The Denver Broncos have less than four days to solidify what may be the most important draft in recent memory. A busy offseason has put the Broncos back into the ever-changing conversation of relevance again with the acquisition of Peyton Manning and the news continuing to circulate on his strides toward recovery from four neck surgeries and sitting out the entire 2011 season.
Now, despite the fact that the Broncos are back in the conversation does not mean, by any measure, that they can be considered a lock for a deep playoff run. First, with the crazy schedule that they have to endure—possibly the toughest in the NFL—and the fact that they have several glaring holes to fill, the Broncos must walk that tightrope between drafting for need and drafting the best player available.
There has been talk of the advantages of the Broncos trading down in this draft to acquire more picks. According to the trade chart, they could acquire an early second and an early fourth, or a mid second and a mid third (both have some value considering the positions of need are deep for them and it would provide them more flexibility), they still need to find a trading partner. Also, a lot of other factors are involved, making this scenario unlikely to occur.
Therefore, this article will address the team's five most glaring needs and target some players, where they should be picked to fill out the roster and compete for the coveted title.
Obviously this is the most glaring need. Now, with the release of Ryan McBean (who showed flashes last year) the Broncos became even more thin in the trenches. My guess is that McBean's baggage was too much for his output, so they let him go.
They did sign Justin Bannan. Woo Hoo! Seriously, no knock on Bannan, he is a high energy, versatile and savvy veteran, but he is not the answer upfront and seems to be more of a depth move. Other than that they have Vickerson and Warren, who both missed most of last season (Warren has missed the last three seasons).
So, what to do in the draft? Well, the Broncos need to address this position with at least two quality players in the first four rounds. This draft has a lot of depth, so they don't necessarily need to reach for one in the first if a "can't miss" player falls in their laps, but two quality players need to be added.
If some of the players continue to plunge—as has been the case with Michael Brockers, Dontari Poe, Jerel Worthy and essentially every DT except Fletcher Cox—then a good value guy may be there when they pick at 57, like Kendall Reyes or Brandon Thompson.
Some later round picks could include Mike Martin in the third round or Alameda Ta'amu (who can play the NT run plugger) may be available early in fourth. The point is, this position must be addressed early and often to plug the hole in the middle and attract double teams, freeing up the "Doom and Gloom" presence on the ends.
Once again, this has been a popular choice for need, and running back still possesses a lot of allure and panache with the fans, even if it doesn't with many NFL front offices.
The trick for the Broncos is drafting the right RB to not only fit the scheme under Manning, but the next scheme as well. The funny thing is that Knowshown Moreno fits the bill under the Peyton-run offense: He has great hands, good pass-blocker and can run after the catch.
All of this is great, if he could just stay on the field.
However he has had nothing but perpetual falls since he came to the Mile High City—including countless injuries, under performing expectations and now a DUI arrest. Moreno must know that this is his last chance, and he may not even get this one. My guess is Elway and Fox are not counting on him to break the trend.
They also have Willis McGahee. He may have been the offensive MVP last year with a revitalized season, showing that RBs still have life after 30. However, his hands are not his strong suit, and he may have received a little bit of an advantage from defenses keying Tebow in the read option, but nevertheless he is a valuable tool...for now.
The bottom line is, Denver needs another guy. The cream of the crop here (beside Trent Richardson) is Doug Martin. His work ethic, lateral speed, pass catching abilities and above average blocking make him an ideal choice.
The question is: Does Denver use a first round pick on a RB? I'm not against it, if that guy is Martin. They could even look at Chris Polk late in the second if they pass on Martin.
However, if they don't draft Martin or Polk, some value picks in the mid rounds would be Robert Turbin or a Ronnie Hillman, as each could be a steal in the third or fourth rounds when the Broncos select. Both are great runners/receivers and measure well with a Manning's offensive style.
At first, I wasn't sold that this was a position of great need. Champ Bailey looked like he showed little signs of slowing down last year and Tracy Porter is a very good No. 2 CB when healthy. Behind them, they had a depth of young, but injury prone guys.
