Denver Broncos Mock Draft: 7-Round Predictions, Post-Combine

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IFebruary 23, 2015

Denver Broncos Mock Draft: 7-Round Predictions, Post-Combine

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    The Denver Broncos are currently constructing their board for the 2015 NFL draft. Most of the scouting has already been done. The Broncos have sent their scouts across the country during the college football season to take a look at the incoming crop of talent.

    This past week, the focus turned to Indianapolis and the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. There, players went through a barrage of tests, interviews and medical checkups.

    No grades should be drastically altered at the combine, but teams can get confirmation about a player’s skill set. Any question marks raised at the combine (too slow, didn’t interview well, failed physical) can be further investigated before the draft board is cemented further.

    Here is my Denver Broncos mock draft—all seven rounds—post-combine.

1st Round, Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (Florida)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Broncos have to fix their offensive line. There could be as many as three spots up for grabs this year in the trenches for the Broncos. They’re set at left tackle with Ryan Clady and at right guard with Louis Vasquez, but they still need to locate a center, left guard and right tackle before the start of the season.

    Free agency is going to come into play here. If the Broncos address guard in free agency with a guy like Mike Iupati (San Francisco 49ers), then perhaps they’ll go for a right tackle with their first-round pick.

    The best option for them could be Ereck Flowers from the University of Miami.

    Flowers is a mountain of a man, measuring in at 6’6”, 324 pounds. Even though he’s huge, Flowers has the athleticism to move well in space. He does a good job of firing off the snap, and Flowers has the lateral agility to angle block with ease. Flowers can also be relied on to get to the second level and hit a moving target right away.

    He does lack polish in pass protection, and Flowers did struggle on film at times against elite pass-rushers. This is why his best fit in the pros might be as a right tackle. On that side, he wouldn’t face the type of rushers like Clady does on the left. Flowers would be able to give Peyton Manning enough time to throw, and he could gain valuable experience quickly as a rookie starter.

    The Broncos are going to utilize a zone-blocking scheme under new head coach Gary Kubiak. The players on the line must be athletic enough to move well laterally at the snap, plus they need to be “sticky” blockers when asked to attack linebackers at the second level of the defense.

    At the scouting combine, I asked Flowers how he felt about playing in a zone-blocking system as an NFL player.

    “We run the zone block in Miami, we run man, that’s what Miami does, and I think that’s why Miami’s been successful in the NFL. Our coaches do a good job emulating the stuff they’re doing in the NFL and college so we ran man, zone so I’ll be fine wherever I go.”

    Flowers is a great fit for what Denver wants to do, and it would not be surprising to see him be the man the Broncos snare in the first round.

2nd Round, Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The battle in the trenches is going to look different this year for Denver. Gone is the 4-3 under look of former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Instead, the Broncos turn to the aggressive 3-4 defense that new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will implement.

    The move to a 3-4 can be seen as a positive for pass-rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. However, there is a huge hole in the middle of the defense at this time. Denver needs to find a defensive tackle in a bad way. It may lose Terrance Knighton in free agency, so looking to a guy like Michael Bennett (Ohio State) could be the move.

    He is a disruptive penetrator who can create middle pressure on a quarterback. Bennett gets off the snap cleanly and quickly; then he can knife through blocks on his way to the ball-carrier. He has a good closing burst to the ball, and Bennett will go “all out” on as many snaps as he possibly can.

    That kind of effort is admirable, but it can also lead to Bennett slowing down with fatigue as the game goes on.

    Bennett is not the biggest defensive tackle (around 6’2”, 290 lbs), but he knows what helps him get the most out of his ability.

    “It has to be pure technique. People watch me get moved off the ball every now and then and say it’s because of strength, but it’s not because of strength. At 290-310 pounds, you have to be almost flawless in your technique. If you slip up and put your foot the wrong way or have one hand not hit the guy, they have a better chance of moving you than if a 330-pounder misses with his hands.”

