We are still almost 2 months away from the opening of NFL Training Camps, but now that VFA and the Draft Process are pretty much concluded it is certainly not too early to talk about the pros and cons of roster shuffling that has taken place around the League. So let me start with the AFC West and give you my impressions of where roster strengths now stand.
BRONCOS Clearly this is one of the high profile 2014 Play-Off teams under the direction of two HOF QB, past and present: JOHN ELWAY/GM and PEYTON MANNING/QB. PEYTON is clearly in the final year, or two, of his HOF playing career and is only hanging on for two reasons. He’s still pursuing a Super Bowl Ring and is trailing BRETT FAVRE in a few career statistical categories. But when I look at the transaction wire and current depth chart of the BRONCOS it looks to me like they have taken a step back to the pack in the AFC West.
Clearly, GM ELWAY felt it was time to remake his OL, which is so critical to MANNING’s survival at his age. ELWAY lost ORLANDO FRANKLIN/G in VFA, as well as OC/WILL MONTGOMERY. MANNY RAMIREZ was traded to the LIONS during the Draft. Then to add to the shuffling RYAN CLADY/OT was lost to a knee injury during OTAs. Only LUIS VASQUEZ and CHRIS CLARK return from the 2014 starting OL. The team has re-signed journeyman VFA CHRIS HARRIS/OT, but must sift through young guys like BEN GARLAND, MICHAEL SCHOFIELD, MAX GARCIA/R and TY SAMBRAILLO/R for additional help and competition. The only added vets had been GINO GRADKOWSKI/Ravens and SHELLEY SMITH/Dolphins. Work in progress doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on with this position group.
On the positive side, the RB slot looks loaded if everyone is healthy. C.J. ANDERSON/MONTEE BALL/RONNIE HILLMAN should make an excellent rotational group. They all bring multiple skills sets to the table. VFA JAMES CASEY is listed as a TE, but can clearly help out as a blocking/receiving FB when one is needed. JULIUS THOMAS/TE was lost in VFA, but for the short term OWEN DANIELS, who played for HC/GARY KUBIAK last year in Baltimore, should be a solid replacement. Depth for the WR corps (which lost WELKER) should come from improved play by 2nd year man COREY LATIMER. A sleeper in this position group could be Rookie JORDAN TAYLOR, a long, tall potential target for MR. PEYTON.
On the other side of he ball the team feels like it has added a couple of edge-rushing players in SHANE RAY/R and VFA/ANTONIO SMITH, who was pretty much wasted last season in Oakland by being forced to play inside in their 4-3 scheme. The big question on the DL is the ability of SLY WILLIAMS to clog the middle like a guy named KNIGHTON did previously. Watch for Rookie DARIUS KILGO to help fill that void. The LB group also had more than their share of injuries in 2014, and must stay healthier as a group this year. I look for Rookie RAY, LERENTEE McCRAY, & LAMIN BARROW to step up and push for quality playing time. The secondary is still solid with newcomers DARIAN STEWART/S, JOSH BUSH/S & LORENZO DOSS/CB/R expected to upgrade the solid depth even more.
Special Teams play will have to get quite a boost from the younger players that make the final roster. ISIAH BURSE did some nice work in the return game last season, but ball security must improve on his part. SOLOMAN PATTON, who showed flashes while in Tampa Bay parts of 2014 will provide competition for return duty.
This is still a solid team, but weighing their roster additions against personnel losses I see a team with little experienced depth in many areas and a year older, “old QB”. Slippage might be expected here compared to the past two seasons. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced KUBIAK for FOX as Head Coach is a net gain either. And don’t forget DC JACK DEL RIO is now leading the RAIDERS as their head man. This team could really struggle to post a double-digit win season in 2015.
So who is ready to step up in 2015 and challenge the BRONCOS for division supremacy? Come back tomorrow and we’ll head in that direction, with what looks to be the most improved team in the AFC West.