many carries, so I have no quarrel with Moreno’s extensive use. 

I’ve become a big believer in RB-by-committee, and not only because it makes fantasy-obsessed dorks complain, although that’s a bonus.  I think that using RBs is all about maximizing the effectiveness of each play, and you can help yourself do that by keeping guys fresh, and also by having a group of players who have complementary skill-sets.  The Patriots and Saints are the models for this, and their outstanding success with their committee approaches is what ultimately convinced me.

Anyway, Moreno can handle 20 touches, and we’re excited to have drafted our Reggie Bush-type in DeMarco Murray.  (He’s a poor man’s version, but he’s very fast, and outstanding in the passing game.)  We also have holdovers Correll Buckhalter, LenDale White and Lance Ball on hand, and I’m figuring two of those three make the team.

I also drafted FB Charles Clay in the 6th round to compete with holdover Spencer Larsen.  I think both have a chance to stick on the roster.  The longer-shot guys include RB Jeremiah Johnson, RB Brandon Minor and FB Mike McLaughlin.

Wide Receivers (8 on hand)

This is the strength of the football team, as Doc Bear described so excellently Tuesday.  I’m only going to add a few words about each player, because I figure most of y’all read what he had to say.  Brandon Lloyd finally lived up to his potential in 2010, and he was truly the best WR in the NFL.  (That’s information from my eyes, you dig?)  Lloyd has great hands at the top of his leap, along with fantastic timing and body control, but what I was most impressed with was his total smoothness as a route runner.  Take a look sometime at how cleanly he gets off the line with his first step.  He almost always has the DB on his heels right away, and it’s no wonder that he’s consistently beating them right after that.

Demaryius Thomas has all of the ability to be outstanding on the outside, and I expect him to make a big leap in his sophomore year if he is able to get/stay healthy.  Eddie Royal is outstanding in the slot, and I like Matthew Willis’ potential at that position as well.  Jabar Gaffney also had a good 2010, but I think that he may lose some snaps to the emerging Eric Decker in 2011.  Decker can contribute at all of the WR positions, and he showed really well on special teams as a rookie.

Rounding out the current roster are Britt Davis and Eron Riley.  They’ll have an uphill fight to make this team.

Tight Ends (4 on hand)

With the drafting of Kyle Rudolph in the second round, the Broncos have a guy with big-time talent, both as a blocker and downfield receiver.  Rudolph is very similar to Rob Gronkowski, who was so successful for the Patriots as a rookie.

As much as people like to hate on Richard Quinn, I think he looked good over the last eight games or so of 2010 when the Broncos got their running game going.  He was hired to be a strong blocking TE, and he was that, while showing the ability to continue to improve.  Daniel Coats and Dan Gronkowski are also on the roster.

Offensive Tackle (5 on hand)

Ryan Clady didn’t have his best year in 2010 after coming back really quickly from a torn patellar tendon, but he was still definitely a top-five LT in the NFL, and I expect that he’ll be back to top form in 2011, a full year removed from the injury. 

Ryan Harris struggled mightily over the first half of 2010, even getting benched for a stretch, but he stepped it up in the second half of the season.  Harris looks like he’ll be back as a restricted free agent, so the Broncos got a bit lucky there, and probably saved some money.

We took a flyer on Arizona’s Adam Grant in the 7th round, and Chris Clark and Herb Taylor are also on hand.  I like Grant’s potential some, but I haven’t seen much from Clark or Taylor.

Offensive Guard (6 on hand)

Zane Beadles had a very interesting rookie year.  For the first eight games, he was an awful Right Tackle, and for the last eight he was a well-above average Left Guard.  It’s clear that LG is the place for him, and I expect him to push for the Pro Bowl there, if the Broncos start winning some games again.

Chris Kuper had an okay year at RG, but I thought his run blocking slipped quite a bit in 2010.  I don’t know if he was banged up or uncomfortable doing more angle-blocking stuff than he was previously used to, but I’d definitely like to see him get back to his 2009 form in 2011.