    Bennett concluded, “My biggest thing is to become more consistent with my technique, which is just a matter of repetitions.”

    The Broncos have a couple of in-house options in both Sylvester Williams and Marvin Austin. Williams has struggled to impress after the Broncos spent a first-round pick on him in 2013. Austin looked decent for the Broncos in a part-time role last year, but his injury history is still a cause for concern.

    In a private interview this week, I asked Broncos general manager John Elway if he thought Sylvester Williams could play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.

    “Yeah, I think so. I think Sylvester is still growing. We still like Sylvester, and there’s a lot of potential there. If there’s any guy who can get it out of a player it’s our new defensive line coach, Bill Kollar.”

3rd Round, Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Broncos have to find a quarterback for the future. Peyton Manning should return for a fourth season with the Broncos, and this means Brock Osweiler is likely going to play a backup role again in Denver. Osweiler is in the final year of his rookie contract, and the team needs to extend his deal if it wants to keep him around past 2015.

    If Osweiler is kept around as the “QB of the future,” then Denver will still need to look for a quality backup. Zac Dysert has a rocket arm, but the practice squad quarterback has done little to impress me during minicamp or training camp. The Broncos might be considering a quarterback like Bryce Petty (Baylor) in the 2015 NFL draft.

    Petty has a ton of experience from his time at Baylor. He doesn’t have a rocket arm, but his arm can make all the throws required in the NFL.

    His deep passes did improve in 2014, and he does a good job of leading his receiver. When given time to throw, Petty shows good bucket accuracy and has no problem putting a pass out in front of his receiver to go get.

    He’s not the most athletic guy, but Petty can keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. Petty won’t be a scrambler at the pro level, but he also won’t be a statue in the pocket.

    Petty’s system at Baylor inflated his stats, and he rarely went off his first read—and he threw a ton of screen passes to wide-open guys. When forced to go to his second read, Petty struggles to accurately hit his man.

    Earlier this year during the week of practice for the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl, I watched Petty struggle with simply taking the snap on multiple occasions. He’s a work in progress in that area, but there were small improvements gained during that week.

    “As much as anything, it’s just the progress I made from Day 1 to Day 3. I felt a lot more comfortable within it, going through reads, going through progressions, knowing what they want. That’s the thing about just diving in it. You’ve just got to get into it, and so for me repetitions are kind of a big deal. Once I see it, whether I did it right or wrong, I normally learn from it pretty quick doing it.”

    Petty continued, “Again, from Day 1 to Day 3 was a lot better in that aspect. Then, to get to your question, I felt very comfortable getting in and out of play actions that are just five-step drops, seven-step drops, things like that. Definitely room to improve, but I like where I’m headed.”

    The Broncos (or any team that adds Petty) should give him a “redshirt” year or two if drafted. Petty is not pro-ready, but his size (6'3", 230 lbs), maturity and leadership are going to interest more than a few teams in the predraft process.

5th Round, Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Since they don’t have a fourth-round pick (thanks to the trade to move up for Cody Latimer in 2014), the Broncos are going to have to hope some talent falls to them on the third day of the draft.

    One position the team is going to have a need at is tight end. Julius Thomas might move on in free agency, but the Broncos could bring back Virgil Green on a new deal. They could also consider Jacob Tamme again so long as Peyton Manning is their quarterback.

    If they wait to draft a tight end, then Blake Bell (Oklahoma) would be a fine developmental pick.

    Bell was converted from quarterback to tight end for the Sooners in 2014. As a tight end, Bell has intriguing upside because of his size-athleticism combination. Measuring in at 6’6”, 260 pounds, Bell has the athleticism of a smaller man—yet he packs a big punch with his size.

    As a former quarterback, Bell knows where to find the soft spots in a zone. He does a good job of squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage to give his quarterback the largest possible target when passes are coming in.

    Bell agrees that his time at quarterback gives him an edge as a receiver.

