Denver Broncos' Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

Cecil LammeyContributor IMay 8, 2014

Denver Broncos' Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 NFL draft is here, and the Denver Broncos are ready to add more talent to a team that could very well end up in the Super Bowl (again) this year. This is thought of as a deep draft class, and the Broncos should be able to add many quality players in this draft.

    The Broncos should begin the draft looking for a middle linebacker, a cornerback or help on the interior of the offensive line.

    They tried to add guys like D’Qwell Jackson (Indianapolis Colts) and Daryl Smith (Baltimore Ravens) in free agency, but neither signed with the team. The Broncos currently have only Nate Irving and Steven Johnson at the position, and they need to find an intimidator who can play all three downs.

    Even though they signed Aqib Talib in free agency, the Broncos need additional cornerback depth. Talib is an upgrade over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but he’s never played a full 16-game season during his six-year career. Their other starter, Chris Harris Jr., is coming off a partially-torn ACL that he injured in the playoff game against the San Diego Chargers.

    The interior of the offensive line could use a guard or a center. They have in-house options like Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery or Manny Ramirez that could be shuffled around. Perhaps the team thinks it’s best to grab a rookie and enhance the competition at center and left guard.

    Rumors are swirling about the Broncos moving off the 31st pick in the first round. General manager John Elway has stated the team is considering both moving up or moving down this year. They could decide to vacate their pick if a player they really want is going to go before they’re up. The Broncos could also move off No. 31 if some team wants to trade back into the first round to grab a quarterback (and a fifth-year option).

    Let’s get you primed and ready for the draft.

Departures and Additions

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    Departures

    The Denver Broncos were intent on letting their own free agents test the open market. This move meant they were likely to lose some key players from the 2013 roster, and they did.

    Last year’s starting running back Knowshon Moreno moved on in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. The veteran back finished 2013 as the only Broncos running back in team history to have over 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. The Broncos are likely to fill his old role with second-year pro Montee Ball.

    The team lost a fan favorite when Eric Decker signed with the New York Jets. He was a key piece of the Broncos' high-powered passing game, but now he’ll be replaced in the lineup by Emmanuel Sanders.

    The offensive line lost a starter when left guard Zane Beadles decided to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Broncos don’t have an answer at the spot, but there are several options they might consider, including moving right tackle Orlando Franklin inside to guard.

    The defense lost some starters as well.

    Starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie declined an offer to stay in Denver, but he ended up getting signed a little bit later by the New York Giants. The Broncos got an upgrade at the position when they signed Aqib Talib.

    Champ Bailey is no longer with the Broncos. The team decided to release him, and the veteran corner ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints. He had a poor 2013 season, but that can partially be blamed on the Lisfranc injury that he suffered in the preseason and tried to play through during the regular season.

    Wesley Woodyard moved on in free agency to the Tennessee Titans. The biggest hole on the roster is arguably at middle linebacker. Expect this position to be filled in the NFL draft.

    Robert Ayers joined Rodgers-Cromartie with the Giants this offseason. The Broncos got a huge upgrade when they signed future Hall of Fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware in free agency.

    Denver’s top sack artist in 2013, Shaun Phillips, also moved on to join Woodyard with the Titans.

     

    Additions

    When free agency opened, the Broncos were immediately making big-name moves. The first, and arguably most impactful move, in free agency came with the signing of veteran strong safety T.J. Ward. He brings an attitude to the defense that has been missing since Brian Dawkins had to retire. Ward will step in to start opposite Rahim Moore in the deep secondary.

    Aqib Talib also adds toughness to the Broncos defense. He has the size-speed combination to be a shutdown corner for the Broncos. His signing makes them tougher against the run and the pass.

    DeMarcus Ware decided to join Talib in Denver after sharing a flight with him to the Mile High City. Ware is coming off a disappointing six-sack 2013 season. He was banged up with an elbow injury that bothered him all of last year, and he should be able to bounce back in 2014.

    Emmanuel Sanders gives the team more speed at the wide receiver position. He’s already grabbed the attention of Peyton Manning during private workouts at Duke University. Sanders can gain separation more easily than Decker, and he’s more dangerous after the catch.

    The Broncos added a veteran center to the mix when they signed Will Montgomery in free agency. He’ll compete for the starting job in the middle of the offensive line with last year’s starter Manny Ramirez. If Montgomery wins the job, Ramirez could be moved back to his natural position of guard.

