Entering new football season, the Denver Broncos wide receivers are competing for positions in 2014. Last year, the team set NFL scoring records that will be difficult to match. With core players still in place, the passing game should still be highly successful. It will, again, be an elite group.
Last season the wide receiving corps consisted of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas. Julius Thomas, although technically a tight end, was nonetheless an integral part of the passing game and was one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets.
Eric Decker has since signed with the New York Jets, but the rest of the players remain. There are some new faces in the group as Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer join last year’s backup Andre Caldwell. Also challenging for a roster spot are Isaiah Burse, Jordan Norwood, Nathan Palmer, Bennie Fowler, Greg Hardin, and Greg Wilson. From the tight ends, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme are the expected backups to Thomas.
The Denver Broncos are likely to keep six wide receivers. Entering training camp, five of the spots appear to be reserved for Thomas, Sanders, Welker, Latimer and Caldwell. In the past three years, however, the team has kept only five, making the 2014 competition much more difficult. With Sanders replacing Decker and the addition of Latimer, the elite group, already considered the top receiving corps in the league by many analysts, will only get better.
What will help the rest of the receivers to make the team is their ability to play and perform on special teams, especially on punt and kickoff return units. Last year’s kick returner, Trindon Holliday, is now a New York Giant. Since Burse and Fowler have some experience returning kicks, they may have an advantage over the remaining group. This should not be viewed as a dead-end opportunity for any of the wide receivers, as other teams are always evaluating personnel and could claim any talented receiver who may be released.
The real story of this year’s camp is whether Peyton and his receivers can come close to duplicating last year’s phenomenal results. There is an optimism surrounding the team that this year’s group will be better than last year’s. While they may not score as many points because more emphasis is being placed on the running game, they should be more explosive with a lot more speed.
The major upgrades this season are the additions of Sanders, through free agency, and Latimer, their second round draft pick. Both players have a lot of speed and should augment the vertical passing game. This was painfully evident during the last Super Bowl, when Decker’s failure to get off the line of scrimmage took him completely out of the game. Only Demaryius Thomas had any kind of success against the Seattle Seahawks secondary.
Many analysts expect Emmanuel Sanders to have a break out season. He is surrounded by quality receivers and should see many one-on-one situations. His ability to get off the line and beat press coverage, something Decker struggled with, will give him many opportunities to excel. To this point, Latimer has been impressive in training camp. He has size, speed, and excellent hands. His playing time will be well-deserved if he continues to shine.
For all except the top five receivers of this elite group, the 2014 competition will culminate with the Denver Broncos preseason games. While there are a few, if any, available spots on the final roster, the remaining wide receivers have a great opportunity to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to ever play this game. Not only will other teams look at their performance, but they may also find themselves on the practice squad, where they will be only one injury away from entering regular season playing time.
Commentary by Hans Benes