    “I think it's just seeing routes. Definitely at Oklahoma being on the same page with them, it was one thing to know when he's hot and I've got to break it off here, or seeing different blitzes and stuff like that. So I think it's helped out tremendously, just with knowing that stuff.”

    He’s got the speed to be a threat after the catch (4.8 40-yard dash), and Bell can create mismatches every time he’s on the field. He’s too big for safeties to cover, and he’s too athletic for linebackers to cover. Bell could develop into a fine move tight end because of his ability to attack the deep middle seam of the defense.

    Bell impressed me earlier this year during the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game. His athleticism was immediately evident, and he did a good job of catching poorly thrown passes.

5th Round, Durell Eskridge, FS, Syracuse

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    The secondary underwent a major overhaul last offseason. The Broncos made two big splashes in free agency last year when they added both strong safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib. They further addressed the secondary when they selected Bradley Roby with their first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

    This offseason, Denver will likely be looking for help at the free safety position. Rahim Moore is set to be an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins, and he may be too pricey for the Broncos to keep in 2015.

    Denver may address the position in the 2015 NFL draft, and that’s where a guy like Durell Eskridge (Syracuse) comes in.

    His size (6’3”, 208 lbs) immediately makes him stand out on film. Eskridge is an intimidating presence in the secondary who can patrol the field in the box to stuff the run plus deep in coverage in obvious passing situations.

    He does a good job of diagnosing plays as they break down in front of him. Eskridge rarely takes false steps to get out of position, and thus, he’s most always around the ball.

    Eskridge does need to turn with more fluidity, and he’ll struggle to recover if a deep route gets by him sometimes. He’s also got to be less careless as a tackler if he’s going to be the last line of defense.

6th Round, Zach Zenner, FB, South Dakota State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    They traded their seventh-round pick to the New York Giants for kicker Brandon McManus last year, so Denver's last pick (at this time) is in the sixth round.

    The Broncos are going to build an effective ground game in 2015, and they’re going to do so with a different look. Part of the change will be the use of a fullback in the zone-blocking scheme. A player the Broncos could consider at the position is South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner.

    On film, Zenner was a standout player at the FCS level. However, in games against FBS teams, Zenner showed well. In 2013 against Nebraska, Zenner finished with 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns. In 2014 against Missouri, Zenner finished with over 100 yards on the ground.

    Zenner is proud of his efforts against larger schools.

    “I think that that has helped for sure because it’s one thing to be good at FCS but people could have easily said how well will that translate to the next level or against. It wasn’t against the stiffest competition, etc. There’s a lot of different things you can say to to do well, to have good games and to have our coaches put together good games for those FBS games has been big.

    He’s an efficient runner who wastes little motion with the ball in his hands. Zenner has good “foot frequency,” and this allows him to maintain proper balance when getting hit going up the middle. As a running back/fullback, Zenner can be used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield.

    The Broncos talked to him earlier this year at the East-West Shrine Game. “Yeah, I believe I’ve talked to Denver. I think that would have been at the East-West Game, though,Zenner said this week at the combine.

    I watched Zenner during the week of practice for the Shrine Game and came away impressed. He’s not overly creative as a runner, but he can pound it between the tackles and should be a good one-cut runner at the pro level.

    I had a chance to talk to John Elway at the combine in an interview after his press conference. There, Elway told me of the importance of utilizing a fullback in the Gary Kubiak offense.

    “You’ve got to have ‘21’ personnel, you have to have someone at fullback. Whether it be a fullback or a combination of a ‘Y’ fullback or something, we’re going to have someone playing fullback.”

    The Broncos could use Juwan Thompson as a fullback in 2015. They could also fill the position via free agency. However, the best move for them at the position might be to add a small-school star with big dreams in Zach Zenner.

    All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.

    Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac. Transaction history provided by Pro Sports Transactions. Draft grades provided by NFLDraftScout.com.

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