Overview: What a wild offseason it already has been for the Broncos. Following their surprise run to the top of the AFC West and upset of the Steelers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, the Broncos appeared to be settling into the idea of run-first QB Tim Tebow leading them for the foreseeable future. That all changed when Peyton Manning hit the free-agent market. Executive VP of football operations John Elway made an all-out charge at the former Colt, eventually convincing him to sign a five-year, $96 million deal with Denver. A day later, Elway traded Tebow to the Jets for a pair of draft picks. The Broncos, surprise division champs a year ago despite finishing 8-8, will now have a target on their backs to not only return to the top of the standings, but go further in the playoffs with Manning under center.
Need No. 1: Defensive tackle
The Broncos took so much time and effort chasing down Manning that they were unable to retain some of their own free agents. The biggest loss was DT Brodrick Bunkley, who signed a five-year deal with the Saints. A physical run stuffer who had 43 tackles a year ago, Bunkley was a key member of the D-line for both his ability to clog up running lanes and keep blockers off of pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Elway said prior to free agency that defensive tackle was a priority, and it is surely one that will be addressed in the draft, maybe with multiple picks. Denver doesn’t ask its tackles to be that involved with the pass rush, but if the team can find a lineman who can rush the quarterback, it would make the job of Dumervil and Miller on the outside that much easier.
Need No. 2: Running back
Going from Tebow to Manning will provide a huge upgrade to the passing attack and should decrease the number of sacks and turnovers that bogged down the offense at times last season. However, the change will be a huge blow to the team’s rushing attack, which ranked first in the NFL last season with 164.5 yards per game. Tebow gained about 56 rushing yards per start, and the threat of him scrambling created running lanes for RB Willis McGahee. Adding a productive backup for McGahee to take the load off for the 30-year-old will be necessary if the Broncos want to continue to have a solid running game and replace Tebow’s production.
Need No. 3: Defensive back
Despite drafting two safeties — Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter — in the first four rounds of the 2011 draft, the most productive rookie defensive back for the Broncos last season was undrafted CB Chris Harris. Denver signed a pair of DBs in free agency — S Mike Adams and CB Tracy Porter — but still is looking to get younger in that area of the defense. With FS Brian Dawkins unlikely to return, the team could use more help on the back end, especially against the pass. The Broncos are hopeful the incoming players wind up making a more immediate impact than Moore and Carter did as rookies.