The Denver Broncos are set to kick off their playoffs at home against the Indianapolis Colts. For the duration of the Broncos playoff run, whether it be one game or all the way to the Super Bowl, they have players on their roster who can take a game by storm.
These players are right in front of everyone’s eyes, even if they come as a surprise, from starters, to rotational guys. In one case, it may not even be a player.
For whatever the reason, these guys can be the factor the Broncos need to boost them to victory. So just who are these players? Let us jump in and find out who they are and why they are on this list.
Malik Jackson had a good year for the Broncos, subbing in off the bench for most of the season. So, how can he be a secret weapon? First off, by making him a full time starter. It is time to bench Sylvester Williams and let Jackson step in as the other interior defensive linemen next to Terrance Knighton.
Jackson brings electricity when rushing the passer, and for a pass rushing unit that was stagnant the last few games of the season, it could be the electricity needed to get them going again. He also became consistent with his run defense, which set him as the top run defending defensive linemen for Denver.
He would bring only 44 pressures to the Broncos defensive line, but has a pass rush productivity of 8.7, only 0.1 behind the Broncos leader on the defensive line and 4.0 higher than Williams, whom Jackson would be replacing. He also brings a 14.1 run stop percentage, which is the highest for Broncos defensive linemen and 7.9 higher than Williams, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jackson only played 52.5% of the defensive snaps for the Broncos, but was astoundingly effective in those reps. So, starting him could bring the dynamism the Broncos need. The team did use Jackson as a starter a handful of times on the season, with great effect.
Virgil Green has developed a niche in the offense as the blocking tight end, and is used primarily as such. So, the way he can become a secret weapon for the Broncos is by utilizing him in more ways than one on offense. Green has rushed the ball a few times in his career, and was limited as a receiver for most of the season. Letting him loose could add something that is missing from the offense; another weapon, as well as versatility and unpredictability.
Everyone knows Julius Thomas has been hurt and is the primary pass catching tight end for the Broncos. Meanwhile, Green normally stays in to block, or is on the sideline. It isn’t because he can’t catch. He can and has shown it when the opportunities have arisen.
On top of that, he also was reportedly Peyton Manning’s favorite target, early in the off-season, over the past two years. However, he comes in having caught just 23 passes on 29 targets for over 200 yards and 1 touchdown, which was caught in the season finale.
Green has also netted the Broncos some rushing yards. In the 2014 season, he caught 6 passes on 6 targets, five of which were for first downs and the other his only career touchdown. Green is an athletic freak of nature, and unleashing him could take the Broncos offense to a whole new level.
Green only saw 43.7% of Broncos offensive snaps on the season, but most of those came as a run or pass blocker. In fact, he saw only 80 snaps as a receiver and two snaps where he carried the ball. His blocking is excellent, one of the best tight ends in the NFL in that regard, but he can do so much more than that. He just needs to be utilized in more than one way on offense. If he gets the chance, he could be huge for the Broncos and their playoff run.
The first round pick has been a borderline starter for the Broncos, due to the amount of time they spend in their sub-packages. His play has been very up and down, but as the season drew closer to the end, it picked up. That is what landed him on this list. For being a rookie, he did quite well on the season, well enough to have his name mentioned in Defensive Rookie of the Year talks, but not well enough to get serious consideration for the award.
He brings to the table an excellent ability to blitz the quarterback, but it is something he did very little of on the season (only 7 times in his 818 snaps). He also plays really well in coverage, despite allowing 6 touchdowns on the season. In all but four games, he kept his opponents to under 50 yards when throwing his direction.
Roby has also faced some tough receivers his rookie year and performed admirably. If he can step up his play, while Chris Harris and Aqib Talib continue to play lights out coverage, it enables the Broncos defense to give help elsewhere on the field.
Wes Welker, the forgotten man on the Broncos offense. He is not the player he was a year ago, but some of that is how his role has changed. He is often used to pull coverage from other receivers, or for short pick ups. So why did he make it on the list? It's simple, really.