Chris Harris looked good at times, but at other times he looked lost. Syd'Quan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn have had good preseasons, but they haven't consistently been healthy. Another CB would be welcomed at this point.
Many reports have Dre Kirkpatrick dropping down lists, and though he might not make to 25, if he does, the Broncos should pull the trigger. Eventually Champ will move to safety and Porter may not be healthy. Plus, you can never have too many good cover DBs in a passing league anyway.
Kirkpatrick has size and cover skills to match some of the best prospects this year. He is also not afraid to come up in run support, which is key. He may not have had an interception, but with Champ on the other side, he may break that trend.
Another option would be a trade for Asante Samuel. Unlike some, I would welcome a trade for Asante Samuel, because as a nickel corner he would fit nicely as a playmaker (as long as it comes for a low draft pick and a smaller salary).
That doesn't look like it will happen.
If Kirkpatrick is gone and a Samuel deal never materializes, Casey Heyward in the third or Chase Minnifield in the fourth may be good depth additions. Both can help on special teams as well. Somehow they need to add a player fairly early here.
This is a position I am surprised has not been addressed as a more glaring need. The Broncos have Elvis Dumervil, one of the best in the business and a beast off the edge. He is complimented with a developing (slower than we would like) Robert Ayers, who is stout against the run and has begun to show signs that he could be a legitimate pass-rusher.
Behind them, the Broncos have very little. Jason Hunter is decent in spot work, but that's the extent of it. If Doom or Ayers goes down, they have nothing. So far, they have not resigned Mario Haggan, who has played well in the past as a depth guy.
So this is a position of obvious need.
This position could be addressed in a number of ways. First, if a player such as Nick Perry falls into their lap in the first round, they might have to pull the trigger and see if they can shift Ayers inside.
Other than that, there are a multitude of late-round choices with upside, high motors, as well as good size and intangibles. At the top of this list would be Trevor Guyton or Jake Bequette in the late fourth round.
This is another position that has not been rated highly on many draft peoples list of needs. The problem here for Denver is depth. The middle linebacker position looks good, as long as Joe Mays lives up to his talk of improving in Jack Del Rio's system, and if he doesn't, third-round pick from 2011, Nate Irving, is waiting in the wings to steal his job.
The problem here is at OLB.
Von Miller is one of the best in the business and will only get better with time. D.J. Williams is always solid, but he has had some off-field issues and now faces a six-game suspension for PEDs (he is challenging the ruling in court). However, if the ruling stands, the Broncos have a great replacement in Wesley Woodyard, whom I imagine may eventually take this position full time.
If one of these three goes down, the LB corps is razor thin.
There are some interesting prospects, and this is not a position to be addressed in the first round. But if some guys are available, they may be worth a long look.
For example, Bruce Irvin, out of West Virginia, is a speed rusher extraordinaire. He may not be much more than that now, but skills can be developed. As was discussed earlier, a team can never have enough players that can rush the passer. (They could definitely move Ayers inside on passing downs with Irvin, a tactic the Broncos used last year.)
Irvin may be worth a look in the second round and if he falls to them in the third, they should pull the trigger.
If Irvin isn't in the cards, the Broncos could look at Kyle Wilber in the fourth round or a steal may be Travis Lewis in the fifth round, as both project more as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme and could add depth if one of the starters goes down.
Several positions were not addressed in this article that have been labeled as "areas of need" by many experts. Those include QB, TE, WR and OL.
I wholly expect the Broncos to draft some depth in the later round along the offensive line (Ryan Miller anyone?) and probably add a QB, although I don't believe they have to.
There have also been cries for the Broncos to provide Peyton with a brand new toy, either an early round receiver like Stephen Hill or a freakish TE in the mold of Rob Gronkowski, like Coby Fleener. The problem is that if either of these positions are addressed early, then the gaping holes and lack of depth on defense could become exposed.
Denver has already signed two TEs and three WRs in the offseason. If they fill in the gaps on defense, then a complete squad will have a better chance of playing in any type of game, rather than just a shootout. Plugging in some pass rush, cover skills and run-stoppers will make the Broncos feared on both ends, ensuring them a better finish in this brutal schedule and the tougher playoff scenarios down the road.