Now that free agency has really settled down, the draft board is taking its shape, and the Broncos are getting ready to even more significantly improve a roster that won nine total games in the 2011 season, including a playoff win against the reigning AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and a division crown.
The Broncos did all of this with some of the craziest late-game finishes I have ever seen in any sport at any level. There is no other way to describe what we saw last year other than magical, and I have to be honest, it was one of the most fun seasons I have ever had watching any of my favorite teams. It was an up-and-down rollercoaster, from beginning to end, but the Broncos made it worth our while with an amazing finish in the postseason game against Pittsburgh.
After such an awesome season, things might finally be heading somewhere toward normalcy around Dove Valley, but that would just be way too much to ask, right?
When Peyton Manning was cut, it was reported by the Denver Post's Mike Klis that the Broncos would likely not have a serious pursuit of the future Hall of Fame quarterback, but boy was he dead wrong. The Broncos not only pursued Manning, they were the first ones to meet up with him, and the last ones standing.
After acquiring Manning, the Broncos traded their own golden boy, quarterback Tim Tebow who is still beloved by many of us fans. I was not and am still not really cool with trading Tebow, but Peyton Manning is really the only guy who could have replaced him that I'm actually okay with. Any other QB realistically on the market this offseason? No thanks.
Once the Broncos signed Manning, I think the entire offseason plan had to have changed. The Broncos immediately went out and started supplementing Manning's talent by getting him some new targets at one of his favorite positions to throw to: tight end.
Denver signed Jacob Tamme (former Colts TE) and Joel Dreessen, a former Texans tight end who has 10 touchdown receptions over the last two seasons.They also picked up Andre Caldwell, formerly of the Bengals and added Mike Adams and Tracy Porter to the defensive backfield.
Probably the most interesting moves the Broncos made this offseason were the different players they have let go along the defensive line, specifically letting go of Brodrick Bunkley. I think Bunkley got overpaid a little bit for a guy that is almost 30, but he was pretty easily Denver's best defensive tackle last year, which may or may not be saying much.
Anyway, now that the offseason has essentially gone down, and the Broncos are done with free agency for the most part, here are some of my thoughts and musings on what's to come as we prepare for the draft.
- I don't think the Broncos are guaranteed to draft a defensive tackle in the first round. Call me crazy, but the Broncos also have huge needs at running back, wide receiver, and possibly cornerback, even though I think the first two are more pressing than the last. If I had to organize Denver's top needs right now, it would probably be DT, WR, RB, and CB in that order, specifically because Peyton Manning is now in the fold and it's going to require four very good receivers to make it through this season and continue to open up the offense. That's just my opinion. I don't think the Broncos plan to be the Colts, but Manning is the type of guy who opens up the offense to varying sets of receivers. I see Demaryius Thomas as our "Pierre Garcon" or a guy who can stretch the field and make plays. Garcon isn't nearly as talented, but they could play similar roles. I see Decker as our version of Austin Collie, and not because he's white. Decker could be very effective out of the slot with his body control and route running ability. He could also create some serious mismatches on smaller nickel defensive backs with his size and speed.
Because of reasons outlined in that previous paragraph, I think Denver could be in the market for a receiver, possibly as early as the first round. There will be guys available--potentially--like Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech), Kendall Wright (Baylor), or Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) all players I have rated higher than Devon Still, Jerel Worthy, or Kendall Reyes, who are likely to be the best DTs available when we pick. I'm not against picking any of those three guys, but I think the WR prospects are better and fit a similarly pressing need that we have, now that our offense has transformed from ground and pound to pass-first, pass often.
- Running back is also an option in the first round, specifically Boise State's Doug Martin. Martin is a great fit for Denver's style. He is a team-first guy, a powerful kid who runs low to the ground, and a great receiver out of the backfield. I don't have any inside information as to whether or not the Broncos would use a first round pick on a running back, but Martin is my second most highly graded back, and while people are typically not a fan of picking backs in round one, John Fox has been in the war room of two drafts in which his team spent a first round pick--and high ones--on running backs in consecutive years. Martin, to me, is a special type of player with size, speed, pass catching ability, intangibles, etc. He is not elite like Trent Richardson, but he is definitely my second best back in this year's draft, and the Broncos could do a lot worse than picking him in round one.
- Could the Broncos be opportunistic in the draft? What if a guy like Dre' Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore happens to fall to our pick, how would that change our strategy? I think the Broncos would like to trade down and potentially out of the first round entirely unless someone really good falls to their pick. This draft has really solid depth, so getting a nice load of picks would be a good idea, especially if there is some team that wants to jump into the first round to take a QB like Brandon Weeden or something like that. I'm not sure the exact circumstances, but I keep playing ESPN's mock draft machine, and it's getting harder and harder for me to peg who the Broncos will take and what players could fall. It's been everyone from Dontari Poe, Michael Brockers, and Devon Still to Stephen Hill, Kendall Wright, and Michael Floyd. I just have no clue who is going to fall to our pick and what kind of strategy we have in place giving the current state of our team's needs.
- The quarterback position will be addressed at one point or another, which knocks out one of our seven current picks. The absolute worst thing the Broncos could do on draft weekend is trade a bunch of picks to move up and get a quarterback they like rather than playing the board as it falls. I think it was a mistake last year to give up picks to select Julius Thomas. I just think that was getting a little trigger happy but the Broncos found a guy they liked, and they went and got him. I hope that doesn't happen again this year with a guy like B.J. Coleman, but it certainly could. The Broncos have two fourth round picks and an early fifth round pick, and are perfect candidates to use those selections to move up in the second or third round. As of right now, I'd be willing to bet we wind up with one of Brock Osweiler or B.J. Coleman when all is said and done.
- The Broncos could be in the market for more than one receiver in the draft. I only know of two prospect visits/workouts that they've had, and one is for Ohio wide receiver Lavon Brazill, who would probably be able to replace what we had in Eddie Royal. I don't know if he's as fast or has as good of vision in returns, but he could develop into the receiver we thought we had with Eddie. Brazill is a guy who not a lot of people know about, but I watched some of him and he is a shorter receiver who can make some plays. He could fit in really well with our offense.
- We're keeping really quiet on player visits, which leads me to believe that the team is trying to keep some selections on the down low. The Broncos aren't leaking player visits this year, which means they are doing more lying than usual at this time of year, or they aren't doing any at all. I think the Broncos could have their eye on some prospects that they really don't want anyone to know about, maybe some small school guys. One guy I would really like for Denver to get their hands on is South Dakota State wide receiver Dale Moss, who is 6'4" 215 pounds with 4.38 speed and freakish athletic ability. I had a chance to go watch Moss workout and interview him, and the guy is lightning quick. Another former basketball player with huge upside who could possibly be there when we pick in the 6th round. I think he'd be a great pickup.
- Here is a quick Broncos mock to get your juices flowing:
1. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
2. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
3. Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
4. B.J. Coleman, QB, UT-Chattanooga
4. Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
5. Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina
6. Dale Moss, WR, South Dakota State