Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos have repeatedly refused to speculate about the future of the Broncos franchise and what the next year may hold. However, as fans, it is our job to speculate about what the future has in store for our team.
So let’s look at next year’s potential draft needs and possible draftees and free agents that could fill the holes around the team. This team with Tebow at the helm, Willis McGahee at running back, a few young wide receivers and a young, impressive offensive line needs a few more key pieces to go from playoff contender to Super Bowl potential.
Key Free Agents Next Season: Eddie Royal, Brady Quinn, Marcus Thomas, Brian Dawkins
Tim Tebow has proven that he is the answer in Denver with his 7-2 record this regular season (as of this posting) and he has received key endorsements from VP of Football Operations, John Elway, who has stated that Tebow “will not be going anywhere” next season, signaling that a top-round draft choice will likely not be spent on a quarterback, as more pressing needs remain.
However, I do expect the Broncos to acquire a quarterback this offseason in the late rounds of the draft or a perennial backup through free agency. It’s not a given that the Broncos would pursue keeping Brady Quinn around next season as his contract expires. If the price is right, I could see Quinn staying, but I am not counting on it.
I look for the Broncos to use one of their two fifth-round draft picks on a quarterback. My prediction is a guy like Dominique Davis out of East Carolina. Davis is 6’3”, 212 pounds and very athletic. He would be a suitable backup for Tebow as he has speed and could be utilized as an option quarterback. In two seasons starting for East Carolina he has thrown 62 touchdowns and has run for a combined 14 touchdowns, but also has 35 interceptions. His completion percentage over those two seasons is in the mid-60s with a passer rating around 130.
Davis is a raw talent in need of some honing. The Broncos could work with him to be a great option to backup Tebow if all of the rushing he does finally catches up with him.
Other candidates, if available, include Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) and Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois).
Last year’s offseason acquisition of Willis McGahee in free agency has proven to be one of the best pick ups by the Broncos in free agency in recent memory. This week, McGahee is poised to break the 1,000-yard mark against Buffalo with one game to go. The Broncos have led the league in rushing this season behind a talented, youthful offensive line and the threat of Tim Tebow tucking the ball and taking off.
Knowshon Moreno has always shown “signs” of greatness but has consistently disappointed for the past three seasons. He has failed to find the end zone regularly and it appears likely that he will lose his backup spot to a draftee the Broncos bring in this offseason.
The Broncos should target the bruising 220-pound, 5’11” product out of Mississippi State, Vick Ballard, with their fourth-round draft pick.
Ballard broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season in one of the best conferences in college football. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry this season while scoring nine touchdowns. Ballard will be able to relieve McGahee from the big load put on him as he continues aging (he’s pushing 31 years old).
Ballard is the prototypical, power back that John Fox loves and he will fit very nicely in the Broncos system if they can snatch him in a draft class with a limited amount of running back talent.
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, both wide receivers from the McDaniels era, have shown flashes of their potential but have lacked consistency. Thomas has been hampered by repeated injuries in the NFL and both have had a lot of dropped passes this season.
You can chalk some of that to adjusting to a new quarterback midseason, and adjusting to the action on a ball from a south paw, but this is the NFL. You can’t drop balls and expect to be in the lineup every week.
I think the Broncos will use a late-round draft pick on a big, speedy receiver who can create mismatches and make catches reminiscent of the magical Brandon Lloyd. I think that the Broncos use the draft pick they acquired from the Rams for Lloyd to draft Gerell Robinson out of Arizona State.
This season Robinson has 77 catches for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson is also averaging 18.1 yards per catch and he could be the guy Tebow needs in the passing game to go to when they have to get a big catch.
Last year’s rookie class at safety, Rahim Moore (second round) and Quinton Carter (fourth round), have produced a mix bag. They have been thrust into action with injuries to Brian Dawkins and Syd'Quan Thompson, who was lost early in the season to injury.
While Thompson will be back next season, it is unlikely that one of the defensive leaders, Brian Dawkins, will be, as he is expected to retire after 2011. Dawkins re-structured his contract this offseason to play for a significantly less amount this season and his contract expires in 2011. There is a chance that the Broncos bring him back for one more year, but even if he is back, who knows how much longer he will last.
The Broncos should use their third-round draft pick on Antonio Allen, a 6’1”, 202-pound strong safety out of South Carolina. He’s a big, physical safety who can make plays. He had three interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Georgia. This season he has 8.5 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks, despite missing the first two games of the season. He’s an aggressive player who causes a lot of disruption.
I think that the Broncos will draft a second safety late in the draft much like last year. Tramain Thomas the 6’1”, 204-pound free safety senior from the Arkansas Razorbacks looks very promising. This season he has 88 total tackles and five interceptions. He is an opportunistic safety who will complement the incomparable Champ Bailey over the top in coverage.
The inside linebacker position for the Broncos is hit-and-miss. D.J. Williams appears to be aging rapidly and it may be difficult to keep him around in 2013 when his contract expires. I think this is the year the Broncos need to draft an inside linebacker high.
Bobby Wagner, senior out of Utah State, 6’0”, 232 pounds is a speedy, ball hawk. He has an ability to quickly recognize the play and get to the ball fast. Wagner is a sound tackler, averaging 11.7 per game at Utah State, totaling 140 tackles (62 solo, 78 assists). In 2011, Wagner led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss, and added four sacks. He also leads the team with two interceptions and notched one fumble recovery in 2011.
Wagner would likely require the use of a second-round draft choice as his talent will be in hot demand.
One of the defense’s biggest struggles this season has been injuries in the secondary. Andre Goodman and Chris Harris have been the cover cornerbacks alongside Champ Bailey this season and have had moments where their deficiencies were severely exposed. Last week, Brady found a wide open Chad Ochocinco in the back of the end zone for his only touchdown of the year. Goodman got burned.
Goodman has been average in his time with the Broncos. This season he has made some key plays and a couple of timely interceptions, but he is on his way out of this league as he will be in his 11th season and will be turning 34 years old.
Chase Minnifield, from Virginia, is 6’0”, 185 pounds and is considered one of the top prospects at cornerback in the 2012 NFL Draft. I could see the Broncos using their top draft choice on Minnifield in 2012 to get some help at an area where the Broncos are thin. Minnifield was ranked an All-ACC First Team for the second straight season in 2011 and is No. 2 in the nation among active cornerbacks with 13 interceptions. He has been a game-changer for Virginia and has made some key plays leading to victories throughout his four-year collegiate career.
I think that the last draft pick the Broncos make will be a second cornerback. Terrence Frederick from Texas A&M would be a steal in the late rounds as he has been a consistent producer for the Aggies. He is 5’10” and 187 pounds and has been a solid tackler throughout his career. He has four interceptions and a forced fumble in his collegiate career and would be a nice addition for depth in the Broncos' rag-tag secondary.
First Round: CB Chase Minnifield (Virginia)
Second Round: ILB Bobby Wagner (Utah State)
Third Round: SS Antonio Allen (South Carolina)
Fourth Round: RB Vick Ballard (Mississippi State)
Fifth Round: QB Dominique Davis (East Carolina)
Fifth Round: WR Gerell Robinson (Arizona State)
Sixth Round: FS Tramain Thomas (Arkansas)
Seventh Round: CB Terrence Frederick (Texas A&M)