Denver Broncos: 7-Round Predictions, Post Combine
The NFL combine came and went over the past week, and with it, the annual overreactions to measurements and 40-yard dash times were prevalent.
Much was made over the fact that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel measured just a quarter-inch short of 6 feet. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is now considered by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks to be a possible top-10 selection due to his 4.37 40-yard dash, 35.5-inch vertical and 10'6" broad jump.
Manziel may not be a great NFL quarterback due to his lack of height, and Gilbert may be one of the NFL's best corners over the next decade due to his amazing speed and athleticism, but there is no definitive science of predicting how a football player will transition from college to the pros based upon his measurements or combine numbers.
The Denver Broncos and other NFL teams are aware of this when attending the combine. Buyer beware of NFL combine performances.
Having said that, the combine does provide a lot of first glimpses of what a player is capable of on a firsthand display to NFL teams.
The Broncos still have the same position needs as they did before the combine: cornerback, defensive end, safety, wide receiver, linebacker and possibly depth at running back.
The franchise should be able to address most of these needs with its seven projected selections for the 2014 NFL draft. Here is the Broncos' seven-round mock draft, post-combine edition.
1st Round: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
The Broncos hold the No. 31 overall selection, and they have an imminent need at the cornerback position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris Jr. and Tony Carter are free agents. Veteran Champ Bailey is still on the roster, but he possesses a $10 million cap hit for 2014. If Bailey remains with the team on a restructured deal, there is a good chance he moves to safety.
Even if the Broncos are to bring back their starting corners from 2013, Rodgers-Cromartie and Harris Jr., adding a top-flight corner is a necessity. This is where Bradley Roby of Ohio State fits into the equation.
With the emphasis upon three-wide offenses in today's spread-it-out NFL, nickel corners are never more important than they are today.
Regardless of which role Roby is asked to play from Day 1, the fact of the matter is this: Roby has all of the traits you'd want in a defensive back.
Like the aforementioned Gilbert, Roby had an impressive NFL combine. Roby ran a 4.39 40-yard dash while posting a 38.5-inch vertical and 10'4" broad jump. Roby's value as a cornerback is also enhanced by his excellent hands and playmaking skills.
After his impressive combine workout, there is a chance Roby will no longer drop down to late in the first round. However, in a stacked class for defensive backs, it would be no shock for the Broncos to draft the Ohio State product with the No. 31 overall selection.
2nd Round: OLB/DE Trent Murphy, Stanford
Similar to the cornerback position, the Broncos lack depth at the defensive end position.
Never is this more obvious than at the right defensive end position, where Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers are free agents.
Phillips was the starter at RDE, while Ayers played the backup role for most of the season.
After losing Elvis Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, the Broncos had a huge void in the pass-rushing department. The team was lucky to have nabbed Phillips on a bargain one-year deal. Phillips was the Broncos' biggest pass-rushing threat, posting 10 sacks as the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl.
But even if Phillips is brought back, he is 32 years of age with 10 years of experience on his body. The Broncos need youth at the position.
Trent Murphy of Stanford possesses all of the attributes NFL teams are looking for in a pass-rusher. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, Murphy has the ability to play outside linebacker or defensive end for an NFL defense. His high motor and ability to get to the quarterback cannot be ignored—his 15 sacks as a senior led the nation.
Though some will prefer a more traditional 4-3 defensive end with this selection, Phillips was not a traditional 4-3 defensive end, and he still had the biggest pass-rushing impact of any Broncos defensive player in 2013.
Murphy did not have an impressive NFL combine, with the three-cone drill being the only drill in which he placed in the top-three performers.
Because of this, he will fly under the radar entering the draft in May.
3rd Round: WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews has the prototypical look for what the Broncos want in their wide receivers.
Matthews had a solid combine, running a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash while impressing with 21 reps in the bench press. His 21 reps were tied for second best of all players at his position.
It becomes abundantly clear by watching Matthews’ combine and his game film that he’s a strong receiver who will fit the mold of what the Broncos need in their offense.
With Decker a free agent, the selection of Matthews will fill the void of Decker as the No. 2 receiver. His speed and athleticism is not overly impressive, which means NFL teams will overlook a player of Matthew’s caliber. However, he’s consistent across the board, and his size and strength simply cannot be taught.
