Now that the Denver Broncos’ season is over, they will dive into their offseason program. This means building the roster through free agency and the draft.
This May, the Broncos have seven picks that can help shape the franchise and keep them competitive in 2014. So long as Peyton Manning is their quarterback, the Broncos are in a Super Bowl window.
Last week, I broke down round-by-round what the Broncos big board should be. Now, it’s time to look at which picks from that board will be the best fit for Denver.
My choices in this article are based off of what I see as team needs for the Broncos. I have traveled each of the last eight years to the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine and NFL draft. I study these players on film, and my scouting profiles include first-hand observations from games I’ve attended.
The Broncos will select players who they feel will move the franchise in the direction needed. Let’s take a look at my first mock draft of 2014.
This team needs to add talent to the front seven of the defense. They can’t rely on linebacker Von Miller coming back from the knee injury he suffered in Week 16. His status for training camp is up in the air.
Derek Wolfe suffered a mysterious illness that cut his second season short. The Broncos need to continue adding talent up front to create a fierce rotation.
Denver will also rely on linebackers they added from the college ranks last year. Quanterus Smith missed his rookie year recovering from the knee injury he suffered during the 2012 season for Western Kentucky. Lerentee McCray impressed during training camp, but he was lost for the year in the final preseason game with a thumb injury.
You can never have enough pass-rushers, and that is a mantra the Broncos should follow in free agency and the draft.
In addition to rushing the passer, the team needs a player to replace Robert Ayers. There’s a good chance Ayers will explore his options in free agency, and he could have played his final down with the Broncos.
And the pick is…
“With the 31st pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy.”
Murphy is a player who has the strength to set the edge as a run defender. He can stand up to rush the passer, and Murphy shows a good understanding of leverage when going after the quarterback.
I was disappointed by his performance during the week of practice for the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year. Murphy seemed to get winded easily, and he failed to show the ability to fight through two blockers consistently.
The end of the first round is the time to look for impact players. The Broncos could take a chance that Murphy would fall to them in the second round, but it’s not worth the risk. The best bet is to go ahead and take him here, securing his services with a premium pick.
The Seattle Seahawks exposed the Broncos secondary in the Super Bowl. The team has to decide whether or not to sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a new long-term deal.
They also must decide the fate of Champ Bailey. He has a $10 million cap number in 2014 with zero guaranteed money, per Spotrac. This makes Bailey an easy mark for releasing or restructuring.
If the Broncos do keep Bailey around in 2014, it will most likely be at a reduced price. They may also move him to free safety.
Chris Harris will be coming off the ACL injury he suffered in the playoff game against the Chargers in the divisional round. Like Von Miller, his status for the start of training camp is unclear at this time.
These question marks make the second-round pick fairly obvious.
“With the 63rd pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Virginia Tech defensive back Kyle Fuller.”
Fuller has the size and athleticism to be a factor as both a run and pass defender. He has good instincts for the position, and Fuller is rarely caught out of position. With a nose for the ball, Fuller can make impact plays that will turn the tide of a game.
He’s aggressive enough to play close to the line of scrimmage, and he’s not afraid of mixing it up with larger opponents. Fuller has good hips, and he will swiftly sink and spin to transition with a wide receiver downfield.
He lacks elite speed, and the few times he does get caught out of position he will struggle to recover.
Fuller will be able to compete for a starting job from day one.
The Broncos need to find an answer at middle linebacker. They moved Wesley Woodyard to middle linebacker in 2013, but that experiment failed. He was eventually replaced in the base defense by veteran Paris Lenon. Both Woodyard and Lenon are unrestricted free agents in 2014.
Nate Irving was drafted in 2011 to be a middle linebacker, but he’s better suited as a reserve strong-side linebacker.
It was clear in the Super Bowl that the Broncos needed an impact linebacker in the middle. They haven’t had the same attitude defensively since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson was forced to retire due to a neck injury in 2006.
There may be a couple of impact middle linebackers available at this spot.
“With the 95th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.”
Skov will help give the Broncos more attitude on defense. He was known as an aggressive player in college who played with high football intelligence.
