Ranking Denver Broncos' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
The Denver Broncos did a great job of adding quality talent at multiple positions this offseason. They were movers and shakers in free agency, and the Broncos had arguably the best free-agent class of any team in the NFL.
Even though they added a quality group of players, they are still not done looking for more talent. With the big splashes in free agency already done, every team in the NFL has turned their attention to the NFL draft.
General manager John Elway has a draft philosophy of selecting the best player available in each round of the draft—regardless of positional need. Even with that philosophy, there are a few positions where the Broncos must spend a pick in the first three rounds.
Here’s a look at the biggest needs the Broncos need to address in the 2014 NFL draft.
This could be their greatest need. They haven’t had an impact player at the position since Al Wilson in 2006. The team is looking for an intimidator who can make the big play, but they’d also like to find a three-down “Mike” linebacker if they can.
According to Mike Klis, of the Denver Post, the Broncos recently worked out linebacker Ryan Shazier (Ohio State). He’s listed as an outside linebacker, but he has the position versatility to play inside in a 4-3 defense.
Shazier stands out on film with his explosiveness and snap anticipation. This helps him regularly make plays on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Shazier can get to the quarterback in a hurry, and he has terrific acceleration when the ball-carrier is in his sights.
His athleticism also helps him in coverage. He has good eyes, and Shazier is rarely found out of position. He takes good angles to the football, and he understands where plays are unfolding in front of him.
He’s not the biggest middle linebacker, measuring in at 232 pounds. However, Shazier should be able to put on 10 pounds of muscle in an NFL weight program without losing any of his explosiveness.
Even though they added Aqib Talib in free agency, the Broncos still need more cornerback depth. Talib is an impact player, but he’s never played a full 16-game season during his six-year pro career.
The Broncos' other starting cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., is coming off a partially-torn ACL injury that he suffered in the playoff game against the San Diego Chargers. Early reports seem to indicate his recovery is on schedule, but Harris may have to begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. His status for the start of the regular season is most certainly up in the air at this time.
Last year the Broncos spent a third-round pick on Kayvon Webster. He’s currently third on the depth chart, but he suffered through and up-and-down rookie season. If asked to start, Webster may still struggle in his second year.
One cornerback that could interest the Broncos is Jason Verrett (TCU).
Verrett is small, measuring in at 5’10”, 179 pounds. He makes up for his lack of size with a tenacious attitude and incredibly sharp ball skills. He fought through injuries in 2013, but he still won Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He can mirror receivers in space, and Verrett does a good job of anticipating which route a receiver is running. He diagnoses route concepts and combinations quickly. This helps him get to the play as the ball is coming in.
Verrett has the confidence to undercut routes and make a big play. As a three-year starter at TCU, Verrett compiled nine interceptions and 43 passes defensed.
The Broncos added Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, but they have to draft a young player to develop at the position. Sanders has stayed healthy over the last two years, but foot problems plagued him early in his pro career.
Denver has Wes Welker under contract for one more season. Welker is fantastic, but he missed three games last year due to concussion problems. If he is bitten by the injury bug again this season, the Broncos need to be ready.
A player the Broncos recently worked out, per Mike Klis of the Denver Post, is Donte Moncrief (Mississippi).
Moncrief reminds many in the scouting community of Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns). He can make big plays down the field, and Moncrief does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder.
He’s a big-bodied wide receiver, measuring in at 6’2”, 226 pounds. His size immediately makes him a quality red-zone target, and Moncrief also knows how to use his frame to box out smaller defenders.
He doesn’t have great straight-line timed speed, but Moncrief has more than adequate pad speed on film. Moncrief runs a limited route tree at this time. He’s good on go routes, comebacks and curl routes. However, Moncrief does round off his routes when asked to run to the short and intermediate part of the field.
Moncrief also stands out as a blocker. If the Broncos want a young receiver who could be a valuable player in the future, then Moncrief could be an outstanding pick in the second round of the draft.
There is still a huge question mark at left guard for the Broncos. Zane Beadles moved on in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Broncos currently have a hole at that spot.
There are a few in-house options for the Broncos. They could use last year’s starting center, Manny Ramirez, at his more natural position of guard. The team could also experiment with starting right tackle Orlando Franklin inside at guard.
The Broncos picked up free-agent center Will Montgomery, but that may not prevent them from selecting a center in the draft. Tony Pauline, from DraftInsider.net, recently reported that Weston Richburg (Colorado State) is a first-round consideration for several teams including the Broncos.
Richburg compares closely to former Colt (and longtime teammate of Peyton Manning) Jeff Saturday because of his athleticism and ability to be a sticky blocker at the second level . He’s a tough player who can hold his own as a run-blocker.
He is also used to an offense that uses many audibles. Richburg is smart and can regularly change the line calls based on what change to the play the quarterback calls. This skill would greatly aid him on a team like Denver.
The Broncos have had a question mark at center since Tom Nalen retired in 2008. Adding a player like Richburg in the draft could give them a quality starter for the next 10 years.
Other players to consider along the offensive line (at guard) include first-round options Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA) and David Yankey (Stanford).
The Broncos need to add more pass-rushers with one or more picks in the NFL draft. By acquiring future Hall of Fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware the Broncos added a lot of dominance to their defense.
However, behind Ware they have several question marks at the pass-rushing positions.
Von Miller is expected to have a bounce-back season in 2014. His 2013 was disappointing because of a six-game suspension to begin the year due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Upon his return, Miller later suffered an ACL injury in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.
His recovery could last into training camp. In fact, Miller may start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Miller’s status for the start of the regular season is up in the air at this time, and he may not look like his old self until the midway point of the regular season.
Derek Wolfe is coming back from a scary nerve injury that ended his 2013 season. He could provide a bit of pass rush from the edge on the defensive line if he’s healthy. Wolfe should be good to go by the time training camp rolls around, but his capacity for 2014 is a bit of a mystery right now.
Quanterus Smith was added in the 2013 NFL draft with a fifth-round pick. He missed his entire rookie season dealing with a knee injury that he suffered during his final season at Western Kentucky. If healthy, Smith could provide a nice threat on the outside because of his speed and ability to bend around the edge. He could be a hit for the Broncos, but nobody really knows what kind of pro he’ll be.
Ian Rapoport, from NFL Network, recently tweeted the Broncos were set to visit with Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton.
His game is all about heart and hustle. Crichton is not an elite athlete, but he is smart and is always around the football.
He has the strength to win at the point of attack, and Crichton can win by bull-rushing his opponent. Crichton uses his uncanny snap anticipation to help get by larger tackles.
Crichton could use his football intelligence, savvy and instinct to develop into a fine part-time pass-rusher for the Broncos .
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All draft grades provided by NFLDraftScout.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.