With the draft about 4 weeks away and free agency unlikely to change things must further, I felt that it would be handy to list out the positions that the Broncos could be looking to improve upon via draft weekend at the end of April. Here’s how this analysis will break it down:
- These needs are not ordered by priority, and that is intentional. A good GM like John Elway will not lock in on most positions, and will instead take the best player on the board that fits one of the needs on the list.
- Remember that while the draft takes place from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon, Saturday night into Sunday is just as important for recruiting undrafted rookies. We know how well the Broncos have done in this category in recent years, so don’t be surprised if some needs are filled in this manner.
- Finally, I’m breaking down the team’s needs into two categories: present needs, ones that should be met for 2016, and future needs, those that should be met for 2017 and beyond depending on what players the Broncos could be at risk in losing during the next wave of free agency.
Quarterback: We all know the need here, and we all know that this will come off the board if the Broncos trade for Colin Kaepernick. If they do, it’ll be the same as effectively using a draft pick on him. If they don’t, then this is the one position that, as I’ve said before, I’m OK with making an exception on reaching a bit due to its sheer importance.
Backup running back: CJ Anderson has a deal that has him poised to be the starting running back for several years, but there is very little to speak of behind him, even if Ronnie Hillman re-signs. Juwan Thompson was an inactive so many times last year that I fear he’s not what Gary Kubiak’s looking for, and Kapri Bibbs and Cyrus Gray are still unknowns. I would expect either a late draft choice or an UDFA to be a running back that the Broncos believe is ideal for the zone blocking system.
Fullback: On the same vein, the zone blocking system just doesn’t seem the same without a lead blocker to take out someone on the second level. Again, nothing more than a late draft choice or a UDFA here, but I’d expect the re-addition of a fullback to be addressed.
Right guard: Louis Vasquez was cut, and there’s no clear cut replacement at his position yet. Even if you try to move the loser of the battle at right tackle between Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo over there, at the very least depth is needed. Fortunately, the Broncos have historically done very well finding offensive linemen deep in the draft, so it may not take a high selection to make this happen.
Defensive end: Vance Walker and Kenny Anunike will compete (and also likely cooperate in rotation) to replace Malik Jackson, but an even greater talent at this position would be quite helpful.
Backup safety (with an eye on possibly starting): David Bruton and Omar Bolden have both departed via free agency. I doubt many want to see Josh Bush and Shiloh Keo as the primary reserves again. But whoever fills this role may end up being groomed to be a starter as early as his second season, considering that Darian Stewart will be a free agent in 2017, and TJ Ward the year after that.
Punter: Will Johnson notwithstanding, at the very least Britton Colquitt needs more competition if he’s really going to earn his high salary in 2016.
Wide receiver: Emmanuel Sanders is a free agent in 2017, and if he continues to play the way he did in 2014-2015, he’ll be angling to get the big money deal he hasn’t be able to secure yet in his career. Even if Cody Latimer can make a step forward to prove his future, at the very least #3 wide receiver position could need to be filled.
Offensive tackle: Russell Okung is effectively on a one-year deal with the option to buy four more years at a premium. If the Broncos decline that option, and they’re not sold on Sambrailo as a long term solution, they could be needing to fill this position again come 2017.
Inside linebacker: Brandon Marshall will hit unrestricted free agency in 2017. Even if he is ultimately extended, Todd Davis is not that far behind at 2018, and he’s also less proven.
As you can see, I’ve listed out exactly ten positions to be addressed. As it so happens, the Broncos have ten draft picks in 2016. Now, I don’t expect all ten of these positions to be precisely addressed in such a manner–as I’ve said, undrafted free agents can fill some of these needs as well. But it does illustrate what Elway says when he wants the Broncos “to win from now on” in that the number of known pending needs for the next two seasons matches the number of shots the team has in the draft. Of course, unknown needs will pop up that doesn’t make that picture look that rosy, but the bottom line is that Elway continues to put the Broncos in an enviable position that has the team reloading instead of rebuilding.
Finally, it should go without saying that any incoming rookies, be they drafted or not, should be able to make an impact on special teams right away (if their position allows it) as they learn the ropes for possibly contributing on offense or defense. That’s especially true with the recent departures of Bruton and Bolden.