Broncos Draft Preview, Part 1: Needs

Hello, Broncos fans! With the draft now just two days away, it’s time to take a look at how John Elway and company are planning to improve the roster, so let’s get to it.


Before we talk about which players the Broncos may add this weekend, we need to take a close look at the holes on the roster. Regardless of how talented a roster is, there is always room for improvement. Those positions that lack talent are a team’s needs, and these needs are often a source of debate among analysts and fans alike.

Not all needs are created equal. Some are obvious, even to the casual observer. When a team has had consistently poor performance at one position on their roster, one doesn’t have to be an NFL personnel executive to identify the need for improvement at the position. For example, few NFL viewers would argue with the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in need of a quarterback. But it takes a much deeper look to note less obvious needs. So let’s talk a little about the different types of needs an NFL personnel department may encounter.

After several years of dissecting the NFL draft, I’ve developed a (very arbitrary) method of distinguishing between various needs in an effort to describe what a team’s front office is thinking as they stack their draft board. I split needs into three categories, and they are as follows:

  1. Primary Needs
  2. Depth Needs
  3. Upgrade Needs

Primary Needs are positions where immediate help is needed, and it is almost certain the team will address them early in the draft.

Depth Needs are positions where the team has serviceable starters in place but very little behind them.  While it is likely that players will be added at these positions during the offseason, they probably won’t be big-name or big-money additions.  Players added for depth could become starters, but in the short term the team will simply look to add capable bodies to a position to bolster overall rotational strength and provide injury insurance.  Depth Needs can generally be filled by drafting players in the middle to late rounds or by simply signing average free agents.  A team wouldn’t typically attempt to fill Depth Needs early in the draft unless, of course, that depth need is at quarterback, where a player’s draft position is elevated due to the premium placed on the position. In Denver’s case, however, they’ve constructed such a strong roster that they can afford to make picks for depth earlier in the draft because most of their starting lineup is already in place.

Upgrade Needs refers to positions the team would happily improve if a highly-rated, high-upside player falls into their lap on draft day. They’re not as urgent as Primary Needs, but if presented with the opportunity to upgrade over a current starter the team would be forced to consider adding a player at the position. These are positions where the team might select the “best player available,” even though that player doesn’t fill a Primary Need.  Like Depth Needs, Upgrade Needs are positions that currently have serviceable starters in place.  However, Upgrade Needs differ from Depth Needs in that the team is not looking simply to add another player at this position to improve depth, but rather to make a potential improvement to the starting lineup.

And speaking of Best Player Available (BPA), it is my contention that such an approach to the draft is, in practice, somewhat of a myth. It sounds good in theory, and many writers, fans and executives alike claim it is the best way to approach a draft pick.  But in reality, needs trump overall talent. For instance, the Broncos will not draft Georgia running back Todd Gurley on Thursday, even if he falls to the 28th pick, and it doesn’t matter if they think he’s the top player left on the board. They can’t afford to pick him. They have a better-than-average group of RBs in place, and the glaring needs on the offensive line dictate that adding even an excellent RB will not improve their chances of winning as significantly as adding an offensive lineman, even if that player is not as talented as Gurley. And that’s the name of the game, isn’t it? IMPROVE YOUR TEAM’S CHANCE OF WINNING. It is with that in mind that I have derived the Broncos’ needs for 2015.  But first, let’s discuss the current state of the roster, position by position.



Projected Starter: Peyton Manning

Depth: Brock Osweiler

Other: Zac Dysert

I became somewhat of a villain, or at least a contrarian, with my claim in February on the IAOFM message board that the Broncos would be better served in the long run by parting ways with Peyton Manning, and that they would try to nudge him into retirement. The team ended up asking Manning to take a pay cut, but they obviously feel that he still has the ability to play at a championship level. I hope they’re right. Regardless, the team must plan for the post-Manning era. Is Osweiler the answer? Maybe, but history shows that he’s probably not. We know that most QBs simply can’t cut it in the NFL, and we don’t have enough data to say with any level of confidence that Osweiler is one of the select few that can get it done. Now that Manning is back for another season, there’s a possibility that Osweiler’s contract will expire following the 2015 season and the team still won’t know if he’s good enough. Zac Dysert has sometimes been mentioned as someone the previous staff “liked,” but liking a guy as a practice squad QB and liking him as the future of the franchise are two very different kinds of likes.  The bottom line is bringing in another QB to compete with Osweiler likely doubles Denver’s chances of finding their future starter. It’s just good planning.

