Trying to predict which players an NFL team will take in a draft is a fruitless endeavor. In the age of social media, there are plenty of rumors fueling the fire, but good luck seeing the truth through the smoke. It’s a lot of fun though, which is why Pegboards will be presenting its fifth annual mock draft in a couple days. You know, the one where we spend more time making fun of each other for our bad picks than trying to provide any semblance of useful insight. Think of it as mock draft rehab.
Anyway, what isn’t hard and in a way can be equally enjoyable is figuring out what a team needs to get out of a draft, so in the meantime I’ll be going position by position and taking a stab at why the Broncos may be addressing that part of their team on Thursday. I was just going to cover the positions of need and then I realized that the Broncos are rather needy and require all kinds of help. More than you would think since they are barely a year removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
But that’s life in the NFL, no? Not for long. Let’s get to it.
I promise I’m not being cute. While it’s true that the jury is still out on Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, there is no way that John Elway is looking to alienate his prized first-round pick from a season ago. However, it’s worth mentioning that Elway has selected a quarterback in four of his six drafts as general manager and there are currently only two quarterbacks on the roster. See, we do occasionally use facts to support logic around here.
Vance Joseph has thrown words like swagger and juice around repeatedly when discussing what he wants out of his offense in 2017. Maybe the guy is just thirsty, but it’s clear that he wants more big plays out of a unit that came up rather short in that department before he got here. I don’t think the Broncos have given up on Devontae Booker, despite the change in coaching staff and his disappointing rookie season. And they are still counting big time on the play of C.J. Anderson, just maybe not on his body holding up.
But anyway you cut it, the day of the workhorse running back is largely over. New England rolls out new ones all the time, like a legion of rabid Ewoks, and they are doing just fine. So if C.J.’s health continues to betray him and Devontae doesn’t make a big leap forward in year 2, the Broncos will need another horse in the stable to help move the chains.
And I know the popular sentiment around here is for Christian McCaffrey to be that guy. I can see why. Beyond the depth he would add in the backfield, the prodigal son could also help in the return game and be a chess piece that Mike McCoy could line up all across the field. Just don’t get your hopes up that he’ll still be there, and keep in mind that there are a plethora of backs available who could help this team next year and beyond.
But keep your fingers crossed for McCaffrey, everyone.
I know the popular thing to do in Broncos Country is to bag on Demaryius Thomas, but I promise that this isn’t an indictment of his play. DT and Emmanuel Sanders are both good receivers that defenses actively try to take away, and they need some help. I can hear Vance Joseph asking for more juice again. Someone get that man a Snapple already.
Since Wes Welker’s concussions forced him to walk away from the game, the Broncos haven’t had a receiver other than DT or Sanders come even remotely close to 50 catches. Jordan Norwood pitched in 22 in 2015. How nice of him. He followed that up with another 21 last year. Barf.
Case in point? The Broncos need a better slot receiver than Jordan Norwood. And a better return man than Jordan Norwood. And really just someone who is not Jordan Norwood. Not setting the bar high, I know. But that should make it easy to upgrade on day 2 or 3 of the draft.
With all due respect to Gary Kubiak, the man had a strange fascination with collecting tight ends. Sort of like how I collected pinecones as a kid and then left them laying around everywhere. It’s just too bad he didn’t help bring in any good ones before he had to leave. Tight ends, not pinecones.
Oh sure, AJ Derby flashed his ability here and there, and Virgil Green wasn’t nearly as useless as the offensive line. Otherwise, not much worth writing home about with this group. I mean, Jeff Heuerman was at a few of the games, which was an improvement over his rookie year. Jesus, better get Joseph a whole case of Snapple.
Luckily, this is one of the deeper drafts at tight end in quite some time. There will be tight ends for days, they say. Well, three to be exact. And the Broncos need to cash in. That doesn’t need to be in the first round, though I wouldn’t complain if O.J. Howard somehow fell in our laps. But if a young quarterback’s best friend is a tight end, then Siemian and Lynch don’t even have any casual acquaintances on the roster. Get these guys a friend, Elway! They’re lonely and no one sits with them at lunch.
