Imagine Derrick Locke in a Broncos uniform.
With ESPN reporting today that both sides of the NFL divide will meet for four consecutive days to hopefully hash out a new labor agreement, there is growing optimism that training camps will start on time, and that free agency can get squeezed in beforehand.
That would not only mean targeting veteran players, because there are also plenty of undrafted free agents who are desperate to get signed and brought into a camp to compete for a roster spot. And a number of these guys could really help a team, whether that be in a more specialized and limited manner, or even, for a select few, in a more substantial role.
Is there a LeGarrette Blount-type gem out there with this batch of undrafted rookies?
And if so, will the Denver Broncos be able to snatch him up?
The Broncos could use that sort of diamond-in-the-rough player, that’s for sure, but they can also use quite a few more rookies to compete for spots on the defensive line, running back and cornerback positions.
And there is definitely talent available this year. Here’s a quick run-down.
Ian Williams/Cedric Thorton/Brandon Bair
Kevin Vickerson is a likely starter at one defensive tackle position, and Marcus Thomas might take the other spot if the Broncos can re-sign him, but if not the Broncos will be lacking a viable starter, not to mention depth at this position. Mitch Unrein is a Broncos defensive tackle that most of us haven’t ever heard of—sorry, Mitch!—and finding talented defensive tackles has consistently dogged this team for some time now.
Denver might look at Ian Williams (Notre Dame) who might have been drafted had it not been for the glut of talent at his position in this year’s draft. The Broncos passed up defensive tackles in the draft to the bloody end, when they opted for defensive end Jeremy Beal with their final pick, so that could mean that they weren’t overly thrilled with guys like Ian Williams.
Or at minimum, they didn’t like them enough to draft need over value.
Or maybe they just really loved the guys they got, and still have their eyes on Ian Williams. Regardless, beggars can’t be choosers. Williams is a run-stopper and a very good tackler, but won’t consistently apply pressure on the quarterback. Maybe that’s okay now that Denver has added Von Miller and Jeremy Beal as two sack specialists?
At Notre Dame Williams played in both a 4-3 and 3-4 system, so he is not necessarily pegged as a nose tackle in a 3-4. The Broncos could give him a shot, and hope he eventually develops into a more complete player, or they could look at either Cedric Thorton (South Arkansas) or Brandon Bair (Oregon).
Or maybe they just bring in all three and let them battle it out in training camp. Whoever can stay upright the most against Ryan Clady wins the job.
But that’s enough talk about the unglamorous defensive tackle position. Time to turn our attention to running backs and cornerbacks.
Derrick Locke/Noel Devine/Darren Evans
Derrick Locke is my lock, pun intended, for the guy that can push Knowshon to either speed it up or get the blankety-blank out of the way.
Really, it’s a big surprise that Locke went undrafted. Maybe he got lost in the mix of super-charged mini-backs that went in the middle to late rounds of this year’s draft. Indeed, he’s small (5'8", 181 pounds), but according to Todd McShay (whom I’m sure you miss by now), the guy plays really big and is hugely underrated.
McShay notes that he “does just about everything well” and “gets the most out of his physical tools” and “is a savvy route-runner” and “is one of the smoothest, most natural pass-catchers in the running back class.”
That’s a lot of Ands!
But wait, it gets better.
“Most impressive, though, is Locke's efficiency as a runner. He runs low, shows great change-of-direction skills and does not waste many steps. He is patient attacking the line of scrimmage, sets up blocks well and has a keen eye for backside cutback lanes. Throw in his ability to quickly slip in and out of small creases and his willingness to lower his shoulder into defenders, and we put a third-round grade on Locke.”
So McShay gave this guy a third-round grade at one point, and the Broncos can nab him for a smaller fee than what it costs to pay Mitch Unrein to have his name on the roster, so that fans won’t catch on to the fact that the Broncos don’t really have any defensive tackles past Vickerson?
The Broncos should take a chance on this speedy, versatile back who can really help a team whose most explosive weapon out of the backfield is Spencer Larsen. Joke intended.
But if the Broncos must pass on him, then Noel Devine (West Virginia) and Darren Evans (Virginia Tech) are two players that would likely make this roster, barring any major veteran free-agent signings.
Devine is an explosive, shifty running back but receives mixed reviews from draft experts. Plus there are lingering character concerns with Devine. Meanwhile, Evans is more of a bruising power back.
Kendric Burney/Ryan Jones
At cornerback, the Broncos could use some bolstering up at a position that has Champ Bailey (thankfully), an aging (then again, aren’t we all?) and declining Andre Goodman and Perrish Cox, who is talented but now facing sexual assault charges, which will be a nice midseason distraction for the team, should he make the roster.
Cox has the Broncos in a precarious position: He has not been found guilty of anything yet, but if convicted he could be facing prison time. A lot of it.
Maybe the best solution is to find players that can outperform him in training camp, so that it doesn’t look as if the Broncos just dumped a guy who could very well be innocent.
And while legal concerns and character issues are at the forefront, let's not forget that Perrish Cox was impressive early in his rookie season, but then all but tanked the rest of the way as he was consistently burned in coverage by smart QBs and decent-to-good wide receivers.
Syd’Quan Thompson was a very bright spot on an otherwise dismal 2010 season. So a lot of fans would like to see him establish himself, but is it realistic to view him as a potential starter?
Denver can look at Kendric Burney (North Carolina), who is considered the top undrafted cornerback, but like Syd’Quan, he’s just 5'9" and doesn’t project to be a starter. He has very good coverage skills, and like Syd’Quan he can really attack the ball, but the Broncos would have to temper expectations.
Otherwise, the team might consider Ryan Jones (NW Missouri State), who is at least two inches taller than Burney, and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2010.
Maybe the team gives him a chance and maybe not.
Regardless, the Broncos are in rebuild mode and look to build off the positive energy and momentum from the Champ Bailey signing and draft.
Adding one or more of the players above would be yet another step in the right direction.