ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the Denver Broncos to contend for the playoffs this season, here are the five players who can help make that happen:
Von Miller, outside linebacker: In a nicely appointed lobby of their suburban Denver complex, the Broncos have proof of what can happen when Miller is at his best: the Lombardi trophy from Super Bowl 50 when Miller was the game's MVP. Miller needs 16.5 sacks to reach 100 for his career and if he is anything close to that total this season -- he has topped 14 once in his career with 18.5 in 2012 -- the Broncos will be in the games they want to be in during January and perhaps even February.
Case Keenum, quarterback: Keenum was the centerpiece of the Broncos' work in free agency, their quarterback of choice to repair a turnover-prone offense that cycled through three different starting quarterbacks twice. Only the Cleveland Browns quarterbacks turned the ball over more than the Broncos quarterbacks did last season. The Broncos have bet Keenum's career-best season in 2017 -- 3,547 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with the Vikings -- is just the start of his top-shelf work at quarterback. If they're right, Keenum could help put the Broncos back in the postseason conversation.
Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver: When he was asked during the team's offseason program if he still believed he could be the No. 1 wide receiver in the Broncos' offense, Thomas said, without hesitation: "Of course, of course, I'm always going to think of myself at that No. 1 guy." The past two seasons, with more than a few inconsistencies in pass protection as well as at quarterback, Thomas has gotten far more attention from opposing defenses and the result has been back-to-back five-touchdown seasons. Thomas needs to raise his own game -- "I need to clean up some of those drops" -- and the Broncos have to get enough production elsewhere in the formation for Thomas to face more single coverage and have the impact they need.
Bradley Roby, cornerback: With 14 starts in his first four seasons combined, Roby may not be a player many outside the Broncos' most faithful followers would consider for this list. But much like the Broncos' biggest bet on offense was Keenum, Roby is the big bet on the other side of the ball. The Broncos traded Aqib Talib, who was named to four Pro Bowls in his four seasons in Denver, to the Los Angeles Rams in part because they believe Roby is ready for his proverbial football close-up. Roby is expected to be the starter at cornerback, alongside Chris Harris Jr., and will be tested early and often by opposing quarterbacks to see if he is ready to go from his customary 600 plays or so per season to something closer to 1,000.
Bradley Chubb, outside linebacker: The foundation of the Broncos' current run on defense -- top five in total defense in five of the past six years -- was put in place in 2011 when Miller was drafted and Harris arrived as an undrafted rookie. The Broncos believe the next step can be made in the seasons to come with Chubb's arrival as the No. 5 pick of the draft. Chubb is a technically sound pass-rusher with a rare combination of size and athleticism. If he presents opposing offenses with enough problems, those same offenses will have to decide where to send the help -- against him or Miller. If he opens his career with a big rookie season, the Broncos will be among the league's sack leaders.