The NFL Draft is a few months away, but the prospect evaluation process is well underway for NFL Teams, including the Broncos, who will be putting in sleepless nights in effort to concoct their big boards and prospect rankings for 2015. With the Senior Bowl beginning this week, the Broncos will have delegates in Mobile, Alabama to get a closer look for some of the premier talent available in this years class.
As reported by MHR, the Broncos are projected to earn four compensatory selections from their free agent losses in 2014, which will bolster their draft pick arsenal to ten selections if Over The Cap’s estimates prove to be correct. The Broncos will be without their original fourth and seventh round selections respectively, due to a trade-up for Cody Latimer and the acquisition of placekicker Brandon McManus. For the sake of formulating a more cohesive draft to address the Broncos pertinent needs, I have used OTC’s compensatory projections in what will be the first of several mocks to come this off-season at Mile High Report.
Before I begin with my initial 2015 Mock Draft, it is important to note that the addition of Gary Kubiak as head coach will have an impact on the type of players selected and a new found emphasis regarding certain positions, especially on the offensive side of the ball. While the Broncos did employ many zone based runs with the emergences of CJ Anderson towards the end of the season, it is important to note that the Broncos will likely revert back to a consistent usage of the zone blocking system, which Broncos fans should be familiar with from the Shanahan Era that reaped many benefits for the organization.
In a zone blocking system, a focus is primarily put on offensive lineman who not only are smart, but athletic, agile and mobile enough to get to the second level. It prioritizes systematic execution and group cohesion on assignments, rather than relying on brute strength and enormous size to combat man-on-man defensive alignments from the opposing team. This is not say the Broncos will not be interested in prospects who are larger in size, but enforces the idea that they will prioritize the aforementioned factors before anything else.
First Round — Cameron Erving, OL — Florida State
As mentioned earlier, the switch to primarily dominant ZBS in Denver will signify many changes on the offensive line. Ryan Clady, Louis Vasquez, Matt Paradis, Chris Clark, Michael Schofield and Manny Ramirez are the only offensive lineman slated to the active roster for 2015 and two of those players saw no significant time last season. Ben Garland and Paul Cornick could be brought back from free agency as affordable depth players, along with Will Montgomery, who played under a ZBS with Mike Shanahan in Washington. Free agent LG/RT Orlando Franklin is the major wildcard in line-up predictions, but even if retained the Broncos are still in dire need of impact offensive lineman long-term.
My gut tells me that Manny Ramirez poor performance in 2014, along with his skeptical fit for a zone blocking scheme will lead him to become a "cap casualty" for the Broncos who can save three million towards the cap and only incur ~ $167,000 in dead money from his release. As it stands right now, I would expect two new additions with starting potential to be added, with an early round selection being pertinent for success now and for the future.
Cameron Erving is a player on the rise that would give the Broncos a starting talent at center, guard or tackle from Day 1. The two-time Jacobs Blocking Trophy award winner and All-American was one of the primary reasons Florida State endured such success over the last two seasons. Erving is a former defensive lineman, who made he switch to left tackle for the Seminoles in 2012 and did exceptionally well. By far one of the best athletes in this years offensive line class, Erving has the agility and quickness to pull effectively and get to the second level in the run blocking game. Here he is against Pitt in 2013 (left tackle).
Overall, he is a quality run blocker and pass protecter who needs refinement in his technique to become an elite player at the NFL level, but those things can be improved through coaching — but has everything you can’t teach in order to make a quick transition to the NFL. While he did play center for the Seminoles in 2014, I believe his best fit is at guard or tackle in the pros, however, his position flexibility will be much desired by a team like the Broncos who are in desperate need of long-term solutions in the trenches. If he is available come pick 28, they would have a hard time passing him up for the mentioned reasons and would be lucky to have him.
Second Round — Reese Dismukes, C — Auburn
MHR readers might deem the back-to-back selections of offensive lineman in this preliminary mock draft as overkill, but Reese Dismukes of Auburn is an excellent prospect in his own right and a great fit for the Denver Broncos who need a long-term solution at the position, with Matt Paradis (sixth round selection in 2014) as the only player on the active roster slated at center in 2015.
Dismukes is a four year starter at center for the Auburn, earning him several All-SEC awards and is widely regarded as one of the most technically sound and NFL ready centers in this years draft class. His scheme fit for the Broncos zone blocking system is perfect, considering his experience in the Tiger’s ZBS since he arrived at campus in 2011. A quality run blocker, Dismukes could stand to add more functional strength to his game, but his squatty frame and low center of gravity make him a terror to work against in the trenches.
The selections of Erving and Dismukes provide the Broncos great longevity and potential on the offensive line for years to come, and would be much welcomed help for whomever our quarterback of the future will be and undoubtedly will help pave the way for our young stable of running backs.
Third Round — Kurtis Drummond, FS — Michigan State
Some fans may never forgive Rahim "The Dream" Moore for his tremendous failure against the Ravens in the 2012 playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens, and with his free agent status and lack of depth at the free safety position, the Broncos will be in business to acquire another defensive back this off-season. If Vance Joseph if tapped as a defensive coordinator for the Broncos, I would expect Denver to grab a prospect who will have four years under contract at an affordable rate to develop for the long-term and be able to learn under a man who is known for his work with defensive backs.
He might not get the same press and praise as fellow prospects Cody Prewitt, Derron Smith or Gerod Holliman, but he was one of the most consistent performers for the Spartans over the past few seasons and is an aggressive and intellectual player who displays good awareness in both run support and pass defense. He is well-respected by his coaches and peers and also has a wealth of special teams experience, which is an important factor for defensive backs to earn playing time early in their careers.
Drummond is not an elite prospect by any means, but he is fundamentally sound and rarely has mental lapses in his assignments which would be a welcomed presence by Broncos Country who have become frustrated by the lack of discipline demonstrated by their current group of safeties.
Fourth Round (Compensatory) — Carl Davis, DT — Iowa
If the Broncos are unable to retain interior force Terrance Knighton this free agent period, defensive tackle shoots way up the list for need for the Denver Broncos, who only have former first-round selection Sylvester Williams and his Tar Heel teammate Marvin Austin on the interior defensive line. While the Broncos do like to rotate their defensive lineman and kick players such as Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe inside on passing downs, the Broncos would be wise to add an interior defensive lineman in this years draft.
At 6’5 — 315 pounds, Carl Davis is a powerful defender who has great athleticism for his size and often commands double teams when playing the nose tackle position. He has played across a variety of positions on the Hawkeye’s defense and his flexibility would be a great fit for the Broncos. In order to reach his full potential, Davis needs to work on his technique and leverage in order to not get pushed backwards at the line of scrimmage. If he continue to develop, he should find himself to become a quality starting caliber lineman in the NFL. At the end of the fourth round, Davis’ fits a need for the Broncos and provides tremendous value.
Fifth Round (via Chicago) — Stefon Diggs, WR — Maryland
One of the strengths of the 2014 Denver Broncos were their two top receivers, Demaryius Thomas (set to be a free agent, but likely retained) and Emmanuel Sanders who put up outrageous numbers and solidified themselves as one of the best tandems in all of the NFL. 2014 second round selection Cody Latimer didn’t see much playing time and free agent Wes Welker had one of the worst seasons of his pro career. The team still has Andre Caldwell and Isaiah Burse for depth, but the team could afford to use a mid-to-late round selection on a receiver who offers potential.
Stefon Diggs decided to enter this years NFL Draft after three seasons with Maryland, where he amassed 150 receptions for 2227 yards and 14 touchdowns. In addition to being a vertical threat in the receiving game, Diggs also offers value as a return specialist who has averaged well over 25 yards per return and has taken several of them for touchdowns in his three year career.
The biggest question surrounding Diggs is his durability. He missed time in 2014 after suffering a lacerated kidney against Penn State and in 2013, broke his fibula in October after starting the season guns blazing. This class is loaded with talent at wide receiver, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Diggs fall to Day 3 given his injury history, but nonetheless would provide the Broncos with a prospect who can contribute immediately on special teams as a return man while he grasps advanced route trees and passing concepts early on in his career.
Sixth Round — Terrance Plummer, ILB — Central Florida
The Broncos have a lot of bodies at the linebacker position, but experienced a wealth of injuries as the season went on to players like Nate Irving, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan and were relegated to shuffling special teams players such as Corey Nelson, Steven Johnson and Lamin Barrow into a variety of roles on the defensive side of the ball. With Marshall and Irving set to become free agents this off-season, I would expect Denver to consider adding another linebacker to their squad in this years draft.
Terrence Plummer isn’t a household name amongst draftniks, but he has quietly had a productive career for Central Florida, despite playing on some woefully bad squads. In his time with the Knights, Plummer amassed over 300 tackles, 6 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and several interceptions and forced fumbles over his collegiate career. He is a true MIKE linebacker who plays with good speed and athleticism and flows to the ball. At times he struggles from disengaging from offensive lineman and could use a year in a strength and conditioning program to get stronger to improve his ability to shed blocks, but would be an instant contributor on special teams from Day 1 and has the ability to start in the NFL.
Sixth Round (Compensatory A) — MyCole Pruitt, TE — Southern Illinois
One of the biggest story lines for Broncos faithful this off-season is what the Broncos intend to do at the tight end position. As of today, they do not have one tight end signed to the active 2015 roster. Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, who were both drafted in the same year are free agents — and it is unsure whether or not the Broncos will have the ability to retain both, although Elway seems adamant on being able to come to an agreement with at least one of them.
Gary Kubiak’s offenses employ a major use of double tight end sets, often sending one in motion, split out wide or even in the backfield in multiple formations. As I started watching tape on college prospects this year, one of the under the radar prospects that caught my attention was Southern Illinois Saluki tight end MyCole Pruitt. I thought to myself, "Wow — this guy is really versatile and can do a lot of things for teams in the NFL." When the news of Kubiak being hired broke the other day, I couldn’t help but think how great of a fit he was for this team moving forward.
In his four years with the Saluki’s, Pruitt amassed 221 receptions for 2601 yards and 25 touchdowns. As a senior this past year, he took college football by storm and had 81 receptions for 861 yards and 13 scores, with only two games this year without a touchdown. He was the 2014 CFPA FCS Award winner for the best tight end in subdivision college football and has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL. Folks, this is a guy you will want to keep your eyes on as the NFL Draft approaches. In the right system, he could become an absolute weapon down the road.
Sixth Round (Compensatory B) — Jalston Fowler, FB — Alabama
Kubiak’s return to Denver also signals a change in philosophy that will differ from most Peyton Manning led teams historically — the importance of the fullback position. Fowler is one of the best FB’s available in this years draft and finally showed what he was capable of after suffering a knee injury in 2012 that caused him to have a sluggish 2013.
He’s blocked successfully for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and demonstrated good hands with 11 catches for 129 yards and two scores as a senior. I understand that fullback isn’t a "sexy" selection in the draft by any means, but it will be a necessary consideration for the Broncos come draft day if they do not find a free agent to fill the void, as they currently have nobody on deck to assume such a role.
Seventh Round (Compensatory A) — John Crockett, RB — North Dakota State
The running back position has become less and less prioritized with the advent of the modern day passing game in the NFL, but there is no harm in continuously looking to upgrade the position in the late rounds of the draft. It’s likely that the emergence of CJ Anderson in the final half of the 2014 season will solidify himself as the starter in 2015, but the rest of the corps is definitely in flux as we prepare for the coming season.
Throughout his collegiate career, John Crockett was an absolute star for the four time defending FCS National Champion North Dakota State Bison. In his three years as a starter, Crockett carried the rock 752 times for 4,309 yards and 41 touchdowns. Additionally, he showed a lot of promise as a receiver in his final year, amassing 30 catches for 397 yards and a score. He’s the ultimate NFL Draft sleeper, who has averaged 5.7 YPC in his time at North Dakota State.
Playing for a small school won’t get Crockett noticed, but when coaches acquire his game tape, they will be impressed with his balance, vision and patience as a runner and see that such qualities translate well to the NFL. He will get his shot, and despite a loaded class at running back, will find a home on a roster in 2015. Keep your eyes on his kid, he could be a diamond in the rough.
Questions, comments or concerns? Feel free to give your feedback in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter @topherhart. I'll have plenty of coverage on the NFL Draft there.