Denver Broncos Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch
The Denver Broncos are still within a Super Bowl window, but they also must have an eye on the future. They are currently putting together their board for the 2014 NFL draft. Players who stand out at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine could move up the board slightly.
Per Arnie Stapleton of the AP, Elway is prone to fill most needs through free agency. He will then draft the best player available in the draft.
I have identified several needs for this team, most of them on the defensive side of the ball. Top targets could be added with a first- to third-round pick. I consider sleeper prospects to be third-day picks from Round 4 to Round 7.
Let’s take a look at the top targets at these positions of need. In addition, we will look at any sleeper targets the team could get later in the draft.
Cornerback: Top Target
Bradley Roby could be a target for the Broncos at the end of the first round. Rob Rang, from NFLDraftScout.com, has Roby as the top pick for the Broncos.
I interviewed Rang on my ESPN Radio show Ridin' Shotgun and asked him why he had Roby in that position.
He said, “I think that he fits in with any scheme that’s going to ask for a greater focus on man coverage. His speed, athleticism and his physicality in run support are all things I believe the Denver Broncos need to improve on if they’re going to return to the Super Bowl.”
On film, Roby stand out with his nose for the football. He can diagnose quickly and anticipate what is going to happen as the play unfolds in front of him.
He has the speed to stick with receivers downfield. He has the hips to turn fluidly in transition from backpedal to sprint. He also has the click-and-close ability to instantly jump plays that are in front of him.
At the combine, the interview process will be big for Roby. He was suspended for the first game of the 2013 season, and he had to shake off some rust as the season wore on. He needs to prove to teams that he will not be a problem at the next level.
Other top targets at the position could include: Marcus Roberson (Florida), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Victor Hampton (South Carolina).
Antone Exum has the size/speed combination that teams covet in today’s NFL. He’s built a lot like Seahawks (and former Broncos) cornerback Brandon Browner.
Exum can play close to the line of scrimmage, and he will come up willingly to make a form tackle as a run defender. He also has a nose for the big hit, and he can be an intimidator for his defense.
While he has the talent to be a quality NFL defender, he does have some concerns. His medical report at the combine is going to have a huge impact on his draft stock. He missed most of the 2013 season due to a knee injury.
He also may not be a corner at the next level. Exum is a versatile player who may be best suited to play safety in the pros.
Other sleeper targets at the position could include: Chris Davis (Auburn), Phillip Gaines (Rice) and Lavelle Westbrooks (Georgia Southern).
Defensive End: Top Target
Dee Ford would be a great fit for the Broncos if he fell to the end of the first round.
He is an undersized defender who can get pressure from the edge. I recently interviewed former NFL scout Russ Lande on my ESPN radio show Ridin' Shotgun.
Lande felt Ford would be a fantastic addition for the Broncos, specifically because of how he would fit in the Jack Del Rio defense: "Dee Ford is an electric athlete. He’s got a quick get off and he knows how to defeat blocks. Coach Del Rio has a long history and understands how to manipulate fronts and move guys around. I think Del Rio is so good at playing the ‘chess game’ would allow Ford to be a very productive guy for them."
Ford was a standout player during the week of practice for the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year.
I enjoyed watching him every day. He made plays during one-on-one drills and during 11-on-11 drills. He has long arms that help him close quickly on the quarterback when attacking from the edge.
Ford also showed the athleticism to cover in space. He’s quick enough to backpedal then drive to the target on a route in front of him. Ford’s long arms also help him swipe at the ball and drag down ball-carriers.
I anticipate that he will test well at the combine. A fast 40-yard dash time could help propel him further up the first-round list. He could test so well that he's essentially testing himself out of the Broncos range at the end of Round 1.
Other top targets at the position could include: Trent Murphy (Stanford), Kareem Martin (North Carolina) and Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas).
Defensive End: Sleeper
Taylor Hart could be a nice addition for depth in the Jack Del Rio defense. The coach has built his defense on a “big seven” concept up front. He loves players with size on the defensive line.
Measuring in at 6’6” and 287 pounds, Hart has the size that Del Rio covets from his defensive ends.
In addition to size, he has the heart and desire that many teams will love from a late-round pick. He’s known as a lunch-pail guy who will show up to work with incredible focus and determination.
Hart stood out to me on film because of his ability to set the edge as a run defender with guile and quickness. He will force the ball-carrier to the inside and keep contain on a regular basis.