He understands plays quickly and can efficiently diagnose where the ball is going as things unfold in front of him. Skov can scrape and flow to the ball effectively. He does a good job avoiding blockers at the second level to get to the ball.
Skov was overly aggressive early in his career, but he’s matured. He seems to have broken a bad habit of diving for plays, instead of driving through the ball carrier. Skov can still hammer an opponent, but he’s far more patient when breaking down in the open field.
If Chris Borland (Wisconsin) is gone by this time, then Skov makes a great alternative pick.
It’s time to bolster the secondary with another pick. The Broncos are likely to make many changes to the cornerback position this offseason. They’ll need young, talented players to replace some departed (or released) veterans.
In addition to secondary help, the Broncos could use a return man they can trust. Trindon Holliday was careless with the football in 2013, and in the Super Bowl he made mistakes. Holliday is an exclusive rights free agent, but the Broncos may not bring him back.
“With the 127th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Auburn defensive back Chris Davis.”
Davis is a playmaker. With the ball in his hands, Davis displays great vision, balance and agility. He can make opponents miss, and Davis has the acceleration to eat up yards quickly.
He has the speed to keep up with receivers on downfield routes. Davis does a good job when he has to click and close on the ball in front of him.
Coverage skills are not a problem for Davis, but he does need to work on his tackling. Having a guy like Champ Bailey to show him the ropes as a tackler could greatly improve Davis’ technique when wrapping up.
He’s a sub-package player, but Davis can make an impact on defense and special teams.
Adding players to the offense may not be the team’s plan in the draft. However, they won’t overlook a valuable player who could help them at this point of the selection process.
The tight end position could look different in 2014.
Jacob Tamme has a $3.5 million cap number in 2014, per Spotrac, but the team may end up keeping him because of his long-established chemistry with Peyton Manning.
Joel Dreessen has a $3.1 million cap number, and he could be on the chopping block. He’s a good all-around player, but injuries held him back in 2013.
The Broncos could replace one Colorado State tight end with another.
“With the 159th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Colorado State tight end Crockett Gillmore.”
Gillmore is a lot like Dreessen. I’ve compared Gillmore to former Washington tight end Chris Cooley because of his versatility.
He can be effectively used as a blocker or a receiver. Gillmore has the ability to line up as a traditional in-line tight end, in the backfield as an H-back or split out wide as a receiver. He’s deceptively athletic and can gain significant yards after the catch.
I was impressed with Gillmore during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game earlier this year. He then got called up to the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl the next week.
Against better competition, Gillmore continued to shine. He could continue that trend against the world’s best competition in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio loves big players up front. His “big seven” defense has served him well during his time in the NFL. The Broncos will be looking for big players with developmental upside at this point in the draft.
“With the 191st pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart.”
Hart fits what the Broncos want to a T.
He’s a durable player who has started every game for the Ducks over the last three years. Hart is a versatile player who lined up as a defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker during his college career.
Hart has long arms and can easily rip blockers off when going after the ball carrier. Standing at 6’6”, Hart can see over blockers and find the ball quickly.
He’s not the most athletic player, but Hart gets by on intelligence, savvy and an outstanding work ethic. Hart is the perfect player to pick at this point in the draft.
Every team needs a Charlie Kelly. It’s time for a wildcard [Broncos]!
With the defense taken care of with almost every pick, it’s time to look at any offensive players who could help.
John Fox knows how to build a quality rushing attack. During his time in Carolina, he was able to get production out of players like Brad Hoover, Nick Goings and Tyrell Sutton.
The Broncos may let Knowshon Moreno walk in free agency. This leaves Montee Ball as the team’s lead back. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will compete to be the primary backup.
This round is the perfect time to add another back to the stable.
“With the 223rd pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos select Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell.”
Why not add a player who could arguably be the most physically gifted running back in this draft?
Crowell transferred from Georgia after a strong freshman season. The Bulldogs dismissed Crowell because of an arrest on weapons charges. The charges were later dropped, and Crowell has been on his best behavior for two seasons with the Hornets.
He’s big, fast and physical. Crowell runs with great vision and balance. He doesn’t go down on first contact, and he can set up defenders at the second level before he even crosses the line of scrimmage.
Crowell is the perfect “second chance” player for the Broncos to take with their final pick.