Last season at this time, the Denver Broncos were coming off of the third Super Bowl victory in franchise history. They had surprised many of the experts by beating the favored Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. It was a season that was filled with unexpected twists and turns. The 2015 Broncos overcame injuries, back-to-back losses, and even a bit of a quarterback controversy to earn the title. As a result, when the NFL Network released their annual Top 100 rankings as voted by the players themselves, there were seven Broncos that made the cut. Of course, Super Bowl 50 Most Valuable Player Von Miller was the highest rated Denver player at No. 15, while wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was ranked the lowest at No. 74.
Coming off of the 2016 NFL season that saw the Broncos take a step back, and go just 9-7, this offseason definitely has a different feel to it. Denver missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and now there are a few players that could see their ranking change significantly.
On Monday evenings, the NFL Network is releasing their latest Top 100. Beginning at the bottom of the list, they are counting down 10 players each week until they get to the top player in the league. Through the first two weeks, they are now down to No. 71, and not a single Denver Bronco has been named.
Which players do we think will move down or drop off the Top 100 from last season? And which could be improving their status on this year’s list? Here are our predictions, with last year’s rankings in parenthesis:
(74). Emmanuel Sanders
He is still Denver’s most consistent wide receiver, despite weighing in at barely 180 pounds. In 2016, Sanders caught 79 passes for 1,032 yards, but he had just five touchdowns. The Denver offense ranked just 20.4 points per game, as they adjusted to life without Peyton Manning. We are betting that the lack of production by the Broncos offense will get Sanders dropped off the list.
(36). DeMarcus Ware
The Dallas Cowboys thought that the veteran pass rusher was finished after the 2013 season, and allowed him to leave via free agency. It turns out that they were off by three years. Ware came to Denver in 2014 and logged another 21.5 sacks as a Bronco. Following the 2016 season that saw him struggle to stay healthy, Ware announced that he would be hanging up his cleats for good.
(62). Demaryius Thomas
He is still a dangerous wide receiver, and he is a constant threat to turn a bubble screen pass into a touchdown, but we are betting that Thomas could slide down a spot or two. He did still compile 90 receptions for 1,083 yards, and five touchdowns. Opposing defensive backs do still risk ending up in his highlight videos, if they take a bad tackling angle. However, the Broncos stumbling offense won’t help D.T.’s cause, nor will his dropped passes.
(34). Aqib Talib
The Broncos defensive secondary is the best in the NFL, but Aqib Talib could move down a little, in our opinion. One reason, is that he missed three games while dealing with a back injury. It didn’t affect his season statistics much, as he logged a team-leading 12 passes defensed, but his tackling numbers were a little lower than usual. The second reason is the emergence of Bradley Roby, who is looking like the heir apparent in a line of great Broncos cornerbacks. But the real reason, is that we are betting opposing wide receivers will hold a grudge against Talib, for tormenting them during the season.
(Unranked). Darian Stewart
If you are the quarterback for the top defensive backfield in the NFL, you should get some respect from your peers. Stewart is the free safety, that is reading the opposing offense, and he is rarely out of position. The Broncos defense led the league, by allowing just 56 plays of over 25 yards, all season. Darian Stewart is a big reason, although his quiet demeanor might allow him to be overlooked.
(68). T.J. Ward
He may not put up the big interception numbers, but Ward is a force in the Broncos secondary. He did manage to make one interception, but he makes his presence felt in a number of other ways. Ward led the team in tackles for most of the season, and finished with 87 tackles, a sack, and three forced fumbles. In an era that has all but banned big-hitting safeties, Ward still strikes fear in the heart of the opposition.
(52). Chris Harris Jr.
If you want to throw at the Denver defense, it is definitely pick your poison. On one side, you have Aqib Talib, the playmaker, that dares you to throw his way. On the other side, you have Harris, who is more than capable of shutting down his side of the field. He may be the best corner in the business at turning his body on a dime, and accelerating in the opposite direction. Harris allows less than one yard per snap in coverage. That has to move him into the top 50.
(15). Von Miller
The final results of the season might cause Von to slide, but based on blocking assignments, we think he may actually move up the rankings. Following his incredible Super Bowl MVP season, when he logged 35 tackles and 11 sacks, Von just got better. Despite being consistently doubled and triple teamed, he racked up 78 tackles, and 13.5 sacks in 2016. What is more amazing, is that he did it with less production from his pass rushing teammates. In 2015, the Broncos got 41 quarterback sacks from players not named Von Miller. In 2016, that number dropped to just 29. Opposing teams were able to place even more focus on stopping Von. They still couldn’t do it. Von Miller is one of the top 10 players in the NFL.