The Denver Broncos have options at the 20th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but will they look at the offensive line or for a playmaker?
After weeks of vetting and meeting with a bevy of prospects, it’s almost executive decision time for the Denver Broncos brass as the 2017 NFL Draft looms. The team is flush with 10 selections this year — the most they’ve held since 2004 — and the paramount discussion naturally concerns who they should take with the 20th overall pick come April 27 in Philadelphia.
Wrapped around that debate, however, is the consensus that the Broncos need either an immediate offensive playmaker or a talented left tackle who’s ready to start and protect the neck of his quarterback. Ranking 22nd in total offense due to a 27th-ranked ground game and a 21st-ranked passing attack, the Broncos offense from 2016 is clearly in need of redress in at least three areas.
With only center and Pro-Bowl alternate Matt Paradis shining up front, the weak collective play from the behemoths in the trenches made the offense implode from the inside-out. Of course, It certainly didn’t help matters that Denver found themselves defending a Super Bowl title with a redshirt freshman quarterback and a rookie tailback forced to become a workhorse following C.J. Anderson’s torn meniscus in late-October.
Charged with keeping opposing mitts off of kiddos Siemian, Lynch, and Booker, the O-line faltered and clocked-out as the NFL’s ninth-worst unit.
Last year, Bronco quarterbacks were sacked 40 times (ninth-most in the league) and knocked-down 101 times (seventh-most). And not that anyone needs reminding, but the tackle positions were especially flimsy. Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson failed miserably to earn their keep on the edges after signing-on in free agency; Stephenson, in fact, graded-out as the worst offensive lineman in football last season according to a January survey from Pro Football Focus. At 28, the five-year veteran is still in the mix at left tackle, as is the similarly worrying and more inexperienced Ty Sambrailo.
Consequently, ESPN comedy duo Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have the Broncos addressing their ultimate need in lieu of lightning in their latest mock drafts. Kiper sees Wisconsin left tackle Ryan Ramczyk cutting a fine figure in orange, while McShay thinks Denver will opt for Alabama tackle Cam Robinson if he’s available. Should he be off-the-board by then, Utah’s Garett Bolles will become the team’s beacon of hope on the blindside.
But compounding concern for the Broncos going into 2017 is how the offense remains bereft of viable pass-catchers behind Pro Bowl alternate receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders — who nabbed 90 and 79 receptions, respectively, in 2016. Astoundingly, rookie running back Devontae Booker’s 31 receptions were good for third most on the team. Virgil Green’s 22 catches led all tight ends and surpassed the reception totals for reserve receivers Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Bennie Fowler, and Cody Latimer.
Enter urgent consideration for the multi-purpose services of Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey as a hybrid running back, slot receiver and kick returner. Also in play is Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, or perhaps the jaw-dropping speed of Washington’s John Ross, whose 4.22 mark in the 40-yard dash set an NFL combine record last month.
This year’s tackle class is purportedly a weak one, but the aforementioned heavies are widely considered first-round material nonetheless. So when it comes time for the Broncos to be put on the clock, will they wind-up opting for the minivan or the sports car?