5 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening-Game Starters for Denver Broncos
The 2014 NFL draft is less than a month away, and the Denver Broncos are feverishly putting the final touches on their draft board right now. As the next few weeks go along, we may hear a few clues about which players the Broncos are holding private workouts with.
Under general manager John Elway the Broncos use a draft philosophy of “best player available.” Elway uses free agency to fill holes on the team, then he uses the draft to build quality depth. He also uses the draft for developing future starters with upside.
Last year’s top pick, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, didn’t begin the season as the starter. However, as the season wore on, he improved his game and was asked to start after Kevin Vickerson was lost for the year with a hip injury. Williams played well, and he looked good as a starter as the team went on a Super Bowl run.
Their 2013 second-round pick, running back Montee Ball, didn’t start as a rookie. He played as the primary backup behind Knowshon Moreno for most of the season. With Moreno moving on to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, the Broncos are handing the reins of the ground game over to Ball.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster (their 2013 third-round pick) did not start in the team’s base package last year. When the Broncos used a nickel package, Webster was asked to play a lot filling in for an injured Champ Bailey.
In the draft this year, the Broncos will look for the best player available in each round. Some of these players might be able to win the starting job to begin the season.
Here’s a look at five players that could be opening-game starters for the Broncos in 2014.
Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley
The Broncos have a great need at middle linebacker. Mike Klis, from the Denver Post, believes the Broncos will take a middle linebacker within the first three rounds of the draft. He also notes that the Broncos are hoping beyond hope that C.J. Mosley (Alabama) will fall to them at 31st overall.
Mosley is arguably the only middle linebacker prospect in this draft class who can play on all three downs. Having him on the field is like having a coach on the field because Mosley is incredibly bright and is able to diagnose plays quickly as they unfold in front of him.
He’s disciplined and rarely takes false steps when flowing to the play. Mosley has the ability to avoid blockers at the second level, which means he’s almost always around the football in the blink of an eye. When Mosley arrives at the ball-carrier he does so with a thud. Mosley is known as a sound tackler who will cleanly wrap up and get his man to the ground.
Mosley is somewhat on the small side, listing at 235 pounds. With elbow, shoulder and hip injuries during his college career, there are concerns about his ability to hold up at the pro level.
He plays a lot like Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Like David, Mosley has high football intelligence and elite athleticism to make plays all over the field.
Inside Linebacker Chris Borland
If the Broncos pass on middle linebacker in the first round, then selecting a guy like Chris Borland (Wisconsin) would make a lot of sense. He could be an option for the Broncos at the end of the first round, but it might be best to see if he falls to the end of the second round.
Borland is a high-motor player who has a style that is reminiscent of former Cowboys/Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. Like Thomas, Borland is technically sound tackler who rarely lets his target get away after contract.
He understands what an offense is trying to do based off down and distance. Borland is a strong leader who can also help put his teammates in the correct position.
While he is a force to be reckoned with as a run defender, he lacks the speed and agility to provide quality coverage at the pro level. This means Borland is most likely to be a two-down thumper in the NFL.
Another concern for Borland is his short arms. His arms measured in at 28 5/8” at the Senior Bowl earlier this year. This negatively affects him in short-yardage situations as he’ll struggle to disengage from blockers in close quarters.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller
Even though they added Aqib Talib in free agency, the Broncos may add another player to the secondary with a premium pick. The top target on their draft board (not named C.J. Mosley) could be Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Talib is going to take the spot of departed free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the starting lineup. It’s certainly an upgrade at the position as Talib is a better tackler and has true shutdown ability. Injury history is a concern with Talib, as he’s never played a full 16-game regular season during his six-year career.
Opposite Talib in the starting lineup should be Chris Harris Jr. He is coming back from the partially torn ACL injury he suffered in the playoff win over the San Diego Chargers. Early reports indicate that Harris is on track to be ready for the start of the regular season.
If Talib gets banged up before the season, or if Harris suffers a setback during his recovery, the Broncos need to be ready.
