Yes, the wounds are still fresh with Denver Broncos season officially over sooner than anyone in Denver has become used to. With that, it’s time to look to the future and find ways for Denver to get back to the postseason. Because of that, here's an initial look at the upcoming NFL Draft and what additions the Broncos could make to return to prominence in 2017.
The offensive line
It doesn’t take a wealth of football knowledge to know that the Broncos offensive line has not played well this season or last. Denver is also going to have an interesting decision to make with Russell Okung’s four-year option which will significantly upgrade his salary and have the Broncos tied to him with a longer term commitment.
That means that Denver might be in need of two new starting tackles in addition to searching for added depth and youth, as the other tackle spot has been a major problem for two seasons now. Because of this, the team should be in need of help in the trenches regardless of what happens in free agency.
Sadly for Denver, this is not a good draft class for teams needing help on the line. The top offensive tackle prospect, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk will reportedly need hip surgery in the offseason and could have his stock—not to mention his ability to play immediately in the NFL—be greatly affected by this. Ramczyk is one of the few true left tackle prospects and only tackle worthy of a first round grade as things stand.
Alabama’s Cam Robinson has upside and should at least be suited enough to play on the right side, but off-field red flags and inconsistent play in pass protection make him a gamble. Two interesting fits—if the zone-blocking scheme remains—could be Utah’s Garett Bolles, a powerful run blocker with nice movement skills, or USC’s Chad Wheeler who’s very light but moves very well. Temple’s Dion Dawkins is another prospect who’s shown promise and projects to stay at tackle in the NFL making his name another worth monitoring particularly if Denver were to go with a power scheme.
The bottom line for Broncos fans seeking an immediate upgrade at the position, don’t get your hopes up with this draft class.
The guard class has a bit more talent but, much like the tackles, is lacking some sure fire prospects to headline the group at the top. An interesting fit could be Auburn’s Braden Smith (if he declares) since he possesses a lean but powerful frame almost resembling more of a tackle's body. Smith can be asked to pull and can really push people out the way when in movement.
The best linemen in the class might be LSU center Ethan Pocic who has the physical and athletic profile to be moved around. It’ll be interesting to see if Denver decides to target him even with Matt Paradis on the roster.
Adding weapons to the attack
While this might not be a good draft for adding offensive linemen, it is a great draft to add tight ends or running backs with a spectacular crop of talents. Considering the Broncos depth at both positions was severely tested by the end of the year, leading to a steady offensive drop off, we expect these to be positions of need that Denver could target in April.
The running backs are endless, and there’s a talent for every type of need. If Denver wants an offensive do-it-all spark plug who can spot C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker as a speed back, there are players such as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, Ohio State's Curtis Samuels, or Tennessee's Alvin Kamara. All of which could also be big time receiving options out the backfield or if flexed out in the slot and could also contribute in the return game. Oklahoma's Joe Mixon also fits in this category if the organization is willing to look past his very public and troubled past.
There are several other options if Denver feels they need to find a true bell cow at the position as this crop is loaded with talent and has some awesome depth - below are our top 10 running backs in the class as things presently stand:
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
3. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
4. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
5. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
6. Curtis Samuels, WR/RB, Ohio State
7. Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
8. James Connor, RB, Pittsburgh
9. Matthew Dayes, RB, North Carolina State
10. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
The tight end class is the best we’ve seen in a really long time. The Broncos will have to decide if they’re looking for a receiving option at the position where there are specialists like Mississippi’s Evan Engram and Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges who can create miss matches when flexed out into space. If the Broncos want more weapons up the seam, these two certainly fit the bill.
If Denver is looking more for a complete player, who can be an in-line blocker while also shaking defenders loose in the passing game, there are some intriguing options; starting with Alabama's O.J. Howard, Michigan's Jake Butt, and the highly talented but underrated David Njoku of Miami.
With the addition of A.J. Derby, the Broncos might not be as needy at TE, but with this type of talent and depth in the class, the position should merit at least one selection this draft.
With defenses content to defend Denver's two talented receivers on the outside with little else to worry about, adding more talent across the board on offense will be crucial.
The return of the run D
The Broncos defense has still been a top unit in the NFL this season, particularly against the pass, but the losses of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan last offseason negatively impacted the results against the run.
While additions have been made such as Adam Gotsis and Jared Crick, Jackson’s absence has been felt this season in the trenches. The interior lineman class this year might not be as loaded as last year's group but still has a litany of talent, particularly players that could fit in Denver’s 3-4 and impact the run.
Stanford’s Solomon Thomas would be a fine Jackson substitute but would require a high pick. Michigan State's Malik McDowell has otherworldly upside and could severely tempt Denver in the first round. Slightly further down Washington's Vita Vea, Michigan's Chirs Wormley, and UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes might be worth targeting.
An even greater need is in the linebacking unit where the second level tackling has been disappointing at times this season, with the Broncos inside backers not being as effective against the run or pass.
This is a very talented group, especially at the top where prospects such as Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt or Jarrad Davis of Florida could be just what the doctor ordered in the top two rounds. Further down there are some intriguing undersized backers with high-level instincts and athleticism who are reminiscent of Trevathan. Keep an eye on Houston’s Steven Taylor and Tennessee’s Jalen Reeves-Maybin who might be just what Denver needs to get things back in gear on defense.
There are several other areas of need and will be more for Denver depending on how things paly out in free agency. The Broncos have enough talent already that with some key additions they should easily be back into contention in the AFC in 2017.
The Broncos Super Bowl 50 team was built with in-house talents supplemented by some key veteran additions; this 2017 class will be essential in bringing the team back to where we all expect they should perform.
Stay tuned to BSN for all the latest Draft rankings, news, and options for your Broncos.