5 Risky Picks the Denver Broncos Must Consider in the 2014 NFL Draft
We laugh at those picks now, but they looked like home runs at the time. ESPN.com's Todd McShay had this to say in 2007 after seeing Russell's passing session during his pro day:
"I can't remember being in such awe of a quarterback in my decade of attending combines and pro days."
So it's clear that you can't always know what you're seeing, even when you're paid to do it.
The upside to this, seeing as how nothing is a sure thing, is that you can also take some shots and make some reaches, especially when there's nothing that you really need. That's the position the Denver Broncos are in. They do have needs, no doubt about it, but not the way that, say, Jacksonville does. They can take some risks, especially in the later rounds, and the team's not going to fall apart if they don't pan out.
Sometimes, you have to risk a lot to get a lot. These are five risks that Denver could consider if the cards fall the right way.
I have actually been a fairly strong supporter of Michigan State's Max Bullough. I love his leadership ability and his strength against the run. He's a classic middle linebacker, someone who the defense can rally around. He has already been a leader at Michigan State, which had a very highly ranked defense in his time there. In 2013, the Spartans ranked third in the country in points against.
Bullough's stock has risen a bit, but the risk here is twofold. First off, his speed isn't going to blow your mind. This could make him something of a liability if he has to try to run down a tight end in pass protection. While he could get better, you can't teach speed.
The other risk involves off-the-field issues. A senior, Bullough's last game was supposed to be his greatest: leading the Spartans to the Rose Bowl. However, he was suspended before the game for breaking team rules, and, as Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News reports, won't tell anyone why.
Denver certainly does need to draft a corner at some point, for depth if nothing else, and getting one who played in the SEC isn't a bad way to go. While he's no Joe Haden, Marcus Roberson could be a great pick. Denver seems to be looking for physical defenders, and Roberson has the size to play that style of ball. That would fit in well with players like Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Being physical also helps young corners who may make mental mistakes.
The problem, again, could stem from off-the-field issues. Roberson was suspended by the Florida Gators, like Bullough, for violating team rules, as reported by Chase Goodbread on NFL.com. Rachel George of the Orlando Sentinel also reported that he faced underage drinking charges in 2011.
Neither of these things rule him out, clearly, but multiple issues can show a pattern. Florida is a big school, so he had to know he was under the microscope, and yet he still made those mistakes. Would problems crop up in Denver as well?
Some people wouldn't even consider Paul Richardson a risk. He was clearly the best player at Colorado last season. The team as a whole did not do well, but Richardson had 83 receptions for 1,343 yards. He's incredibly fast and quick in space, meaning that he can turn it up a notch and leave defenders behind if he gets past the coverage. He could be an explosive spark for the Broncos, and drafting a player out of Colorado is sure to sell tickets.
The risk, though, is in size. He's only 175 pounds. With a frame like that, how long will he last in the NFL? Other players have done it, sure, but he would need to bulk up to take the bigger hits that he'll get at the pro level. Injury concerns could make him a reach. After all, it hurts to take a guy too early and then have him sidelined for much of the year.
Connecticut may have won a pair of basketball titles this year, but the school certainly isn't known for its football, which is why many people have never even heard of Yawin Smallwood. However, with Denver looking for good linebacker play, he could be a later pick that helps the team.
Smallwood is different than someone like Max Bullough in that he's not a big, strong linebacker who can stuff the run. In fact, that's the main risk: Is he going to be big enough to make plays in the pros? Is he going to have the strength to bring down someone like Jamaal Charles?
His upside is his length, speed and agility. He would be an ideal linebacker in a pass-coverage scheme. That would make him more and more valuable as the NFL keeps shifting toward a pass-first focus. This could be especially true in Denver, where opponents usually have to throw a lot to keep up.
De'Anthony Thomas is electric. When the ball is in his hands, everyone holds their breath. He is quick and nimble and has great top-end speed. There's something about the way he moves on the field that seriously can't be taught.
He'd be the ideal complement to Montee Ball. While Ball is a thundering, powerful runner who moves into contact, Thomas is smaller and faster, dancing away from contact and leaving defenders behind. On his own, he could struggle to run between the tackles, but pairing him with Ball and throwing to him out of the backfield would be a great way to add another dimension to the offense.
The risk, though, could be huge. Small, quick players do have a tendency to excel against very average college defenses and then get stuffed by legit defenders. Just look at Denard Robinson out of Michigan. He used to carve up low-level competition, but the best defenses in college football would shut him down, and the same has largely happened in the pros, where he only has 66 yards, three fumbles and no touchdowns.
That's not to say that Thomas is doomed to be another Robinson, but at only 5'9" and 174 pounds, he's pretty small for an NFL back.