The Denver Broncos are set to play in Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday. They have built a solid foundation through the NFL draft. In addition to the draft, they have done a good job adding (or retaining) key free agents.
They haven’t hit paydirt yet with their selections in the 2013 NFL draft.
Defensive Tackle Sylvester Williams has taken time (as expected) to get going at the pro level. His rookie season started off slowly, but he’s been producing at a higher level since the injury to Kevin Vickerson.
Running Back Montee Ball did not win the starting job in training camp. In fact, he was not used much in the rotation early in the season after fumbling issues caused him to fall out of favor with the coaching staff. As the season went on, he held onto the rock and was more decisive as a runner. He is likely to be the lead back in 2014 if the Broncos let Knowshon Moreno walk in free agency.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster started a handful of games for the Broncos this year as their nickel corner. The rookie struggled most of the time, failing to keep up with receivers on downfield routes. He showed the knack for making a big hit, but too often he failed to wrap up his target.
Cornerbacks take some time to develop at the pro level, and Webster is far from a bust. He’s just a young player who needed to go through growing pains in the NFL.
Other picks from 2013 like linebacker Quanterus Smith, offensive tackle Vinston Painter and quarterback Zac Dysert didn’t see the field this year for various reasons. Fifth-round pick wide receiver Tavarres King was released and picked up by the Carolina Panthers in the middle of the season.
The Broncos continued their streak of adding undrafted free agents who made the final roster when they kept running back C.J. Anderson around. He will compete for more playing time next year, and he showed the ability to be an effective pro back on limited carries this year.
John Elway and director of player personnel Matt Russell are feverishly preparing for the 2014 NFL draft. Here are a few players they should consider at several positions of need.
Marcus Roberson (Florida) is the best fit for the Broncos at the end of the first round.
Measuring in at 6’0” and 195 pounds, the junior prospect stands out on film because of his nose for the football. He understands the route tree and stays patient in waiting for a wide receiver to break on a route. He can play close to the line of scrimmage, and he’s effective playing bump and run. On film, you see an aggressive player who loves to compete.
He’s not the biggest or the fastest player out there, but Roberson loves a challenge. He can also be used effectively as a punt returner. He worked hard to get stronger during his college career, and he must improve as a run defender in order to play up to his potential as a pro.
Other players the Broncos could consider at some point in the NFL draft include Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Nevin Lawson (Utah State), Shaquille Richardson (Arizona) and Antone Exum (Virginia Tech).
The Broncos need to improve their pass defense in 2013. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is arguably their most important free agent to retain this offseason. Chris Harris is recovering from a postseason knee injury, and Champ Bailey is no longer the caliber of player he used to be.
With Peyton Manning leading the way on offense, the Broncos will almost always face an opponent who is forced into pass-happy mode. Their secondary needs quality depth to stand up to the challenge.
Trent Murphy (Stanford) would be a solid addition to the Broncos roster.
Measuring 6’6”, he has the size to be disruptive on the edge. He can play with his hand in the dirt or attack the quarterback when standing up before the snap.
He 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.
I was excited to watch Murphy during the week of practice for the Senior Bowl this year, but I came away overall disappointed in his play. He failed to shed more than one blocker consistently, and conditioning seemed to be a problem.
Other players the team could consider adding to the defensive line include Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), Justin Ellis (Louisiana Tech) and Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Colorado).
Under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a player like Murphy could thrive. The Broncos may decide to let Robert Ayers go in free agency, and they need to continue adding talent to the defensive line.
Chris Borland (Wisconsin) could be an absolute stud for the Broncos.
The team has been missing an intimidating inside linebacker with attitude since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson was forced to retire after a neck injury in 2006. Adding Borland would give Denver a force to be reckoned with in the middle.
Borland can scrape and flow down the line to find the ball quickly. He does a good job of avoiding blockers at the second level, and he can shed fullbacks who get in his way. When he arrives at the ball-carrier, he is a violent tackler. He loves to hit, and Borland is just the type of high-motor player that Jack Del Rio covets.
His ability in coverage will be tested at the pro level. Borland is aggressive, but he is rarely out of position and does not take many false steps.
The Broncos may decide to let Wesley Woodyard go in free agency. He was a fine outside linebacker, but he struggled to make the transition to inside linebacker in 2013. If the team does keep him, then Denver may move him back to the weak side.
Paris Lenon is also set to hit free agency. The team would be wise to find a young player at middle linebacker, so it can be set at the position for years to come. Bringing Lenon back on more than a one-year deal doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Other players the Broncos could consider include Jordan Tripp (Montana), Tyler Starr (South Dakota) and Max Bullough (Michigan State).
Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) could make an immediate impact for the Broncos.
He is clutch and can make difficult catches seem routine. He has strong hands and good concentration and is a precise route runner. He is savvy and efficient with his movement. It’s no surprise to learn that he’s a cousin of NFL legend Jerry Rice.
I was excited to watch Matthews during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, and he did not disappoint.
He showed the ability to work the sidelines on film and in Mobile. Matthews gives himself enough space to work with, and he can consistently get two feet down inbounds. He also is not afraid to run routes over the middle, and he could quickly become a trust target of Peyton Manning.
The Broncos have a huge decision to make regarding Eric Decker. In fact, he is arguably the most important free agent they have this season. If they lose him , Matthews has the ability to step in and start from Day 1. In fact, the scouts I talk to say his game is similar to Decker's because of his route running ability and strong hands.
Denver may be adding more than one wide receiver this offseason as Andre “Bubba” Caldwell is a free agent as well.
Other players the Broncos could consider at wide receiver include Paul Richardson (Colorado), Robert Herron (Wyoming), Solomon Patton (Florida), Bernard Reedy (Toledo) and Chris Hazel (Coastal Carolina).
C.J. Fiedorowicz is exactly what the Broncos need at tight end.
He is a huge target, measuring in at 6’6” and 262 pounds. He has a large wingspan and an enormous catch radius because of it. This allows him to haul in passes that might be out of reach for others.
He can be a quality red-zone target because of his catch radius and ability to box out defenders. He’s big and more athletic than some people think and has soft hands. He also does a good job of looking in passes to secure them before turning upfield to run after the catch.
Fiedorowicz can blot out defenders as a blocker. His hands are strong, and he can control an opponent at the line of scrimmage.
Denver may decide to release both Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. Per Spotrac.com, both have cap numbers around $3 million in 2014. The team may decide to move on from at least one of them next season.
Julius Thomas emerged as a star this season, but this was the first time he was able to stay healthy for most of the year. He did not play a full season in 2013 as he missed a couple of games due to a knee injury. Virgil Green is a quality backup tight end who can contribute as a blocker or receiver.
Other players the Broncos could consider at this position include Crockett Gillmore (Colorado State), Arthur Lynch (Georgia) and Michael Flacco (New Haven).
Dion Bailey could help the Broncos greatly at the safety position.
As a junior, he led the Trojans with five interceptions. He also broke up six passes in 2013. He is a smooth athlete with incredible range. He’ll quickly diagnose the play as it unfolds in front of him, and he can get to the ball in a hurry.
A converted cornerback, Bailey has the footwork to keep up with receivers in space. He gets low and sinks his hips when transitioning from backpedal to a sprint.
He is comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage. He’s not afraid to take on bigger blockers, and he can slow down opponents to allow his teammates to get to the ball. He is not overly aggressive; instead, he is smart when breaking down a play so he is rarely out of position.
Mike Adams is set to hit free agency. He’s been a quality player for the Broncos during his time in Denver, and the team may want to bring him back if the price is right. Rahim Moore will be returning from his lower leg injury in 2014, but the team needs to look for better depth at the position.
Other players the Broncos could consider at this position include Marqueston Huff (Wyoming), Ty Zimmerman (Kansas State) and Dontae Johnson (North Carolina State).
Charles Sims could be a superstar in a Peyton Manning-led offense.
He is a disciplined runner who can be effectively used as a receiver out of the backfield. I believe he can be a Matt Forte for the Broncos at the pro level.
Like Forte, Sims has a powerful stride and is difficult to bring down when he builds a head of steam. He runs with his knees high, which causes defenders to bounce off him with ease.
Sims can change direction smoothly. He makes cuts at speed and doesn’t have to slow down in order to change direction at the second level.
He looks in passes consistently and can be effectively used on screen passes or wheel routes. He creates mismatches in the passing game as he’s too fast and athletic for linebackers to cover.
During the week of practice for the Senior Bowl, he impressed me during pass protection drills.
Knowshon Moreno may leave in free agency. This would make Montee Ball the favorite for the starting job to begin the 2014 season. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman would then compete for the primary backup job.
Some think Denver will not spend another premium pick (first three rounds) on a running back. Ball was a second-round pick in 2013, and Hillman was a third-round pick in 2012.
John Fox has done something similar before. He selected DeAngelo Williams in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft (27th overall), only to select Jonathan Stewart in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft (13th overall). If the Broncos feel Sims is the right fit, then they could add him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Other running backs the Broncos could consider include Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State), Zach Bauman (Northern Arizona), Tim Flanders (Sam Houston State), Storm Johnson (UCF) and Tyler Gaffney (Stanford).
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.