Thoughts and expectations on the Broncos for the 2015 NFL Draft

I had a few thoughts swirling in my head about what the Broncos might do in a few days when the 2015 NFL Draft finally commences.  I had hoped to share them by commenting in an appropriate article on IAOFM, but clearly that day never came, and instead this day has arrived.  So I thought I’d just lay out my guesses for what could happen.

The Broncos currently have ten picks.  I expect them to end with less than ten drafted rookies.

The reason for this is fairly clear: the Broncos have one of the deeper rosters in the league.  This is obviously a team that needs to improve, but it’s not a team that needs to improve so much that it needs ten drafted rookies on its roster. There just isn’t enough room for that many, and it would be a waste of valuable draft resources.  Furthermore, getting the maximum allocation of four compensatory picks (which can’t be traded) is an excellent way to add flexibility to what can be done with the team’s regular picks.  Ozzie Newsome has proven this time and time again with the Baltimore Ravens.

For this reason, I expect the Broncos to be in the market to do the following two things:

  1. Trade up for a player they really like and don’t want to risk losing.  The Broncos did this last year by moving up in the 2nd round to assure the selection of Cody Latimer.  At the time, I was frustrated that John Elway essentially gave away this year’s 4th round pick to the 49ers that they pocketed in a trade with the Dolphins to move back up close to where they were.  But in hindsight, let’s be honest: there’s a real chance that that 4th rounder might even struggle to make the Broncos’ roster, especially when they likely had good reason to believe that they’d get at least one 4th round comp pick for losing Zane Beadles in free agency.  Taking out some insurance to get your man in Latimer, regardless of whether he pans out, may not have been that unwise to do.
  2. Defer regular draft picks this year to 2016.  Again, the Broncos did this last year when they moved down on Day 3 of the draft, collecting a 5th round pick from Chicago in 2015 in the process.  It’s known for 2015 that the Broncos don’t have many holes to fill with rookies, but you can’t guarantee that will be the same for 2016 and beyond.  If there’s a team that’s desperate to get help now, and the Broncos don’t have a player that they value at their spot on the clock, that’s an offer that the Broncos would be smart to pull the trigger on.

Those three consecutive compensatory picks in the 7th round will be valuable for working the undrafted free agent market.

I had projected that the Broncos would get two 6ths and one 7th (in addition to one 4th) in the comp pick haul, but it turned out that all three of them were 7ths. As a Broncos fan I was first disappointed, but I then discovered a silver lining: this could allow Elway to manipulate the cutthroat nature of the UDFA market. As we all know, Elway has done an excellent job finding good players as UDFAs (CJ Anderson being the most recent example). He does this despite being at a disadvantage from the fact that UDFAs tend to shy away from signing with deep roster teams like the Broncos because it will be more difficult for them to earn playing time or even make the team.

As you may also know, negotiations with prospective UDFAs start before the draft ends.  I still have fond memories of ESPN putting a camera in Danny Woodhead’s house, and near the end of the draft, they showed him on the phone. Some of the ESPN talking heads thought that he might become Mr. Irrelevant or close to it, but in truth he was working the phones with teams who wanted him as a UDFA.  Such high-level UDFAs like Woodhead were/are deluged with offers from teams, and they must quickly decide which one they must take.

Knowing this, if I was Elway I’d try to work some reconnaissance with the top UDFAs they’re interested in, and try to figure out if they are receiving competitive offers from other teams.  Then, form a list of the top three UDFAs that they feel they won’t be able to sign, and when picks #250-252 are on the clock, send those three names into the league office.

I expect the Broncos will target positions that may fill future holes in the roster when contracts expire.

Once again, the Broncos did this last year when they selected Cody Latimer and Michael Schofield.  When those picks happened, I had a very good feeling that both Wes Welker and Orlando Franklin would not return to the Broncos in 2015–and my guess was correct.  So one way to divine what the Broncos may do is to look at its future free agents.  There are the positions that I think may be addressed:

  • Defensive line. Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Marvin Austin, and Antonio Smith will all have contracts expire next season.  It’s highly unlikely that the Broncos will be able to keep all of them, and the markets for Wolfe and Jackson in particular could be fierce enough that the Broncos just can’t afford to participate.
  • Inside linebacker: Danny Trevathan is a free agent next year, and Brandon Marshall the year after that–both who have greatly played better than their pay grade.  Steven Johnson also has a contract expiring even though he’s more of a special teamer.  Even if you’re of the belief that Lamin Barrow and/or Corey Nelson can fill the gap, they also create depth gaps if they are promoted.
  • Outside linebacker/edge rusher: Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are elite talents at their positions, and the Broncos are fortunate to have them as starters. But Ware’s career is drawing to a close, and Miller will get a major payday soon that hopefully comes from the Broncos.  Behind them, however, they have Quanterus Smith and not much else.  I would demand depth at this important position, in the case that Miller and/or Ware are unable to contribute for the Broncos at any given point.
  • Quarterback: I’ve saved the big elephant in the room for last.  This could very well be Peyton Manning’s last season.  Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler is entering the final year of his contract.  Even if the Broncos reward Osweiler with an extension (something I’ve talked about before), you still need to find a replacement at the backup position.  Do not be surprised if the Broncos take a quarterback, and they take one earlier than people think.  Using a first round pick strikes me as unlikely, but I say that all bets are off after that.

Resist the urge to get angry if the Broncos draft a kicker, because I could see it happening.

I’m a big advocate of never drafting kickers or punters, and avoiding shelling out big bucks to retain them. (I’d like them to move on from Britton Colquitt, but that’s a discussion for a different day.) I think this especially true for this incarnation of the Broncos, who do well on offense and also play half their games in an environment where it’s easier to kick and punt.

But the Broncos can’t continue with the status quo of Brandon McManus (who is inconsistent) and Connor Barth (who struggles with kickoffs).  They need to bring a rookie kicker in to compete, and ideally push both McManus and Barth off the team to free up a roster spot.  I really hope they don’t use a draft pick for that purpose, but I have to admit that I can also see them liking a particular kicker enough to burn one of those compensatory 7ths on taking a kicker.