AFC South: Demaryius Thomas

A large portion of the 320 players that participated in an NFL Nation confidential survey about which non-teammate they’d like to see play in a Super Bowl didn’t get their wish.

Three Jaguars players did, though.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson topped the survey with 59 votes, narrowly edging out Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (56 votes), who retired last month after 17 years in the NFL.

Obviously neither was able to make to the Super Bowl this year, but three of the players named by the 10 Jaguars players polled did: Denver’s Terrance Knighton and Demaryius Thomas and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. It’s not a surprise that someone named Knighton because he was the Jaguars’ third-round pick in 2009 and one of the most well-liked players in the locker room during his four seasons in Jacksonville.

The interesting thing about the Jaguars’ responses was that no player was named more than once. In addition to Knighton, Thomas and Lynch, seven other players were named: Jake Long, Brandon Carr, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Peterson and Michael Vick.
Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

Get to know the Denver Broncos

October, 8, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Denver Broncos are on a roll so far that tops what the New England Patriots did in 2007. They are scoring points at a record pace, lead the NFL in total offense and passing yards and are favored over the visiting Jaguars on Sunday by 28 points -- which ties the largest point spread in NFL history.

Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS).

Here’s a look at the Broncos:

Record: 5-0.

Last week: beat Dallas 51-48.

Coach: John Fox, third season (26-11); 12th season overall (99-82).

Offensive coordinator: Adam Gase.

Defensive coordinator: Jack Del Rio.

Series record: Jaguars lead 5-3 (regular season).

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW ON OFFENSE

QB Peyton Manning: He has already thrown for 1,884 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only one interception. He’s also completing 75.8 percent of his passes. Those are staggering numbers, even for Manning.

WR Demaryius Thomas: He is Manning’s favorite target and leads the team with 34 catches for 450 yards. He’s one of the league’s top young receivers and has already established himself as one of the game’s better big-play receivers. What makes him so hard for defensive backs to handle is his size (6-foot-3, 229 pounds).

LT Chris Clark: Why an offensive lineman on this list? Because he’s replacing Ryan Clady, who is out for the season with a Lisfranc injury. Clady was a rock at left tackle. Clark has filled in capably. The offensive line has allowed Manning to be sacked only five times.

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW ON DEFENSE

NT Terrance Knighton: The former Jaguars defensive lineman has started every game and has seven tackles. He’s anchoring a defensive front that leads the NFL in rush defense (69.6 yards per game).

LB Wesley Woodyard: The Broncos’ leading tackler (35) left last Sunday’s game with a neck injury but said on Monday that he felt fine and would be ready to play against the Jaguars. He is coming off the best season of his career: 117 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions in 2012.

S Duke Ihenacho: He leads the Broncos with 28 solo tackles (32 overall). He has started every game this season after playing in only two in 2012 as a rookie.

ETC.

The Broncos have scored 103 points in their last two games. … Denver has lost three in a row to the Jaguars. The last Denver victory came in 2005 in Jacksonville. … The Broncos have won 16 consecutive regular-season games dating back to a 31-21 loss at New England on Oct. 7, 2012. … Denver has scored more than 40 points four times this season, which is already a single-season franchise record. … Receiver Wes Welker is the first player since Washington’s Charlie Brown in 1982 to catch at least one touchdown pass in each of his first five games with a team.
Did Reggie Wayne get a fair shake from the Associated Press panel of 50 voters who pick the NFL All-Pro Team?

It’s easy to rant and rave and say no.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall are the first-teamers, with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Andre Johnson on the second team.

Calvin Johnson got 49 votes, one short of being unanimous. Marshall got 23, Green 16.5 and Andre Johnson 8.5. Having anything less than that and having zero amount to the same thing, really.

Demaryius Thomas of Denver, Wes Welker of New England and Julio Jones of Atlanta each got one vote.

Calvin Johnson is an automatic here, with a new single-season receiving yardage record of 1,964. Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall have strong numbers though I think Johnson’s were more meaningful as they came in an offense that was ranked much higher than Chicago’s. (I know you can flip that, it’s a matter of perspective I suppose.)


Wayne had both a “low” yards per catch and a “low” touchdown total. I’m sure that’s what hurt him even as he was third in the league to Marshall and Calvin Johnson on third down with 31 catches and his third-down average (14.5) was well up from his overall average.

He was uncanny in the leadership department for a young team that has no business winning 11 games and going to the playoffs. He was a fantastic target for Andrew Luck in his rookie season. He led the way for a team that lost its head coach to a fight against leukemia for most of the year.

But most of that qualifies as intangible. Looking at the voting, panelists didn’t seem to score those sorts of things very highly.

Nothing screams unreasonable in the way things came out, though I can understand the disappointment in Indianapolis as different results would have been fair, too.

While Andre Johnson wound up a second-team choice here, two of his teammates are on the first team: J.J. Watt was a unanimous choice at defensive end while Duane Brown is one of the tackles.
Justin Blackmon was the best receiver available in the draft for a Jaguars team with a desperate need at the spot.

Kendall Wright was the sort of receiver the Titans were still missing as they look to become a more modern offense.

I like the additions for the Jaguars and the Titans, and at this point I’d certainly expect both guys to have good careers.

