Denver Broncos Mock Draft: Final 7-Round Predictions
The NFL draft is finally upon us! For the second year in a row, the Denver Broncos entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. In 2013, the Broncos made it all the way to the Super Bowl as the conference representative.
In the big game, the Broncos lost by 35 points. In free agency, the Broncos lost starters from 2013 while also adding impact veteran players. Now they turn their attention to the NFL draft.
With the 31st-overall selection, the Broncos are looking to add talent that can make an immediate impact. General manager John Elway spoke about their outlook on Monday.
“We’re going into this draft…fortunate of the fact that we don’t have huge holes. There are always little needs that you have going into a draft and we don’t really feel like we have huge holes, so therefore we’re going to try to pick football players that we believe can make our football team and also help us.”
With the draft constantly in motion, we could see the Broncos move around by trading up or down to get the players they want. Here’s what their seven picks could look like.
Round 1, Pick 31: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Broncos may be moving up or down in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. If they want linebackers like Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) or C.J. Mosley (Alabama), then they will likely have to acquire an earlier pick.
The Broncos could move down and out of the first round if the price is right. With the fifth-year option for first-round picks, the 31st overall selection is going to be intriguing for teams who pass on quarterbacks early in the draft.
When asked if this new wrinkle adds to the value of their pick, Elway said this: “I think it adds to it, there’s no question, especially with the quarterback position if it’s somebody that they want. I think it makes the end of the first round more inviting than waiting and taking it in the second round, because it is a benefit for you to have that extra year.”
If they stay put at No. 31, then cornerback Jason Verrett could be their pick.
Verrett’s game is built on speed and ferocity. His read-and-react skills are among the best in this draft class. Verrett can play off-man coverage, yet he’ll quickly get to the play when the pass is coming in.
At 5’9”, 190 pounds, Verrett’s size will be a detriment in the red zone. He also is not going to jam larger receivers at the line of scrimmage. However, as a slot corner it doesn’t get much better than Verrett in the 2014 draft.
Round 2, Pick 63: Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
If the Broncos miss out on a middle linebacker in the first round, then that’s a position they could target at the end of Round 2.
Chris Borland from Wisconsin is a two-down thumper who breaks plays down quickly as they unfold in front of him. He arrives at the ball with natural violence, and Borland rarely takes false steps when attacking the play. Borland can quickly scrape-and-flow near the line of scrimmage to get to the ball-carrier.
He lacks ideal size for the position, and Borland did not stand out on film when asked to cover. The lack of coverage ability could negatively impact his draft stock.
Earlier this year at the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl, Borland was a standout player in practice and he impressed me with his lateral agility in coverage drills. Those practices may be enough to convince a team that Borland should be given a shot as a three-down player at the pro level.
However, there is at least one team that has taken Borland off the draft board because of his surgically repaired shoulder, according to Bob McGinn from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
At this time, the Broncos only have Nate Irving and Steven Johnson at the position. Elway complimented Irving at the team’s predraft press conference.
“We feel pretty good about [LB] Nate [Irving], especially on first and second down. When we look at it, we’re more concerned on third down—the nickel ‘backer on third down. We have several options there. [S] T.J. Ward can step down in the box, does a tremendous job in the box, so he could be that nickel ‘backer.”
The Broncos are likely to select a middle linebacker to add to the competition at the position. That pick should come in the first two rounds of the draft.
Round 3, Pick 95: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
The Broncos made a splash in free agency when they added Emmanuel Sanders to take the place of departed free agent Eric Decker (New York Jets). Sanders has more speed than Decker, and he gives the offense a big-play element that Decker did not.
Even though they added Sanders, the Broncos still need to add another wide receiver. In the third round, Paul Richardson would be a great pick.
Richardson has the speed to take the top off the defense. He can get by corners on the outside with ease. Once the ball is in his hands, Richardson also has an extra gear after the catch.
He didn’t run the full route tree in college, but Richardson ran go and comeback routes crisply. Tracking the ball over his shoulder is sometimes difficult for Richardson, and this leads to unnecessary drops. His size (6’0”, 177 pounds) will also be held against him.
Wes Welker is in the final year of his contract, and the team needs added depth if he struggles with injury again this year. The Broncos may not want Sanders returning punts and kicks this year, but they could easily turn to a rookie like Richardson to do that.
Some may forget that Trindon Holliday was listed as a wide receiver even though he rarely contributed on offense. With Holliday gone to the New York Giants in free agency, the team needs an impact return man with speed and agility.
Richardson could begin his pro career playing that role on special teams, but he’s a much better weapon on offense than Holliday ever was. He also has the upside to be an impact starter in the NFL one day. Richardson’s skill set is very similar to that of DeSean Jackson (Washington), and he could be a star in the making for the Broncos.
Round 4, Pick 131: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
The Broncos allowed last year’s starting left guard Zane Beadles (Jacksonville Jaguars) to move on in free agency. They have a few in-house options to take his spot in the starting lineup.
One of those options includes moving starting right tackle Orlando Franklin inside to guard. Elway talked about this option on Monday.
“That’s not going to change our mindset going into the draft. If there’s an offensive tackle or an offensive guard that’s on the board that’s the best player up there, we’ll take him.”
If the Broncos want to add a lineman in the draft, then David Yankey would be a great value in the fourth round. Earlier this year, Yankey was thought of as a possible first-round pick. Now, there are some in the scouting community calling Yankey “undraftable,” according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
There’s some positives to highlight with Yankey. He can pull effectively, and he’s shown the capability of being a “sticky” blocker at the second level. This makes him a great asset on screen plays and sweeps. He’s also a highly intelligent player who can anticipate an opponents’ moves when protecting the quarterback.