Need Level: Primary

Top 10 QB Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Jameis Winston 6036 231 Florida State Top 5
2 Marcus Mariota 6036 222 Oregon Top 5
3 Bryce Petty 6027 230 Baylor 2-3
4 Garrett Grayson 6024 213 Colorado State 2-3
5 Brett Hundley 6032 226 UCLA 3-5
6 Sean Mannion 6055 229 Oregon State 3-5
7 Shane Carden 6017 218 East Carolina 4-6
8 Bryan Bennett 6022 211 SE Louisiana 4-6
9 Brandon Bridge 6043 211 South Alabama 5-7
10 Anthony Boone 6002 231 Duke 5-7


Running Backs:

Projected Starter:  C.J. Anderson

Depth: Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman

Other: Juwan Thompson, Jeremy Stewart, Kapri Bibbs

Though the running game struggled at times in 2014, it wasn’t due to poor RB play. There’s youth and depth here, and best of all, they’re all cheap.

Need Level: None



Projected Starter:  James Casey

Depth: Virgil Green

Other: Joe Don Duncan

Despite switching systems to Gary Kubiak’s Zone Blocking Scheme (ZBS), and an imminent increase in usage of a FB, the Broncos are okay here. Prior to the Casey signing, I thought there was a strong possibility the Broncos would use a 7th round pick on a FB, but now I don’t believe they will.

Need Level: None


Wide Receiver:

Projected Starters: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders

Depth: Cody Latimer, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Norwood, Isaiah Burse

Other: Kyle Williams, Nathan Palmer, Kerry Taylor, Bennie Fowler, Jeremy Kelley

Again, there’s not much of a need to see here. Yes, the Broncos lost Wes Welker this offseason, but his contributions in 2014 were far from irreplaceable, and the new offense will use less 3 and 4 WR sets. Thomas and Sanders are as good as any 1-2 punch in the league, and Cody Latimer will come on the field in 3 WR packages where he’ll play the outside along with DT, kicking Sanders inside to the slot. If Latimer is up to the challenge mentally, he will likely make a big splash this season, as his physical skills are undeniable. I believe the Broncos have a stronger lineup of WRs this season than last. Behind Latimer is serviceable veteran Andre Caldwell. Either Isaiah Burse or Jordan Norwood should round out the roster as a #5 WR and a punt returner.

Need Level: None


Tight Ends:

Projected Starter:  Owen Daniels

Depth: Virgil Green

Other: Joe Don Duncan, Dominique Jones

The Broncos have done a good job adding to this unit in Free Agency, but it’s probably not enough. They’ll be looking to add depth at the position in the draft, and they’ll hope it’s a player that can ultimately become a starter. Losing Julius Thomas was not ideal; however, the contract he signed with Jacksonville was far more than the Broncos were willing to spend on an oft-injured TE with an ego that usually dwarfs his stat lines.

Need Level: Depth

Top 10 TE Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Maxx Williams 6037 249 Minnesota 2
2 Clive Walford 6040 251 Miami 2
3 Tyler Kroft 6054 246 Rutgers 2-3
4 Jeff Heuerman 6051 254 Ohio State 3-5
5 MyCole Pruitt 6022 251 Southern Illinois 3-5
6 Blake Bell 6062 252 Oklahoma 3-5
7 Nick O’Leary 6032 252 Florida State 4-6
8 Ben Koyack 6047 255 Notre Dame 4-6
9 Wes Saxton 6033 248 South Alabama 5-7
10 Nick Boyle 6044 268 Delaware 5-7



Projected Starters: LT Ryan Clady, RT Michael Schofield

Depth: Chris Clark, Paul Cornick

Other: None

This is as obvious of a need as I’ve ever seen on the Broncos roster. Poor play at RT forced them to shuffle players around last year and frankly, along with Manning’s spotty play late in the season, it was the reason for the Broncos’ undoing. Even if the team is confident that Schofield can start at RT (and I’m not certain that’s the case), they need more depth. They also need to consider eventually replacing Ryan Clady, especially if he continues his relative underperformance. He was okay last year, but with a $10.6M cap number, he needs to be far better than okay. The ideal scenario here is for the Broncos to draft a T that can start on day 1 at RT, and potentially replace Clady at LT if such a move should become necessary. The good news?  The draft has several guys that may fit that bill to a “T”.

