Broncos Report Card for 2013 -- Defense

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
7:00
AM ET
For the second consecutive season, the Denver Broncos watched all they had done in a 13-3 season get shoved aside and stuffed out of sight by a stunning end to their football year.

In 2012, it was the shocking double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and this time it was a mauling at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

After several looks at the video, as well as discussions with NFL pro personnel executives from both conferences, here is a report card for the 2013 team.

There is no grading on a curve. A's, as always, are far more difficult to earn than a Pro Bowl slot. Grades were awarded to the players on the Broncos' season-ending, 53-man roster and starters who suffered season-ending injuries after playing at least four games.

It is, however, not a Super Bowl grade. The title-game meltdown is in there, but the body of work goes from the season opener to what transpired at MetLife Stadium.

Today, it's the defense's turn and Wednesday will bring special teams and injured players.

The scale:

A - Consistently dominant. What some personnel executives give a "blue" rating, a nod to veteran personnel evaluator Mike Giddings, a former Broncos assistant coach.

B - Productive starter/key situational player who could fit smoothly into almost any lineup in the league.

C - Did the job asked of him with consistency.

D - Substandard. Salary and playing time didn't match output.

PNP - Practice but not much play.

Defensive linemen

Ayers
Robert Ayers: C-

Started fast during Von Miller's suspension to open season with 4.5 sacks in Broncos' first five games, but returned to largely rotational work upon Miller's return with one sack over final 11 games. Will be an unrestricted free agent.

Sione Fua: PNP

Signed in late November, he played sparingly in two games and was a gameday inactive the last five games, including all three postseason games. Ended the year with a calf injury.

Malik Jackson: B+

No player on the roster made more of the chance to turn a little playing time into a lot. Played both end and tackle to finish with just more than 52 percent of the defense's snaps on the season. Has the look of a versatile, long-term fit.

Ayodele
Knighton
Terrance Knighton: A-

Was dominant in the weeks that followed Kevin Vickerson's hip injury and into the postseason. Consistently won on the inside, often beating double teams to do it. Even the Seahawks' power-based offense had a tough time dealing with him.

Jeremy Mincey: C+

Signed Dec. 17 and immediately put into the rotation up front. Played in final two regular-season games and all three playoff games. For a $229,412 salary cap charge, the Broncos got some quality snaps and a postseason sack -- against the San Diego Chargers.

Shaun Phillips: B+

Because of Miller's suspension to start the season and a season-ending knee injury to end it, as well as Derek Wolfe's illness, Phillips' role became far bigger, out of necessity, than the Broncos' envisioned. Led team with 10 sacks to go with two more in the playoffs, but at 770 snaps on defense in the regular season, he could have likely had more if they could have dialed back his early-down workload.

Mitch Unrein: C

Was one of the better value/performance players on the Broncos' roster with a $555,000 cap hit this past season. Played just under a third of the defensive snaps in the regular season on the interior. He's a role player who will be a restricted free agent.

Williams
Sylvester Williams: B

Finished the season on the upswing, showing the potential at times that made him the Broncos' first-round pick last April. Disruptive at times and when he adjusted to the strength of the guards across from him, had impact. Projects as a starter in '14.

Linebackers

Nate Irving: C+

Continued to struggle in training camp/preseason squaring up on blockers and getting free when the Broncos tried to play him in the middle, but performed better on the strong side when he had the opportunities with Miller out of the lineup. Was also second on the team behind tight end Jacob Tamme in special-teams tackles. Finished with 24.4 percent of the snaps on defense.

Steven Johnson: C

Did what was asked, especially on special teams, with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. Got in for one snap on defense against the Kansas City Chiefs and stopped running back Jamaal Charles for no gain on a third-and-goal play from the Broncos' 1-yard line. Prepares well and is consistently ready when called upon.

Lenon
Paris Lenon: C+

Signed in August and the veteran was the answer at middle linebacker in base defense for the final four games of regular season and three playoff games. Position will be one of the major offseason targets.

Brandon Marshall: PNP

Late addition to the active roster -- Dec. 24 -- from Broncos' practice squad. Spent first 16 weeks of regular season on the practice squad.

Danny Trevathan: A

Stepped to the forefront and showed the potential to be a foundation player for the future. An every-down guy who led the defense in tackles (124, 41 more than the next player) and was second in snaps played (948 or 84 percent).

Wesley Woodyard: C

Was a frustrating year for Woodyard, who had difficulty in the eyes of many personnel executives, regaining his edge after he suffered a stinger against the Dallas Cowboys in October. Lost his starting job, but is a quality leader and played well at times in a situational role down the stretch. A captain for six seasons, will be an unrestricted free agent.

Defensive backs

Mike Adams: C

Played more, including in some of the Broncos' specialty packages, after Rahim Moore went to injured reserve. The Broncos are going to be looking for coverage help at the position and he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent.

Bailey
Champ Bailey: C+

Not the season, nor the grade the 12-time Pro Bowl selection is used to. Struggled at times in his return from a foot injury that kept him out of all but five games in regular season. Played well inside at the nickel, but opposing offenses believe they can attack him on the outside now. May be right time to move to safety, but there's a $10 million salary-cap figure the team will likely want to address before any positional move comes up.

Omar Bolden: C

Moved to safety and the learning curve showed at times. But an offseason should help.

David Bruton: C+

Special-teams captain some time on defense (147 plays in all), including in a seven-defensive back look the team likes to play on longer down-and-distance situations.

Tony Carter: C-

Even with injuries at the position, saw his playing time go from at least 60 snaps in three of the first four games of regular season to four or fewer snaps in nine regular-season games. Quarterbacks increasingly sought him out in coverage.

Marquice Cole: PNP

Signed just before the AFC Championship Game, playing three snaps on special teams in Super Bowl.

Huff
Michael Huff: C

Signed the former Raiders' first-round pick on Nov. 17. Played in four games, including two playoff outings, sometimes as a weak-side linebacker in some of the specialty looks, and was in uniform for Super Bowl but did not play in the game.

Duke Ihenacho: C

Showed plenty of potential toward the line of scrimmage with some physical play. But opposing offensive coaches believed if they got him in coverage, they could find some room to work.

Quentin Jammer: C-

Tried at safety in training camp before he was moved back to cornerback. A classy veteran who found himself targeted by opposing passers man-coverage situations.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: B

At times an athletic, fluid cornerback who has the look of an upper-tier player at the position. At other times -- certainly less with the Broncos than in his time with the Eagles -- his concentration seems to waver, even against receivers where he holds the athletic advantage.

Kayvon Webster: C+

Rookie showed plenty of potential and more than a little toughness when he played against the Chargers with a fractured thumb. Has the speed, the ability in press coverage and the confidence to rebound from the rough spots. Should be ready for more in '14.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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