Fuller has the ability to step in and start from day one. He can play on the outside, or he can even “start” inside if the team begins the game in a nickel package.
In 2013, the Broncos ranked 10th in the NFL in opposing quarterback rating (70.3) when in a nickel package. The league average in 2013 in such a defensive package was 90.8.
The defense also held opposing quarterbacks to a 44.1 percent completion rate when in a nickel package. The league average in 2013 was 54.2 percent.
Fuller could help those numbers be even better in 2014.
He played multiple positions in college (linebacker, safety, cornerback) and Fuller can excel in both man or zone coverage.
Fuller is a big cornerback with long arms that help him jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. His wingspan also helps him knock away passes at the point of the catch. Fuller also has the leaping ability and timing to frustrate opposing quarterbacks.
He can jam and reroute receivers early in the route tree. Fuller can also fluidly transition from backpedal to sprint on longer routes.
He does look for the big play too often sometimes, causing him to overrun plays. Fuller doesn’t have elite recovery speed, so if he’s out of position, then it results in a big play. Keeping the play in front of him is best for Fuller’s potential as a pro.
Fuller has high upside if he can learn better discipline. The perfect coach to teach him how to be a quality pro is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Offensive Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo
After losing Zane Beadles to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, the Broncos have a hole at left guard they need to fill. According to the Denver Post’s Mike Klis, the Broncos may use former defensive lineman Ben Garland to fill that spot.
There will also be a competition for the starting center job between last year’s starter Manny Ramirez and recent free-agent addition Will Montgomery. Whoever loses that job could end up as the starting left guard, as both have experience at the position.
At this time it seems unlikely the Broncos will add an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. If they do add a guard, then Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA) would be a fine pick.
Su’a-Filo set the record for starts by a true freshman (13) in 2009. He then left for two years on a Mormon mission, but he came back in 2012 and picked up where he left off.
He played both outside at left tackle and inside at left guard over the last two seasons with the Bruins. Su’a-Filo has the athleticism to look good when pulling to attack the second level of the defense. His footwork also helps him inside when staying in to pass block.
Su’a-Filo has the strength and wide base to get good push as a run-blocker. He does lack a mean streak which is exactly the opposite of what Beadles was known for. Beadles was mean and aggressive on the field, but he had a calm demeanor off the field.
If added to the Broncos, Su’a-Filo would need to clean up some technique problems. He needs to have better body positioning as a blocker and needs to stop reaching for defenders when he takes bad angles.
He could be put on the fast track to the starting lineup if the Broncos select him near the end of the first round.
Defensive End Kony Ealy
The Broncos added DeMarcus Ware in free agency, but they might be looking for more pass-rushers in the draft. Kony Ealy (Missouri) could be a nice fit for the Broncos with the 31st pick in the first round.
Ware will be starting at defensive end for the Broncos in Week 1. The starter opposite of him on the defensive line is a mystery at this time. Candidates for the position include Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson.
Wolfe will be coming back from a scary neck/spinal injury that cut his 2013 season short. Early reports indicate that Wolfe is on track to return near full strength for the beginning of training camp. That's exciting news for Wolfe and the Broncos, but it’s not guaranteed.
Jackson has been improving each year he’s been in the league. He’s got the length and strength to work well as a run defender and as a pass-rusher. With continued improvement, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jackson win the starting job.
The Broncos might want to add a guy like Ealy to the mix. Unlike other defensive ends who could be available at the end of the first round, Ealy is more than a part-time player.
Ealy has the length and burst to get into the backfield quickly. He does a good job of anticipating when the snap is, and that helps him get to the quarterback in a hurry. Ealy will use speed around the edge, but he does have good inside moves (like his spin move) to get by an opponent.
If he can’t get to the passer, then Ealy knows how to disrupt passing lanes. He can time his jumps well, and his long arms help him knock away passes at the line of scrimmage.
Ealy will have to get coached up to get the most out of his incredible potential. He’ll get too upright at the snap, and that causes him to lose leverage. That’s an easier problem to correct, so Ealy should be an impact player no matter where he lands as a pro.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Draft grades provided by NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.