Since the calendar has flipped over to January, it means NFL draft season is upon us.
My tickets and credentials are already booked for the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
For the last eight years, I have made what I call “The Ultimate Road Trip.”
Going to all these events has given me insight into risers and fallers in the NFL draft. It has also allowed me to build a network of contacts throughout the league. Scouts, general managers and head coaches now populate the contacts list on my iPhone because of the relationships I’ve built on the road.
Bottom line—I love the draft season. As much as I enjoy the regular season and the playoffs, it’s the draft season I look forward to the most.
In the regular season (and postseason), it’s players versus other players as they battle it out on the gridiron. During draft season, we get to see front office versus front office in a game of chess that unfolds over the period of a few months.
The Broncos are still alive in the playoffs, and they are looking to make a run at the Super Bowl. However, that doesn’t stop them from attending these events looking for the next great player and sleeper picks to add in the late rounds.
Any way you slice it, the Broncos are going to be picking at or near the end of the first round. The draft is constantly in motion, and the Broncos may see value players drop to them at that spot.
As of now, the primary draft needs appear to be:
- Inside linebacker
- Defensive End
- Free Safety
- Wide receiver
- Defensive Tackle
Keep in mind that free agency comes before the draft, so team needs can certainly change.
Also, the Broncos have a history of passing on a pressing need to draft the best player available on the board. They also are known to maneuver around the draft board by trading picks.
Here is one way the 2014 NFL draft could go down for the Denver Broncos.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
In the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos should consider upgrading their defensive line with a player like Murphy.
The team may lose starting defensive end Robert Ayers in free agency and replacing him with a guy like Murphy could prove to be an upgrade.
Murphy led the Pac-12 conference with 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss in 2013.
At 6’6”, he has the size to be disruptive on the edge. Murphy can play with his hand in the dirt, or he can attack the quarterback standing up before the snap. He can time his leap to knock passes out of the air, and he has the athleticism to run under the batted pass for an interception.
Murphy can set the edge against the run with ease. He has the strength to rip opponents off, and he has the closing burst to make a play quickly on the ball carrier.
The John Elway-Stanford connection continues in the second round.
The Broncos haven’t had a quality middle linebacker since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson was forced to retire with a neck injury in 2007. Skov would finally give them the playmaker they’ve been missing at the position.
The Broncos would be fortunate if Richardson fell to the third round of the 2014 NFL draft.
They may lose Eric Decker in free agency this year, so adding a talented impact wide receiver through the draft makes sense.
Richardson would get to stay in Colorado where he was a star for the Buffs.
He’s incredibly talented, but he may slide in the draft due to injury concerns. Richardson only played one full season in college, and has had to battle back from a few major injuries. In 2013 (Richardson’s only healthy season), he finished with 83 catches for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He can fly down the field, and Richardson will get on top of the defense in the blink of an eye. Richardson does a good job of tracking passes deep, and he uses subtle moves to create separation at the top of his route.
Once the catch is gathered in, Richardson has an extra gear to outrun any defender trailing him.
He can also contribute as a return man. Richardson would be a fine starter opposite Demaryius Thomas, and he would exactly fit what the Broncos need from a wide receiver.
The Broncos could use some more beef in the interior of the defensive line. Adding a player like Johnson would make a lot of sense.
Like most defensive line prospects from LSU, Johnson is far from a finished product. He is raw with his technique, but his natural talent is immense.
Johnson led LSU with nine tackles for a loss in 2013. He also had 35 total tackles, three sacks, one pass broken up and three quarterback hurries.
He has great initial burst, and Johnson can surprise an opponent with his quickness. At 6’2”, 295 pounds, Johnson can move faster than other players his size.
Johnson has long arms that help him control an opponent. He does a good job of stacking up an offensive lineman while quickly finding the football. Johnson can work as both a run stuffer and an interior pass-rusher.
In the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos would benefit from adding a player like Huff.
The free safety position is up in the air because of the unknown health status of Rahim Moore. The Broncos would be wise to at least add competition at the position.
Huff spent three seasons at cornerback for the Cowboys, but he switched to free safety in 2013. He responded with a career-high 123 tackles. Huff also had three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered, six passes defensed and two interceptions.
His versatility will come in handy as a pro player. His 6’0”, 195-pound frame will also help him stand up to the NFL beating.
Huff can diagnose plays quickly as they unfold in front of him. He uses this high football intelligence to get the ball as fast as possible. He can play close to the line of scrimmage, and Huff is not afraid to get his hands dirty in run defense.
A team that puts up a lot of points like Denver will face opponents trying to play catch-up football early and often.
Having a deep group of cornerbacks to go to is a smart move. In the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft the Broncos could add a talented player with upside in Exum.
Big cornerbacks have become en vogue across the NFL. Exum certainly fits that bill, measuring in at 6’2”, 224 pounds. He loves to use his size when pounding an opponent on the gridiron.
Exum is an aggressive player who can fly to the ball. Not only does he love contact as a run defender, but Exum also will get physical with opponents in coverage. He can jam and re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage with ease.
Technique and durability are the two problem areas for Exum.
He loves to deliver big hits, but Exum will often get out of position as he’s overaggressive. Exum will also have to pass medical examination at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. He tore his ACL a year ago, and he was slowed down by an ankle injury this season.
I know, I know—running back is not on my list of priorities at the beginning of this article. However, a team can never have enough good running backs and Crowell is simply too talented to pass up.
The Broncos may lose Knowshon Moreno in free agency this offseason.
That means Montee Ball would enter 2014 as the team’s lead back. Behind Ball, we’d see the team use players like Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. They would need another running back on the roster, and Crowell would be worth a shot.
Crowell has great footwork and vision.
I’ve talked to good friend Terrell Davis (former Broncos great) about which attribute is most important. Davis has told me that he feels vision is the best attribute a running back can have.
Crowell has incredible vision. He sees the field clearly, and can set up defenders at the second level before he even crosses the line of scrimmage.
His footwork is amazing as well.
Crowell runs with great balance, and he can keep his feet after contact. He has fantastic foot frequency when changing direction. This allows Crowell to change direction without losing much speed.
Had it not been for off-field issues, Crowell would be the highest-rated back in this draft class based off natural talent.
After a freshman season for the Bulldogs where he rushed for 850 yards and 15 touchdowns, Crowell failed a drug test and was charged with two felony counts of illegal possession of a firearm. These charges were later dismissed as there was no sufficient way to prove the firearms belonged to Crowell.
He was dismissed from the team, and then Crowell enrolled at Alabama State.
For two years, Crowell has stayed out of trouble while continuing to perform like a star on the gridiron. He rushed for over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns in two years with the Hornets.
Broncos head coach John Fox knows how to build a strong ground game. The temptation of adding a naturally talented runner like Crowell might be too much for him to pass on in the final round of the draft.