John Elway and the Denver Broncos again mined some talent out of the NFL draft last May. Elway’s abilities as a talent evaluator is the cornerstone of the team’s recent success – coupled with the input and hard work of Director of Pro Personnel Matt Russell and the scouting department.
Of course, it helps to land a future Hall of Fame quarterback in free agency, like Peyton Manning, but at the end of the day, the Broncos are competitive because Elway has drafted well over the last four years.
He’s hit on some blue chip studs, like Von Miller, but he’s also mined some diamonds in the rough in the middle-to-late rounds, like Julius Thomas, Virgil Green, Malik Jackson, Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan. The Broncos have also done their homework in the vast undrafted player pool, finding two Pro Bowlers – Chris Harris, Jr. and C.J. Anderson.
Elway and the Broncos have not been perfect in the draft. They missed big-time on guys like Philip Blake, Mike Mohamed, Vinston Painter, and Taverres King. But overall, Elway and the Broncos have hit way more than they’ve missed in the draft.
That is the cornerstone of a premier team in the NFL.
With the 2014 season in the books, we now have the ability to retrospectively review the Broncos 2014 draft class -- gauge their impact and grade their performances. Let’s get started.
Bradley Roby, CB : 1.31
As a rookie, Roby was called on early and often to contribute. Despite some struggles in training camp, it did not take him long to work his way into the Broncos first-team unit. Although he saw most of his snaps with the team’s nickel sub-package, he did start two games as a rookie.
In 818 defensive snaps, he accounted for 63 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and a sack. It was a very well-rounded season. Roby’s biggest play of the year came on a fourth down, late in the fourth quarter in Week 1 vs. the Indianapolis Colts, when he broke up an Andrew Luck pass intended for Reggie Wayne, sealing the victory for the Broncos.
Roby’s rookie campaign might not have been as prolific as Aaron Donald’s, or C.J. Mosley’s, but he played well enough to put his name into consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was arguably the best rookie corner in 2014.
Cody Latimer, WR: 2.24
Latimer had an outstanding training camp and a productive pre-season, but could not find a way to crack the starting lineup. It’s hard to blame him when both starting wide receivers for the Broncos (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) were elected to the Pro Bowl.
Another factor that hurt Latimer’s playing time prospects was Peyton Manning. Manning is a creature of habit. Chemistry, rapport and on-field timing are everything to him. It will take time for Latimer to build that relationship with Manning .
Another off-season will give Latimer plenty of opportunities to strengthen that rapport. It is highly unlikely that the Broncos will choose to bring back Wes Welker, which means that Latimer could be in line for more reps because of that factor alone.
Gary Kubiak doesn’t traditionally use a lot of 3 wide receiver sets, but with Manning likely coming back for one more ride, we’ll see a mix of Kubiak and Manning’s favorite plays and schemes on the field. When the Broncos go with 11 personnel, Sanders could slide inside to the slot and the 6-foot-2 Latimer could take his place on the outside and use his size as a tool to make plays on the boundary.
Latimer did not see the field as much as he and the fans hoped he would, but he is a vastly talented player at a skill position. His future in Denver is bright, especially if negotiations with Demaryius Thomas take a turn for the worse (which I doubt).
Michael Schofield, OL: 3.31
It’s still too early to call it, but Schofield could represent one of Elway’s rare misses in the draft. Coming into the NFL, Schofield was a very raw prospect at tackle, whom I believed at the time was better suited as an interior offensive lineman.
Schofield struggled in training camp, but still found himself playing with the second unit during the pre-season. Nonetheless, he made the final 53-man roster.
When the regular season began in earnest, I figured that Schofield would be a solid depth option and versatile enough to be a stop-gap at multiple positions, should the need arise in-season. Unfortunately, he obviously failed to inspire any confidence in the coaching staff and personnel department, because he did not see a single snap all year long.
