5 Bold Predictions for the Denver Broncos' 2014 NFL Draft Class
If you draft well, you win. The draft is the lifeblood of any NFL franchise. Teams that know how to hit it out of the park every year are teams that are typically at the top of the standings. You draft talent, you develop it and you win games.
That being said, the Denver Broncos did so much work in free agency this year that they weren't looking to get that huge impact player right out of the gate. The team had few needs, and they didn't appear eager to move up for any player, mostly just letting the draft come to them and addressing it when they got to their pick.
However, that doesn't mean that this draft class won't have a huge impact. It's time to take a look at some bold predictions to see what type of difference this class is really going to make. While it may not have looked like Denver was searching for players who could come in and really change the team, they may end up turning to them more often than not. And so this class could become crucial to what the team does going forward.
Bradley Roby Will Start in Week One
While Denver did let go of Champ Bailey and then draft Bradley Roby in the first round, most fans did not feel like they were directly trying to replace Champ or making any decisions based on the idea that Roby would turn into the same caliber player. This wasn't like the Browns taking Joe Haden a few years back, when you knew they wanted him to be the best corner on the team for years to come.
Roby was a high pick, though, and with good reason: Denver will need him for the opener in 2014. He will start the game as the No. 2 corner, opposite Aqib Talib.
Yes, Chris Harris said to Kyle Montgomery of Mile High Report that he is ahead of schedule in his rehab, which indicates he may be trying to come back to open the year after his knee injury. Yes, he's also probably the best corner on the team when he's at 100 percent, so the Broncos badly want him on the field with Talib. But they're not going to push it. They're not going to put him out there before he's ready.
No disrespect to the rest of the AFC West, but a lot of it just has to do with the fact that the Broncos look to be a lock for the playoffs. With as potent an offense as they have, they should be able to win enough early games, even if they are not at full strength.
It is late in the season and in the playoffs when they need Harris the most; last season proved that. They'd be best off to let him miss part of the season and give Roby an early trial by fire. His athleticism and aggressiveness are going to put him ahead of the competition in camp, he fits the new attitude of the defense, and he should be able to play well enough—though he will make mistakes—to keep the Broncos in a good position until Harris comes back.
Cody Latimer Will Start Opposite Demaryius Thomas in 2015
I won't go so far as to say Cody Latimer will be the No. 2 receiver this year, because it looks like he is still limited with a foot injury. As pointed out on NFL.com by Marc Sessler, it looks similar to the start of Demaryius Thomas' career, when the Broncos had to wait for him to get healthy before they could get him on the field.
They took Latimer high, but they did it because they thought he had first-round talent when healthy, so he's a steal in the second round. Most teams need a guy like that to contribute instantly, but Denver doesn't. The team is fine right now with a solid receiving crew. They have time to wait, and they'll wait.
The thing is, this could spell the end of Wes Welker. The concussions are taking their toll, and he's not getting younger and faster. Denver's two-year plan is to slide Emmanuel Sanders into Welker's slot role and put Latimer opposite Thomas, who will get a huge extension.
By comparison, they can have Latimer on what will look like a cheap contract if he performs to his full potential.
Michael Schofield Will Also Start in 2014
The Michael Schofield pick threw a lot of people off when it was made, as Denver still had not taken a linebacker and there had not been much talk of their taking a tackle. With Ryan Clady returning from injury, they appeared to have the line worked out, even with Zane Beadles in Jacksonville. John Elway didn't think so, though, and so he called Schofield.
In the wake of the draft, it appears that the pick was made because Denver loved his ability to play at multiple spots on the field. In fact, as reported by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Elway said:
Michael Schofield’s a guy that’s very versatile. A big guy that has a lot of upside. He’s really young and we believe he can grow. He’s 6-6, 300 now and we think he’s got the ability to get bigger, stronger. A guy that has tremendous versatility, can play the guard as well as tackle.
And that is why Schofield, a tackle most Broncos fans had never heard of before the draft, will start at some point in 2014. There are going to be injuries. The line already was lacking a bit of depth with the loss of Beadles, even if they had starters. Denver brought in Schofield because he can step in wherever he is needed along that line.
Lamin Barrow Will Become the Leader Denver Fans Wanted
Going into the draft, linebacker was pegged as a main need, in part because Denver needed a defender who could lead the team on that side of the ball. They needed someone to direct the play on the field and to be an emotional leader, someone people would rally around. When Denver skipped out on players like Chris Borland, many fans assumed they'd given up on that need.
They hadn't. They just knew they could get that leader in the fifth round, in the form of Lamin Barrow.
Forget where he was picked for a moment and really look at him.
He played at LSU, where defenders were expected to be as tough-as-nails and competition was high.
He led that team in tackles in 2013, with 91.
He was a team captain for the Tigers.
He even wore jersey No. 18.
While wearing No. 18 might not mean anything in Denver—sorry, Peyton—it means everything at LSU. As the Broncos' website puts it, the jersey signifies “the player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger.”
He was the ultimate team leader, a guy you could trust on and off the field, and a guy who got respect from the locker room. Yes, he will have to work his way into the role because he needs to develop his game to be successful in the NFL, but the Broncos drafted him on attributes that go beyond the physical, and it's going to pay off.
This Class Will Get an A, Not a C+, in Five Years
Mel Kiper gave the Denver Broncos a C+ (subscription required) for this draft. While that's a bit better than average, it's far from a ringing endorsement. Here's the deal, though: Kiper is wrong. And we'll all know it in five years, when we can look back and see that this class is easily an A.
Remember, the Broncos view the Latimer situation as being similar to Demaryius Thomas, and they were thrilled to get him outside of the first round. Once he gets healthy and develops into the second best receiver on the team, he will easily get a first-round grade.
Roby has minor character issues, but he's also tough, aggressive and incredibly athletic, things that are very important in this copycat league. That's all the rage with defenses right now, and he fits right in. He can replace Talib in time and could potentially turn into the best corner on the team. Chris Harris wasn't drafted, after all, and look how good he's become. Roby could be a beast.
Add to that Barrow becoming a leader and a stalwart member of the defense, and he could work his way up to at least a second-round grade. That's two first-round picks and second-round pick in a redraft, and all for a team starting out with the second to last pick in the draft and letting things fall to them.
That's not bad, not bad at all.
If the other draftees pan out even marginally, this class is going to look incredible in hindsight.