Welker pulls coverage from other receivers and when he isn’t doing that, he creates separation to catch the pass. Never underestimate the simple concept of over/under crossing receivers. The "under" pulls coverage, creating an opening for the "over" crosser and Welker is often the one underneath.
Welker really is the forgotten man. He has been open as a receiver simply because the defense, in some way, shape, or form, has forgotten him and didn’t have him covered. Now, he isn’t going to tear up the field after the catch like Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas do, he just isn’t that shifty anymore. He relies upon years of experience and football I.Q. to help the Broncos offense moving the ball.
There are no fancy stats to use when talking about Welker, because, at the end of the day, he is limited in his new role. He saw only 760 out of 1,171 snaps, and a lot of that was due to the change to the offense. As the season went on, the Broncos continued to use Welker in a variety of ways.
Sometimes, being a secret weapon in sports isn’t about the stats. There is a lot more that goes on during a play and what Welker does every time he is out there, whether he gets the ball or not, more than earns him a spot as a potential secret weapon.
Omar Bolden is way down on the Broncos depth chart on defense, but he is their kickoff returner. He does a great job with his returns and has great vision. No one knows when he will break a return for a big gain, which is why he is a potential secret weapon.
Bolden didn’t start the season as the kickoff returner. That honor was held by Andre Caldwell, but after many miscues and mistakes, the Broncos switched to Bolden. He ended up returning 13 kickoffs, only one more than Caldwell, but gained a total of 429 yards, or 151 more than Caldwell did. He had a long of 77 yards and an average return of 33 yards. That set the Broncos offense up in good field position.
Getting good returns on kickoffs is always a great thing. Bolden does such an excellent job at returning and setting the offense up. However, he will need the help from his blockers by not getting flagged on his returns. Being the main kickoff returner, combined with his speed, explosion and vision, makes him a potential secret weapon. If he can set the offense up in good field position, it can put the offense in a better position to succeed.
Jack Del Rio
He is the only coach on the list, but he is, arguably, the most deserving. His defensive unit has been up and down at times this season. They have been mostly consistent in their run defense, but have had a couple of down games and the pass defense is up and down on a weekly basis. Where they really stand out is on third down and the ability to get off the field. There are two huge reasons Del Rio is on this list.
The first of those two reasons is blitzing. Del Rio blitzed during the season, but it did not come very often. With how the pass coverage has been performing, and especially if Roby turns up his play, Del Rio could dial up the blitz more often.
Doing so would come as a surprise to opponents, as it is something he did not do often during the season, which is part of the reason why he is listed as a secret weapon.
The other reason Del Rio could be a secret weapon, is by keeping his foot on the gas. Multiple times during the season, the Broncos got a good lead, then the defense went to their “prevent” zone defense and had to fight off a comeback. With it being playoff football, Del Rio needs to keep the aggression up and have his unit fighting, no matter what the score is.
Both of these reasons can be put into one category; turning on the heat. If Del Rio does that, he is already a secret weapon for the Broncos playoff run. It would be an added bonus if he starts using players correctly and to the best of their abilities and use last year’s Super Bowl run to motivate them.
A lot of these defensive players were in Denver last year and they know what they faced. This year, they are healthier, faster, stronger, more talented and flat out better. It is on Jack Del Rio to remind them and keep them playing that way. The offense can get them to the Super Bowl, but the defense will win it for them, this is something Del Rio has to know and tell his players.
"Could" and "potentially" show up often on this list, but football is a sport. No matter what, those variables will always be present. If the guys on this list turn up what they need to, there is no question that the Broncos will be an even bigger force to reckon with. It is playoff football and time for the Broncos to release their secret weapons.
Many around the football world are writing the Broncos off, but there is a lot of football left to be played. In the playoffs, you never know what is going to happen. It is win or go home. The Broncos need to go full force and that includes their secret weapons.