    A recent addition to the defensive line is veteran defensive tackle Marvin Austin. His talent has never been a questionAustin was a second-round pick for a reason. However, motivation and durability are two huge question marks with the big man.

Team Needs

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    Middle Linebacker

    With all they did in free agency, the Broncos don’t have many glaring team needs entering the draft. However, they have a glaring hole in the middle of their defense. The Broncos must add another middle linebacker in the draft.

    They haven’t had a quality middle linebacker since the days Al Wilson lined up on the defense. The game has changed a bit since Wilson was forced to retire (2006), and today’s middle linebackers must be able to stay on the field all three downs. The Broncos will be looking for a player who excels against the run, but can also be out there in passing situations.

     

    Cornerback

    Even though they added Aqib Talib in free agency, the Broncos have a need at cornerback. Both Talib and Chris Harris Jr. have durability concerns, and last year’s third-round pick Kayvon Webster struggled as a rookie.

    Webster is a big corner, but he lacks burst after a receiver makes a break. He also struggled with speedy receivers on downfield routes. Webster gained plenty of experience last year, but the Broncos would be wise to add more talent to the position. Any rookie corner added will compete with Webster for the nickel cornerback job in 2014.

     

    Offensive Line

    The loss of Zane Beadles in free agency has no resolution at this time. They could move right tackle Orlando Franklin inside to guard, but they could also put Manny Ramirez in at left guard if he loses the battle for the starting center job with Will Montgomery. Selecting an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the draft is not out of the question.

    Even with the addition of Montgomery, the Broncos may also consider adding a center in this year’s draft. This is a strong class at center, and that’s a rarity in the NFL. The Broncos may want to take advantage of this draft class.

     

    Pass-Rusher

    The Broncos need to add more pass-rushers to the roster. Yes, adding DeMarcus Ware will be a great benefit to the team. However, the Broncos may not see Von Miller look like his old self until halfway through the regular season. Miller is coming back from the torn ACL he suffered against the Houston Texans in Week 16 last year.

    The Broncos have Quanterus Smith coming back from the 2012 knee injury that cost him all of his rookie season in 2013. Smith has intriguing upside, but there is no guarantee that he'll return to the form (or even better) that he showed in college at Western Kentucky.

     

    Wide Receiver

    It may not seem like it at this time, but wide receiver is a position of need (for the future) in Denver. Wes Welker is in the final year of his contract, and this may be his final season with the Broncos. Welker also battled injury (concussions) last year, so the Broncos need to be ready in case he is banged up again in 2014.

    The team added Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, but he had foot injury issues early in his career. He’s a speedy receiver, but Sanders should not be mistaken with a true No. 1 wide receiver. The Broncos should be looking for a wideout with size and speed like Demaryius Thomas. With this incredibly deep wide receiver class, finding a player with future starter upside may not be difficult.

Top Targets

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    1. C.J. Mosley, Inside Linebacker, Alabama

    Mosley is arguably the only middle linebacker in this class that could transition to the pros as a three-down player. He’s a force to be reckoned with as a run defender, but he also has the athleticism and awareness to excel in coverage. The Broncos may have to move up at least 10 spots in the first round to secure the services of Mosley.

     

    2. Ryan Shazier, Outside Linebacker, Ohio State

    Shazier has the athleticism, speed and instincts to play multiple positions as a pro. If the Broncos add him, Shazier will be relied on as a middle linebacker. While not the biggest linebacker at 237 pounds, Shazier can get to the point of attack before blockers. He’s a disruptive player who can also get pressure on the quarterback. His speed gives him the ability to stay with tight ends down seam routes in the middle of the field.

     

    3. Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech

    Big cornerbacks are en vogue in the NFL. Fuller is one of the most talented cornerbacks in this class because of his size-speed combination. He can mix things up at the line of scrimmage, and Fuller has the size to jam receivers at the snap. Fuller also has the hip fluidity and recovery speed to stay with an opponent on a downfield route. His draft stock has been on the rise in recent weeks, so the Broncos may have to move up 10 spots to get him in the first round.

     

    4. Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU

    If the Broncos keep the 31st pick, then Verrett is likely the player they would add. He fills a need at cornerback, and Verrett has the ability to step in and start as a rookie at the nickel corner spot. Verrett is small at 5’9”, 190 pounds, but he plays ferociously and bigger than his size. He can also contribute as a return man if need be.

