By Rich Kurtzman
When a team wins a fourth straight AFC West title and finish the regular season 12-4, it's easier to find the positives rather than the negatives surrounding a year. The Denver Broncos once again proved to be the class of their division and it was thanks to multiple individuals coming together to form something greater.
This is a look at the Broncos' studs and duds of the 2014 season.
C.J. Anderson: Anderson has exploded onto the scene and has become an increasingly important player for the Broncos offense. His 849 rushing yards and eight touchdowns easily lead the team in both categories, while he's racked up 324 yards and two more scores through the air. What's amazing is that Anderson has compiled those numbers – which would be solid for an entire season – in 14 games, most of it in the final six weeks. He's enjoyed games of 167 and 168 yards rushing, as well as contests (2) of three rushing TDs. Anderson's quickness through the hole makes him tough to read and even more difficult to stop as he rushes to glory for Denver.
Demaryius Thomas: DT somehow eclipsed his previous two great seasons with an even better performance this year. Thomas has become an undoubted Top-5 wide receiver in the NFL and his numbers prove it. 111 receptions for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns; wow. The yardage is a new Broncos team record, as he just passed franchise great Rod Smith in the final game of the season. Thomas is big, strong and incredibly fast; he's got to be one of the most difficult players in football to cover and then to tackle. When DT is mentally focused, the Broncos are one of the best teams in the league.
Connor Barth: Three cheers to Barth for being able to come in mid-season and boot home nearly every three-point kick he attempted. Barth was hanging out at home when the Broncos called him in for a workout and he's excelled as the team's kicker. He's gone 15-16 on field goals and made all 15 extra points while replacing Brandon McManus, who was cut and then re-signed to be the kickoff specialist. Barth's consistency will come into play during the playoffs and everyone should have confidence in his abilities at this point.
Von Miller: Here's to Miller, who not only returned from the devastating knee injury last year but also his melodrama that drug into the season with suspensions. Miller's back! His explosion off the ball is unparalleled in today's game and his sixth-best 14 sacks, reiterate that fact. Miller does it all on D, batting down two passes, forcing a fumble and recovering one as well. His relentless pursuit of the opposing passer will come into play in the postseason, for sure.
Aqib Talib: Talib has proven he's a legitimate No. 1 cornerback with his play this season for Denver. He's another great find by Elway and it's all paid off. Talib's 17 passes defended and four interceptions are each tied for team leads, while he took two of them back for touchdowns as well. Pick-sixes are difficult, yet Talib was able to do it twice. He also forced a fumble and sacked Derrick Carr in the final game to add to his all-around play.
Julius Thomas: It's crazy to think that “Orange Julius” scored 12 touchdowns in the first nine weeks of the season and has a mere five receptions since that time. Thomas, the athletic specimen at tight end, couldn't be stopped in the first half of the season. But then he injured an ankle and hasn't been the same since. Broncos fans are hoping he'll get healthy on this current bye week and be able to give the offense the x-factor he brought in 2013 and to start this regular season.
Wes Welker: Sadly, the game seems to have passed by the greatest slot receiver in the history of the NFL. Welker has lost a step (maybe two) and isn't nearly as effective a pass-catcher as he was in 2013. His 49 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns were all the lowest of his career since he played in Miami in 2006. The concussions have taken their toll on the smallish receiver, as they would anyone, and it seems Welker's time to retire is coming soon.
Jacob Tamme: Tamme may be only in his seventh season as a pro, but it's easy to see his decline. 14 receptions this season on 28 targets is not nearly efficient enough when Peyton Manning is throwing the football, and it's his worst statistical season since 2009. On offense, he's dropped too many balls, and on special teams Tamme seems to regularly be out of position to make a play.
Isaiah Burse: Burse was cut by the Broncos after Week 13 and it was a smart football decision. Burse was far less than spectacular in the return game, averaging a mere 7.3 yards per punt return. The rookie too often either hesitated after catching the ball or went in reverse while trying to find a way to the outside, which turned into short returns or even losses of yards. He also fumbled three times and it led to Denver putting Welker back there to basically just fair catch and secure the punt.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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