Bubby Brister will become the starter if Elway decides to retire. Jeff Lewis, who spent the 1998 season on the reserve/non-football injury list after tearing his ACL in a pickup basketball game, has been traded to the Carolina Panthers. Brian Griese may move up to the No.2 spot in his second season. Griese showed a good understanding of the system in '98, and will continue to develop. Elway's decision before the draft will have a dramatic impact.
This is obviously an area the Broncos are comfortable with. Terrell Davis continues to be Terrell Davis, and has shown no signs of fatigue. Howard Griffith is an underrated FB that has developed into a premier run blocker. Vaughn Hebron has not seen much time in the backfield, but is a significant contributor on special teams. 1998 fourth round pick Curtis Alexander, who spent last season on Denver's practice squad, will push for a roster spot in training camp.
Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey became the first pair of wide receivers in Broncos history to each have 1,000-yard seasons. The two have developed into one of the best WR tandems in the league, but their numbers may fall in '99 without the return of Elway. The real concern here is the depth. Willie Green and Justin Armour are both gone through free agency, which means Denver may try to get some veteran help as a backup. Last year's No. 1 pick Marcus Nash needs to prove himself after catching only four passes in his rookie season.
Shannon Sharpe remains the NFL's best receiving tight end, and should really turn it on next season as it is his final year under contract. Dwayne Carswell is a very good blocker, but doesn't see much action in the passing game. Former NFL Europe standout, Byron Chamberlain, proved his worth in the Super Bowl, catching three passes to move the chains in Sharpe's absence. This group is very solid for Mike Shanahan.
Tony Jones, Mark Schlereth and Tom Nalen all reached the Pro Bowl and are locked into their positions. Daniel Neil bloomed in his first season as a starter and looks to have a promising future. The Broncos lost Harry Swayne in free agency, but the organization is high on Matt Lepsis, and added depth by signing Tony Berti in free agency. Trey Teague, David Diaz-Infante and Chris Banks are reserves that could most likely start for a dozen teams in the NFL.
With Neil Smith's quick decline and Alfred Williams needing time to recover from triceps surgery, Harold Hasselbach was forced to step up his play. Hasselbach developed into a force as a run-stopping defensive tackle, and should build on last year's success in '99. Williams and Maa Tanuvasa will start in 1999, with Hasselbach adding quality depth at end and tackle. Trevor Pryce has developed into one of the NFL's best young defensive tackles, while Keith Traylor played big in the postseason. Smith won't be back. Marvin Washington is an UFA that the Broncos will try to re-sign. Mike Lodish was placed on the expansion list, but he can still contribute as a backup. The Broncos are excited about the potential of Cyron Brown, who was the only undrafted free agent to make Denver's roster in 1998.
John Mobley and Bill Romanowski are two of the NFL's top outside linebackers and will return to anchor this defense next season. Glenn Cadrez, the first year starter, was a big surprise and exceeded all expectations. There could, however, be a major upheaval with the reserves at the position. Keith Burns is a UFA that may receive a large contract offer from a team willing to take the chance that he's starting material. Seth Joyner is slated to make $1.5 million, which is entirely too much for a backup that hardly ever sees the field.
This unit was instantly upgraded by the signing of Dale Carter. Ray Crockett is the only starter that will remain the same in '98. Darrien Gordon will not return after being placed on the expansion list. With the loss of Steve Atwater, the Broncos will need to find a guy that can play the run and is not a liability in pass coverage. George Coghill is a nice special teams player, but not much more. Eric Brown started the first 10 games, but saw limited time after getting on Shanahan's bad side. Tyrone Braxton is going to undergo reconstructive shoulder surgery and is not a good run stopper. Safety may be another free agency or draft priority.
Jason Elam had a dream season, reaching the Pro Bowl and tying Tom Dempsey's NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in October. Tom Rouen had a solid season and should spend the rest of his career in Denver. Hebron ended Denver's 26-year drought with a kickoff return for a touchdown December 21 against Miami. The Broncos will look to replace Gordon, whose production dropped as a returner in '98.