After using their first-round selection to upgrade their defense by adding ferocious pass rusher Shane Ray, the Denver Broncos focused their efforts on improving the other side of the ball by selecting offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo in the second round and tight end Jeff Heuerman in the third.
Some have considered both to be reaches, though I would argue given the way the board fell that both Sambrailo and Heuerman were arguably the best remaining players available at their respective positions. An underrated aspect not being looked at enough is how well they fit this team offensively in terms of scheme and furthermore, the versatility they bring to the new offensive dynamic being forged by head coach Gary Kubiak.
I had slated Sambrailo as the likely pick for the Broncos in the second round though didn't get into particulars about him as a player, which I will espouse about now.
An outlook on Sambrailo
Sambrailo is a seasoned and battle-tested competitor who was considered the linchpin of the Colorado State Rams' offensive line unit. In his five years in Fort Collins, he saw action in 48 games and stared 42 of them. He redshirted in 2010 but started 17 out of his first 23 games in his first two seasons of action and saw time at every offensive line spot outside of center.
As a junior in 2013, he started all 14 games at left tackle and received second-team All-Mountain West Conference accolades and graded out at 89 percent and had 47 knockdown blocks. Most recently in 2014, he earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. As a senior, he missed two games (Boise State and UC Davis) because of a knee injury, though was the best lineman on their unit, grading above 90 percent in every contest and amassing more than 60 knockdown blocks.
It is safe to say that Sambrailo improved every year on the gridiron and is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in this draft. He is flight on his feet, has great mirror skills and has the athleticism necessary to get to the second level on his blocks. Moreover, he is coming from an offense that employs many of the same concepts he will be grasping at a higher level here in Denver under Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison.
The Broncos plan to plug Sambrailo in at right tackle right away, where he will compete against second-year lineman Michael Schofield and veteran Chris Clark. It also isn't out of the question for the Broncos to consider him at the left guard spot either, so don't be surprised if he gets a shot to earn a starting role there as well. His flexibility provides the Broncos a variety of options on the offensive front, which is one of the reasons this pick makes so much sense and has tremendous value.
Several outlets had reported that he was considered the best zone blocking tackle in the draft and that a few teams had early second round grades on him. Critics of the pick have pointed to various draft rankings where Sambrailo hovers in the third or fourth round range, but I must point out that team boards will grade players additionally on scheme fit as opposed to a general overall, which is why there is obvious discrepancy between the Broncos board and those who aren't involved in the professional community.
At the end of the day, I feel very strongly about this pick and trust the judgement of coaches who have a penchant for developing offensive lineman and have years of experience demonstrated efficacy in that regard. Broncos fans across the globe should be enthused about this pick as Sambrailo has the potential to be a ten year starter in the NFL.
An outlook on Heuerman
Perhaps the largest negative reaction from Broncos Country in respect to Denver's second-day draft endeavors came from the selection of Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman.
The Broncos had gone on a free agent frenzy at the position by re-signing Virgil Green and adding Owen Daniels, James Casey and Joe Don Duncan to join Dominique Jones on the squad. With five tight ends already on the roster, most assumed the Broncos wouldn't be in the market for one in the draft. Those fans assumed wrong.
Once again playing the role of soothsayer, I was confident in the Broncos desire to add another tight end via the draft. Many wonder why they decided to do that, but the answer is quite simple.
First and foremost, Duncan and Jones are camp fodder. Neither of them will have meaningful careers in professional football. Second, Casey is here on a one-year deal. Third, Daniels, while a perfect fit and familiar with the way Kubiak runs his offense, is not going to be here forever. Last but not least, Green was the only tight end on the roster who has a positive long-term outlook with the franchise, so it was necessary for the Broncos to draft another prospect who provides that as well.
So the Broncos snagged Heuerman with the 92 pick, a versatile player who can do more than just play tight end. You can split him out wide, you can kick him inside and move him all around your offensive front. Widely regarded as the best blocking tight end in this years class, he will make a huge difference in the run game. He is the epitome of what Kubiak looks for in a tight end and there is no doubt that our new head coach had significant input on nabbing him with our third round selection.
When you scratch the surface, you see a player who has incredible measurables. Standing 6'5 and 255 pounds, there are few tight ends in this class who match up with his size, nor do many hold his athletic abilities. Heuerman ran a 4.72 at his Pro Day after sitting out the NFL Combine due to a nagging ankle injury, which is exceptional for a man of his size.
What is concerning is his lack of production. Although he started the last 28 games of his career, Heuerman does not have exceptional numbers statistically.
However, it is important to keep perspective. Numbers on paper never tell the whole story, and there is apt reason for the decline in production as a senior. The quarterback shuffle endured at Ohio State caused a change in priority for their offense. When your starting quarterback with whom you have a bond goes down, a loss in production is understandable. Couple that with the fact that he was battling through foot injuries, and it is crystal clear why Heuerman's output as a senior paled in comparison to his junior year.
Bottom line, the Broncos drafted a team leader who has all the tools necessary to become a formidable player at the pro level. In an offense that often runs two tight-end sets, Heuerman will have ample opportunities to make some plays as a rookie but will likely earn his stripes on special teams. His selection to the Broncos is beneficial immediately, but most importantly bodes well for the Broncos down the road if he keeps healthy (recovering from Lis franc and ankle injuries) and assumes his full potential.
Regardless if you like the "alleged value" of where both these players are selected, they are now a part of the Broncos organization. I, for one, will be hoping and cheering for them every time they step onto the field, wearing orange and blue proudly and wishing them nothing but success.
Folks, get ready for an exciting Day 3 of the NFL Draft and expect Denver to make some noise with their final six selections. Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy the final day of the draft — the Broncos family is about to get bigger!