Can Aaron Rodgers add a league MVP trophy to the Super Bowl XLV MVP he won in February?
The 2011 NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night showdown between the last two Super Bowl champions, as Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints march to Lambeau Field to take on Super Bowl XLV MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 8 until Jan. 1, 2012.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
An in-depth look at the Broncos' offense, defense and special teams this year.
If the Broncos aren’t rebuilding, someone forgot to tell the man in charge. That would be John Elway, still the face of the franchise after all these years. Elway, now the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations, has a three-year plan for getting a once-proud franchise back on its feet and back in the NFL playoff picture.
• Inside the Locker Room
With Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post
Is there another receiver outside of Brandon Lloyd worth drafting?
Memo to fantasy leaguers considering a Broncos wide receiver not named Brandon Lloyd: Enter at your own risk. In fact, don’t. Don’t run the risk of drafting a Denver receiver before the late rounds. Instead, take an 11th-hour flyer on Eric Decker and hope for the best. One given in the aftermath of John Fox’s hiring is that his wideouts will block in the running game. So Decker, 6'3" and 220 pounds, figures to emerge as a starter. After Decker, Eddie Royal, who has yet to match his big-time production as a rookie in Mike Shanahan’s system, could be worth a late-late-round flyer because of his return ability, and 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas could be a sleeper if he can rebound from a torn Achilles.
What attachment does the new coaching staff have to Tim Tebow?
John Elway, now calling the Broncos’ personnel shots, has been very matter of fact about it: He believes Tim Tebow is a good football player, but isn’t convinced Tebow is, or ever will be, a good quarterback. Tebow, for all his college accomplishments and physical tools, finds himself in a position in which many young quarterbacks often fail. It’s called a new coaching staff, one that will bring a new philosophy and terminology. But while Tebow wasn’t drafted by Elway or Fox, he has one thing going for him — Mike McCoy. McCoy, who worked with Fox in Carolina, was retained from McDaniels’ staff as the offensive coordinator. And let’s face it, it’s not like the Broncos have a lot of other options, what with Kyle Orton expected to be traded in the near future.
Is Knowshon Moreno going to get a shot at being the No. 1 back for the Broncos?
Knowshon Moreno has spent his first two NFL seasons in a gray area between draft-day bust and so-so starter. With a new coaching staff aboard — one that loves to run the football — those various shades of gray figure to turn to black and white. That’s a nice way of saying Moreno needs to earn his keep … or else. Being Josh McDaniels’ first-ever No. 1 draft pick entitled him to a certain status, but that’s ancient history with John Fox calling the shots. Fact is, Moreno, at 210 pounds, give or take, doesn’t profile as Fox’s kind of tailback. There’s no doubt the Broncos will try to get bigger and more durable at the position. Moreno was advertised as a home-run hitter but has only five runs of 20-plus yards in 429 career carries. It’s not time to write him off, but make no mistake, he’ll be on a short leash in training camp. If he can just stay healthy for a change, maybe he can be the player McDaniels envisioned. But there were serious question marks before the new regime arrived, much more so now that Fox and his staff are in place.
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: CHI, NE, @BUF
Two of the first three playoff games are at home, and then Broncos owners get to travel to the 32nd-ranked rush defense that resides in Buffalo. Granted, the Bills drafted defense with their first four picks, but they still allowed 15 yards more per game than the 31st-place team (Denver). Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee and whoever else is driving the offense should be good title-game matchups.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Willis McGahee, RB Deep-Sleeper: Eric Decker, WR Overvalued: Brandon Lloyd, WR Top Rookie: Von Miller, LB Bounce-Back: Elvis Dumervil, DL Top IDP: Elvis Dumervil, DL
• Try to Avoid
John Fox is a run-first head coach, and the tight end was never a staple of his offenses in his nine years in Carolina. The position eclipsed 700 yards only once and never went past six TDs in a season. WAIT UNTIL: NEVER
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The transition from Josh McDaniels to John Fox certainly played a role in Denver’s draft. McDaniels accumulated some impressive offensive talent but never found the right pieces on defense. The Broncos used four of their first five picks to improve a woeful defense, including impact players in Von Miller and Rahim Moore. Tight end is a glaring weakness that was addressed by adding Julius Thomas and Green. Both players are capable of starting this season.
With free agency’s usual five-month time frame being condensed into five weeks, the phones of both team executives and the players they’re pursuing are about to be set ablaze with constant activity. Some teams would rather lay low, but the ten teams that follow have one available move that would fill a tremendous need, offer roster or cap flexibility, or simply get the fan base excited.
Before the 2010 football season started, Joe Dudek decided to do something radical with the running backs he coaches at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H. Well, it wasn’t exactly extreme in terms of a normal ball-carrier’s world, but for Dudek it was pretty far out there.
He wanted them to block. Imagine that.
“I taught them how to block and graded them on blocking,” he says. “The biggest joke is that I never threw a block in my life.”