AFC West Draft Needs: Denver Broncos
The Broncos surprised everyone in 2009 by winning their first six games before a 2-8 finish doomed the season. They’ve gone back to the drawing board this offseason in hopes of sustaining the early success they saw last year. They’ve already begun reshaping their roster in a major way and will look to continue rebuilding through the draft.
Although they acquired Chicago’s first-round pick in exchange for Jay Cutler, the Broncos traded away their own first rounder during last April’s draft. They’re left with seven picks with two second-rounders and no choices in the seventh. Denver currently holds picks No. 11, 43, 45, 80, 114, 137 and 183.
The Broncos traded away disgruntled wide receiver Brandon Marshall and badly need a replacement. Eddie Royal had a sophomore slump after an outstanding rookie season and needs to rebound in 2010. The rest of the crew includes Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley and Brandon Lloyd, and none of them are anything special. Wide receiver should be on the top of Denver’s wish list, but they may wait until the second round to address it. They’ve already met privately with Illinois’ Arrelious Benn, Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant, Minnesota’s Eric Decker, Clemson’s Jacoby Ford, Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard, South Florida’s Carlton Mitchell, Texas’ Jordan Shipley and USC’s Damian Williams.
Denver could also use a playmaker at tight end after dealing Tony Scheffler. Daniel Graham’s 31 years old and caught just 28 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown last season. Richard Quinn was drafted in the second round last year, but he’s more of a blocker. Because of the investment in Quinn, the Broncos likely won’t spend a high pick on another tight end, but this class is deep and a quality player could be had in the later rounds. They’ve already met with one of the top prospects, Rob Gronkowski of Arizona.
Along the offensive line, the tackles are solid bookends, but the interior’s a mess. Starting center Casey Wiegnann was released in the offseason, and guard Ben Hamilton is a free agent. Chris Kuper was tendered and Russ Hochstein was signed, but getting some younger interior players is a priority. The team’s visited with many offensive linemen, including centers Maurkice Pouncey of Florida, Matt Tennant of Boston College, J.D. Walton of Baylor and Joe Hawley of UNLV, tackles Vladimir Ducasse of UMass and Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale and Utah guard Zane Beadles.
Defensively, the Broncos couldn’t stop the run and need to get stronger. They’ve already done a nice job patching up holes in free agency. On the defensive line, Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams were signed to boost the nose tackle spot, and Jarvis Green adds depth at defensive end. However, the team released Kenny Peterson in the offseason and could use a big, strong five-technique player (a 3-4 defensive end) to improve a run defense that allowed 128.7 yards per game on the ground last season. The Broncos have met with a few lineman, including nose tackles Dan Williams of Tennessee, Al Woods of LSU, Torrell Troup of Central Florida and Terrence Cody of Alabama, along with defensive ends Tyson Alualu of Cal and Jared Odrick of Penn State.
Another important part of the run defense is inside linebacker. D.J. Williams is a great player on the verge of being a Pro Bowler, but the starter next to him -- Andra Davis -- was released in the offseason. They need to find another quality starter on the inside and could fill the need with Alabama’s Rolando McClain or Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri, two players the team’s already met with.
The secondary was one of the strengths of the team and was the third-stingiest unit in the league. However, age is creating a need as all four starters are 31 or older. The team essentially invested a first-round pick in Alphonso Smith last April, and he needs to step up next season. They also selected Darcel McBath in the second round to eventually take over for Brian Dawkins. Drafting another young cornerback would be a smart investment in an aging secondary. The team’s met with multiple players, including Kareem Jackson of Alabama, A.J. Jefferson of Fresno State, C.J. Lovett of Fort Hays State and Alterraun Verner of UCLA.
Other players known to have visited or worked out with the Broncos include quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida, Tony Pike of Cincinnati and Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State, running backs Toby Gerhart of Stanford, C.J. Spiller of Clemson, Dexter McCluster of Mississppi and Montario Hardesty of Tennessee, along with linebackers Brandon Graham of Michigan and Koa Misi of Utah.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: P Mitch Berger (wasn’t re-signed), S Vernon Fox (wasn’t re-signed), T Brandon Gorin (wasn’t re-signed), LB Nick Greisen (wasn’t re-signed), G Ben Hamilton (wasn’t re-signed), DE Vonnie Holliday (wasn’t re-signed), CB Ty Law (wasn’t re-signed), G Russ Hochstein (re-signed for two years), WR Brandon Lloyd (re-signed)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Elvis Dumervil (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M), G Chris Kuper (received first-round tender at $2.521M and signed), QB Kyle Orton (received first-round tender at $2.621M and signed), DE Le Kevin Smith (wasn’t tendered, re-signed), TE Tony Scheffler (received original-round tender at $1.176M and signed, traded), WR Brandon Marshall (received first-round tender at $2.521M and signed, traded)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: S Josh Barrett (tendered and signed), K Matt Prater (tendered and signed)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: G Russ Hochstein, WR Brandon Lloyd, G Chris Kuper, QB Kyle Orton, DE Le Kevin Smith, S Josh Barrett, K Matt Prater
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB J.J. Arrington (signed for one year), DT Justin Bannan (signed for five years at $22M), DE Jarvis Green (signed for four years at $20M), CB Nate Jones (signed for three years at $4.33M), QB Brady Quinn (via trade with Cleveland), DT Jamal Williams (signed for three years at $16M)
PLAYERS LOST: LB Andra Davis (signed with Buffalo), OG Mitch Erickson (signed with Seattle), FB Peyton Hillis (via trade with Cleveland), RB LaMont Jordan, WR Brandon Marshall (via trade with Miami), DL J’Vonne Parker, DE Kenny Peterson, TE Tony Scheffler (via trade with Detroit), QB Chris Simms, C Casey Wiegmann, P Mitch Berger, S Vernon Fox, T Brandon Gorin, LB Nick Greisen, G Ben Hamilton, DE Vonnie Holliday, CB Ty Law
WIDE RECEIVER -- Brandon Marshall was finally traded and Eddie Royal endured a sophomore slump, so the team needs a playmaker to continue to have success. They relied heavily on Marshall last season, and the passing game will be a disaster if he isn’t replaced.
DEFENSIVE END -- Five-technique defensive ends who can play in the 3-4 scheme are a valuable commodity. Just look at the Chiefs, who selected Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick last April. The Broncos need a defensive end who’s big, strong and active to make their defense elite.
INSIDE LINEBACKER -- The Broncos couldn’t stop the run last season and need to replace Andra Davis at one of the inside linebacker spots. Getting a strong player who’s stout against the run would go a long way.
CENTER -- Starting center Casey Wiegmann was released in the offseason, and the team’s met with several prospects who could replace him. Expect the Broncos to take a center at some point.
TIGHT END -- Denver needs more weapons, plain and simple. Tony Scheffler was traded in the offseason, leaving only Daniel Graham and Richard Quinn at the position. Graham’s getting older, and Quinn’s primarily a blocker. Getting a dynamic receiving threat at tight end would be a welcomed addition.
CORNERBACK -- Age is creating a need here. The current players will be solid for at least another year, but grabbing another young cornerback would be a smart investment.