The Denver Broncos have stormed out the gate by winning their first two games of the 2016 NFL regular season by defeating the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. Have no doubt, the sole focus of the coaches and players from here on out is doing their best to win each match-up through the rest of the season.
Yet, the teams’ scouts and player personnel staff have another duty at hand — to scour and scout the collegiate football landscapes of the country in order to find the best prospects available that can help the franchise continue its storied tradition and pursuit of more championships.
With Mark Sanchez being released from the team and failing to make the final 53 man roster, the Broncos have absolved themselves of having to surrender a conditional late-round selection to the Philadelphia Eagles for his services. The Broncos hold all of their original selections in the NFL Draft besides their sixth-round selection, which was sent to the San Francisco 49ers in last season’s trade for tight end Vernon Davis.
However, the Broncos recouped the loss of that selection via draft day trade with the Tennessee Titans and will receive their sixth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Additionally, the team is expected to receive several compensatory selections for players who pursued greener pastures in free agency.
Brock Osweiler and Malik Jackson should net the Broncos two additional third-round picks. The departures of Danny Trevathan and Ryan Harris will net them extra fifth and seventh-round choices as well.
If those projections are correct, the Broncos will have 11 selections to make in the 2017 NFL Draft, with five of those selections being in the Top 150 overall. That’s quite the haul for a team who just won the Super Bowl and has one of the league’s most talented and complete rosters.
Even so, there is still room for improvement and there are a few areas on the team that could use immediate and long-term upgrades to keep General Manager John Elway's axiom of "winning now and from now" on as true as ever.
Jake Butt, TE — Michigan
The clear and obvious void on the Broncos’ roster is the lack of depth and true game-changer at the tight end position. Virgil Green figures to be a focal point of the Broncos’ passing attack this season, but 2014 third-round selection Jeff Heuerman has yet to play a single regular season snap since being drafted two years ago and it’s self-evident that no NFL defense is worried about what veteran tight end John Phillips brings to the table.
Luckily for the Broncos, the 2017 NFL Draft features a handful of tight ends who have impressive collegiate resumes and moreover, great potential to become dynamic receiving threats in the NFL. The headliner of the class is standout Michigan Wolverine Jake Butt, who hasn’t missed a beat from his junior season and has put up eye-popping numbers in just three games as a senior.
To date, Butt has 15 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns for the Wolverines and is on pace to topple his 51 catch and 654 yard performance last year. All indications thus far signify that Butt will be a highly sought commodity when the NFL Draft rolls around and could very well be a first-round selection.
If the Broncos aren’t able to acquire him, Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Clemson’s Jordan Leggett, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges or Ole Miss product Evan Engram would be terrific fits and worthy of consideration as early as the second-round.
My personal favorite of the aforementioned? Bucky Hodges — who has amazing size (6’7, 245 pounds) and has proven himself to be one of college football’s premier receiving threats at the position. If the Broncos miss out on Butt, he would be the type of player that could be the necessary X-Factor the team’s offense desperately needs at the position.
Vincent Taylor, DT — Oklahoma State
Vincent Taylor isn't a name creating a whole lot of buzz in the scouting community just yet, but the redshirt junior prospect out of Oklahoma State may very well declare for the draft early and cement himself as an early selection if he continues to improve and keep pace with his sophomore season performance.
Taylor was one of the most integral members of the Cowboy defense in 2015 and is now one of the leaders of their defense. He registered 48 tackles, 9 of them for loss and 4.5 sacks last season and has started off this year's campaign with 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss and one sack. At 6'3, 310 pounds — Taylor has the size and athleticism scouts covet at the position and would be a tremendous option on the interior of Denver's one-gap 3-4 defense coached by Wade Phillips.
Oklahoma State Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer has raved about Taylor a lot recently and has even cited him as the defenses most improved player. The sky is the limit for Taylor and could see himself picked very early if his trend of dominating against the run and crushing quarterbacks continues.
I have defensive tackle as one of the top needs for the Broncos heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, mainly because veteran nose tackle Sylvester Williams is a free agent at the end of this season. The Broncos declined to pick up their fifth-year option on the former Tar Heel and based on his underwhelming play to date, the team may opt to look in another direction to shore up the position even with impressive second-year player Darius Kilgo waiting in the wings.
