"NFL Total Access" has launched its "32 in 32" series, breaking down the biggest subplots of every NFL team as the 2013 season approaches. Around The League will follow along and offer our own take. Up next: The Denver Broncos.
1. Peyton Manning has a history of leaning on slot receivers such as Brandon Stokley and Austin Collie as security blankets. Just don't expect Wes Welker's gaudy numbers to carry over with the Broncos. According to Pro Football Focus, the wide receivers producing the two highest passer ratings in the NFL last season were Demaryius Thomas (126.2) and Eric Decker (123.7). Manning didn't throw a single interception on Thomas' 138 targets.
Among NFL wide receivers, only James Jones and Jordy Nelson have a higher touchdown-to-target ratio than Decker's .097 over the past three seasons. Thomas and Decker simply are too productive to take a backseat to Welker.
2. The Broncos felt confident enough in young tailbacks Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman to release veteran Willis McGahee before training camp. Manning already has disclosed that the offense is going to count on Ball "in a big way" because coach John Fox "isn't going to bring him along slowly." Although Hillman ran as the starter in offseason practices, Ball is a good bet to overtake him as the lead back by the end of training camp. Look for Ball to handle two series to every one for Hillman in a tandem attack.
3. All-Pro Von Miller was in a tier of his own among NFL outside linebackers last season, giving J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans a run for his money as Defensive Player of the Year. Miller's dominance obscured the ascension of Wesley Woodyard, who became just the 12th player in the last 30 years with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions in a single season. A favorite of NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell, Woodyard also ranked first in Pro Football Focus' coverage rankings among linebackers. The tape and the metrics agree that he's become one of the league's premier nickel players.
4. If there's a wild card on offense, it's a player who was the talk of training camp two years ago as a rookie. Finally healthy after losing development time to injuries the past two seasons, former Portland State hoopster Julius Thomas spent a "fantastic offseason" running with the first-team offense while Joel Dreessen recovered from a knee scope. Fox already is envisioning a bigger role for Thomas, and Manning has praised Thomas' athleticism for such a big target.
Our takeaway: The Broncos' roster only has gotten stronger after the team tied for the best regular-season record in the NFL last season. In light of the questions surrounding the New England Patriots, the Broncos will enter the season as the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.