As we are mere days from the first ever May NFL Draft, my annual Denver Broncos mock draft has been finalized. Due to creative differences, I have been forced to change platforms, but I am happy to be here in the FanPosts of SB Nation's Mile High Report. (Access my previous seasons' Broncos Mock drafts here: 2013 & 2012).
This mock has undergone multiple revisions since the end of the season, the NFL combine, and NFL free agency. As always, I assume no trades when making my mock draft.
My assessment of the biggest positional needs for the Denver Broncos headed into the draft are: CB, MLB, G, DE and RB. However, the Broncos are fortunate in that their starting lineup on both sides of the ball is essentially set, with very few exceptions, and they will largely be drafting for depth and competition. This will leave John Elway with the luxury to draft the best player available regardless of position in every round.
With that said, here are my suggestions for how the Broncos 2014 NFL Draft will play out, with video highlights of each pick, as well as some valued potential Undrafted Free Agents to boot. Enjoy! And go Broncos!
1st Round (31): David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Even in my earliest mocks, my number one choice for the Broncos in the first round has been Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey. I briefly flirted with switching to UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo because of a faster 40 time and more reps on the bench at the combine, but I've ultimately decided to stick with my gut, as Yankey's cognitive superiority and football instincts supersede a few tenths of a second on a stopwatch. Possessing great feet, Yankey excels in pulling, run-blocking, as well as pass protection, and his skills will be nicely suited to Denver's zone-blocking run scheme. He is undisputedly one of the top guards in this draft, a position of need for Denver with the loss of Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper. Even though the current plan is to kick Orland Franklin inside to G and play Chris Clark at RT, the Broncos would be well served to lock up a premier lineman like Yankey for years to come.
Even though a host of other players have been slated for Denver at No. 31, my hunch is that all of the following players will already be off the board: Gilbert & Dennard (obviously), but also Fuller, Roby, Mosley, and even Shazier will likely be gone, Ultimately, the Broncos biggest need is unchanged: Protect Peyton Manning. Picking Yankey will be a strong step towards addressing that continual need.
Second Choice: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA or Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio St (although both players are likely gone by pick no. 31)
2nd Round (63): Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Defensive End is not the second most pressing need for the Broncos, especially after the signing of Demarcus Ware in the off-season. However, the Broncos have lost both DEs Sean Phillips and Robert Ayers, and Derek Wolfe, ideally the starter opposite of Ware, missed the final five weeks of the season and the entire playoffs with seizure-like symptoms. Months later, he says he now feels great, but injuries of this nature are highly unpredictable. The Broncos are in need of another defensive end, and the second round will be the best place to get the highest quality pass rusher possible.
Enter: Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who will likely be available for the Broncos late in the second round. The Big XII leader in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (17), Jeffcoat posted the fourth highest 40 time among all defensive ends at the combine, 4.68. A quick twitch player, Jeffcoat has good football instincts and good lineage, the son of former NFL star Jim Jeffcoat. The knock on him is that he is somewhat undersized at 6'3", 247 lbs putting him close to the dreaded "tweener" category. He also needs to get stronger, but he possesses a good frame to build upon, and with the Broncos strength and conditioning staff, it shouldn't be a problem.
Selecting Jeffcoat would give the Broncos needed depth on the defensive line.
3rd Round (95): Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Cornerback is likely the most glaring of the Broncos needs. Even after signing Aquib Talib, they lost both Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey to free agency, leaving the Broncos one corner down. This has prompted many to finger Denver as the possible landing place for several of the Draft's most touted cornerbacks. However, it's quite likely that without trading up, those players will be long gone by the time Denver makes its first selection.
Therefore, the Broncos should wait until round three, where Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste will likely still be available. Following the trend of big, physical corners in the NFL, Jean-Baptist is 6'2", 218 lbs and was very impressive during his week at the Senior Bowl. Although not blazing fast, he is certainly not slow, running a 4.61 40-yard dash. However, his real strength may be his length and his leaping ability. Jean-Baptiste can jump right out of the stadium, posting a 41.50" vertical jump, the highest of any athlete at the combine .
Waiting until the third round to address their need at corner will not only yield a higher quality of early draft picks at other positions, but it could also land them a steal of a player in Jean-Baptiste.
4th Round (131): Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
In the fourth round, the Broncos should continue to shore up their secondary. My top choice to do so would be Stanford safety Ed Reynolds. A previous injury (ACL) has cooled his draft stock, but that could end up working to the Broncos' advantage. Landing Reynolds would give them a rangy ball hawk who is a big hitter. In fact, one of the knocks on Reynolds is that he has a tendency to lead with his head, a habit he will need to break at the next level. But one of the Broncos goals this off-season has been to become more physical, and Reynolds playing center field could give them a combination of physicality and athleticism in the middle of the field.