The negatives with Yankey also show up on film. He’s more of a waist-bender than he is a knee-bender. This gets him out of position as a blocker, and he will lose leverage while getting off balance. Yankey is athletic, but too many times he’ll stop his feet after initial contact.
Even with questions surrounding Yankey’s game, the risk in the fourth round is minimal.
Round 5, Pick 171: Isaiah Crowell, RB Alabama State (Georgia transfer)
The Broncos had no problem letting last year’s starting running back Knowshon Moreno (Miami Dolphins) move on in free agency. They were able to do that because last year’s second-round pick, Montee Ball, should be able to step in and start in 2014.
Behind Ball the Broncos have C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Anderson has a nice blend of power and initial quickness. He should be the primary backup behind Ball this year. Hillman is the team’s change-of-pace back, and he’s arguably the fastest player on the team. Fumbling problems in 2013 cost him an opportunity at more playing time. Without Moreno, the Broncos need to add another back to the mix.
That back could be Isaiah Crowell.
He’s a naturally talented runner who originally burst onto the college scene with the Georgia Bulldogs as the SEC’s Offensive Freshman of the Year. Weapons charges (later dropped) got him bounced off the roster, so he had to transfer to Alabama State. This off-field issue will likely cause his draft stock to tumble.
On Monday, Elway talked about how he grades players with baggage.
“What we do, is that we look at every player and we look at the full package that each player has to offer. One issue or another—we try to put them as a group as what he has to offer us with the Denver Broncos and if he can come in here and help us. That goes into evaluating each player. Whether it be character, mentality, football mentality—that all goes along with the player.”
Crowell has the size to wear down an opposing defense. He also has the speed and initial quickness to get through the hole quickly. Once at the second level, Crowell has the ability to bounce plays outside and turn them into long gains. He’s also a good option as a receiver out of the backfield.
Focus and motivation are two concerns with Crowell. Just like Bryce Brown (Philadelphia Eagles) when he came out of college, Crowell must prove a dedication to the game. He needs to show the discipline to work hard in the film room and the weight room. Crowell loves to be “the man”, but he has to show patience going pro and beginning his career as a backup or special teams player.
When taking in all the factors that will go into drafting Crowell, the Broncos could find him as a value pick at the end of the fifth round. If he stays out of trouble (as he did at Alabama State), then Crowell has the ability to be a quality starter at the pro level.
Round 6, Pick 207: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
The Broncos are likely to add a developmental quarterback in the draft this year. One player they could consider is Brett Smith from Wyoming. He was one of the players the Broncos had in for a private workout, so known interest is there.
Elway was able to offer some insight into the team’s thinking during the predraft workout process.
“I think that with the different guys we want to talk to, get them on the boards and get them in and understand what they know about football and get to know them personally. There are some different things that we go through. We get to talk to 60 guys at the combine and then the guys we miss there we try to make up when we bring them here.”
Smith is an athletic quarterback with 4.45 speed. He can keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. Smith can flick the ball quickly out of his hands, and he can make off-platform throws when pressure is in his face. While he doesn’t have a rocket arm, Smith can make all the throws required in the NFL.
Smith didn’t have the best protection at Wyoming, and this has created a few bad habits. He’ll sometimes look to run too quickly after the snap in anticipation of the pressure. Smith also made too many throws off his back foot because pass-rushers were getting to him quickly.
He wasn’t invited to the scouting combine, and Smith is going to use that as extra motivation. At the Wyoming pro day I asked Smith if he loved to prove people wrong.
“I like to prove my doubters wrong, but I love to prove my supporters right,” Smith exclaimed.
Smith is a favorite of his teammates and a natural leader. Dane Brugler, from CBS Sports, compared Smith to a more controllable version of Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), per Mike Vorel from the Casper Star-Tribune.
The Broncos are likely to add a late-round quarterback this year so they can push Zac Dysert for the third-string developmental spot.
Round 7, Pick 246: Jonathan Dowling, FS, Western Kentucky
The Broncos roster is stacked with talent. This makes adding undrafted free agents more difficult, as they can sign with any team they choose after the draft.
Elway talked about this underreported difficulty on Monday.
“It got much harder last year, and I’m sure it’ll be harder this year once the draft is over and we do start calling the college free agents. But there’s no question, it makes it more difficult when you have a real good football team, because those kids are looking for opportunities and trying to go to the places where they’re best going to be able to make a roster. So it makes it more difficult for us to get those CFAs. It’s a good problem to have.”
A way to get around this problem is to add the most coveted players as late-round picks. This way the Broncos lock up the guys they want without having to make a pitch for them after the draft.
For their final pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos could look to add another safety. Free safety Jonathan Dowling would be a fine addition this late in the draft.
He’s incredibly raw at the position and he didn’t face the greatest competition at Western Kentucky, but there’s intriguing upside here.
Dowling began his college career at Florida, but attitude issues got him booted off the team, according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post.
He can make the big hit, and he’s a natural playmaker who looks to create turnovers. Dowling has the speed and long stride to stay in step with receivers on downfield routes. He also has the size to fight bigger tight ends for the football.
At this point in the draft, Dowling would be well worth the gamble. In a Jack Del Rio defense, he could fully develop and perhaps start playing up to his enormous potential.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.