Long time reader and Broncos fan, first time poster – so please use your kid gloves! Anyway, I wanted to write this article for two reasons. First, I wanted to tell all of the regular contributors to this site that that I really appreciate all your commentary, analysis, and opinions regarding the Denver Broncos – especially the fan posts. I really enjoy the fact that most of the commentary on articles is written by knowledgeable people who can articulate their point of view without bashing or trash talking. I go to a number of Denver Broncos news sites on a regular basis and found the Mile High Report to be the best collection of news and discussion about my favorite team, without all the inflammatory and irrelevant posts simply made to make people mad. So thanks for the quality website content and for all your hard work – keep it up!
Now, moving on to the second and primary reason for this article. The off-season, in regards to the draft and free agency, is my favorite time of year. I love reading all the speculation about different players and the strategic moves the FO could make to improve the team. This is where the FO earns it money and the moves they make can instantly transform the team overnight. Many people choose to share what they think the FO should do for FA and the draft. I wanted to go in a little different direction and share some of my insights as to what direction I think the FO may actually go, not necessarily what I want or think. In other words, I am accounting for all the information I have seen, read, etc. to "read between the lines" as to what the FO may do this offseason – hence the article title. Original, I know. This article is really more about interpreting the team’s draft strategy.
This article was inspired by a list of prospects I saw that the FO has interviewed. Here is the list below:
"Last updated: 2/25/13.
Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins — Talked at Combine (source).
Cal WR Keenan Allen — Talked at Combine (source).
Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Rice TE Vance McDonald — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Virginia OT Oday Aboushi — Talked at Combine (source).
Kent State OL Brian Winters Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o — Talked at Combine (source).
Washington CB Desmond Trufant — Talked at Combine (source).
San Diego State CB Leon McFadden — Talked at Combine (source).
William and Mary CB B.W. Webb — Talked at Combine (source).
South Florida CB Kayvon Webster Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Florida State CB/WR Leon Sandcastle — Had Private Workout (source).
ASU S Keelan Johnson — Talked at East-West Shrine Game (source).
USC S T.J. McDonald — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Fresno State DB Phillip Thomas — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Georgia DB Shawn Williams — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Georgia DT Kwame Geathers — Talked at Combine (source).
Ohio State DL John Simon — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Mississippi State DL Josh Boyd — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Penn State DL Jordan Hill — Talked at Senior Bowl (source).
Georgia Tech DT T.J. Barnes — Talked at Combine (source).
It should be noted that last year, Denver barely talked to defensive lineman Derek Wolfe leading up to the draft and were googly over quarterback Brock Osweiler throughout the process. The team went on to draft both players, so take their pre-draft conversations and workouts with a grain of salt."
First of all, I believe the team is in a good position for the upcoming draft. Many of the positions of need have good depth, which allows the Broncos to let the best player fall to them, or trade back and pick up extra picks. I don’t see the FO trading up early in the draft, with the lack of "can’t miss" prospects. So my analysis of the draft is based on the theory that they will be patient to see which players they want are available when they pick, and pick the best player available. I believe Elway has described his draft strategy as "best player available" before. When I look at this list, I think it says more than what is on the surface.
Okay, when you look at the list, there clearly are positions that the FO is focusing on. Lets start at the top. Over 20% of the players interviewed are receivers - 4 WR and 1 TE summarized below:
Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins (5th pos. rank, 1-2 RD prospect)
Cal WR Keenan Allen (3rd pos. rank, 1-2 RD prospect)
Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope (12th pos. rank, 3rd RD prospect)
Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis (46th pos. rank, UDFA prospect)
Rice TE Vance McDonald (3rd pos. rank, 2nd RD prospect)
Four of the five prospects they talked to are projected to be drafted in the first 3 rounds. This implies to me that the FO is preparing to draft a weapon for Manning early in the draft if their other top ranked position players are gone. This may make some sense, as the defensive positions are considered to be very deep, allowing the Broncos to get more value later on in the draft if they pick a WR or TE early. Swope appears to be a solid choice for the 3rd round, so I would expect that if they don’t get a top WR prospect in the first two rounds, he would be an excellent mid round pick to fill the slot position. Drafting Swope in the 3rd just makes too much sense, as the Broncos already have two starting wideouts in DT and Decker, and spending a first or second round pick to pick up a top WR prospect to sit behind them might not be their best option, unless they think they can start in the slot position. Bumphis looks to be a guy they can pick up for depth at the position if needed. I don’t see the TE position as a position of need, so McDonald is likely on their radar just in case they get painted into a corner. Takeaway: look for Swope in the 3rd RD.
Next, only 2 offensive linemen were interviewed. Virginia OT Oday Aboushi (10th position rank) is projected to go in the 3rd round. Kent State OL Brian Winters (5th position rank) is projected to go in the 3rd or 4th round. It looks to me as the FO will add some depth on the O-line, but it does not look like they will spend a 1st round pick here. However, I am guessing they have some highly ranked O-line players they didn’t interview that would be highly considered if they were available and other top ranked position players are gone. Also, I am sure that the FO has some highly desired prospects that they purposely didn’t or won’t interview, in order to keep some of their drafting strategy secret. This is just good business sense, and a top rated O-line player may be one of them. Takeaway: look for an OL player in the 2nd or 4th RD.
