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Horse Tracks: Tight end should be a high draft priority

The Denver Broncos made a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire tight end A.J. Derby, but the move isn't enough to solve their long-term issue at the position.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country.

In order to salvage a tight end unit that is arguably the worst in the NFL, the Denver Broncos sent a 2017 fifth-round draft pick to the New England Patriots to acquire A.J. Derby.

It's a similar move to last years' trade with the San Francisco 49ers that brought Vernon Davis to the squad and despite the Broncos earning a victory in Super Bowl 50, I think it's safe to say that his acquisition didn't do much to improve the performance at the position or act as a catalyst for an offense that was in desperate need of a spark in the 2015 season.

The Broncos certainly needed help at the position, but I'm not sure Derby will be the long-term player the Broncos truly need to make a difference on their roster.  Moreover, I have some concerns about his ability to come in and learn a completely different offense and have a significant impact for the squad in 2016.

Desperate times call for desperate moves and this trade certainly has the smell of a gamble that doesn't have a high chance at paying off.  It's my opinion that this trade is a scathing indictment in regard to the state of the teams' tight end corp, but perhaps an ultimatum delivered towards former third-round pick Jeff Heuerman, who is more likely to be seen as missing on the back of a mlik carton, as opposed to contributing in a manner that justified his selection in the third round two years ago.

If Denver wants to get serious about addressing their long-term need at tight end, they need to invest quality draft capital at the position and go after some of college football's best players.  The utilization of a high round draft pick on a tight end needs to happen and this year's class boasts a handful of intriguing prospects and perhaps the best crop available at the spot in recent memory.

Alabama's O.J. Howard, Ole Miss' Evan Engram, Michigan's Jake Butt and Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges are four players who should merit early round consideration from Denver when the 2017 NFL Draft rolls around.  Don't expect them to be on the board for too long, with current projections slating all four players firmly in the first or early second round halfway through this years' college football season.

Jordan Leggett out of Clemson and Jeremy Sprinkle out of Arkansas are two other prospects to keep your eye on moving forward in the draft evaluation process.  Those two aren't as highly-touted as the aforementioned slate of players, but would be worthy of a draft selection in the third or fourth round of the draft.

No draft pick is a sure-fire bet, but one of the best moves the Broncos could make is to hedge their bets on one of those tight ends making a long-term difference for the team.  It would be a wise move to present either of the teams' young quarterbacks with a player of their status and in my eyes, is the right thing to do to improve the production and efficacy at the position next season.

As always, thank you for reading and here is today's offering of Horse Tracks.

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