Second Choice: Chris Davis, CB, Auburn. In case Reynolds doesn't last clear until pick no. 131, the second choice would be to stay in the secondary here and select Davis. A solid corner, he could provide Denver some depth at the position while continuing to hone his craft, but Davis would also be an asset for Denver in the return game, another area of need. Remember this?
5th Round (171): Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
Michigan State LB Max Bullough may in fact be the player I would most like to see Denver come away with in this draft. The heart and soul of the best defense in all of college football last season, Bullough would fill one of their biggest needs at middle linebacker. Incredibly strong, the 6'3", 250 lbs. defender posted far more bench reps than any other LB at the combine, and although he does not possess blazing speed, he did post the third fastest time of any LB there.
Many experts have mocked Wisconsin's Chris Borland to the Broncos, usually in either the second (or even first) round. However, I would much rather see the Broncos land Bullough. Certainly, both are quality players, but Bullough is stronger, faster, better sideline to sideline, and for all of Borland's football acumen, Bullough's is even better.
Bullough has flown somewhat under the radar after being suspended for the Rose Bowl last season, the details of which have never been elaborated upon by either Bullough or his coaches. However, one thing his coaches do say about him is that he has outstanding leadership skills and football instincts, that he is the quarterback of the defense, and that he is like having a "computer on the field." The Broncos already have one player on the other side of the ball who fits that description. To add a second player with a similar make-up on defense would be outstanding. Especially being able to wait until the fifth round, where he will likely still be available, acquiring a player with Bullough's skill set could pay immediate dividends for the Broncos.
6th Round (207): Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
It is quite possible that Minnesota S Brock Vereen will be available in the sixth round, and if he is still available at no. 207, the Broncos should select him. Even though it seems strange to mock two safety selections, Vereen has the skills to warrant such a claim. Running a stunning 4.47 40, he is also very strong posting 25 reps at the combine. He also has great bloodlines, as his brother, Shane, is a RB with the New England Patriots, and his father, Henry, was a former player in both the NFL and CFL.
The Broncos would do well to take a chance on Vereen in the sixth round. As with all players drafted this late, especially for Denver, while Vereen would provide even more depth in the secondary, his real immediate impact will likely be on special teams, where his speed, strength, and physicality could become legitimately valuable.
7th Round (246): Cornelius Lucas, OT, Kansas State
Again in the name of "Protect Peyton Manning," the Broncos could do far worse than to take a chance on K-State OT Cornelius Lucas. An absolute giant at 6'6" and 318 lbs, the first team All-Big 12 lineman is very athletic for his supreme size. His skill set is continuing to develop, especially using his size to gain leverage, but using a seventh round pick on Lucas could benefit Denver if he is able to compete for the swing tackle behind Ryan Clady and Chris Clark. Especially if Orlando Franklin is not retained after this season, having a young lineman with Lucas' size and ability going forward could be very attractive.
Second choice: Devekeyan "DeDe" LAttimore, LB, South Florida; or Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida (or any of the other UFAs listed below)
Undrafted Free Agents:
The following players are some who I anticipate will go undrafted, and who I would be in favor of seeing the Denver Broncos sign to compete for spots in training camp.
UFA: Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
Obviously, the position of running back was never addressed in my mock. That is because, even losing Knowshown Moreno, with the rise of Montee Ball and the organization's belief in him going forward, the Broncos can hold off on actually drafting a RB. There will be plenty available in free agency. A back like Storm Johnson, who was an early Heisman candidate, would fill the role nicely. He put together a solid season, and played especially well in the Fiesta Bowl alongside QB Blake Bortles.
UFA: Derel Walker, WR, Texas A&M
Just like running back, the Broncos have no real business drafting a wide reciever. With Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders, and Andre Caldwell, Denver is set at receiver. However, it would be good to sign one to compete for a possible fifth WR spot. Someone like Walker from Texas A&M who put together a fine season catching passes from Johnny Football would be a good fit.
UFA: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
Besides Storm Johnson, Crockett Gillmore is probably the UFA I would most like to see the Broncos land. Even though Julius Thomas had a breakout season, the contracts of both TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen will soon be up. While the need is not pressing, Gillmore has very underated ball skills for a TE of his stature. He would be a good homegrown option to add depth at the TE position.
UFA: Khairi Fortt, LB, California
In the wake of the Penn State Jerry Sandusky-child rape scandal, LB Khairi Fortt transferred to California, and his vast potential was somewhat lost in the shuffle. However, Fortt is a nasty competitor, and would be an excellent player to sign if he slips through the first seven rounds.
There you have it folks. Live and direct. But as always, whatever way this draft happens to fall out, our montra remains the same: In John We Trust!