With the 2012 NFL draft drawing ever closer, it's time to once again reassess the Broncos' needs and speculate how they might go about addressing them through the draft.
Denver has already landed the biggest free-agent signing in NFL history—quarterback Peyton Manning—and subsequently signed several free agents to put in place around him, especially receivers. Therefore, it's a safe bet that John Elway and company will be looking to draft defense heavy yet again in 2012.
Certainly, their needs at the defensive tackle and cornerback positions have been well-documented, as they are the two most pressing areas of concern. But look for the Broncos to shore up all areas of their defense, and to add an offensive lineman and one skill position as well.
The following slides are a comprehensive Denver Broncos 2012 mock draft, including finalized draft pick numbers and player analysis for all seven rounds (which is just through Round 6, as the Broncos have no seventh-round pick).
It’s a pretty big pipe dream to imagine that Dre Kirkpatrick will be available with the 25th pick, but if he is, the Broncos must draft him. There was a glimmer of hope that the Top-10 talent might fall to 25 after his marijuana arrest in March, but now that all charges have been dropped, there is virtually no way he will get by the Cowboys (14), the Bengals (17 and 21) and the Chargers (18).
Even still, if he is on the board when Denver drafts—for whatever crazy reason—it is absolutely imperative that the Broncos select him. This would give Champ Bailey a very capable apprentice who will lock down the Denver secondary for many years to come.
A player more likely to be around at No. 25 is Fletcher Cox. At least, that was the thinking three weeks ago. He was initially projected to be a late first-rounder.
But the word is out on Cox. Since his strong showing at the combine (4.79 40, 7.07 cone drill), several teams have become keenly interested in the athletic defensive tackle and he has rocketed up the projected draft boards. Some even have him going in the Top 10.
Still, if Cox does wind up being a late first-rounder, the Broncos should focus their attention on shoring up the defensive line. His blend of agility, strength and the ability to pressure the passer would bolster a Broncos defensive line that has been all too thin up the middle.
In reality, and for the second year in a row, the Broncos should use their first-round pick on a linebacker: Dont'a Hightower. Last season, Von Miller was able to step in and make an immediate impact, and Hightower has the ability to do the same.
A vocal leader of perhaps the best defense in all of college football, Hightower was the play-caller and ringleader of the national champion Crimson Tide (think Peyton Manning of the defense). He plays with high energy and has a good motor, and he has the potential to develop into one of the league's best.
With such a special combination of athletic talent and leadership qualities on the board, the Broncos should use their first pick to take Hightower and address their defensive tackle and cornerback needs later. Most of the top-tier players at those positions will be gone by No. 25, and there is still good value to be had there later in the draft.
As most of the elite defensive tackles will be off the board prior to the Broncos' first-round pick, they would be wise to hold off until No. 57, where they could still draft the likes of Jerel Worthy (Brandon Thompson and Alameda Ta'amu are also likely available here).
Slipping down the draft boards due to a slower 40-yard dash (5.08) and questions about not always playing up to his full potential, Worthy is still a physical force to be reckoned with. The 6'2", 308-pound inside lineman will be able to fill space and help the Broncos stop the run and provide pressure up the middle.
Although certainly not a first-round talent, Worthy will make a very capable second-round pick and—under the tutelage of John Fox—will address Denver's defensive tackle needs nicely.
Continuing to fortify the Denver defensive line will be Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette at No. 87. With Pro Bowlers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil constantly accounted for in the pass rush, this first-round All-SEC talent could wreak some havoc rushing from the other side.
Bequette possesses both speed and agility (4.82 40, 6.90 cone drill). In 2011 he led the Arkansas defense with eight sacks (despite missing three games with a hamstring injury), which was good enough for seventh in the nation, and he has a knack for forcing fumbles.
The hamstring is now fully healed, and some teams are looking at him as a hybrid LB/DE type, especially teams that run a 3-4. For the Broncos' 4-3, he is a surefire defensive end, explosive and agile, and would excel lined up opposite Dumervil.
The timing would be perfect to select Bequette early in Round 3 and bolster the defensive line.
Provided that Kirkpatrick is not the Broncos’ first-round pick (which in all likelihood he won’t be), then they must find another cornerback in this draft to provide depth in the secondary, and to develop for the future.
With most of the top-tier corners gone in the first to early second, the Broncos could find a hidden gem in Iowa State’s Leonard Johnson in the fourth round. Likely still available at No. 108—especially after a less than impressive 4.71 40 at the combine—the Broncos could have a sleeper early in the fourth round.
Johnson plays faster than his 40-time would indicate (he has been clocked at 4.5 on multiple other occasions) and possesses a physicality that outweighs his 5'9" frame. He has the mentality of a top-flight corner and proved it when matched up against Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Johnson held the top WR in the draft to under 100 yards and added an interception that lead to the Cyclones' upset victory over the Cowboys in 2011.
Additionally, Johnson is an asset in the kick return game.
Denver needs to get younger and deeper in the secondary, and the value is right to select Johnson at No. 108.
Even though the Broncos signed safety Mike Adams, they must continue to bolster their secondary, especially with the potential loss of Brian Dawkins. One player who could be likened to Dawkins is LSU strong safety Brandon Taylor.
Likely still available at No. 120 (a broken foot caused him to miss most of 2010), Taylor is a physical presence with good football instincts. He clocked an excellent 40-time at the combine (4.58) and made several big plays in the senior bowl, including an interception that he returned for 21 yards.
Add to this the fact that he is a proven leader, anchoring the LSU defense for the past three years, and selecting Taylor in the fourth round would be an excellent move. Selecting Taylor could be the centerpiece of this entire draft.
This kid is going to fit right in.
Not only does Terrance Ganaway have size and strength (5' 11", 239 pounds, 4.67 40), but in the Alamo Bowl he also flashed some breakaway speed as he racked up 200 yards rushing and scored five touchdowns. On the whole, 2011 was a breakout season for Ganaway, as he compiled over 1,500 yards rushing and scored 21 touchdowns, all in the shadow of RG3.
Additionally, Ganaway is also a very capable receiver out of the backfield. He is intelligent and mature, and he could quickly become a difference-maker in the backfield with Peyton Manning.
Especially with the uncertainty surrounding running back Knowshon Moreno and the importance of surrounding Manning with as many weapons as possible, the Broncos need to draft a running back, and the value that they would get with Ganaway at number 139 is far too good to pass up.
A local product from Columbine High School, Ryan Miller is one of the top five guards in this draft, and he could very well still be available in the sixth round—although his stock has been on the rise since the combine.
Miller has good size and is incredibly tall (6'7", 321 pounds), but he has quick feet and good hands to match. He has a good football I.Q. and presented himself very well in interviews for NFL scouts during the combine.
Due to the Broncos' need to add depth on the line, particularly at guard, and to help protect their investment in Peyton Manning, keeping Miller in the state of Colorado to play his professional football makes a lot of sense.
The Broncos certainly have needs to address in this draft, albeit mostly on defense as they attempt to get younger, tougher and deeper. Also look for them to add some skill position players who go undrafted, possibly Washington WR Jeremaine Kearse.