Just call this the elephant in the room. Everyone knows that the Broncos’ offensive line stinks. Ronald Leary was a nice pickup in free agency, but the tackle situation is still a mess. Meanwhile, John Elway is trying to convince anyone and everyone that Ty Sambrailo is a viable option on the left side. Maybe he doesn’t like his quarterbacks and is secretly trying to get them killed? Hey, I did say that he would probably be drafting another quarterback!
Back on topic. I’m sure the Broncos will draft some offensive linemen. They do pretty much every year. Here are two issues with doing so on the first two days this year: 1) There are plenty of teams picking ahead of Denver with o-lines that reek about as bad as theirs does and 2) As I’m sure you’ve heard, this is a pretty bad year to need help on the offensive line. Bad free agent class, bad draft class. However, that didn’t stop anyone from throwing out cash at tackles last month and it won’t stop them from spending high picks or even trading up to secure the “best” tackles this month.
Elway has been notoriously reluctant to trading up in the teens in past drafts, but now that he’s picking at 20 this year, who knows? And maybe he has gone a bit senile and really does believe in Sambrailo at left tackle. I just have a hard time believing that the Broncos won’t rush their card to the podium on Thursday if a guy like Garett Bolles or Forrest Lamp is sitting there for the taking. In other words, this is a case where it’s actually not that hard to see through the smoke.
Remember last year when the Raiders played with six linemen on offense and mowed the Broncos defense down? Miraculously, I wasn’t driven to drink during that game, so I do. I bet John Elway does too. That’s the main reason he brought in Domata Peko and Zach Kerr in free agency, to counteract the Raiders’ beef with some added beef of his own. The hunt for beef continues in the draft, where the Broncos will search for a nose tackle for the future to grow behind Peko.
Middle linebacker is to John Elway’s draft board as broccoli is to a child’s dinner plate. First they flat out refuse to eat it, then you have to start bribing them with dessert to get them to choke it down. Eventually they learn that it’s important to eat broccoli, but only because that means they get a candy bar afterward. Confused? So am I, and now I have a hankering for a Kit-Kat.
The point is that Elway never seems to devote premium resources toward middle linebacker. He’ll fill that position, sure, but almost always with undrafted free agents, players he claimed off waivers and aging vets that will play for practically nothing. I about fell off my chair when he resigned Brandon Marshall last year, but remember that Marshall was cut by the Jags before he wound up in Denver.
I expect more of the same on Thursday, even if Reuben Foster is staring Elway right in the face at pick no. 20 (which seeing as what we’re learning about Foster, may be a genuinely frightening situation). Middle linebacker is almost always a day 3 selection for this team, whereas the higher picks are saved for outside linebackers. And if you think that the Broncos are more than set at that position, well, you’d be right, but you can also never have too many pass rushers. Just saying.
Now that Bradley Roby’s fifth-year option has been picked up for 2018, the Broncos will have at least two quality starting corners available for the next couple of years. But given that John Elway has continuously expressed his belief that the nickel corner on a defense is basically a starter, that Kayvon Webster left in free agency and that Aqib Talib can be released next year for almost zero dead money if he screws up again or his play regresses, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that the Broncos walk out of this draft with at least one new corner on the roster. Considering how top heavy the depth chart is, they can afford to take a flyer on someone or wait until day 3 if they want. Lots of flexibility here.
Hey, anything can happen, but with Darian Stewart locked up long-term and Justin Simmons and Will Parks waiting in the wings, I have a hard time seeing the Broncos going safety this weekend. Even if T.J. Ward is allowed to walk next year, it would be a luxury pick at best.
A kick returner that isn’t Jordan Norwood. A punt returner that isn’t Jordan Norwood. Hey wait, Norwood isn’t even on the roster anymore, so this already came true! Rejoice friends! Rejoice!
As you can see, the Broncos have needs up and down their roster. If there was ever a time for one of those hit on every pick types of drafts, this would be it. But if you’re going to make me be realistic about things, if the Broncos emerge next week with one solid tackle, a playmaker or two on offense and one hidden gem on defense, than they’ve probably done okay for themselves.
After all, the draft is one giant crapshoot. Often times the best you can hope for is to do okay.