Report Card Grades for Denver Broncos' Undrafted Free-Agent Signings
The Denver Broncos have a knack for finding quality talent in the pool of undrafted free agents. Players like Chris Harris Jr., Duke Ihenacho, Steven Johnson and C.J. Anderson have all been plucked after the draft by the Broncos in recent years.
This year was no different, as the team added several players with high upside.
Some of these players won’t make the team. Some of these players might make the practice squad. A few of them might make the final roster at some point, and there may even be a star in one of these prospects.
Here are the grades for each undrafted free agent who signed with Denver.
Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
Bryn Renner would have been a draft pick had a labrum injury not cut his senior season short at North Carolina. It was an injury to his non-throwing arm, but it was enough to cause him to slide in the NFL draft.
Nicknamed “Gunner” in college, he blends the skill set of a pocket passer and a gunslinger together effectively. He’s not afraid to take chances as a passer, and he will test a defense deep.
Renner is an accurate pocket passer who will stand tall during the rush to give his receivers time to get open downfield. He’s athletic enough to keep plays alive with his feet, and he does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield when climbing the ladder.
His gunslinger mentality is a double-edged sword. Renner will challenge a defense, but he doesn’t have a rocket arm. He’ll try to force passes into tight spaces that he just can’t.
As a pro, Renner will have to learn when and where to take chances with the football. He has great upside, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him beat out Zac Dysert for the third-string job in Denver.
Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
Shaquil Barrett is a pass-rusher with speed to get around the edge and power to use a bull rush effectively. As a senior, he set a Mountain West record with 20.5 tackles for a loss while also racking up 12 sacks.
He can get around the corner in a hurry, but he can also redirect quickly. He has a good closing burst to get to the quarterback, and he’s known as a sound tackler.
Barrett is not the biggest (6’1”, 251 pounds) or the fastest (4.76 40-yard dash), but he excels because of his tenacity, effort, work ethic and tireless motor. He’s known as an aggressive player and works hard in run defense as well.
He knows how to redirect a running back inside, and he will keep containment as a run defender. However, Barrett’s aggression can get the best of him, and he will sometimes get out of position on counter plays, draw plays or reverses.
He’ll compete for a part-time pass-rushing role with the Broncos in 2014.
Bennie Fowler, WR, Michigan State
Bennie Fowler has an interesting size/speed combination. At the Michigan State pro day, he ran an official 4.39 40-yard dash. However, some scouts timed him at a blazing 4.27 seconds, according to Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News.
His playing style is reminiscent of a poor man’s version of Anquan Boldin of the 49ers. Fowler knows how to use his body to block defenders away from the ball. He will rip away contested passes, and smaller corners struggle to jam him at the line of scrimmage.
Fowler fell undrafted because of a problem with concentration. He had too many unnecessary drops because of trying to do too much. He needs to work on securing the ball first and then quickly turning to run after the catch.
He also needs to clean up his routes. He will often tip off a defender as to where the route is headed. He does this with body lean before the break and rounded-out cuts.
Fowler looks the part, and he certainly has the speed. He has enough of a raw skill set to perhaps earn a spot on the practice squad.
Isaiah Burse, WR, Fresno State
Isaiah Burse may be able to make the final roster this year because of his ability as a return man. General manager John Elway said, “We were thinking about drafting him [Burse],” in an interview on ESPN Denver after the draft.
The undrafted rookie receiver was quite productive in 2013 at Fresno State. As the “other” guy in the passing game opposite Davante Adams, Burse caught 100 passes for the Bulldogs last year.
He’s fast and can get on top of the defense in a hurry. He also has good quickness and agility after the catch.
He’s not the biggest player, measuring in at 5’10”, 188 pounds. This will hamper him against press coverage. He can be pushed around at the line of scrimmage, and that breaks up the timing on his routes.
He’s highly thought of by the team, but Burse will have to impress as a return man to stick around on the roster. Perhaps the best landing spot is the practice squad this year.
Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
We could see Kapri Bibbs win a roster spot as the third- or fourth-string running back for the Broncos. He isn’t the biggest back, measuring in at 5’9”, 212 pounds. He is not the fastest back either, having run a 4.67 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, per NFL.com, and a 4.54 at Colorado State’s pro day.
However, he is an effective back because he’s efficient with his movement and has a fantastic nose for the end zone. He rushed for a school record 1,741 yards and an NCAA-leading 31 touchdowns in 2013.
He is built low to the ground, which helps him maintain his balance after contact. He is a tough runner who can effectively run through trash at the line of scrimmage. He’ll bounce off contact, and he can also run through arm tackles.
To make the final roster for the Broncos, Bibbs must prove his ball security. He also has to do a better job in pass protection.
Greg Hardin, WR, North Dakota State
Greg Hardin was incredibly productive during his college career at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While averaging 17 yards per catch, he finished his college career with 154 catches and 27 touchdowns. In addition to contributing as a receiver, he has the ability to be a quality return man as well.
He’s a big play waiting to happen. He has the burst, agility, footwork and vision to be dangerous after the catch. He also has the speed to run deep routes and does a good job of tracking passes in over his shoulder.
Hardin loves to toy with defenders. He can go in a number of different directions because of his ankle-breaking moves in the open field.
He’s not the biggest prospect, measuring in at 5’10”, 172 pounds. He will lose out on some contested passes because of his slight build.
Denver has a jam-packed wide receiver corps, but Hardin should be able to make the practice squad this year with a good showing in camp.
Mister Cobble, DT, Kentucky
The Broncos got a big man on the defensive line when they added Mister Cobble. He has a strong base, and this allows him to anchor against the run. He is tough to move when his feet are set, as he understands leverage and how to win with balance.
