Peyton Manning isn't best friends with every draft pick.
What does it take to become Peyton Manning’s best friend on the football field? For starters, you can’t make many mistakes or you will never see the field. Football intelligence and hard work are also prerequisites; don’t expect to be a friend of Manning while trying to rely only on your athletic ability.
When the Denver Broncos consider whom to draft, they are going to look for players that help Manning. The Broncos have about a two-year window to try to win a Super Bowl with Manning, so every prospect drafted in the first few rounds should be immediate contributors.
Hindsight is 20-20, but the Broncos certainly didn’t have the most amazing 2012 draft class. Outside of Derek Wolfe, the Broncos didn’t get a lot of immediate production. Some of that was intentional, but the Broncos might have a greater sense of urgency in 2013.
The draft prospects with the attributes to become Peyton Manning’s best friends are exactly the types of players the Broncos need to make a couple runs at the Lombardi trophy.
Tavon Austin probably will not fall all the way to No. 28 and there is probably no room for him now that Wes Welker has come to town, but why not add another weapon if he's available?
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing in today's pass-happy NFL? Trying to defend Demaryius Thomas, Welker, Eric Decker and Austin all at the same time would be a total nightmare for opposing defenses.
The Broncos were already going to be a nightmare to defend and adding the speedy and agile Austin would just make it that much harder. Welker’s age more than his ability may have been why the Patriots decided to let him go and Austin would instantly press him for playing time in the slot.
Injuries also happen. Thomas stayed healthy for 16 games for the first time in 2012. The deepest teams are often the ones winning games in February, so it makes some sense from that aspect to add depth at the all-important skill positions.
The chances of Austin landing in Denver are slim to none, but Austin is the type of player that could quickly turn into Manning’s friend on the football field. Austin can turn a short gain into a big play, which is a trait every quarterback must love.
Manning has always heavily utilized slot receivers. Brandon Stokley and Jacob Tamme shared the role in 2012 and Welker will take over in 2013, but the Broncos can always use depth. Health in the NFL is not assured and that’s why quality depth is so important.
Ryan Swope has drawn comparisons to Brandon Stokley, Eric Decker and Welker. In fact, Matthew Jones of nepatriotsdraft.com pegged Swope as a potential replacement for Welker last spring. Those comparing him to Decker also think Swope might have enough potential to play on the outside.
Per Swope’s NFL.com player profile, he is a “very reliable receiver” with “strong route knowledge” that “finds room in zones to maximize his quarterback’s ability to find him”. That sounds an awful lot like a guy Manning could cozy up to in the passing game. Heck, the scouting reports about Swope might as well be written about Welker.
Swope has been knocked for having only marginal athleticism and straight-line speed, but he surprised a lot of people by running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
The Broncos need a young running back to pair with the speedy Ronnie Hillman. Willis McGahee’s a year older and has trouble holding onto the football, and Knowshon Moreno only averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year.
Specifically, the Broncos need a bruising running back with the ability to block. Running the ball after getting a big lead is the safest route to victory, so the Broncos need to have a guy who can gain positive yardage when defenses put eight men in the box.
Eddie Lacy is Matt Miller’s top-ranked running back and told Bleacher Report Productions that his physical running style will wear down defenses in the third and fourth quarter. Lacy is a big physical runner that will complement Hillman perfectly.
Darren Page of detriotlionsdraft.com also gives Lacy pretty positive reviews in pass protection:
“+Spots free rushers very quickly and meets them decisively, high football IQ
+Blocking technique developed as career went on, learning to meet rushers with square shoulders and anchor
+Lower half strength holds up against very big rushers, doesn’t need to go low often
-Too much of a lunge blocker with no hand placement, throws a shoulder into rushers instead”
The running game has become secondary for many clubs, which is certainly the case for the Broncos, but adding a physical runner like Lacy only makes Denver’s offense better. If Lacy proves himself as a runner, Manning’s play-action passes could also be more effective.