You can do worse than Russ Hochstein as a backup, but if you need him to be a starter, you’re hurting.  Stanley Daniels was terrible in the games he started, and I expect him to be gone.  I am curious to see Eric Olsen in the preseason, to see where he is.  I’ve always thought that he projected as a better version of Hochstein who could be the key interior backup to all three positions.  Shawn Murphy is just a live body.

Center (2 on hand)

J.D. Walton showed a lot of toughness and poise in playing 1,086 offensive snaps in 2010, the most of any Broncos offensive player.  His performance was pretty uneven, but Center is really tough as a rookie.  I thought he showed a good deal of promise, but I’d like to see Walton improve in 2011, especially in anchoring in the passing game.

Jeff Byers is a semi-promising backup type, but the best outcome would be if Olsen can backup Center on gamedays, leaving Byers on the practice squad.

Defensive Ends (6 on hand)

Robert Ayers got off to a great start in 2010 and then broke his foot.  After missing five games, he came back but was never quite the same.  When he was right, he was the best front-seven player on the team by a wide margin.  I expect him to be dominant against the run in 2011, and I hope that he improves as a pass rusher.  I have some reason to think he will.  He’ll start at Left DE in any case.

Elvis Dumervil should be the primary Right DE, and the Broncos really need his pass-rushing excellence back in full effect.  I like Dumervil’s ability to play with his hand on the ground, because he starts out low against OTs, and it helps him get good leverage quickly.  He was never a speed rusher; he’s a skill rusher.

I thought that Jason Hunter was a real find by the pro personnel guys last season, and that he’ll be an excellent rotation guy in an even front.  I think David Veikune’s natural position is as a 4-3 DE as well, and I suspect that he’ll be evaluated there, and do well.  I don’t think that Ryan McBean is a very good scheme fit at either DE or DT.  Finally, I drafted Justin Trattou in the 7th round.  He’s not dynamic, but he has good physical skills and a really high motor.  He’s the kind of guy who screams productive rotation DE.

Defensive Tackles (7 on hand)

Marcus Thomas had a very good season in 2010, easily his best in the NFL.  He’s a natural 4-3 DT, so switching back to an even front should suit him.  The Broncos luck out under this assumption that Thomas is locked up for reasonable money, because I think somebody would pay him a lot on the strength of last year’s tape.

We picked DTs with our first two 2nd-rounders in Marvin Austin and Stephen Paea.  Austin is going to be an excellent penetrator, especially as he gets his hand technique down a bit better.  Paea isn’t terribly quick, but he’s extremely strong, and he’s just the kind of guy you want in the middle of the defense stuffing the run.

Kevin Vickerson was another find on the scrap heap, and he turned in a solid season for the Broncos.  I think he’s best suited as a DT, which is where he always played before coming to Denver last season.  Mitch Unrein, Ronald Fields, and Louis Leonard are probably camp bodies, although Fields is a decent 3-4 NT.

Outside Linebackers (4 on hand)

Von Miller should be the starting Sam LB from Day 1, because he’s a rare talent.  Don’t listen to this stuff about him being scheme-specific, because he isn’t at all.  He’s going to make plays all over the field, and he’ll need to be accounted for as a blitzer on every snap, because he’s a terror moving forward.  He has DeMarcus Ware-type ability as a blitzer, and a more diverse overall game, compared to Ware as a rookie.

For now, let’s say that D.J. Williams is probably the Will LB, and that Wesley Woodyard will definitely be in the mix at that position.  I think that the way that John Fox and Dennis Allen want to play defense might suit Woodyard really well.

Lee Robinson has been hanging around the team for a couple years, and he may finally be able to stick on the gameday roster.  I consider this a position that could use another body or two for competition.

Middle Linebackers (3 on hand)

I’d be pretty comfortable going into the 2011 season with a competition between Mario Haggan and Joe Mays to be the starting Mike.  Each of them is a strong downhill striker.  Williams could end up here too, but I remember how bad he sucked as a Mike in 2008, and it kind of gives me nightmares.  Braxton Kelley is a fringe body at a position where a guy may be able to make a move.  Keep an eye on him in camp and the preseason.