Next on the list, Notre Dame MLB Manti Te’o (2nd position rank, 1st - 2nd round prospect). He was the only linebacker interviewed, and this guy has more drama surrounding him than TNT (and they know drama). Elway has openly said that Irving and Johnson have first dibs at MLB. First, IMO, Elway’s statements clearly position to team to do one of two things with Mays and DJ Williams: 1) release them; or 2) restructure their contracts to better reflect their contribution to the team. Either way, it appears to me that the FO will free up some cap space one-way or another with this position, which will be a good thing. If they do restructure contracts with at least one of them, they may look at drafting a player late in the draft, or pick up an UDFA or veteran FA for depth. If both players are released, this is where it gets tricky. Do you trust Elway in what he says about Irving and Johnson? If so, forget about a high draft pick on a MLB. If not, this is one position the FO could be keeping secret due to the lack of depth in the draft at the position. Based on Te’os uninspiring performance in the combine, I don’t see him in the late first round anymore like many were projecting, and he probably won’t be there by the end of the second round. Certainly if we pick up a MLB in FA before the draft, this would solidify this position and take any highly rated MLB out of the draft equation. There have been a few names floated around here, like Brad Jones GB, Dannell Ellerby BAL, etc. However, I have also heard Elway say that the MLB position is not as important as it used to be, since they are not on the field as much. So I don’t expect a top tier FA acquisition for the MLB spot or a 1st round draft pick. Personally, I don’t think Elway would make public statements like he did about his two MLB’s under contract just for smokescreen purposes - too much risk of alienating players and losing their trust with FO. I do believe Elway when he says the MLB job is open for Irving and Johnson. This would possibly explain why more MLB’s were not interviewed. We get younger by filling this need in-house. I think the team will try to restructure contracts on at least 1 of the 2 players we have (Mays and Williams), and pick up a late rounder or FA for MLB depth. However, I am not sure on the chances of that happening. If I am the FO saying I have faith in Irving & Johnson, then I dump both Mays and Williams and roll the dice on a late rounder or FA to provide depth, and possibly some better future upside. Takeaway: look for Denver to "shock" the media and not draft a top MLB prospect, only an UDFA. Bye, bye Keith Brooking. Bring in 2nd Tier veteran after the draft for depth and competition.
The next 9 guys on the list (8 excluding Sandcastle), or 38% of the prospects interviewed, are defensive backs. I believe this is a hint as to the focus of the FO. The FO need to spend their time wisely, so I don’t believe they would dedicate this much time into interviewing this many prospects if they weren’t seriously considering drafting players in this area. I have read many posts of people who think we are set for these positions. However, I am not debating that. I am suggesting that the FO is likely looking to add "competition" or depth in these positions. It is a prudent management strategy knowing Champ won’t be there forever, and Elway has said it is a position of importance. Elway is the man, so if he thinks this position is important, you can’t ignore that.
Here is a recap of the DB’s:
Washington CB Desmond Trufant (3rd pos. rank, 1st RD prospect)
San Diego State CB Leon McFadden (15th pos. rank, 3-4th RD prospect)
William and Mary CB B.W. Webb (13th pos. rank, 3rd RD prospect)
South Florida CB Kayvon Webster (34th pos. rank, 7th-FA prospect)
Fresno State FS Phillip Thomas (3rd pos. rank, 2-3 RD prospect)
Georgia SS Shawn Williams (4th pos. rank, 3rd RD prospect)
ASU SS Keelan Johnson (10th pos. rank, 7th-FA prospect)
USC FS T.J. McDonald (7th pos. rank, 4th RD prospect)
Purely based on the number of DB’s they interviewed, it appears that drafting a DB is likely going to happen, it is just a matter of where. As you can see, there is a prospect they interviewed available in almost every round of the draft. This is the position I think the team will let the draft dictate when they take a player they like, or in other words, let the draft come to them and take the best player available. If the right prospect falls to them early in the draft, they may take that opportunity to draft Champ’s future replacement, if not, they can draft for depth later on. This draft appears to be deep on DB’s, so I won’t be surprised to see the team draft a FS/SS and a CB. Takeaway: Denver possibly drafts Champ’s future replacement and starter opposite to him in round 1 - Trufant. If not, take the best FS/SS on the board in the 2nd round. If no picks in RD 1-2, look for 4-5th RD pick on best player available. So, for sure 1 DB picked in rounds 1-5. Then look for a 7th RD or UDFA pick for depth.
