As it does every single year, the conclusion of the NFL Draft brings with it a sense of optimism, as each team is hopeful that the players they selected will make an impact once the season kicks off.
The Denver Broncos are no different.
After a surprising 8-8 season that saw them claim the division crown thanks in large part to one of the most polarizing figures in NFL history, the Broncos continued to make headlines in the offseason with the signing of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
Hopes are high in the Mile High City going into 2012-13, and the play of Denver’s seven draft picks could go a long way in determining whether or not the team can improve upon its win total from last season.
Here is one bold prediction for each of the players selected by John Elway and company during the three-day event at Radio City Music Hall.
What do you think will become of the Broncos’ 2012 draft picks? Let us know in the comment section below.
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Will Justify His High Selection
Many eyebrows were raised when the Broncos decided to select the 6’5”, 296-pound defensive tackle with their first selection of the draft—36th overall.
The fact that John Elway and company went with a defensive lineman wasn’t surprising. But many expected the Broncos to take one of Michigan State's Jerel Worthy or Penn State's Devon Still, both of whom were considered better options than Wolfe, the 2011 Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
Wolfe has impressive strength, and he has the ability to get to the quarterback. However, the knock on the former Bearcat centers on his inability to get off the line quickly, as well as his struggles stuffing the running game.
But given some time to work with the Broncos coaches and improve his game, the 22-year-old will improve and justify his selection, forcing those who scoffed at the pick to eat their words.
Will Become a Star After Learning From Peyton Manning
Unlike the Broncos’ first pick of the draft, many people saw this one coming. It was no secret that John Elway had his eye on the 6’7” Arizona State pivot, and he did indeed get his man in the second round.
Peyton Manning is the starter, and will be for at least the next few years. That gives Osweiler the perfect opportunity to learn as much as he possibly can from one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen.
His physical tools cannot be questioned. To go along with his great size, Osweiler can rely on his impressive arm strength and quick release, which will allow him to make all of the throws necessary at the NFL level.
The question mark that has been raised by those watching the inexperienced quarterback surrounds his decision-making. Despite putting up 26 touchdowns last year with the Sun Devils, he also threw 13 interceptions—many of which came after he was rushed and forced the ball into coverage.
But that is understandable given his lack of experience, and he will be helped in a big way by the presence of Manning—one of the best all time at running an offense and making the right throws.
If he can learn from the future Hall of Famer, fans in the Mile High City could be in for a long stretch of outstanding quarterback play.
Will Get Plenty of Touches This Season
Speed kills, and Ronnie Hillman has tons of it to burn.
The second-fastest running back at the combine, Hillman has the ability to score every time he touches the ball, complementing his 4.41 speed with great cutting ability that will see him cause more than a few defenders to miss this season.
He is expected to be a good change-of-pace back for Willis McGahee, who will handle the tough running between the tackles.
But don’t be surprised if Hillman—the Mountain West Conference single-season rushing leader (1,656 yards last year)—becomes one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets as the year progresses.
Health at the running back slot has been a concern in recent years, and if Knowshon Moreno’s durability is a problem this year, Hillman could step in early and often.
Will Stay Healthy for the Entire Season
Omar Bolden could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft, if he stays healthy.
The Arizona State cornerback slid down the draft board after he missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn ACL in his left knee. But had he played last season with the Sun Devils, Elway projected him to be taken somewhere in the first two rounds.
It’s not too hard to see why.
Bolden has 4.42 speed, boasts great athletic ability, reads the game very well and can make plays on the ball. In addition, he has incredible strength, recording 24 reps during the 225-pound bench press at the combine.
Not impressed by numbers at the combine? No problem.
Prior to his knee injury, the cornerback was named to the All-Pac 10 first-team after a solid campaign in 2010.
The key is whether or not he will stay healthy for an entire season. If he does, he will be a key contributor to the team for many years to come.
Will Be the Starting Center by the End of the Year
Former Baylor teammate JD Walton has started every game for the Broncos at center over the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, Pro Football Focus—and many Bronco fans—don’t think he’s done a great job, or even an adequate one.
Walton was rated as the worst starting center during the 2011 season by PFF. While he is still expected to be snapping the ball to Peyton Manning once the regular season kicks off, expect Blake to push him all the way.
If the Broncos have any hope of winning games this season, Peyton Manning will need to be protected very well. If Walton can’t do the job, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine John Fox making a switch to protect the team’s offseason acquisition.
After protecting Heisman winner Robert Griffin III last year, Blake was named to the All-Big 12 first-team.
In addition, the 6’3”, 311-pound lineman can play at right tackle, which he did during his sophomore season with the Bears. As a strong, versatile player who can protect the passer and get out and block in the running game, Blake could very well be the starting center by the time the season comes to an end.
Will Become a Serviceable Defensive End
After exchanging the red and gold of USC for the orange of Tennessee in his sophomore year, Malik Jackson would lead the Volunteers with 11 tackles for a loss, while also registering five sacks during the 2011 campaign.
While he played inside during his college days, head coach John Fox says he will move to the edge with the Broncos , where he will be able to use his athletic ability and quickness off the line to put pressure on the quarterback.
Via the Broncos website:
I think line him up at end and see how it goes, Fox said. This guy has the measurables it takes to play in this league and where he fits, he’ll determine that.
Even though he stands at 6’5” and tips the scale at 284 pounds, Jackson’s biggest knock is his strength. But as with many players who come out of college, an offseason spent training in an NFL weight room should help to fix that.
If he is able to get stronger, he will add depth and versatility to the defensive line.
Will Help Fill the Void Left by D.J. Williams
With veteran linebacker D.J. Williams set to miss time through suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the Broncos will need someone to come in and help fill the void (via ESPN).
While Trevathan may not be able to do that on his own in only his first season, his impressive career at Kentucky will have Bronco fans hoping he can contribute in some way during Williams’ absence.
As a Wildcat, Trevathan led the SEC in tackles for two consecutive seasons, earning first-team All-American honors last year—becoming the first Kentucky linebacker to do so.
With 11.92 tackles per game, five forced fumbles and four interceptions last season, Trevathan ranked among the top five in the nation in each category. Despite being undersized at only 6’0” and 237 pounds, Trevathan has a feel for the position and a nose for the ball that cannot be taught, while also boasting great speed and athleticism.
If he is able to bulk up a bit before the season—without doing too much harm to his speed—he may well be one of the key figures for John Fox as the Broncos look to make up for the loss of Williams.