Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Denver Broncos' Top 3 Picks
Following a free-agency period that netted the team major free agents in cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos will look to fill key holes on the roster at positions such as guard, cornerback and linebacker early on in the draft.
At the current moment, the Broncos have no projected starting left guard and lack a true starting middle linebacker on the roster.
Luckily for the Broncos, there is no shortage of quality cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL draft, and there are a couple of top-tier guards who will likely be available by the time the Broncos make their first selection with the No. 31 overall pick.
The first three rounds of a draft typically represent players who will have an immediate impact at the pro level for an NFL team. Here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Denver Broncos' top three picks in this year's NFL draft.
Round 1 Best-Case Scenario: Top Guard Drafted
It's not going to be a sexy pick, but the Denver Broncos' most pressing need entering the draft is at left guard.
Coach John Fox has talked about the Broncos possibly shuffling their starting lineup along the offensive line in order to compensate for the loss of former starting left guard Zane Beadles.
The Broncos are certainly capable of making such a shift in personnel work, but it's just too risky of a proposition for a team with championship aspirations next season. It is simply a lot easier to just draft a starting left guard high in the draft and keep the offensive line the way it is currently constructed.
Luckily for the Broncos, two top-tier guards will likely be available by the time the Broncos make their first selection with the No. 31 overall pick in UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo and Nevada's Joel Bitonio.
Some may argue for the Broncos to draft a top-end pass-rusher like defensive end Dee Ford of Auburn if he's still available, and some may vouch for a cornerback, but left guard is an immediate concern unlike the two aforementioned positions.
The Broncos have to fill their vacancy at left guard early on in the draft.
Round 1 Worst-Case Scenario: Top Guards off the Board, Broncos Select a CB
This is a reality considering the Broncos' desire to draft the best player available rather than select a player who fills the most immediate need for the team.
One has to look no further than the Broncos' second-round selection of quarterback Brock Osweiler during the 2012 NFL draft, although Peyton Manning was clearly the starting quarterback of the team for at least the next couple of years.
The Broncos enter the 2014 NFL draft with left guard their most immediate concern. Though that much is obvious, the Broncos could easily elect to select a cornerback or pass-rusher with the No. 31 overall selection.
This year's draft is cornerback-heavy with as many as five cornerback prospects possibly being selected in the first round of the draft, according to CBSSports.com.
The Broncos currently have four cornerbacks with legit NFL experience in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Tony Carter and Kayvon Webster.
The issue is Talib is historically an injury-prone player (Talib has never played a full 16-game season in his career), Harris is coming off a serious ACL injury, and Carter and Webster struggled for playing time during the 2013 season.
Therefore, the Broncos could press to draft a nickel-specialty cornerback like TCU's Jason Verrett.
The issue then becomes this: If Talib and Harris return just fine from their injuries, they will be Denver's starting corners in 2014. If Carter and Webster continue to improve upon their play from 2013, either one of them will serve as Denver's nickel corner.
Which then negates the selection of Verrett entirely.
The Broncos should draft a cornerback. It just shouldn't be in the first round.
Round 2 Best-Case Scenario: Broncos Draft CB
Whereas it would be silly if the Broncos were to press by drafting a cornerback in the first round for the sake of drafting a cornerback, it's viable for the Broncos to draft a cornerback in the second round.
Jason Verrett would likely be the best cornerback option late in the first round, but there are a plethora of quality cornerbacks who will be available late in the second round.
Florida's Marcus Roberson, Utah's Keith McGill and Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste are just a few names who will likely be available by the time the Broncos make their second-round draft selection with the No. 63 overall pick.
These are all players with size at over 6 feet tall. All three corners are projected to be drafted in either the second or third round. Given limited expectations and a second-round draft billing, these players could reasonably move up the depth chart during training camp and start opposite Aqib Talib come Week 1.
Round 2 Worst-Case Scenario: Broncos Draft a Wide Receiver
Similar to how the 2014 draft features many quality cornerbacks, it also features many top wide receivers.
According to CBSSports.com, as many as seven wide receivers are projected to possibly go in the first round.
The issue here isn't that the Broncos could possibly find a quality receiver such as Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews late in the second round—it's just that the need isn't there.
Though Thomas and Welker's contracts are up following the 2014 season, the Broncos are in a win-now mode with quarterback Peyton Manning and a veteran supporting cast. They cannot afford to waste a second-round draft pick on a receiver who will serve as the team's No. 4 receiver at best during the 2014 season.
Brock Osweiler may serve as the team's franchise quarterback one day, but with regard to the team's fortunes over the last couple of seasons, Osweiler has had zero impact for the franchise. Imagine if that second-round draft pick in 2012 had been used on an actual position of need.
Similar to the 2012 draft, the Broncos need to address positions of need rather than draft a player who could make an impact for the franchise years down the road.
Round 3 Best-Case Scenario: DE James Gayle Is Drafted
The Denver Broncos have top-tier pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, but the question then becomes: Who is the starting defensive end opposite Ware?
Malik Jackson is currently slotted as the team's starting left defensive end. Jackson started five games for the team, along with all three 2013 postseason games.
Derek Wolfe was initially the team's starter at left defensive end before an illness sidelined him for the last month of the regular season and the entire postseason run.
Questions at left defensive end create a need at that position for the Broncos. Enter into the equation Virginia Tech's James Gayle.
Gayle stands at 6'4" and 259 pounds. Though he is not a physically imposing force at the position and racked up just six sacks his senior season at Virginia Tech, Gayle provides any NFL team a pass-rushing threat at the position.
Gayle is experienced, having started three years in college. Rob Rang of CBSSports.com has compared him to former Broncos defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey: "Gayle has enough burst off the snap to create pressure and could emerge as an effective NFL rusher, whether in a 4-3 or 3-4 role. He doesn't possess ideal flexibility, however, and doesn't possess the array of pass rush techniques one might expect given his 53 career games played."
Late in the third round, Gayle would be a quality pick for a Broncos defensive line short on depth.
Round 3 Worst-Case Scenario: Broncos Press for a Middle Linebacker
While it is true the Broncos have two immediate needs in a starting left guard and a starting middle linebacker, this year's draft is short on quality prospects at the middle linebacker position.
CBSSports.com projects that just three middle linebackers will be drafted in the first three rounds.
If the Broncos fail to nab a player like Alabama's C.J. Mosley or Ohio State's Ryan Shazier in the first round, are there really any appealing options to draft an inside linebacker in the second and third rounds?
The Broncos have gotten by just fine while starting Keith Brooking and Paris Lenon during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In the worst-case scenario, the Broncos will find themselves starting Nate Irving or another veteran linebacker for the third straight season.
The need to draft a starting left guard, quality cornerback and starting defensive end all outweigh the need to draft a starting middle linebacker when the draft lacks quality prospects at that position.