Finally, we get to the defensive line prospects. This is clearly a position of need and the FO interviewed 5 players. Here they are again:
Georgia DT Kwame Geathers (16th pos. rank, 5-6 RD prospect)
Ohio State DE John Simon (10th pos. rank, 2-3 RD prospect)
Mississippi State DT Josh Boyd (17th pos. rank, 6th RD prospect)
Penn State DT Jordan Hill (11th pos. rank, 4th RD prospect)
Georgia Tech DT T.J. Barnes (15th pos. rank, 5th RD prospect)
I am seeing a pattern here. Four of the five prospects are late rounders. This tells me the team will very likely draft a DT somewhere in rounds 4-6. Interestingly enough, many mocks have Denver taking a DT prospect early in the draft and there has been some discussion of a DE early as well. I think Denver is planning on not resigning 1 of the 2 FA’s Vickerson or Bannan, and will draft their replacement in rounds 4-6. Edge pass rushers are another one of Elway’s coveted positions, so a DE pick early could be a sleeper pick, although seems unlikely. This is an important position for the team this year, so I think the FO is keeping the first tier prospects close to the vest. Free agency will certainly shed some light on this position, as Denver may be able to bring in an impact player reducing the need to draft one early on. If no big FA acquisitions are made, I could see Denver drafting two DL’s, a DE/DT one in rounds 1-3 and a DT in rounds 4-6. Takeaway: Denver looks hard at a top DE/DT prospect early in the draft since this is likely their biggest need and the draft will have great talent available. I don’t expect a top tier FA acquisition due to the depth of talent in the draft. If their guy is there in the 1st RD, this is their first choice over any other position discussed as being a potential 1st RD: DB, WR, or RB.
The only other position of need is RB. Obviously, there are no RB’s on the interview list above. Does this mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. Here is my two cents. We know the draft class is thin at this position. The fact that no RB’s have been interviewed tells me one of two things: 1) Denver is probably not expecting to get a feature back from this draft and will focus on FA to fill the need; or 2) Denver does not want to show their hand since the draft class is thin. If Denver wants to make a superbowl run, I believe they will need an upgrade at this position. Could Denver bring in a guy like Chris Ivory in FA and have success with Moreno and Hillman? Maybe. Does Denver think the position is important enough to spend a 1st round pick on Lacy? Maybe. Can Denver draft an RB in 3rd round or later that can be a starter? Maybe. Does Denver cut both MaGahee and Moreno and get one RB in FA and one in the draft? Maybe. All good questions, right? I am very interested in how they approach this position, as I am sure you are too. I don’t see any obvious signs as to what the FO is thinking for this position, so I will take a bold stab. FO blows up the RB spot and dives into FA for either youth or durability/reliability such as: Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount, Reggie Bush, or Shonn Greene, or Steven Jackson in FA. Assume we pick up one guy in FA, so cut both MaGahee and Moreno. Draft a RB in rounds 3-5 and let the two compete for the starting job with Hillman as the 3rd back. Crazy, right? I am hoping the FO wants to get younger, get bigger, and improve durability at this spot.
All right, my rambling is done. If you add up the players/positions discussed above, I have 1 WR, 1 OL, 2 DB’s, 2 DL’s and 1 RB - seven spots with only 6 draft picks available. I expect one of two things. Denver tries to trade back somewhere to pick up the extra pick, or 1 DB spot in early rounds gets eliminated since that appears to be a luxury pick. If Denver trades back for the extra pick, I think they pick up a FS/SS in round 2 and pick up the OL with the later pick, since OL is my 2nd RD choice below. Again, assuming best player available, so I will have a few option/names in each slot. I know there are plenty of other names out there for each position other than just the interviewed players, so if you like one particular player for a position, fine. I tried to stick with he interviewed names to set up the positional strategy of the team, or what positions might go in which round and not necessarily the best player for that position. So feel free to suggest additional players for the different positions. Here is a recap:
1st RD: First Choice – Best Available DT/DE - Richardson, Short, Hankins, Jesse Williams. Second Choice - CB: Trufant or Rhodes. Long shots - RB: Lacy the only choice in the 1st. WR: Hopkins, Allen or other top prospect.
2nd RD: First Choice – Best Available OL. Second Choice: best available FS/SS: Eric Reid, Phillip Thomas, Shawn Williams
3rd RD: First Choice – WR: Ryan Swope or other slot WR. Second Choice – Best available OL: Brian Winters, Oday Aboushi, or best available DB: B.W. Webb, Phillip Thomas, Shawn Williams.
4th RD: First Choice – Best Available RB: Le’Veon Bell, Christine Michael, Montee Ball. Second Choice – DB: Leon McFadden, T.J. McDonald.
5th RD: First Choice – DT: Kwame Geathers or T.J. Barnes. Second Choice: Best available RB.
6th RD: No pick available.
7th RD: First Choice – DB: Kayvon Webster, Keelan Johnson. Second Choice – fill depth at any position of need.
UDFA’s: Fill depth as needed – OL, WR, DB, MLB, DL.
That is it for me. As always, I will enjoy reading your feedback.<!--EndFragment-->