If the Denver Broncos have shown anything in 2011-2012 it's that once you get into the playoffs, EVERYONE starts from a clean slate. After basically falling into the playoffs because of bad play from the Chargers and Raiders, and then beating the Steelers in the Wild Card round, Tim Tebow and company will look to pull off the upset of the year by trying to beat the Patriots in their home turf in Foxboro. John Fox, who has plenty of playoff experience during his time with the Panthers, managed to turn around a Denver team that finished 4-12 under Josh McDaniels in 2010. McDaniels also managed to get the team in a little bit of hot water after the Spygate II scandal when the team played the 49ers in London back in 2009. Even though the Broncos have yet to play this weekend, it's never too early to start looking towards their offseason. Despite making it to the playoffs, there are plenty of holes that need filling on both sides of the ball in this year's NFL Draft and through free agency. The list below is in no particular order in regards to needs.
Key Free Agents: QB Brady Quinn, WR Eddie Royal, DL Marcus Thomas, S Brian Dawkins
- Yeah Tim Tebow is looking good, but the team is going to have to look for depth this offseason. Brady Quinn is a free agent and there has been zero news regarding either side wanting to be together after the playoffs. The team is said to be high on Adam Weber, who was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota. But the team will still have to bring in competition for the backup spot and No. 3 duties if Quinn goes to free agency. A name that has been popping up in some mock drafts is Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish, who passed for 2,942 yards with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also was huge in the ground game with 1,488 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He'll be a project, but he would fit nicely as the team's No. 3 in 2012.
- With 1,199 rushing yards, Willis McGahee had one of his best years as a pro since the 2007 season when he was with the Ravens. But turning 31 in October of the 2012 season, he may not have many more quality years left. As far as Knowshon Moreno, he simply isn't the answer as a starter or as a backup. He clearly can't stay healthy for an extended period of time and is already considered a bust after McDaniels drafted him No. 12 overall in the 2009 draft. Lance Ball is feasible, but he really isn't anything more than a third stringer. Because Fox valued running backs in Carolina, spending a first rounder on both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, he could look at someone like Miami (FL) Lamar Miller. Much in the mold of LeSean McCoy, Miller has great vision, is shifty and has excellent receiving ability. He will have to work on his pass blocking, but McCoy had trouble in that area coming out of Pittsburgh. Raiders RB Michael Bush is a free agent and could be an intriguing option considering the Broncos have history playing against him. Bush should be given the chance to push for a lot of playing time in 2012 and Denver could be interested.
- A healthy Demaryius Thomas proved that he can be a No. 1 receiver in the league. From Weeks 13-17, Thomas averaged 89.6 yards a game with 3 touchdowns. Eric Decker also flashed some potential, but it remains to be seen if Denver is happy with Thomas and Decker as their No. 1 and No. 2 in 2012. Even so, the team has to add depth if they decide to let Eddie Royal go. There are several mid-tier receivers on the free agent market this year, including Robert Meachem, who could be a field stretcher and open up holes underneath for Tebow to exploit. If they decide to go through the draft, Arizona State's Gerell Robinson (18.1 ypc average) or Iowa's Marvin McNutt (16.0 ypc average) could be two guys to target. Expect to hear plenty of backlash regarding the Broncos trading Brandon Lloyd for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2012 that turned into a fifth rounder. Especially after Lloyd put up 966 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on a disappointing St. Louis offense.
- The Broncos Defense gave up an 11th worst 126.3 rushing yards a game during the regular season and also ranked No. 20 by giving up an average of 4.1 rushing yards a carry. Shoring up the defensive line is going to be a big need going into the offseason, so the team could look to draft a defensive tackle within the first two rounds, possibly the first. Former Eagle Brodrick Bunkley was never much of a run stopper and he eventually lost his job to Anthony Dixon in 2010. Marcus Thomas is a free agent and could be let go. WalterFootball.com's Charlie Campbell has the Broncos taking Michigan State's Jerel Worthy with their No. 57-overall pick. Worthy, at 6'3/305lbs, is a strong run defender and also has the ability to rush the quarterback. He finished the 2011 season with 3.5 sacks with 30 tackles (10.5 of those tackles going for a loss).
- With so many question marks on the defensive line and the offense, the team's secondary is still the biggest cause for concern. They gave up an average of 231.5 passing yards a game, which was in the middle of thepack, but opposing quarterbacks averaged 62.4% completions, which was 8th worst in the league. Even at 33, Champ Bailey still showed he is one of the elite shutdown corners in the league after limiting Mike Wallace to three catches (10 targets) for 26 yards in the Broncos' Wild Card win over the Steelers last weekend. Bailey might still be playing at a high level, but his body could be starting to break down after he dealt with a hamstring injury that knocked him out for 3 games earlier in the season. On the other side, Andre Goodman is also on the wrong side of 30 (33), but undrafted rookie Chris Harris has moved up in the depth charts and has been the team's nickel back. So if Goodman is on his way out, Harris could get first shot to take over as the starter. As for the draft, the team could use their top pick to provide competition and get some depth. If they fall, Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard or North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins could be too good to pass up if one of them falls to their pick, which is still up in the air due to the playoffs.
- Brian Dawkins' first year as a Bronco made the Eagles wonder if they made a mistake by letting him go. Playing in all 16 games, Dawkins racked up 116 tackles (95 solo) and broke up 11 passes . Unfortunately,Dawkins' age soon caught up to him and he never came close to any of those numbers in 2010 and 2011. Dawkins' nagging neck injury will keep him out of this weekend's Divisional Round game against the Patriots. And there have also been rumors for and against the injury being career threatening. Either way, I'd be surprised if the team re-signed Dawkins for another year after they contemplated not bringing him back last offseason. I don't expect the team to draft a safety high, but they could look at Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin and/or Montana's Trumaine Johnson, who are both expected to go in the 3rd-4th rounds.