     

    5. Xavier Su’a-Filo, Offensive Guard, UCLA

    Another option for the Broncos at 31st overall is Su’a-Filo. He’s a versatile player who played both guard and tackle in college at UCLA. If added, the Broncos could count of Su’a-Filo to step in and start at left guard, filling the spot that Zane Beadles vacated.

What Are the Experts Saying?

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Everyone is an expert (in their own mind) when it comes to the NFL draft. However, there are real experts out there who study this game closer than anyone. Here’s the direction they think Denver will go in the first round.

     

    Mel Kiper, Jr.: Jason Verrett (subscription required)

    Aqib Talib's presence helps, but Denver is still in need of talent at cornerback. Verrett can really cover, will come in capable of making plays on the ball in coverage and is also a willing tackler in space and near the line of scrimmage against the run. What he lacks in size and length he makes up for in instincts, ball skills and in his ability to play both the pass-catcher and the quarterback.

    Verrett fills the need at cornerback. He also gives the team a startable option if either Chris Harris Jr. or Aqib Talib miss time due to injury.

     

    Todd McShay: Xavier Su’a-Filo (subscription required)

    Guard is a need area for the Broncos, and most important, they need a player who can come in right away and have an impact his rookie season, as they are in win-now mode with the 38-year-old Peyton Manning at quarterback. Su'a-Filo shows good fight at the point of attack and good initial quickness.

    It’s not a “sexy” pick, but it may be the right pick for the Broncos. Su’a-Filo does not have a nasty attitude as a blocker, but he’s technically sound and will upgrade the protection for Manning.

     

    Mike Mayock: Jason Verrett

    Verrett is one of my favorite players in the draft. His only issue is he's 5-9, but with Chris Harris' injury, Verrett can step in from Day 1 in the nickel and also compete on the outside.

    Here’s another vote for Verrett. We should see guys like Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) already off the board by the time Denver picks. Verrett is the best option of the corners who should be available.

     

    Rob Rang: Joel Bitonio

    The Broncos spent millions in free agency to overhaul the defense but protecting Peyton Manning should be priority No. 1. Denver will almost surely dedicate an early pick towards the offensive line and could see Bitonio, a collegiate left tackle who impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his toughness and versatility, as an ideal replacement.

    Like the Su’a-Filo pick, this lacks the “wow” factor most fans want to see in the first round. However, Bitonio has the ability to be a 10-year starter on the inside of the offensive line.

     

    Dane Brugler: Ryan Shazier

    Shazier is simply a fun player to watch with his athleticism and ability to diagnose on the move and the Broncos could use his speed on defense.

    Shazier is fun to watch because of the speed at which he arrives to the football. He can play on the inside in Jack Del Rio’s defense, and Shazier can make an immediate impact in the NFL.

     

    Matt Miller: Ryan Shazier

    An edge-defender at Ohio State, Ryan Shazier has the tools to play inside linebacker in an aggressive 4-3 scheme like the one head coach John Fox employs. With his first-step quickness, instincts, blitzing experience and upside as a mover in space, Shazier could be a star here.

    Back-to-back votes for Shazier here, and that’s where the Broncos could go in the first round. They need impact players with speed on defense, and Shazier is a perfect fit.

Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Linebacker or Cornerback First?

    Mike Klis, from the Denver Post, reports the Broncos should target a linebacker or cornerback first in the draft. This is the most likely scenario for the Broncos.

    They need a middle linebacker to strengthen the front seven of the defense. Adding a player with toughness and aggression in the middle will give the defense more swagger.

    The need at cornerback is there, and the Broncos may find the best value at that position. While a top linebacker may be off the board at No. 31, there could still be one or two elite-level cornerbacks available at the end of the first round.

     

    Will They Trade Up?

    Ian Rapoport, from NFL Network, is reporting the Broncos may move up in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft: 

    We’ve mentioned #49ers are more than open to moving up on Thursday night. Let’s add another: #Broncos. They’re talking about moving up, too

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 7, 2014

    Any move the Broncos make would be for either inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (Alabama) or outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (Ohio State). Many mock drafts point to Mosley and Shazier going off the board somewhere between the Miami Dolphins (19th) and the Green Bay Packers (21st). The Broncos would have to move up about 10 picks in order to get one of these targets.