Need Level: Primary

Top 10 Tackle Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Brandon Scherff 6045 319 Iowa Top 15
2 Andrus Peat 6067 313 Stanford 1
3 La’el Collins 6044 305 LSU 1
4 Ereck Flowers 6062 329 Miami 1
5 D.J. Humphries 6050 307 Florida 1-2
6 T.J. Clemmings 6046 309 Pittsburgh 1-2
7 Jake Fisher 6062 306 Oregon 2
8 Cedric Ogbuehi 6052 306 Texas A&M 2
9 Donovan Smith 6055 338 Penn State 3-5
10 Daryl Williams 6052 327 Oklahoma 3-5



Projected Starters: LG Shelley Smith, RG Louis Vasquez

Depth: Michael Schofield, Ben Garland, Jon Halapio

Other: None

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: I don’t expect Shelley Smith to start at LG. There’s going to be some additions to the offensive line in the draft, and there will be some reshuffling of the deck here. There are a few scenarios that could play out, but it seems likely to me that the team will add a RT AND either a G or a C in the draft. The RT will hopefully start immediately, allowing Michael Schofield more time to develop as a T, or even to compete for the starting job at LG. If they add a G on Friday or Saturday, he will also be in the conversation to start on the left side. If they add a C, Manny Ramirez may be in the competition at LG as well, though my hope is they add enough talent this weekend to serve Manny his walking papers. Any way you slice it, this is a need.

Need Level: Primary

Top 10 Guard Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Brandon Scherff 6045 319 Iowa Top 15
2 Laken Tomlinson 6033 323 Duke 2
3 Tre’ Jackson 6036 330 Florida State 2-3
4 A.J. Cann 6026 313 South Carolina 2-3
5 Ali Marpet 6037 307 Hobart 2-3
6 Jeremiah Poutasi 6051 335 Utah 3-5
7 Antoine Everett 6023 328 McNeese State 3-5
8 Jarvis Harrison 6041 330 Texas A&M 3-5
9 Mitch Morse 6053 305 Missouri 4-6
10 Shaq Mason 6015 310 Georgia Tech 4-6



Projected Starter: Manny Ramirez

Depth: Gino Gradkowski

Other: Matt Paradis

As you may have deduced, I’m not a fan of Manny Ramirez. He’s a backup level talent, and he’s started way too many games for the Broncos. Despite showing some flashes of good play in 2014, 2015 again revealed what can be expected from Ramirez, and at $3.17M against the cap, he is on the bubble. If the team can upgrade the starting lineup in the draft, it will be very tempting. Gradkowski is young and has experience in Kubiak’s offense, but I don’t believe he projects as a starter for 2015. Paradis is in the discussion, but to expect 2nd-year 6th round picks to start isn’t wise. Possible? Sure, I guess, but I believe the Broncos need help here in the starting lineup. If they don’t find it in the draft, I expect they’ll sign another free agent, with the worst case scenario being one more year with Manny in the middle.

Need Level: Upgrade

Top 10 Center Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Cameron Erving 6054 313 Florida State 1
2 Hroniss Grasu 6030 297 Oregon 2-3
3 Reese Dismukes 6026 296 Auburn 2-3
4 B.J. Finney 6036 318 Kansas State 3-5
5 Andy Gallik 6023 306 Boston College 3-5
6 Max Garcia 6041 309 Florida 3-5
7 Shaq Mason 6015 310 Georgia Tech 4-6
8 Greg Mancz 6044 301 Toledo 4-6
9 Jake Smith 6033 309 Louisville Undrafted
10 Shane McDermott 6035 302 Miami Undrafted


3-4 Defensive Ends:

Projected Starters: LDE Derek Wolfe, RDE Malik Jackson

Depth: Antonio Smith, Vance Walker

Other: None

This position is a tricky one to evaluate in terms of needs. For 2015, this is a very good unit, with a complementary 4-man rotation that I’m very comfortable with. Each of these players will play DE in the base defense, with an OLB outside of them. In even fronts, like many nickel and dime packages, they will move inside to play DT. Where it gets tricky is when we look to their contract situations. Both Wolfe and Jackson are in the last year of their deals, and Smith is on a one year contract. Only Vance Walker is signed beyond 2015, and he’s only under contract through 2016. The team may look to add more players here with an eye to the future, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll push hard to extend Malik Jackson before the season gets underway, giving the future a little more certainty.