He was a healthy scratch, more often than not. It’s hard to get a bead on why that is, as the Broncos were very tight-lipped about Schofield’s lack of playing time, but being inactive so often speaks for itself – the Broncos did not trust him and were obviously unimpressed by his practice performances each week.
And yet, they kept him on the roster. They could have chosen to cut ties with him, or waive him and hope to stash him on the practice squad, if he was really that bad. So perhaps therein lies the silver lining. The team must still believe in him (somewhat).
Schofield was a very raw prospect to begin with and it could simply be that he needs time to develop his technique and continue to work with pro staff. For the purposes of this article, however, he was an abject failure as a rookie.
Lamin Barrow, LB: 5.16
Barrow was drafted in the hope that he could provide an answer at middle linebacker for the Broncos – a transient position for the team for several years. But Nate Irving stepped up to the plate and performed very well in that role, until he got hurt.
Barrow started one game as a rookie and played a total of 49 defensive snaps for the Broncos. He was solid and showed promise and potential. If anything, it seemed that Barrow struggled to acclimate to the speed of the NFL game, but that’s something that will come to him the longer he’s in the league.
Barrow found himself in the doghouse, for a short time, after he was flagged for a senseless personal foul that cost the team on the field. However, he bounced back and finished the season with 9 combined tackles.
Matt Paradis, C: 6.31
At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Paradis is on the smallish side for an NFL center. However, that could help him in Kubiak’s zone blocking system, provided he has the football I.Q and footwork, to go along with it. As a rookie, Paradis struggled to make an impact in training camp and throughout the pre-season.
When the team trimmed the roster down to 53 guys, Paradis was waived. Fortunately for the Broncos, he passed through waivers and was signed to the practice squad, where he’s been under the coaching and tutelage of the team's staff all year.
The jury’s still out on Paradis but if he was able to improve during his time on the practice squad, and takes the bull by the horns in OTAs and the upcoming training camp, he could see his stock improve with the Kubiak regime.
Corey Nelson, LB 7.27
Nelson struggled in the early stages of training camp, but he improved when the pre-season games hit. What really helped Nelson’s prospects was the injury to Danny Trevathan late in the pre-season. Without that injury, I’m not sure that Nelson would have made the final 53-man roster.
But I’m glad that he did. He was a boon to special teams and when the Broncos got thin at linebacker, due to the injury bug, Nelson was able to step in and be productive. He did not start any games, but did see 109 defensive snaps, mostly at weakside linebacker, but a few in the middle.
With the Broncos likely switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, it’s hard to say if Nelson will fit in. At 6-foot-0 and 231 pounds, he doesn’t have the prototypical size to be an 3-4 ILB. With his size, he would likely struggle to shed blocks.
But if he adds a little weight and works hard under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, he could still have a place with the 2015 Broncos. He has all the tools and measureables of a 4-3 WILL linebacker, but it remains to be seen if he can be more versatile.
Nelson finished his rookie season with 17 combined tackles and one tackle for a loss. I like his instincts and down-hill speed and he even showed better-than-average coverage skills as a rookie. He has great potential but it could be with another team.
Juwan Thompson, RB: Undrafted
Thompson went undrafted out of Duke, but was signed by the Broncos to compete in training camp. Through an impressive preseason performance, he earned a spot on the team's final 53-man roster.
Thompson was a great depth option for the Broncos as a rookie and when he was called upon, he impacted the game. He finished his rookie season with a 5.0 yards per carry average and scored three touchdowns.
Elway and company had a solid draft, but a couple of their selections might not bear fruit for some time. Latimer has the skill-set to be a stud, but he needs playing time. Paradis could be a great fit in the team’s new offensive scheme, but he'll have to prove himself to the new coaching staff.
Schofield has been a straight up bust – let’s call a spade a spade. But there’s hope for him yet. The two late-round linebackers, Barrow and Nelson, probably saw more time with the first-team defense than the Broncos expected when they drafted them, but overall, they held up well. And Bradley Roby has the potential to become one of the league’s elite corners.
Overall draft class grade: B-