Although they made it to the elite eight of the NFL this season, the 2014 Denver Broncos' season will ultimately be remembered as a disappointment. The goal of the season was not a playoff appearance; it was a Super Bowl victory.
This season for the Broncos could also very well be remembered as the beginning of the end. Head coach John Fox parted ways with the team after last Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio accepted the head coach position with the Oakland Raiders and offensive coordinator Adam Gase could very well be accepting a head coaching gig as well.
Major questions also surround quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning, whose name will be enshrined one day in Canton, Ohio, turns 39 this March, and he looked less than healthy for a large chunk of this season. No one denies his abilities as a reader of defenses, but Manning is mortal like the rest of us, and his physical limitations may be catching up to him.
Should Manning choose to hang up his cleats and retire, the Denver Broncos will be entering a completely new era. With a new quarterback, a new coaching staff and the normal amount of other roster changes, the 2015 Denver Broncos will be similar to the 2014 team only in the uniforms they wear.
When a team breaks down and rebuilds, much emphasis is always placed on the draft. Sure, some talent can be acquired from the free-agent pool, but it's crucial to lock up some young players who could grow and become franchise stars. Denver, like any NFL team, could find a hole anywhere if it looks closely enough, yet here are some spots that it should apply extra focus to.
Offensive Line: Center
As of now, I'd be very surprised if Denver doesn't spend its first-round draft pick, which is the 28th overall pick, on a center, or at the very least, a versatile offensive lineman who can play the center spot. It's certainly the position on the roster that Denver needs to improve the most, and it was a weak spot for it all season.
Florida State's Cameron Erving could be a great pick here. A natural tackle with so much athletic ability that he used to play defensive end, Erving moved to center this past season for the Seminoles and looked great. Denver's offensive line is old and slow at the moment and is in desperate need of some studs.
Offensive Line: Guard
Denver needs assistance throughout the line, but the guard spot is the one that's most concerning. Manny Ramirez has become a solid asset for the Broncos and has proved to be very durable. He'll likely remain with the team yet will be 32 years old when the 2015 season kicks off. Orlando Franklin has been a huge piece of the Broncos offense, yet he is a free agent and may be looking for a big contract elsewhere.
Like many other squads, the Broncos are likely scouting a few guys from the Florida State Seminoles offensive line, which was simply amazing the past two seasons. Tre Jackson is a good fit for Denver, who could grab him in the second round.
Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is an unrestricted free agent, and I'd be surprised if he returns. Thomas has been a red-zone machine over the past two seasons, yet his talents are limited overall.
He really disappeared toward the end of the season, and while he was not fully healthy despite playing, he is simply not worth the money he is going to demand. Denver would be wise to let him go, get his huge contract elsewhere and draft a promising tight end prospect with better blocking abilities than Thomas.
Michigan's Devin Funchess could be a great pick in the second round for the Broncos. He is a tight end convert, who formally was a big-bodied receiver, so his offensive skills should be easy to utilize. If he can add 15 pounds of muscle and fat, he could also be a great asset as a blocker.
This isn't to say that Brock Osweiler isn't good; it could be quite the opposite. Osweiler is full of potential, and I'd love to see him get a chance and show off his potential. Every asset should be insured, however, and the Broncos should definitely look into acquiring a quarterback in the 2015 NFL draft. This is not a top priority for them, as it's very possible that Manning returns, in which Osweiler is the insurance.
We'll know this before the draft comes, however, and be able to speculate more on the importance of drafting a quarterback for Denver. A young quarterback who is booming with potential but probably not immediately NFL-ready could be perfect here. I really like East Carolina's Shane Carden, who Denver could probably draft with its third-round pick or its early fifth-round pick. (The Broncos do not have a fourth-round pick in this draft.)