Need Level: None


Nose Tackles:

Projected Starter: Sylvester Williams

Depth: Marvin Austin, Jr.

Other: None

The question here comes down to how well these guys can make the transition to an odd front in Wade Phillips’s defense. Williams was touted as a single gap penetrator coming out of college, so we’ll see if that’s true. Austin, a favorite of Phillips when he entered the draft, provides solid depth, and may even push to start. They could use some more depth here, but it’s not a huge need. Ideally, if they choose to add a player here in the draft, it will be a guy that can play anywhere across the defensive front, whether over the nose or at DE.

Need Level: Depth

Top 10 Nose Tackle Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Danny Shelton 6022 339 Washington Top 10
2 Malcolm Brown 6023 319 Texas 1
3 Eddie Goldman 6037 336 Florida State 1
4 Jordan Phillips 6052 329 Oklahoma 1-2
5 Carl Davis 6045 320 Iowa 2
6 Grady Jarrett 6006 304 Clemson 2-3
7 Marcus Hardison 6031 307 Arizona State 3-5
8 Gabe Wright 6026 300 Auburn 3-5
9 Darius Philon 6013 298 Arkansas 3-5
10 Xavier Williams 6020 325 Northern Iowa 4-6


3-4 Outside Linebackers (Edge Rushers):

Projected Starters: LOLB Von Miller, ROLB/Joker DeMarcus Ware

Depth: Lerentee McCray, Kenny Anunike, Shaquil Barrett

Other: Gerald Rivers, Chase Vaughn

The Broncos are in great shape with Miller and Ware, but behind the starters there is a lot of uncertainty. Lerentee McCray is a player that I expect to transition well into the 3-4 (his scouting report says that, like Miller, he is ideally suited for the 3-4 front). Kenny Anunike was a guy that made some noise in camp heading into 2014, but wasn’t quite ready for prime time so the Broncos placed him on IR to keep him on their roster. We’ll see if he can make a jump in his second season, and whether his skills translate from 4-3 DE to OLB in the 3-4. Shaq Barrett, CSU alumnus, will push to provide depth as well. But with Ware in what is likely his last season as a Bronco (at least under his current contract), the Broncos must turn an eye to the future and try to find someone that could push for a starting job in 2016.

Need Level: Depth

Top 10 3-4 Outside Linebacker Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Dante Fowler, Jr. 6025 261 Florida Top 10
2 Vic Beasley 6030 246 Clemson Top 10
3 Randy Gregory 6047 235 Nebraska Top 15
4 Shane Ray 6025 245 Missouri Top 15
5 Alvin “Bud” Dupree 6040 269 Kentucky 1
6 Eli Harold 6031 247 Virginia 1-2
7 Hau’oli Kikaha 6023 253 Washington 2-3
8 Owamagbe Odighizuwa 6034 267 UCLA 2-3
9 Nate Orchard 6032 250 Utah 3-5
10 Danielle Hunter 6051 252 LSU 3-5

3-4 Inside Linebackers:

Projected Starters: LILB Brandon Marshall, RILB Danny Trevathan

Depth: Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Lamin Barrow, Steven Johnson, Reggie Walker

Other: Danny Mason

If not for lingering injuries and the uncertainty they bring, the Broncos would appear to be rock-solid at ILB for the first time in a very long time. The switch to the 3-4 allows them to move two rangy playmakers, Trevathan and Marshall, inside to become tackling machines. But the injuries present a real risk, and they’ll require the team to consider adding some insurance in the middle. Davis and Nelson could turn out to be contributors, but they are very young and it’s hard to know what we can expect out of them. Barrow appeared to have potential coming out of LSU, but he’s been rather nonexistent to date. Johnson and Walker are just guys. A few of these guys will be looking for work in September. The Broncos would love to see a couple of them step up to the challenge, and they might, but the team would be wise to hedge its bets by adding a player in the draft.

