The Denver Broncos have tumbled to 8-6 after a 4-0 start to the 2016 season. How can they rebound in 2017 with a good draft class?
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos fan reacts following a turnover to seal the win to the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 16-3. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Super Bowl victory from February seems a distant memory for the Denver Broncos at this point, having started the 2016 season with a solid 4-0 start and now stumbling to a 4-6 record over their last 10 games.
Like all other teams, the Broncos have struggled through injuries, missing Gary Kubiak for a week due to health concerns, and a variety of issues offensively contributing to their inconsistency.
The Broncos are now on the brink of missing out on the playoffs this season, something no fan of this team saw coming despite the wholesale changes in personnel and the number of departures this offseason, including that of the legendary Peyton Manning.
It’s clear at this point that the Broncos just don’t have the horses on the offensive side of the ball to keep up with their elite defense, which just held Tom Brady to 16 points and still lost the game.
With the Broncos’ issues extending primarily to the offensive side of the ball, there will be a clear area of focus this offseason for John Elway and the front office: Get tougher up front, and get guys who can step up and make plays.
Here’s a shot at a three round mock draft for the Broncos, which includes two compensatory picks (projected) in the third round thanks to the massive contracts given to Malik Jackson and Brock Osweiler…
Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (65) blocks Michigan State defensive end Evan Jones (85) during the second quarter of their game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports
FIRST ROUND: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
One of the biggest areas for concern in Denver moving forward is the left tackle position. Transferring from a Division III school, Ramczyk has been phenomenal for Wisconsin, elevating himself into the first-round discussion.
For his size, Ramczyk has great feet and could shore up a weakness the Broncos haven’t been able to mask for two seasons: pass protection.
The Broncos want to be able to run the ball consistently, but they also haven’t been able to consistently protect their quarterback. It’s been getting incredibly frustrating to watch, so whatever the Broncos have to do to make sure this isn’t a problem going forward simply has to be done.
If Ramczyk is sitting there when the Broncos are on the clock in the first round, he would be awful tempting and would be only the second offensive player taken in the first round by John Elway since he became the team’s lead decision maker (Paxton Lynch, 2016).
Sep 17, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Utah Utes defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (93) during the game at Spartan Stadium. The Utah Utes defeated the San Jose State Spartans with a score of 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
SECOND ROUND: Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
If there has been an area of weakness on the Denver defense, it has been against the run. The loss of Malik Jackson and injury to Vance Walker have given way to what was once the toughest part of Denver’s defense. This season, we’ve also seen a decline in the play of former first rounder Sylvester Williams.
All of that said, the Broncos need to upgrade the teeth of their defense. Williams is a free agent this offseason, and the Broncos will need to find a way to replace him. Clearly that isn’t happening with anyone currently on the roster, as their only developmental nose tackle on the active roster — Darius Kilgo — was released.
Kyle Peko is on the practice squad, but the Broncos need someone who can step in and potentially play snaps right away next year. This could be an area they look at in free agency, but I love the thought of adding someone big, strong, tough, and mean like Lotulelei. He may not offer much as a versatile pass rusher, but the Broncos need to be more stout against the run, and he can be a huge help in that regard.
Dec 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Western Michigan Broncos offensive lineman John Keenoy (52) gets set to hike against the Ohio Bobcats at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Own Pick: Taylor Moton, OL, Western Michigan
Continuing the upgrade of the offensive line, the addition of Moton would give the Broncos someone who could play — and excel — at either right tackle or right guard in this system. He’s done a great job these last couple of years and his offensive line coach at Western Michigan says he plays with great power and strength, and that he ‘dominated’ people playing guard.
The Broncos need upgrades all over the offensive line, so adding someone in the third round with developmental upside and versatility is a good possibility.
Oct 8, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs the ball against Texas Longhorns cornerback Kris Boyd (2) in the game at Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Compensatory pick 1: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
C.J. Anderson is still under contract, but was injured this season and has battled injuries throughout his career. Kapri Bibbs also landed on injured reserve this season, and Devontae Booker has really struggled in his rookie season.
This isn’t a move to throw in the towel on any of those guys, but the Broncos need to find someone who can be a bell cow back for this team, and as it has been proven this season, you can’t have too many good backs on the roster.
If Justin Forsett can come in and start after being with the team for just over a week, then the Broncos have to upgrade this offseason.
Sep 24, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Ryan Switzer (3) runs after a catch in the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Compensatory pick 2: Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
One other big area of weakness for the Broncos’ offense has been converting third downs, and returning punts.
Does this mock pick not then speak for itself?
Switzer has potential to be a devastating slot receiver at the next level with his quickness, and his abilities as a punt returner speak loudly. He hasn’t been as incredible as we saw in 2013 when he returned five punts for touchdowns, but he’s still a dynamic playmaker and could really be an asset for the Broncos moving forward.