As a pass-rusher, Hart also gets by with heart and determination. He’s athletic off the edge and plays with an extra burst when he’s close to the ball. He is a savvy player who uses his high football intelligence to quickly decipher and anticipate where a play is going.
Other sleeper targets at the position could include: Brent Urban (Virginia), Ed Stinson (Alabama) and Will Clarke (West Virginia).
Inside Linebacker: Top Target
Chris Borland is the answer for the Broncos at middle linebacker. They have been looking for that answer since “Smoke Dog” Al Wilson was forced to retire after the 2006 season due to a neck injury.
The Broncos need to be more physical and intimidating on defense. That’s exactly what a guy like Borland could give them.
He stood out to me on film because of his ability to scrape and flow to the football on nearly every play. He will work his way through traffic, avoid larger blockers and get to the ball-carrier in the blink of an eye.
At 6’0”, 245 pounds, Borland is not the biggest guy. However, he plays with a chip on his shoulder that larger players just don’t have. He’s out to destroy an opponent on every play.
While he is incredibly aggressive, he does not play out of control. He’s known as a sound tackler and a big hitter.
I love what I saw from him at the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year. He impressed me every day in practice with his cunning, footwork and quickness to the ball.
Borland is unlikely to be a “workout wonder” at the combine. His testing numbers may not be near the top of the linebacker group, but his film shows an overachieving playmaker who can be a quality starter in the pros.
Other top targets at the position could include: Yawin Smallwood (Connecticut) and Shayne Skov (Stanford).
Inside Linebacker: Sleeper
If the Broncos wait to draft an inside linebacker, then Max Bullough could be a tremendous value.
He was a standout player during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game earlier this year. He looked huge but not lumbering on the practice field as he disrupted many plays.
He showed up to the Shrine Game about 20 pounds heavier than he was listed in college at Michigan State. That extra muscle didn’t have an effect on his quickness or speed to the football.
He looks like a beast on film, roaming the middle and taking opponents down quickly and violently. He is a force to be reckoned with in the middle, and he’s not afraid to take on blockers head on.
The interview process will be huge for Bullough at the combine. He was suspended for the Rose Bowl this year, and he will have to explain to scouts why he missed that contest.
Other sleeper targets at the position could include: Avery Williamson (Kentucky) and Andrew Jackson (Western Kentucky).
Wide Receiver: Top Target
If Eric Decker moves on in free agency, the Broncos will have a great need at the wide receiver position. Odell Beckham Jr. plays a lot like Decker, and he could step in to start from Day 1.
Beckham was one of my favorite receivers to grade in this draft class.
He almost transforms into a running back when running after the catch. He has some shake-and-bake to his game, and he loves to make defenders look silly in the open field. His agility also makes him a good option as a return man at the pro level.
Beckham has a sizable catch radius, and he can regularly make difficult catches seem routine. He’ll run crisp routes, come back to the ball and make a tough catch.
He is the type of receiver who could quickly become a quarterback’s favorite target.
At the combine, teams will be watching his 40-yard dash closely. Beckham does not have elite speed, so a slower time could put a ding in his draft stock.
Other top targets at the position could include: Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Jarvis Landry (LSU) and Paul Richardson (Colorado).
Wide Receiver: Sleeper
If the Broncos keep Eric Decker, they may only be looking for depth at the wide receiver position. Andre “Bubba” Caldwell is an unrestricted free agent, and the team may not bring him back.
Even if Decker moves on, the Broncos may choose to add a veteran free agent like Hakeem Nicks to take his place.
Enter a sleeper wide receiver like Shaquelle Evans from UCLA.
He began his college career at Notre Dame but transferred to UCLA in 2010. He quickly became known as a big-play receiver who was clutch when his team needed him the most.
His college quarterback Brett Hundley was a favorite of mine to watch each week. Evans was one of Hundley’s prized targets and made several big plays on Saturdays.
Evans is a better deep target than he is a middle receiver. He can struggle to beat physical coverage over the middle, and he will sometimes struggle to make contested catches.
However, get him on a “9” route, and he will stand out. He has build-up speed and can track deep passes effectively.
The gauntlet drill at the combine may be the most important drill for him. He’ll need to show the concentration to catch several passes in a row, plus it will be good for him to show sideline awareness.
Other sleeper targets at the position could include: Matt Hazel (Coastal Carolina), Brandon Coleman (Rutgers) and Jeremy Gallon (Michigan).
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com. Draft grades all from NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.