Prospects To Remember
Montravius Adams, DT — Auburn
Senior defensive tackle Montravius Adams has all the physical ability in the world and has streaks of complete gridiron domination, but there are times where his motor runs cold and he disappears from games completely. Nevertheless, the Tiger interior defensive lineman is one of this year's most promising prospects at defensive tackle and one who should hear his name called fairly early if he can become more consistent.
Chris Wormley, DE — Michigan
It isn't often that I'll give love to multiple Wolverines in any of my draft analysis, but redshirt senior defensive lineman Chris Wormley is more than deserving of praise. As a rotational defender for most of his career, Wormley finally earned a chance to be a starter last year and stockpiled 43 tackles, 13.5 for loss and six sacks in ten games. He is also a standout special teams performer.
The Broncos look for high character prospects with leadership skills and Wormley checks both of those boxes. His tenacious play and grit at the point of attack would make him a welcome addition to a defensive front needing more talent and bodies at the position.
Dan Feeney, OG — Indiana
The Denver Broncos have Max Garcia, Connor McGovern, Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield as players who have positional versatility along their offensive front. Unfortunately, Sambrailo has failed to keep healthy enough to contribute and Michael Schofield, despite some improvement when kicking inside to guard, leaves a lot to be desired as a legitimate long-term option as a starter for the franchise.
Though the offensive line play for the Broncos has improved drastically in comparison to last season, adding talent to the offensive line should be a focus of the team as they continue to build an offense that can help take pressure of their defense. Who would I suggest? Dan Feeney.
Dan Feeney isn't a high-profile name, but he is easily one of the best and well-rounded prospects playing in the offensive trenches in all of college football. Feeney did not allow one sack to be registered against him in 2015 and in the past two seasons, has only allowed 14 pressures on a total of 900 drop backs for the Hoosiers. He is a legitimate plug-and-play offensive lineman who can handle either guard position in the NFL and the Broncos would be lucky to have him on their roster.
Keep An Eye On. . .
Derek Barnett, OLB/DE — Tennessee
The Broncos have Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquill Barrett as pass rushing threats for the future, but DeMarcus Ware's historic career may come to and end after this season due to his age and health. It never hurts to add to a strength of a team and the Broncos' early draft selections of Ray and Bradley Roby over the past few seasons show they aren't shy about doing so.
Barnett has had a slow start to the 2016 college football season, but registered 19 sacks and 33 tackles for loss in his first two years with the Volunteers. He doesn't have the elite athleticism Miller possesses, but is a sound and fundamental football player who has a knack for getting after the quarterback.
Deatrich Wise Jr., DE — Arkansas
The Razorbacks' redshirt senior defensive end was impressive last year, registering 30 tackles, 10.5 for loss and 8 sacks. He has the size and athleticism to develop into a good NFL defensive end, but will need to prove that last year's success wasn't just a fluke and show scouts he has what it takes to bring it every down.
Raekwon McMillan, LB — Ohio State
The Buckeyes' junior linebacker is a sure-fire early round selection if he opts to declare. He was everywhere on the field and then some for Ohio State last season and registered 119 tackles. The Broncos do have Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson and Corey Nelson on the interior, but if McMillan is within striking distance of the team in the draft, it would be hard not to pull the trigger on one of college football's most feared defenders.
Cooper Kupp, WR — Eastern Washington
It isn't just the FBS that pumps out NFL caliber players each year, the FCS has been doing that for quite sometime too. The recent success of players like Carson Wentz, David Johnson, Marcus Williams and others certainly highlight that you can't overlook talented players just because they don't play Power 5 conferences every weekend. (And as a North Dakota State alumni, I can certainly tell you I wish they could!)
Cooper Kupp has put up uncanny numbers in his time with Eastern Washington and he may just be the best receiver in all of college football. To date, the Eagles wide receiver has 328 catches that have gone for 5,032 yards and 61 scores in just 41 games of play. Kupp literally catches anything thrown his way and boosts his draft status by having return capabilities as well.
His 2016 campaign hasn't been as productive due to an injured shoulder, but he will still be a sough after player during the draft. The Broncos aren't in desperate need of a receiver, but you can be certain Kupp is a player that will be on not only their radar, but the rest of the 31 teams in the NFL.
Feel free to talk about some of your favorite NFL Draft prospects and what you think the Broncos should do with their arsenal of selections in the comments section.