It is a bit of a question mark as to what position the Broncos will address with their first overall selection. Several positions of need can be addressed with the 31st overall pick. Those positions include guard, cornerback, defensive end and linebacker.
The question is, which direction will the Broncos head into with that pick? Which player should they draft?
Barring some unexpected slip of a player who could be a superstar in the NFL, the Broncos should target the guard position by drafting UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Before we get into the reasons why the Broncos should draft Su'a-Filo based upon the player himself, let's examine the Broncos' four main positions of need entering the draft.
Broncos' Position Needs
Simply put, the Broncos' biggest position of need is at guard.
Though the cornerback situation is a huge question mark at the moment considering the injury histories of Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, if both corners have relatively healthy seasons in 2014, the Broncos are set at the corner position.
When you factor in the continued development of young corners such as Tony Carter and Kayvon Webster, the need for a CB in the first round isn't as pressing as other positions.
The Broncos are currently in need of a starting middle linebacker, but there aren't many top-end prospects at the position in the 2014 NFL draft. The Broncos can wait until the middle rounds to address this position, or in a worst-case scenario, plug in another stopgap option either through free agency or by using Nate Irving in the middle.
Defensive end is a position that can be upgraded, but when you consider DeMarcus Ware will be lining up at right defensive end, combined with the presence of Von Miller as an outside pass-rushing linebacker, the Broncos aren't in dire need of a pass-rushing end.
However, if a pass-rushing end such as Dee Ford or Kony Ealy is available for the team at the No. 31 overall selection, the Broncos might pull the trigger and draft a DE with their first-round pick.
At the moment, the Broncos are in need of a starting left guard, following the departure of incumbent starter Zane Beadles through free agency.
The Broncos have toyed with the idea of shuffling the offensive line to compensate for the loss of Beadles, but it is just simpler to keep things as is while plugging in a new starter at left guard.
This is where Su'a-Filo fits into the Broncos' future plans.
The Tale of the Tape
At 6'4" and 308 pounds, Su'a-Filo has ideal size for a starting guard at the NFL level. He may have to put on a few pounds, but that should not be a problem once he enters the Broncos' conditioning program.
Su'a-Filo ran the seventh-fastest NFL Combine time in the 40-yard dash of any NFL offensive lineman. He was co-winner of the 2013 Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (along with Will Sutton of Arizona State) and was voted team captain for the Bruins the past two years.
The reigning Morris Trophy winner obviously has the size and the accolades that will impress most NFL teams, but what does he do well on the gridiron that warrants his selection by the Broncos with the No. 31 overall pick?
Su'a-Filo is an experienced offensive lineman who started three different seasons at UCLA. During his freshman season, he started 13 games at left tackle. In 2012, he started all 14 games at left guard. In 2013, the UCLA guard started seven games at left guard and six games at left tackle.
The Broncos love versatility at the offensive line positions, as evidenced when they shifted Manny Ramirez from the guard position to the starting center position before the 2013 season began. Su'a-Filo possesses that ability to shift positions in the event of an injury.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com details some of the guard's strengths at the position:
Quick out of his stance. Effective pass blocker -- can bend his knees, extend and mirror in short area. Generates movement in the run game. Can work his hips and maneuver to gain positioning. Good foot athlete. Can pull, trap, combo block and step to the second level.
Nawrocki also details the weaknesses in Su'a-Filo's game:
Lacks ideal length. Missed two years of strength training while serving a LDS mission and has a bad body. Could stand to play with better pop and power in his hands. Bends at the waist, gets overextended and falls off blocks. Heavy-legged -- slow to shift his weight and adjust to stunts and quick inside moves. Gets beat across his face.
It's worth nothing that Su'a-Filo had the eighth-smallest hand size of any NFL offensive lineman at the combine. Scouts such as Nawrocki don't believe Su'a-Filo has the ideal length when it pertains to his hand size and his arm length.
Why Su'a-Filo Would Work in the Broncos' System
The Broncos have one of the best offensive lines in the entire NFL, if not the best offensive line in the NFL.
Ryan Clady returns at starting left tackle after missing almost the entire season, Ramirez returns to anchor the center position and former Pro Bowler Louis Vasquez returns at right guard. The question mark is with Orlando Franklin.
Franklin has started the past three seasons at right tackle, but according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, Franklin will shift to left guard to begin the Broncos' offseason program. This means Chris Clark will fill in at right tackle at the moment.
The offensive line gave up an NFL-low 20 sacks despite a league-high 675 pass attempts. This is due in large part not only to the Broncos' consistency in the trenches, but the ability of quarterback Peyton Manning to get rid of the ball at a quick rate, while also being able to call out blitzes.
Manning's presence alone makes every player on the offensive unit a better one.
Because Su'a-Filo is considered an effective pass-blocker, he will excel in the Broncos' system due to their reliance upon the passing game. Because he also is a quick guy, who isn't a large guy for an NFL offensive lineman, Su'a-Filo will react quickly on his feet in the running game and the screen game.
The Broncos need a starting left guard. Although they have shifted the offensive line around for now to compensate for the lack of a suitable starting left guard to begin their offseason conditioning program, things will change a couple of weeks from now following the NFL draft.
By drafting Su'a-Filo, the Broncos would find a starting left guard immediately whom they can plug in without missing a beat when it pertains to chemistry on the offensive line.
Unless a true difference-maker pops up on the Broncos' radar late in the first round, the franchise should go with the less-than-spectacular but safe selection in Su'a-Filo.
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