We picked Martez Wilson in the third round too, as a size-speed prospect, but I don’t think it’s terribly likely that he plays much on defense as a rookie.  He can be a key special-teamer right away, though, and he eventually will have the ability to play all three LB spots, if he can get his football instincts aligned with his superior movement skills.

Cornerbacks (7 on hand)

Champ Bailey remains outstanding, and re-signing him was the key move of the Broncos' offseason.  Having Bailey and his ability to excel in both man and zone coverage allows Dennis Allen to really mix up his secondary calls.  He’s never had anybody as good as Champ before, so hopefully he’s excited to do some creative stuff.

Andre’ Goodman didn’t have a great 2010, amid being hurt a lot.  When he’s healthy, he’s definitely the second-best CB on this roster, although his strong man-to-man orientation may be wasted if the Broncos play a lot of zone.  (John Fox has historically favored zone, and Allen comes from a bit more man stuff with Gregg Williams; it’s hard to know what will be what at this point.)  Perrish Cox is like a young version of Goodman, and I was pretty impressed with his poise, and the apparent fact that his confidence never wavered in 2010, despite getting beat some.

Syd’Quan Thompson can be a starting CB in the NFL in the right scheme, by which I mean one that employs a lot of zone coverage.  Thompson isn’t going to turn and run effectively with the fastest WRs, but I like him as a guy to get physical in a short area and read routes and QBs.  Cassius Vaughn was impressive as a rookie too.  He has excellent speed and offers another option at CB and in the return game.

I don’t love Nate Jones as a coverage player, but he can fill at Safety as needed, and that versatility can be valuable.  I think Chevis Jackson is undertalented and won’t make the team.

Safeties (7 on hand)

Renaldo Hill quietly had a pretty good 2010 season.  The Broncos had a ton of breakdowns in the middle of the field, but very few were Hill’s fault.  I don’t know how long-term an answer he is, but he’s probably still a starter in 2011.

Brian Dawkins had a pretty awful 2010 season, and I’m not personally counting on him to be a for-sure starter (or member of the opening day roster, even) in 2011.  I’m sure that he knows he had a bad year, and you don’t count out a champion like him.  Let’s say he’s an option, and hope that he plays well enough to be a strong contributor.

Darcel McBath and David Bruton have both shown flashes of good play on both defense and special teams.  McBath needs to step it up, because he belongs to the Josh McDaniels regime, and he hasn’t been the “Starter in Year 2” guy that they thought he was.  Bruton is an ace special-teamer who should definitely be on the roster.

I’m a big Ahmad Black fan, despite his lack of ideal size or straight-line speed.  He finds the football, and he catches it when it’s near him.  He’s also a very sure tackler, and was a key defensive leader for three years at Florida.  The guy is definitely a football player, and he’ll always find ways to contribute.  He was somewhat lightly recruited, but somehow he was better on the field than top recruits like Will Hill, Dee Finley and Jerimy Finch.

Kyle McCarthy showed some solid play at times, but he’s athletically pretty limited for the NFL level.  If a McBath slips or gets hurt, he’s the kind of guy who can make the football team again.  Nick Polk is a warm body.

Specialists (3 on hand)

There should be no doubt about K Matt Prater, P Britton Colquitt, and LS Lonie Paxton.  Each player is excellent at their position, and it would be hard to replace any of them.

Free Agency

Because we were able to trade down and get some extra picks, there's much less need to chase free agents. To me, the key opportunity areas in free agency are Safety, Offensive Tackle, Backup QB, and Linebacker.  With the draft class that we’re looking at, this team has already added some solid bodies, and the free agency needs are less abundant.

Let’s say we’re going to set out to find somebody at each position, with a budgetary constraint of $12 million of incremental average annual value in the contracts.  Most of that was covered by the releases of Daniel Graham, Justin Bannan, and Jamal Williams, so that’s actually being pretty frugal about staffing the team.

OT Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints, 4 years, $12 million

Strief has been a starter-caliber player as a backup for the Saints and just hasn’t quite beaten out Jermon Bushrod or Jonathan Stinchcomb.  He’s an excellent backup, and he’d have a real chance to beat out Ryan Harris, if Harris doesn’t rediscover his A-game.  Worst case is good depth up front, and even that’s worth the price.