Need Level: Depth

Top 10 3-4 Inside Linebacker Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Eric Kendricks 6002 232 UCLA 2
2 Paul Dawson 6001 235 TCU 2
3 Benardrick McKinney 6041 246 Mississippi State 2
4 Stephone Anthony 6025 243 Clemson 2
5 Denzel Perryman 5106 236 Miami 2-3
6 Kwon Alexander 6006 227 LSU 3-5
7 Hayes Pullard 6004 240 USC 3-5
8 Ramik Wilson 6016 237 Georgia 3-5
9 Taiwan Jones 6025 245 Michigan State 4-6
10 Jake Ryan 6023 240 Michigan 4-6



Starters: RCB Chris Harris, LCB Aqib Talib

Depth: Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Omar Bolden

Other: Curtis Marsh, Jr., Tevrin Brandon

This position changes greatly with respect to need if Bradley Roby successfully converts to FS, as has been reported.  If he does, the biggest need in the defensive backfield ceases to be FS and quickly becomes depth at CB. Harris and Talib are very, very good, and Roby, Webster and Carter provide great depth. Take Roby out of the picture, though, and the Broncos very likely need to add mid-to-late round help at CB.

Need Level: Depth (If Roby moves to FS permanently. Otherwise, None)

Top 10 Cornerback Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Trae Waynes 6001 186 Michigan State Top 15
2 Marcus Peters 5115 197 Washington 1
3 Kevin Johnson 6002 188 Wake Forest 1-2
4 Jalen Collins 6014 203 LSU 1-2
5 Byron Jones 6005 199 Connecticut 2
6 P.J. Williams 6000 194 Florida State 2-3
7 Eric Rowe 6006 205 Utah 2-3
8 Quinten Rollins 5111 195 Miami (OH) 3-5
9 Ronald Darby 5105 193 Florida State 3-5
10 Alex Carter 6001 196 Stanford 4-6



Projected Starters: FS Bradley Roby, SS T.J. Ward

Depth: Darian Stewart, David Bruton, Jr.

Other: Josh Bush, Ross Madison

Am I jumping the gun here, anointing Roby as the starting FS? Maybe, but he’s a talented young player that the team is very high on, and they’re asking him to change positions. I don’t think they would do that if they didn’t think he could make the transition successfully. At least I hope they wouldn’t. I like Darian Stewart as a backup better than I do as a starter. He can play either SS or FS, and he has plenty of experience. Moving Roby over turns an obvious need into a relatively deep position. Bruton, I love, but he’s a special teams ace that serves as nothing more than depth in the defensive backfield.

Need Level: None (If Roby moves to FS permanently. Otherwise, Depth)

Top 10 Safety Prospects:

Rank Name Height Weight School Projected Draft Position
1 Landon Collins 6000 228 Alabama 1
2 Damarious Randall 5107 196 Arizona State 2-3
3 Eric Rowe 6006 205 Utah 2-3
4 Derron Smith 5100 200 Fresno State 3-5
5 Cody Prewitt 6020 208 Ole Miss 3-5
6 Alex Carter 6001 196 Stanford 3-5
7 Anthony Harris 6005 183 Virginia 3-5
8 Jaquiski Tartt 6013 221 Samford 3-5
9 James Sample 6021 209 Louisville 4-6
10 Adrian Amos 6004 218 Penn State 4-6


Special Teams:

Projected Starters: K Brandon McManus, P Karl Schmitz, LS Aaron Brewer

Looking for new jobs: Britton Colquitt, Connor Barth

John Fox pulled the plug on McManus too early last year, and may have damaged his likelihood of success in the process. With improved confidence and experience, I think McManus is back kicking for the Broncos on opening day. Barth is automatic on short field goals, but he can’t kickoff AT ALL, which means he requires the team to carry an extra kicker. Do I think Schmitz is good enough to win the job at punter? I have no idea. But what I do know is this: Colquitt is bad, and he gets paid way, way too much money. If they don’t think Schmitz can win the job, they may use one of those late 7th round compensatory picks on a Punter.


To Recap:

Primary Needs: RT, LG, QB

Depth Needs: ILB, TE, NT, OLB, CB

Upgrade Needs: C, P


Thanks for reading, and by all means, let me know what I’m missing. Now that we’ve established what the Broncos are looking for, I’ll be back later today to discuss specifically who they may be after this weekend, and when.