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Crafting a champion: Patriots, Broncos have similar approach when it comes to team-building

01.16.14 at 12:26 am ET

While the Patriots and Broncos have superstar quarterbacks that will get top billing heading into Sunday’€™s AFC title game, both teams are more than just a pair of elite signal-callers.

The two franchises have been shaped in much the same way. While the franchise quarterback is the centerpiece, they’€™ve managed to build through the draft, augment those selections with a sprinkling of free agents and maybe a trade or two, and add some much-needed depth with some street free agents. It’€™s one of the reasons they’€™ve been able to reach football’€™s final four this weekend.

While it’€™s important to note that both rosters have suffered more than their share of key injuries, we’€™ve decided to examine the current 53-man roster to see how each team has gone about the team-building process. And while some of the classifications are different, the fundamental definitions still apply — these teams share a similar approach when it comes to crafting a roster.

Of the 53 players on the Broncos roster, 21 were drafted by the organization and still play there as of Tuesday, while 19 were veteran free agent signings. In addition, eight were signed as college free agents, two grabbed via waivers. one acquired in trade and two signed and promoted via the practice squad.

Six of Denver’€™s offensive starters were drafted (wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno, tight end Julius Thomas, offensive linemen Zane Beadles and Orlando Franklin), while one was acquired via waivers (offensive lineman Chris Clark) and four were signed as free agents (offensive linemen Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez, wide receiver Wes Welker, quarterback Peyton Manning).

On defense, four of the Broncos starters were drafted (defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams, as well as linebackers Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan), four were picked up as free agents (defensive linemen Terrance Kingston and Shaun Phillips, defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mike Adams), two were rookie free agents (linebacker Wesley Woodyard, defensive back Duke Ihenacho) and one was picked up via a trade (cornerback Champ Bailey).

(Ironically, in his nearly two full years as head coach in Denver, now-Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels selected several key players who are still on the roster. In 2009, the Broncos drafted Ayers, Bruton and Moreno, while Decker and Demaryius Thomas were added in the 2010 draft.)

Meanwhile, New England’€™s 53-man roster has 23 players who were drafted directly into organization and still play there as of Tuesday, while 11 were signed as veteran free agents. Five were acquired via waivers, and three via trade. Eleven are rookie and first-year free agents.

“€It doesn’€™t really matter how a player gets to the New England Patriots; whether he’€™s drafted, traded, signed as a free agent, signed as an unrestricted free agent, signed as a street free agent, it doesn’€™t matter,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We have guys from all those categories. It’€™s much more important what they do when they get here than what road they took to get here.”

In New England, everything flows through Tom Brady, but the Patriots have managed to do a nice job filling in around him. When it comes to New England’€™s unofficial offensive depth chart, six of the starters were taken in the draft and developed by the franchise (left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, right tackle Marcus Cannon, Brady, wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back Stevan Ridley). Three were signed as street free agents (center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins) and two were added as veteran free agents (tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, wide receiver Danny Amendola).

On the offensive side of the ball, whether you’€™re going after a player in free agency or the draft, there’€™s a simple philosophical prerequisite, according to McDaniels.

“€I think the big thing offensively for us in terms of what we kind of value, we definitely want our guys to be smart, tough, versatile, team-first guys that we can depend on and that are accountable to do the things we ask them to do on a daily basis,”€ he said.

Added McDaniels: “It’€™s been a pretty consistent thing for us. Sometimes the players have changed, but I think the underlying theme of what we’€™re looking for, and especially I’€™m speaking to the offensive side of the ball, I think that’€™s really been a consistent thing and it’€™s allowed us to continue to grow as an offense.”

Defensively, five of the 11 starters were drafted and developed by the franchise: safety Devin McCourty, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, defensive end Chandler Jones, and linebackers Dont’€™a Hightower and Jamie Collins. (That number would be higher if defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were in the lineup, but all three are on season-ending IR.) One was acquired in a trade (Aqib Talib), one was claimed off waivers (defensive lineman Chris Jones), three were veteran free agent pickups (defensive end Rob Ninkovich, safety Steve Gregory and defensive lineman Sealver Siliga, who spent a year in the league before he was acquired this season and placed on the practice squad before joining the active roster), while one was a rookie free agent pickup (linebacker Dane Fletcher).

“Whether you’€™re drafted, a free agent or you come from another team, none of that really matters for us,”€ Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “€œIt’€™s just going to be how you perform, how you do out on the field and handle the things that we are asking to handle.

“€That’€™s certainly going to be in the forefront of what we’€™re doing.”



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