Fortunately for the Broncos, this year's draft is loaded with depth.
"I‟ve said several times if you're a playoff team this year, you're laughing because there is so much depth to this [draft] that if you're drafting 20-30, it's not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told media members at the combine on Sunday (a transcript of the interview was provided to B/R courtesy of NFLN). "So for me, if you‟re a playoff team, you‟re sitting back and going, 'This is pretty good.'"
That's the case the Broncos are in. They have plenty of options with their first pick and beyond.
Note: All numbers regarding the combine and player measurements are provided courtesy of NFL.com.
Last season, linebacker Joe Mays (27, 5'11", 246 pounds), started the season as Denver's starting middle linebacker before going on to to injure his ankle and land on the injured reserve list. Veteran Keith Brooking (37, 6'2", 241 pounds) finished the year as the team's starter.
This offseason, Brooking will become a free agent and Mays is not expected to reclaim his starting gig, as the linebacker struggled mightily on stretch run plays and against the pass last season. So, middle linebacker appears to be a position the team must address this offseason.
Not so fast, says team executive John Elway.
"We’re excited about (second-year players Nate Irving and Steven Johnson)," Elway said at the combine over the weekend, per DenverBroncos.com. "They’re both guys very capable of handling that (starting MLB) job.”
Elway went on to note that Denver's 4-3 defense ran a lot of nickle defensive sets last season and that Brooking, the starting MLB for most of the season, was not even on the field every play (he was in on 44 percent of the team's defensive plays against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs).
Even without using a MLB for entire games, it's a little surprising that the Broncos are ready to trust either Irving (24, 6'1", 240 pounds) or Johnson (24, 6'1", 237 pounds) to anchor the defense in 2013.
Two other options are LSU's Kevin Minter and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, who both likely talked to the Broncos during the combine's "bullpen," which gives prospects a chance to mingle with team officials in an open setting.
According to the Denver Post, the Broncos met with Te'o privately on Sunday evening.
We wouldn't be surprised if Denver goes with either Irving or Johnson moving forward or if the team was bluffing and goes after somebody like Te'o with the 28th pick. At this point, the MLB situation remains a mysterious one in Denver.
Denver has two young and promising defensive backs in Chris Harris and Rahim Moore, but veteran safety Mike Adams can afford to be upgraded and cornerback Champ Bailey isn't getting any younger. Look for the Broncos to add secondary depth through the draft.
The Broncos have had confirmed meetings with four cornerback prospects—San Diego State's Leon McFadden, William and Mary's B.W. Webb, Utah State's Will Davis and Washington's Desmond Trufant—and a pair of safeties—Arizona State's Keelan Johnson and Southern California's T.J. McDonald.
B/R's Matt Miller predicted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks going to the Broncos in his latest mock draft, and if the Broncos don't go that route, there are a handful of other corners that have caught Denver's eye.
Desmond Trufant (6'0", 186 pounds) is one of three brothers either in or on his way to the NFL, joining the Seattle Seahawks' Marcus Trufant and New York Jets Isaiah Trufant. The youngest of the Trufant brothers is projected to be a first-round pick and has already been linked to the team in several mock drafts.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was protected well last season, but heading into the offseason, many of his offensive linemen are recovering from injuries.
Per the Denver Post, Pro Bowl guard Zane Beadles is Denver's only offensive lineman currently healthy, as fellow starters Orlando Franklin (toe surgery), Ryan Clady (rotator cuff surgery), Chris Kuper (ankle surgery) and J.D. Walton (ankle surgery) are all recovering from banged up 2012 campaigns.
With so many injuries on the offensive line, the Broncos made sure to do their homework on the position during the combine. According to the Post, the team is considering moving Franklin inside to guard and drafting another right tackle.
Virginia offensive tackle Oday Aboushi (6'6", 310 pounds) ran a 5.45 40-yard dash at the combine and a 4.84 20-yard shuttle before formally meeting with the Broncos for an interview. If Franklin (6'7", 330 pounds) is moved inside, Aboushi could replace him on the outside in Denver.
It seems like the Broncos have been mocked to draft a defensive tackle in the first round for several consecutive years, probably because the position has never been appropriately addressed. In April, the team will have plenty of options at DT.
Five tackles—Georgia's Kwame Geathers, Ohio State's John Simon, Mississippi State's Josh Boyd, Georgia Tech's T.J. Barnes and Penn State's Jordan Hill—confirmed at the combine that they have spoken with the Broncos.
One of the prospects, Jordan Hill (6'1", 298 pounds), ran a 5.23 40-yard dash and spoke with Denver "two or three times" at the Senior Bowl last month. Hill is currently projected as a fourth-round pick, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
With so much interest going towards the defensive line, the Broncos appear likely to select a tackle in April. But if they choose to not go DT with their first pick, there will be plenty of other prospects like Hill available later in the draft.
Denver's two main running backs from last season, Willis McGahee (31) and Knowshon Moreno (25), are not guaranteed to return for the 2013 season. McGahee is aging quickly and fumbled five times last season, while Moreno is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, per the Denver Post.
That leaves second-year scatback Ronnie Hillman (5'9", 196 pounds) as the only RB that will, without a doubt, be retained by the Broncos this summer. Clearly, the Broncos need to add some power to their backfield this offseason.
Two players that may hit free agency—St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson and New York Jets running back Shonn Greene—have already reportedly drawn interest from Denver. But Jackson wants to return to St. Louis and Greene does not appear to bring much more to the table than Moreno, apart from being two years older, which is nothing running backs want to brag about.
If the Broncos do not pick up another running back in free agency (and perhaps even if they do), the team will be looking to add one through the draft. Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Alabama's Eddie Lacy are two options the team will consider.
Lacy (6'0", 231 pounds) did not participate in combine drills due to a small tear in his hamstring, but will run a 40-yard dash at Alabama's Pro Day at a later date. His track record has been well documented, but it is possible that he could fall to 28th overall, right into the waiting hands of Denver.
Another option, Ball (5'11", 212 pounds) is expected to be available later in the draft, and if Lacy goes off the board before Denver goes on the clock, selecting Ball in the mid-rounds would be another option for Denver. At the combine, Ball ran a 4.66 44-yard dash, not overly impressive, but fast enough for the powerful running back to survive in the NFL.
There have been no confirmed reports of the Broncos meeting with either of the above mentioned running backs yet, but we expect that the team will attend both of their pro days before the draft.
Next offseason, Eric Decker will be a free agent. The following offseason, Demaryius Thomas will also be seeking a big payday. Denver needs a safety net in case one or—gasp!—both of Decker and Thomas do not return down the road.
The Broncos current slot receiver, Brandon Stokley (36), is also a free agent. Stokley wants to return, but it seems unlikely that he has much more than one season left in the tank.
Allen told MaxDenver.com's Andrew Mason that the Broncos didn't merely meet with him at the combine, but "really grilled" him in the interview. Sounds like Denver has a keen interest 6'2", 206-pound receiver who did not participate in drills over the weekend due to a minor injury.
Watch for the Broncos to attend a handful of receivers' pro days and draft at least one in April.