In the NFL, we love to judge players.
It’s part of the fun of watching the game; nitpicking when a former first-rounder pulls himself off the field for being out of breath.
In fact, the players are judged on their potential – what they did in college – then graded and plugged into draft boards more complicated than the average fan can comprehend.
Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer as to where a guy should be selected. See: Von Miller at No. 2 overall in 2011. Sure, he’s gone though many ups and downs the last few months, but 30 sacks and eight forced fumbles in his first two seasons certainly is worthy a selection that high.
Others are reached for and turn out to be busts. See: Tim Tebow. Tebow was taken by the Denver Broncos at No. 25 overall in 2010 and is currently out of the NFL all together.
But a select few are able to turn around slow starts and blossom into prominent players; the Broncos have four on their roster currently.
Let’s take a look at the four former Broncos busts turned beasts this season:
1. Rahim Moore – For Moore, it’s been more than the missed bomb that floated over his head last January in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2011, his rookie season, Moore lost his starting job to Quenton Carter halfway through the season. But, the former second-round pick has bounced back. Last year he started 15 games and all eight this season, where he’s clearly improved. While it’s been somewhat a quiet season so far for Moore, he’s on pace to set personal records for tackles, passes defended and interceptions, currently with 40, four and two respectively.
2. Julius Thomas – Thomas, the former basketball player turned tight end, looked to be a bust after failing to find the football field much his first two seasons. He injured his right ankle both in 2011 and 2012, playing in only nine games with a mere one reception for five yards. After making it through training camp healthy this year, though, the former third-round pick is on fire.
“Orange Julius” has emerged not only as the Broncos’ best tight end, but one of the top receiving threats at the position in the league. He leads all tight ends with eight touchdown catches, and has reeled in 39 receptions for 451 yards through the first half of the season. Now Broncos fans just hope his injury to that same right ankle last Sunday was minor (MRI results came back negative).
3. Robert Ayers – Ayers, taken at No. 18 overall in 2009, looked to be a bust up until late last year and really, this season. At the beginning of his career, it was unknown if he could make it at the NFL level. Ayers was a “tweener,” too slow to play linebacker and too small to play defensive end. But he finally adapted to that edge-rushing position, excelling this season in particular. Halfway through, he’s racked up 4.5 sacks, which is already a career-high. He’s been a consistent presence in the backfield every Sunday, whether he’s the starter or not, learning to do what the team needs of him, not what he wants.
4. Knowshon Moreno – Moreno was taken in the same first round as Ayers, at No. 12 overall. Many people have argued over the years that Denver reached for the former Georgia running back, and they had a great deal of evidence to back up the claim. After enjoying a 947 yard, seven touchdown rookie season, Moreno’s production dropped off drastically. In fact, after playing in all 16 games that first year, he found the field only 28 times the next three seasons combined due to health and maturity issues. Moreno wasn’t even on the active roster when last season kicked off, but he proved to be a valuable asset after Willis McGahee was injured, stepping in and playing some strong football.
This year has been by-far his best ever, though; his eight touchdown runs are already a career-high, while Moreno has consistently run for power and with some speed, all while being the best blocking back on the team. Moreno’s taken the No. 1 running back spot and his continued strong work ethic have helped him hold onto it.
All four of the previously presumed “busts” have had a huge impact on the Denver Broncos being 7-1 at this, the halfway point of the 2013 season. And if the orange and blue want to compete for their third Super Bowl, each of their profound production will continue to be needed in the regular season and into the playoffs.
Rich Kurtzman is a cover32’s Denver Broncos Managing Editor. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman).