The Broncos wrapped up their 2015 off-season additions last week by adding a handful of draft selections and undrafted free agents to their roster. Additionally, they have brought in ten players to compete as well. As it stands, 86 of the 90 spots on the team are taken up, with four spots up for grabs. Undoubtedly, those who were asked to come to Dove Valley to try out will be giving it their all in hopes to have a shot at earning the ability to impress the coaches more in training camp down the road.
After researching the names, most of the players seem limited in their potential. Whether it is lack of quality measurables or ho-hum collegiate statistics, few seem to offer what it takes to play in the NFL. However one prospect caught my eye and could very well have the ability to make the team or at the very least, earn practice squad consideration on the Broncos moving forward. This article seeks to discuss the "Oliphant in the room", former Houston Cougars linebacker Efrem Oliphant.
Oliphant spent five years with the Cougars, two years in a reserve role, one with a redshirt and the final two seasons as a starter and most productive player of their defense. In fact, he was one of the most productive linebackers in all of college football, ranking in the Top 10 in tackles the final two years as a starter and emerged as the leader of the Cougars defense. An under the radar prospect, Oliphant's quality play earned him second-team All-AAC honors and caught the eye of scouts from several clubs who believed he had the ability to play at the next level.
Oliphant earned his first starts at strongside linebacker, but was primarily a weakside linebacker for the Cougars. He also has experience on the inside and spent the last half of 2014 at the MIKE position after incumbent starter Derrick Mathews went down with an injury. The road to success wasn't easy for Oliphant, who had to work his way up the depth chart and earn his starting spot with dedication, blood, sweat and tears. But no matter what was asked for him, he did it and his selfishness and team-first mentality speaks volumes about the kind of work ethic, player and person he is.
Despite his high level of production, Oliphant was a combine snub, but in late March had a Pro Day in Houston where he churned out eye-popping numbers. He measured in at 6'0, 228 pounds (up eight from his regular playing weight) and had impressive outings in the 40 yard dash (4.72), 10 yard dash (1.62), bench press (27 reps) and a sub 7 three cone drill, which would have ranked him amongst some of the best at the national combine.
Coming from a conference that is not as prominent as others, it is understandable to see how Oliphant slipped through the cracks on Draft Day. It should come as no surprise considering the amount of well-known prospects from top conferences and programs that also failed to hear their name called. Alas, when I was able to scoop up some videos of several games, I saw an intriguing player who has a lot of positives and seems like a quality, downhill run defender for Wade Phillips' aggressive 3-4 defense.
There are a lot of positives in regard to Oliphant's game. First and foremost, he has great instincts. He always seemed to be in the right position at the right time and did a great job of diagnosing and reading plays. Instincts can't be taught and the football intelligence he displayed in the games I watched was very impressive. Second, his movement and pursuit skills are NFL caliber.
It isn't just downhill movement (his forte given his TFL production), but he has the ability to move sideline-to-sideline and effectively chase and wrap up ball carriers. He is a rangy player who has the God given talent to make plays all across the gridiron, but doesn't seem to hold up too well in pass coverage, though that is something that can be learned through more reps and experience doing so.
Overall verdict: Oliphant isn't a name you will find etched in the annals of NFL History for being on of the greatest to ever play the game, but he can undoubtedly play in the NFL and have value as back-up defender and special teams player. Out of any of the prospects trying out for the 90th spot on the roster heading into training camp, I believe he is the diamond in the rough to go out there and catch the eyes of coaches.
Much to my chagrin, the Broncos did not draft an inside linebacker in this years draft and I still believe there are concerns at the position. The uphill battle Oliphant faces is a steep one, though if his collegiate career is a sign of anything, it is that he can overcome insurmountable odds. This is a kid I'm definitely banging the table for to earn a spot in our Top 90 and am hopeful he can fulfill a dream of making an NFL roster.