With the NFL draft less than a month away, the Denver Broncos will focus their attention on their draft plans. And while there are still free agents and potential trades worth exploring, most of the serious contributors to next season's success that are not yet on the roster will be acquired in the draft.
Brodrick Bunkley, DT—signed with New Orleans Saints
Eddie Royal, WR—signed with San Diego Chargers
Daniel Fells, TE—signed with New England Patriots
Dante Rosario, TE—signed with San Diego Chargers
Spencer Larsen, FB—signed with New England Patriots
Peyton Manning, QB
Tracy Porter, CB
Jacob Tamme, TE
Joel Dreesen, TE
Mike Adams, S
Andre Caldwell, WR
Caleb Hanie, QB
Wesley Woodyard, LB
Joe Mays, LB
With their first pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Broncos have to address the loss of Brodrick Bunkley. Bunkley isn't an elite defensive tackle, but he was far and away the best interior D-Lineman for Denver last season.
Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox should be available here, and he fills the Broncos' biggest need. At 6'4" and 295 lbs, Cox is well suited to play the 3-technique in new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's 4-3 defense.
Cox is extremely strong and stout against the run, while also displaying above-average quickness for his size. He's got a non-stop motor and tremendous awareness, and as a result, is rarely out of position.
If Denver could re-sign DT Marcus Thomas or add Aubrayo Franklin from the Saints to play alongside Cox, he could really blossom into a nice player for the Broncos.
Although the Broncos added Tracy Porter this offseason, corner back is still a position of need. While Porter will likely replace Andre' Goodman in the starting lineup, the Broncos would be wise to address the fact that Champ Bailey isn't getting any younger sooner than later. Giving Dennard a couple years to learn under Bailey's direction would benefit him immensely.
Alfonzo Dennard is a big, strong and aggressive corner who shines in man coverage and excels in the press. If he can improve his footwork, his ability to read-and-react and polish his ball skills, once Bailey has retired, the Broncos might not even notice he's gone.
I bet Eddie Royal is regretting his decision to sign in San Diego. Yes, after his rookie year, the coaching staff failed to include Royal in the offense, and he could've been Manning's next great slot receiver. And while Denver signed free agent Andre Caldwell, they could stand to give Manning more weapons.
Instead, the Broncos will pick up the best small school receiver in the draft, Brian Quick. At 6'4", 220 lbs, Quick has size comparable to current Broncos' WR Demaryius Thomas, and he posted a 4.55 40 at the NFL combine.
The knock against Quick is that he's raw and could stand to improve his route running. What better way to improve your route running than to work with Peyton Manning?
As an added bonus, by drafting Quick, the Broncos will be able to move Eric Decker into the slot. Decker has found success in the slot before and is a better athlete than Brandon Stokley, Anthony Gonzalez, Blair White or Austin Collie—all receivers who have found success with Manning in the past.
(Note: a lot of mock drafts have Denver targeting a QB in the third. I think by signing Manning and QB Caleb Hanie, the Broncos have firmly placed themselves in the "win now" camp. If Manning goes down, they'll likely suffer through the season with Hanie at QB and find themselves with the No. 1 draft pick next year, which should be USC QB Matt Barkley.)
With the exception of center J.D. Walton, the Broncos boast one of the NFL's best young offensive lines. Much has been made of Manning's relationship with his former center, Jeff Saturday. Part of why the relationship was so special was because Saturday and Manning were always on the same page, and Saturday was in charge of making the correct line calls to ensure that Manning would stay on his feet.
David Molk was the 2011 Rimington Award recipient, which is awarded to the nation's top center. He's a cerebral player capable of adjusting the calls on the line to match the defense. He plays with a mean streak and possesses leadership, having served as a captain during his time at Michigan.
The main knock against Molk is that he's undersized. However, he's the same height and weight as Jeff Saturday, and he made it work.
The curious case of Vontaze Burfict—once billed as "The Next Ray Lewis" at the beginning of the college football season, Burfict was slated as the top linebacker in the class and a surefire first round pick. After a poor showing at the NFL combine and Arizona State's pro day, Burfict's stock has plummeted.
However, I believe that if he's in a place with solid veteran leadership around him, he can become the player that he was expected to be. Bailey, Dumervil, Williams, Miller and Dawkins (if he returns) could help Burfict get back on track.
D.J. Williams is currently facing a six game suspension to start the season, and if he fails to win his appeal, the Broncos must have an answer at linebacker. If Burfict can show that he can control his ego and temper, he and Von Miller could form the foundation of one of the youngest and most dominant linebacking corps for years to come.
Willis McGahee had a phenomenal season carrying the rock for the Broncos last year. Knowshon Moreno had an equally disappointing one. Moreno has been plagued by injuries throughout his NFL career and unless he turns it around, this season will likely be his last in Denver.
McGahee will turn 31 this season, which is well past a running back's prime. Vick Ballard burst onto the scene during his junior year, running for nearly 1,000 yards and 19 TDs. As a result, defenses were completely committed to stopping Ballard last year, forcing Mississippi State to instead beat them through the air. Therefore, Ballard's production dipped during his senior season.
At 5'10", 220 lbs, Ballard is a bruising runner who can grind out yards between the tackles, but he's also a decent receiving option out of the backfield—catching 30 balls for 193 yards and two TDs in two years at Mississippi State.
Once a Bronco, always a Bronco.
Moore has the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in the history of college football. He's also too short, too small and possesses questionable arm strength.
When discussing Moore, a lot of pundits are quick to point out that Drew Brees was given a similar report when he was coming out of college.
Well, more often than not, if a QB is deemed to be too short and too small with questionable arm strength, they are not Drew Brees. They are actually too short and too small with questionable arm strength.
But why not? Kellen Moore is a winner.
Yes, he played at Boise State, but he often stepped up and saved his greatest performances for his biggest games. A true football mind—he understands the game and can read defenses with relative ease. He's got all the intangibles you'd want in a quarterback.
And if something happens to Manning, I for one would be okay with finding out if, like Brees, Moore really is something special.
Besides, he cannot be worse than Caleb Hanie.
The Broncos have two goals going into the draft—improve on defense early and often and get Peyton Manning more weapons. By Adding Cox, Dennard and Burfict, the Broncos improve at every level of the defense. The additions of Ballard and Quick add dimensions to Manning's arsenal, while Molk adds to his protection. Moore is the wild card.
Round 1, Pick 25—Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Round 2, Pick 57—Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Round 3, Pick 87—Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
Round 4, Pick 108—David Molk, C, Michigan
Round 4, Pick 120—Vontaze Burfict, MLB, Arizona State
Round 5, Pick 137—Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
Round 6, Pick 188—Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State