But I think early expectations for the two are unreasonably high.

Blackmon, still unsigned, is unlikely to pop in, learn the offense and make a bunch of plays for Blaine Gabbert on Sept. 9 at Minnesota.

Wright, just signed, is unlikely to take Kenny Britt's place if Britt isn’t ready or is suspended for the Titans Sept. 9 game against New England and produce like Britt could.

A.J. Green's 1,000-yard rookie year last season was the first for a receiver since Michael Clayton's for Tampa Bay in 2004.

Julio Jones made a big debut too, falling just 41 yards short of 1,000.

But receiver isn’t a spot where even highly-rated rookies generally get plugged in and make monstrous, immediate impacts. Maybe Green and Jones signified some sort of switch. But at this point I’m still inclined to see them as the exceptions rather than rewriters of the rule.

Per Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats and Info, 16 first-round receivers who played as rookies in the last five years have averaged 44 catches, 615 yards and 3.8 touchdowns. That’s nice production from Green, Jones, Jonathan Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Britt, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Anthony Gonzalez -- but hardly phenomenal.

That’s as many catches as Mike Thomas had for the 2011 Jaguars.

It’s not far off the stat line of 2010 third-rounder Damian Williams for the 2011 Titans -- 45 catches, 592 yards and five TDs.

Can Blackmon and or Wright be impactful players for their teams this year?

It probably depends on your definition of impactful.

Comparably valued players have provided roughly three catches for 38 yards with a score once every four games in their first year in the league.

Certainly it’s possible Blackmon and Wright do more. Are they going to be Week 1 fantasy football MVPs because of the monster numbers they put up early?

If I was making a bet, it wouldn’t be on yes.

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in the spot.

Houston Texans

2010: OT Anthony Davis (49ers)

2009: LB Aaron Maybin (Bills)

2008: DB Leodis McKelvin (Bills)

2007: LB Patrick Willis (49ers)

2006: QB Jay Cutler (Broncos)

2005: LB DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys)

2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

Last year at No. 11, the 49ers got Rutgers offensive tackle Davis, who started every game on the right side. Maybin, taken in the spot in 2009, is on the hot seat in Buffalo, where he’s not come close to expectations. In 2007, the 49ers got the excellent middle linebacker Willis 11th, when the Texans took defensive tackle Amobi Okoye the spot before. The verdict on Cutler is still to be determined, while Ware is a superstar and Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. Other hits since the NFL-AFL merger include Michael Irvin, Dwight Freeney and Leon Searcy. Other misses: Ron Dayne, Michael Booker.

Indianapolis Colts

2010: WR Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)

2009: WR Percy Harvin (Vikings)

2008: RB Felix Jones (Cowboys)

2007: QB Brady Quinn (Browns)

2006: LB Manny Lawson (49ers)

2005: WR Mark Clayton (Ravens)

2004: QB J.P. Losman (Bills)

Last year’s 22nd pick, Denver receiver Thomas, caught 22 passes and scored two touchdowns. Minnesota grabbed receiver Harvin in the spot in 2009 and he’s one of the game’s most dynamic players already. Quinn didn’t cut it in Cleveland and ranks third now in Denver, and Losman didn’t solve Buffalo’s quarterback issues. The last time the Colts were in this spot, they took receiver Andre Rison in 1989. He played only one season for the franchise, but in 12 years he amassed more than 10,000 receiving yards and caught 84 touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2010: DE Derrick Morgan (Titans)

2009: LB Larry English (Chargers)

2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Cardinals)

2007: DT Justin Harrell (Packers)

2006: CB Jason Allen (Dolphins)

2005: DT Travis Johnson (Texans)

2004: OT Shawn Andrews (Eagles)

Morgan went 16th to Tennessee last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early on. Rodgers-Cromartie had a big rookie season in 2008 as the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was a huge find at the spot in 2003 and Jevon Kearse set a rookie record for sacks and led Tennessee to the Super Bowl in 1999. But others in the recent past like Allen, Houston's Johnson and Cleveland running back William Green hardly lived up to expectations. Dan McGwire, a big quarterback bust for Seattle, also went in the spot in 1991. But anyone thinking the Jaguars can’t hit a home run should know that a guy rated by many as the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice, was selected 16th in 1985.

Tennessee Titans

2010: LB Rolando McClain (Raiders)

2009: OT Eugene Monroe (Jaguars)

2008: DE Derrick Harvey (Jaguars)

2007: DE Jamaal Anderson (Falcons)

2006: S Donte Whitner (Bills)

2005: S Antrel Rolle (Cardinals)

2004: CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons)

McClain went to Oakland eighth last season and was second on the Raiders in tackles his rookie year. Jacksonville had the spot the two years before that. The Jaguars think they got a long-term left tackle in Monroe, but Harvey might be done already. Jordan Gross is a topflight tackle for Carolina and receiver Plaxico Burress was a Super Bowl hero for the Giants. But receiver David Terrell busted for the Bears, receiver David Boston didn’t fare much better in Arizona and running back Tim Biakabutuka was a dud for the Panthers. Sam Adams’ long career clogging up the middle as a defensive tackle started in Seattle. The last time the Titans had this pick, they landed Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak, who’s now the team’s coach.

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