LB Ernie Sims, Philadelphia Eagles, 3 years, $10 million

Sims has been a bit of a disappointment relative to his draft status in Detroit, but he’s more than adequate as a run-and-hit linebacker, and he’s the type of guy that fits what John Fox and Dennis Allen are looking for. 

S Abram Elam, Cleveland Browns, 3 years, $8 million

Elam is a good athlete who is a better coverage safety than run defender.  While he’s far from perfect, he’s another quality body to add to the mix in finding the right pair of safeties to be on the field.

QB Trent Edwards, Jacksonville Jaguars, 4 years, $10 million

Edwards can start in a pinch, but he’s proven that he’s not a long-term answer in that role.  I would feel better about having him around than I would another really inexperienced third QB.  Edwards would have a good chance of beating out Brady Quinn as the #2 QB.

Conclusion

I came up with a depth chart, based upon all of this theoretical rosterbation, which includes 53 roster players, and 7 practice squad guys.  The toughest cut was Matthew Willis, but I think that the WR position will be somewhat de-emphasized with John Fox as the Head Coach, so keeping any more than five of them seemed like a stretch.

Position 1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team 4th Team Practice Squad
QB Tim Tebow Brady Quinn Trent Edwards    
RB Knowshon Moreno DeMarco Murray LenDale White Lance Ball  
FB Spencer Larsen       Charles Clay
WR Brandon Lloyd Eddie Royal     Eron Riley
WR Demaryius Thomas Jabar Gaffney Eric Decker    
TE Kyle Rudolph Richard Quinn Dan Gronkowski    
LT Ryan Clady       Adam Grant
LG Zane Beadles Russ Hochstein      
C J.D. Walton       Jeff Byers
RG Chris Kuper Eric Olsen      
RT Ryan Harris Zach Strief     Chris Clark
           
LE Robert Ayers Jason Hunter     Justin Trattou
DT Marcus Thomas Marvin Austin      
DT Kevin Vickerson Stephen Paea      
RE Elvis Dumervil David Veikune      
SLB Von Miller Ernie Sims      
MLB Mario Haggan Joe Mays Martez Wilson   Braxton Kelly
WLB D.J. Williams Wesley Woodyard      
CB Champ Bailey Syd'Quan Thompson Cassius Vaughn    
CB Andre' Goodman Perrish Cox      
FS Darcel McBath Brian Dawkins Ahmad Black    
SS Renaldo Hill Abram Elam David Bruton    
           
K Matt Prater        
P Britton Colquitt        
LS Lonie Paxton        

I know what you’re thinking.  Only two starters who weren’t on last year’s roster?  Of a 4-12 team?  Yes, that’s what I’m thinking.  This is not a team that needs to be blown up, it’s one that needs some defensive emphasis and stability, and it’s one that needs to let its excellent young offensive players continue to grow and develop.  The key to a quick turnaround is making the best of what you have on hand, and it seems to me that John Fox is a good guy to do that.  Of course, that’s a distinctly different approach than Josh McDaniels took, but I think that McDaniels left Fox with some good pieces to work with.

Think about it like this: The 2007 Dolphins went 1-15, and Cam Cameron got fired after one season.  In 2008, Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano came in and put in a program for a quick turnaround.  They leveraged a lot of the same players into a 10-6 team that won their division.  They didn’t really sustain the building success, but it shows that by getting things stabilized, a team can improve quickly.

This theoretical team has good enough personnel on defense, especially with a few key additions, to be solid if the scheme and coaching are good, as I fully expect they will be.  If Tebow can play pretty well in 2011, then with solid health this roster can compete in a lot of close games, and have a chance to win the AFC West.  The endgame would be competing for a Super Bowl in 2012.

If Tebow plays poorly and looks like he doesn’t have what it takes, then you’re back to looking for a QB in 2012, and that’s okay.  I don’t think that that’s what will happen, though.  I think that Tebow is going to be much improved in Year 2, and that he’ll lead this team to a successful first season under John Fox, thus making everybody excited for what the next year will look like.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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