Since Denver’s passing game is going to take center stage, it might make sense to wait until later in the draft to bring in a running back. Specifically, the Broncos can target a player like Stepfan Taylor in the middle rounds.
Taylor might lack elite traits, but he’s a really good blocker. Manning will love Taylor because he’ll always buy him another second to get the ball out.
Taylor is also a good one-cut runner with good vision, which also fits the Broncos offense. He’s not the fastest guy, which is going to hurt his draft stock and cause him to be undervalued. Hillman can supply the speed; Taylor just needs to provide the blocking and average more yards per carry than Moreno.
Marcus Lattimore is coming back from a serious knee injury and the Broncos are one of the few teams that can afford to sit on a draft pick for a year. Lattimore was a potential first-round pick prior to the injury, but will probably be drafted lower considering he might not be able to play in 2013.
There is a chance that Lattimore could play in 2013 and he could certainly start the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list. The Broncos could go into the season with Moreno and Hillman at running back with the plan to stretch Lattimore out late in the season.
Lattimore is a big back with power, vision and good short-area quickness. He’s also a willing blocker and he throws his big body in front of defenders and often stops them in their tracks. Manning will love Lattimore’s ability as a receiver because he uses his excellent field vision to make defenders miss in space.
If Manning ever starts to decline, the Broncos may need to lean more heavily on a running game. Lattimore will be undervalued because of his injuries, but he could become yet another dangerous weapon for Manning as soon as this year.
McGahee and Frank Gore are two examples of running backs that overcame college knee injuries to become good NFL running backs. If the Broncos finally want to solve the hole they have at running back, Lattimore could be that guy and at a deep discount.
Even though Cornellius Carradine and Manning would never be on the field at the same time, they could still become best friends on the football field. Manning has had two quality pass-rushers to protect leads for him for almost a decade and the Broncos are currently one short. How could Manning help but love the guys that protect his leads?
If not for an ACL injury, Carradine was going to be a first-round draft selection. Carradine’s draft status now hinges on his health, but he could still merit first-round discussion if it looks like he’ll be able to play in 2013.
There aren’t that many right defensive end prospects in the draft, which might buoy Carradine’s stock even more. If the Broncos are serious about replacing Elvis Dumervil and they want to do it with a younger player instead of a veteran, Carradine could be the guy.
The middle linebacker is often called the quarterback of the defense and the Broncos are currently in the market for just such a player to be Manning’s equal on the other side of the ball. Eventually the Broncos are going to get tired of trotting a player like Joe Mays out there to get picked on in coverage.
Kevin Minter is the opposite of Mays. He’s not a big thumper in the run game, but he has good coverage skills and excellent instincts. Minter is also aggressive and has a good motor—the prefect type of player you want quarterbacking your defense.
Rob Rang’s of cbssports.com says Minter “reads the quarterback's eyes nicely” and “has a feel for what is happening around him” in pass coverage. If that proves to be true, the Broncos should draft him in the first round before a team like the Ravens has the opportunity.
The Broncos could get a better value by picking up Kiko Alonso, who may end up being even better than Minter if he remains dedicated to the game. Former NFL scout turned NFL.com scribe Daniel Jeremiah said teams are intrigued by Alonso and that he has him as a second-round pick. Alen Dumonjic of rotoworld.com likes Alonso’s ability to play both the run and the pass.
Chris Burke of SI.com had this to say about Alonso’s draft stock:
“Alonso plays an aggressive game against the run, doing what he can to make himself a force in the hole. If you compare his tape to that of Minter or Te’o, it’s Alonso that often comes off as the more athletic talent. He may still wind up lasting on the board longer than Minter or Te’o, but that doesn’t mean those players will be better pros.”
If the Broncos are looking for a versatile inside linebacker to pair with Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller, Alonso presents a very intriguing option. Whatever makes Denver’s defense better will help Manning and middle linebacker remains one of the biggest holes on the roster.