Denver Broncos: Key Positions the Broncos Could Address with First-Round Pick
The Broncos have several key positions that need to be immediately addressed, including middle linebacker and offensive guard.
Though the Broncos have voids at starting middle linebacker and left guard, it wouldn't be farfetched for the Broncos to draft a player at another position with the 31st overall selection.
As is the case with any NFL team, the Broncos underwent a roster overhaul that saw key players such as Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wesley Woodyard, Shaun Phillips and Zane Beadles leave through free agency.
The Broncos replaced the aforementioned players with free-agent signings such as Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders.
The franchise still has holes to fill and several positions that are short on depth. Here are five key positions the Broncos could address with their first overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
One of the Broncos' two glaring holes in the starting lineup is at left guard.
The Broncos have a complicated situation at offensive line which involves them shuffling their current group of starting offensive lineman around to compensate for the loss of Beadles.
Rather than disrupt current team chemistry by playing linemen out of position, the Broncos should go the easier route of drafting a left guard in the draft.
The question is, will the Broncos draft a guard in the first round or later on in the draft?
Don Banks and Doug Farrar of SI.com have the Broncos selecting guards in the first round in their latest mock drafts. Banks has the Broncos selecting Xavier Su'a-Filo of UCLA, while Farrar has David Yankey of Stanford going to Denver with the 31st overall selection.
There is no denying that the Broncos have a hole at left guard, but whether or not the franchise elects to draft a top-tier guard in the first round will come down to this—do the Broncos believe that their offensive line is best served by shuffling around their current starting lineup, or do they believe it is best served by drafting a guard such as Su'a-Filo or Yankey with their first overall pick?
The other major position of need for the franchise is at middle linebacker.
The Broncos had veterans Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon start at the position in 2013. Both players became free agents in the offseason, which means the Broncos will look for a new starting middle linebacker in 2014.
Inside linebacker has been an unstable position over the years. The Broncos thought they found a long-term solution at the position when they signed Joe Mays to a contract extension before the 2012 season.
Mays proved that he wasn't the answer as inconsistent play led to his benching, before an injury landed him on injured reserve six weeks into the 2012 season. 15-year NFL veteran Keith Brooking took over the starting middle linebacker spot before becoming a free agent in 2013.
The issue is this—middle linebacker is just not as important of a position as it was in years past. The shift in today's NFL to pass-heavy offenses has led to defenses playing more often in the nickel formation.
Do the Broncos really want to spend a first-round draft pick on a position that isn't as important as other positions of need?
If the Broncos decide middle linebacker is a position that needs to be addressed with a first-round pick, C.J. Mosley of Alabama appears to be the best option. Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports projects the Broncos drafting Mosley with the 31st overall selection.
Though the talk of the Broncos drafting a cornerback in the first round has seemed to cool down after the signings of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Tony Carter, the team still needs help at the position.
Second-year corner Kayvon Webster and the aforementioned three players are the only four corners on the Broncos roster with any legitimate NFL experience.
Considering that Harris Jr. is coming off of a serious ACL injury, that Talib has never played a full 16-game season in his NFL career and that Carter and Webster struggled at various points throughout the 2013 season, one can easily conclude that cornerback is a huge question mark entering 2014.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports has Jason Verrett of TCU being drafted by the Broncos toward the end of the first round.
With question marks on all four of their current corners entering 2014, the Broncos taking Verrett with their first-round pick may just become a reality next month.
While it is true the Broncos have their pass-rusher with the recently signed DeMarcus Ware, the defensive end position still needs to be upgraded at some point.
Ware will likely start at right defensive end, the spot that was previously occupied by Shaun Phillips. Robert Ayers signed with the New York Giants, Derek Wolfe hasn't played since last November due to an illness and Malik Jackson is pegged as the starting left defensive end at the moment.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports projects DE Dee Ford of Auburn as the Broncos' at No. 31 overall. Though Ford is undersized at just 6'2" and 245 pounds, he enters the draft as one of the best pure pass-rushing threats of any NFL draft prospect.
Though the Broncos hope that 2013 draft pick Quanterus Smith picks up some of the slack left behind by the departures of Phillips and Ayers, Ford would, along with Ware and Von Miller, instantly give the Broncos three legit pass-rushing threats.
But the one thing the Broncos are lacking at the position is size. Thomas is the lone exception at 6'3". Eric Decker was the same height as Thomas, but he signed as a free agent with the New York Jets.
Welker, Sanders, and Caldwell are all no taller than 6'0" and weigh less than 200 pounds.
This is where the lure of drafting a big receiver such as Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin comes into play.
Yes, while the Broncos do have Peyton Manning at quarterback and Manning makes just about every receiver he plays with look like a superstar, the Broncos could possibly run into problems punching the ball into the end zone with just two big receiving targets in Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.
Benjamin is 6'5" and 240 pounds. He'll likely be available late in the first round, and the Broncos then will have the option of selecting a big red-zone receiving target.