If there is any quarterback who can maximize the Vanderbilt product’s potential, it’s Peyton Manning. Imagine Manning throwing to another 6’3” target in the red zone.
4th Round: FS Dion Bailey, USC
Initially, I would have went with FSU's Terrence Brooks with this selection.
However, Brooks had a dominant showing at the NFL combine. He placed as the top performer in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump of all safeties at the combine and finished fifth in the broad jump. He easily had the most impressive showing of any safety at the combine. It's hard not to accept that he increased his draft stock in the process.
This leaves the Broncos with the option of selecting free safety Dion Bailey of USC in the fourth round.
The Broncos have a need at free safety. Thirty-two-year-old Mike Adams started at FS during the last half of the season after Rahim Moore went down for the season due to a rare injury. Adams is a free agent. Backup Michael Huff is a free agent also.
The Broncos need an infusion of youth at the position even with the 24-year-old Moore returning to the Broncos in 2014. Bailey is a tweener OLB/FS, having started at both positions during his tenure at USC. He made the transition to safety in 2013, where he was named a second-team All-Pac-12 selection. He led the team in interceptions in 2012 with four picks.
Bailey provides depth for the Broncos. If the franchise can get a solid nickel defense and special teams player with this selection, this pick will be a gem.
5th Round: OG Brandon Linder, University of Miami (Fla.)
The Denver Broncos need depth along the offensive line. The starters are set with left tackle Ryan Clady, center Manny Ramirez, right guard Louis Vasquez and right tackle Orlando Franklin. It would be a shock if starting left guard Zane Beadles is not re-signed as a free agent.
But Steve Vallos, Dan Koppen and Winston Justice are all free agents. Koppen was on injured reserve in 2013, but longtime Broncos guard Chris Kuper may be a cap casualty in 2014, as he carries a $6 million cap hit, the seventh-highest figure on the team.
Brandon Linder of the University of Miami possesses the size, experience and versatility that every NFL team looks for in a late-round pick along the offensive line. He started 42 career games at Miami, where he started primarily at right guard.
He also started three games as a senior at right tackle and took snaps as a center and tight end during his career with the 'Canes.
At this point, the Broncos are looking for depth and versatility. The 6'6", 311-pound Linder fills that void.
6th Round: RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
The Broncos have their starting running back in Montee Ball, even in the scenario where free-agent Knowshon Moreno leaves. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman provide depth.
The offense needs a game-breaker at the position very similar to what utility players such as Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and Dexter McCluster contribute to their offenses. All three guys aren't considered traditional three-down backs. All three players are no taller than 5'8" and don't have the size to to be considered 20-carry backs.
But all three backs have carved out roles in NFL offenses throughout their NFL careers due to their versatility and/or athleticism.
Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas will provide that type of luxury for the Broncos.
As solid as Moreno is, it's not as if he's going to break off an 80-yard catch-and-run at any given moment. Thomas can provide that for an NFL team. Thomas was a track star and was an all-around threat for the Ducks as a running back, receiver, kickoff returner and punt returner. He was the only player in 2012 to score touchdowns in the aforementioned four areas.
Thomas ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, 11th-best at his position. At just 5'9", 174 pounds and a solid but not impressive 40-yard dash, Thomas should drop down to the sixth round for the Broncos.
7th Round: TE Jordan Najvar, Baylor
By this point in the draft, you're just trying to get value at any position. If your seventh-round draft pick appears in a few games for you, it's considered a successful pick.
The Broncos have four tight ends under contract next season, with Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme having high cap figures for guys used as backups. According to OverTheCap.com, Tamme has a $3.5 million cap hit, while Dreessen has about a $3.2 million cap hit.
Expect the Broncos to bring back one of the two, with Tamme the more likely option considering his history with Manning. In this scenario, the Broncos have two receiving tight ends in Julius Thomas and Tamme on the roster.
Virgil Green is considered the blocking tight end on the team. The Broncos can add another one with Jordan Najvar of Baylor. A physical specimen at 6'6" and 256 pounds, Najvar is a technical blocker who is limited in the receiving game.
For example, he started in eight games but failed to score a touchdown in 2013.
However, if Najvar can provide protection for the quarterback and a body to use in practices, the Broncos will get what they need out of him.