Not only is he tough to move as a run defender, but Cobble also has a quick first step off the snap. This helps him get into his opponent quickly, and he will create some middle pressure because of it.
Like most big men, he does have a tendency to wear down as the game goes on. The Broncos will work on him with his stamina, motor and technique as a pro.
Juwan Thompson, RB, Duke
Denver only has one true power back on the roster in second-year pro C.J. Anderson. If the team wants more power, then Juwan Thompson should be able to impress. In addition to playing running back, he could play fullback as well.
He was a consistent contributor for Duke on a part-time basis. He makes his living running between the tackles. He can use his size to bull over defenders in the hole, and he has strong leg drive to pick up yards after contact.
Broncos head coach John Fox loves backs like Thompson. He could be a Nick Goings, Brad Hoover or Dee Brown-like prospect for Denver. He can do a little bit of everything, but he’ll find it tough to make the final roster.
Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma
The Broncos need to find a fourth-string running back, and that’s why they added three backs as undrafted free agents. Brennan Clay measures in at 5’11”, 200 pounds, but he can pick up tough yards between the tackles.
He’s not built to be a full-time runner, but he could work well as a big play-back in a running back by committee.
Clay does a good job of pressing the hole, and he has outstanding vision to see (and/or anticipate) where cutback lanes are developing. He’ll plant quickly in the ground, and his quick feet allow him to change direction without losing much speed.
He is a fine receiving option out of the backfield. While not a sharp route-runner, he does a good job of extending his arms to catch passes naturally away from his body.
Like most rookies, Clay will have to prove himself in pass protection if he wants to make the team.
Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke
You can never have too many pass-rushers in the NFL. Kenny Anunike is a pure pass-rusher with multiple moves to get after the quarterback.
He can bend around the edge to get to the passer. He has good length that helps him get to the quarterback sooner. He also has a good closing burst when the quarterback is in his sights.
Anunike anticipates the snap well, and he will use an inside leverage move after setting up a blocker with constant edge moves. He has a nose for the ball and can find the quarterback quickly through chaos.
He’s not a great run defender at the point of attack. He can be pushed around if a blocker gets his hands into his chest. However, Anunike will chase down the ball-carrier if the play goes away from him.
The Broncos need pass-rushing help, and Anunike may do enough to impress the team in camp. If he does, then a spot on the practice squad is his most likely destination.
Steven Clark, P, Auburn
Steven Clark, P Auburn
The addition of Steven Clark is to give the Broncos an extra leg during camp. He is talented, but it’s highly unlikely he'll unseat Britton Colquitt as the team’s punter.
Clark is a good punter with a strong leg. If he impresses with the Broncos in camp and in the preseason, then perhaps another team will be willing to give him a shot.
Greg Latta, DE, Purdue
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio loves lunch-pail, blue-collar workers on defense. That’s exactly what the team gets in Greg Latta out of Purdue.
He played only one season with the Boilermakers after transferring from College of the Desert.
He played sparingly during his time at Purdue, but he was known as a coachable kid with a strong work ethic. The former basketball star has only been playing football for a few years.
He originally started playing tight end in junior college, but he quickly was moved to the defensive side. He’s athletic and understands leverage.
Latta is a long shot to make the practice squad, but his raw ability can be built up now that he’s in the pros.
Aslam Sterling, OT, Kansas
The Broncos have had great success in finding quality undrafted free agents out of Kansas. Both Chris Harris Jr. and Steven Johnson made the team after going undrafted in their respective classes. Aslam Sterling could be the next Jayhawk to make a similar transition.
He is huge at 6’4”, 332 pounds. He does a good job of squaring up to defenders, and he’s tough to move once his base is established. He does a good job in limited space, and he can use his strong hands to control an opponent at the point of attack.
He’s position-versatile, playing both guard and tackle during his college career.
Sterling lacks the footwork to handle edge-rushers as a right tackle, so his best fit may be inside at guard as a pro. The Broncos have a tackle-heavy roster, but they are searching for help at the guard position. He needs time to fully develop his skill set and could wind up on the practice squad this year.
Jordan Sullen, CB, Tulane
Just like pass-rusher, an NFL team can never have too many cornerbacks. The Broncos added Jordan Sullen because of his playmaking ability and position versatility.
He can line up at cornerback in nickel or dime packages. He has the instincts to diagnose where the play is going and quickly get to the ball. He can also line up at free safety, where he’s allowed to roam the field as a run and pass defender.
Sullen is not afraid of contact. He will get his hands dirty as a run defender, and he can play close to the line of scrimmage. He’s athletic enough to avoid blockers at the second level and can make a big hit.
He’s really an all-around football player who could play wide receiver in a pinch if necessary. Sullen is a jack-of-all-trades, but he’ll need to be more than that if he wants to make the team in Denver.
Louis Young, CB, Georgia Tech
The Broncos knew they needed more competition at cornerback, and that’s why they convinced Louis Young to sign with them. Like fellow undrafted free agent Jordan Sullen, Young can make plays on the ball and is able to play more than one position.
Young is a fine run defender. He has good closing burst on the ball when the play is in front of him. He’s not afraid of contact and is known as a sure tackler.
He needs work in coverage, and he best fits as a sub-package (dime) player. Young is not fast enough to stay with receivers on downfield routes. He also has trouble changing direction when he’s covering a receiver who makes a double-move.
Young is an aggressive player, but that can work against him. He’ll bite too often on play fakes, and this gets him out of position regularly.
We’ll see if he can impress enough to make the practice squad.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.