     

    Will They Trade Down?

    Troy E. Renck, from the Denver Post, reports the Broncos are considering moving down in the first round of the NFL draft. General manager John Elway spoke about this possibility on Monday.

    “I think we’re looking at moving up. We’re also looking at the possibility of moving back. Leading up into the draft there is going to be plenty of talk out there. And then really you get to draft day, you never know what’s going to happen. So we’re looking at options going up and looking at options going back.”

    The fifth-year option for first-round picks may make No. 31 a hotter commodity.

    “I think it adds to it, there’s no question, especially with the quarterback position if it’s somebody that they want.” Elway concluded, “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 a team passes on a quarterback in the early first round, then perhaps they’d like to have an extra year of evaluation. If that’s the case, they would need to trade back into the late first round in order to secure that fifth-year option.

7-Round Denver Broncos Mock Draft

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    USA TODAY Sports

    My full seven-round mock draft can be seen here.

     

    Round 1, Pick No. 31: Jason Verrett

    The Broncos may move up or down in the first round. If they stay at No. 31, then Verrett is a fine pick.

    While not the biggest cornerback (5’9”, 190 pounds), Verrett plays bigger than his size. He’s feisty on the outside or in the slot where he will harass opposing receivers after they make a break on their route.

    Verrett isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as a run defender, but he’s best in coverage throughout the entire route tree.

     

    Round 2, Pick No. 63: Chris Borland

    If the team can’t move up for either C.J. Mosley (Alabama) or Ryan Shazier (Ohio State), then Chris Borland is a great option at the end of the second round.

    He’s a classic two-down thumper who arrives at the ball with natural violence. Borland is known as a smart player who quickly diagnoses plays as they unfold in front of him.

    Borland impressed scouts at the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year. He looked good in coverage drills, but on film he appeared to struggle with lateral, sideline-to-sideline agility.

     

    Round 3, Pick No. 95: Paul Richardson

    The Broncos added speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency earlier this year. They could add more speed to the mix by acquiring Paul Richardson in the draft.

    He can take the top off the defense in the blink of an eye. Richardson has an extra gear with the ball in his hands, and he can easily pull away from defenders giving chase. His big-play ability could also help the Broncos on special teams as a return man.

     

    Round 4, Pick No. 131: David Yankey

    The Broncos need more help on the interior of the offensive line. They have a tackle-heavy roster at this time, but the Broncos need more talent in the middle at guard or center.

    Yankey was thought of as a late first-round pick earlier this year. His draft stock has fallen in recent weeks, and he may be available this late in the draft. He’s not the most athletic player at guard, but Yankey has the desire and technique to develop into a decent pro.

     

    Round 5, Pick No. 171: Isaiah Crowell

    The Broncos know that 2014 is Montee Ball’s time to shine. He should win the starting job for the Broncos this year after last year’s starter Knowshon Moreno moved on to the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

    Losing Moreno creates a hole on the depth chart at running back. Adding a player like Crowell would fill that spot with a player who has the upside to be a quality starter as a pro. He has the size-speed combination that scouts love, and Crowell can also make plays as a receiver out of the backfield.

    He’s arguably the most naturally talented back in this draft class. Crowell is likely to fall to the final day of the draft because of weapons charges (later dropped) that got him booted off the Georgia Bulldogs.

     

    Round 6, Pick No. 207: Brett Smith

    The Broncos are looking for a developmental quarterback behind Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. They selected Zac Dysert in the seventh round last year, but the team could add more competition for that third spot this year.

    Brett Smith is an athletic prospect who can keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. He’s fast enough to be a threat as a scrambler, and he has the arm strength required to make every throw (with proper velocity) in the NFL.

    Smith was a highly-touted local prospect, and the Broncos may want to add him to the roster to push Dysert.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 246: Jonathan Dowling

    Versatile players with size in the secondary are a hot commodity in the NFL. Jonathan Dowling could be a late-round pick because of attitude issues that got him booted off the Florida Gators.
    He transferred to Western Kentucky and was a standout player at cornerback and safety.

    Dowling has the size to be a disruptive player in the red zone. Dowling can roam the field, playing close to the line of scrimmage to stuff the run. He has the speed to keep up with receivers on downfield routes.

     

    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.

    Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.