INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine officially begins on February 17th, with orientation, health exams, psychological testing and weigh-ins to follow. Psychological testing and measureables are key to evaluating a prospect, but nothing tells the story at the Combine like the on-field drills. The “underwear Olympics” begin on the 20th.
MHH and Scout are going to bring you all the Combine coverage you need to stay abreast of what’s going on in Indianapolis this week.
For the Denver Broncos, a lot has changed since this time last year. Gone are John Fox and most of his assistants – in are Gary Kubiak and his staff. The kind of upheaval that has taken place at Dove Valley, since that disappointing playoff loss on January 11th, is atypical of a perennial Super Bowl contender like the Broncos.
Scout.com NFL Combine Coverage
However, like the fans, John Elway was keenly disappointed in the way the Broncos lost that game, going down without “kicking and screaming”. John Fox and company did not deserve another shot at coaching a roster, replete with the top-shelf talent that Elway put together. Happy trails, Foxy.
Changes to the coaching staff are not the only difference between this year’s draft season and last. The Broncos have a whopping 19 players set to hit free agency, in one form or another. With the a projected $27M in available salary cap space, the Broncos will not be able to bring back each and every free agent. Many will be allowed to leave. Players like Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme and Wes Welker have likely played their last down in Denver.
Others, like Demaryius Thomas, Virgil Green and Terrance Knighton, will receive aggressive offers from the Broncos to return. But no matter which way you cut it, the complexion of the roster is going to look very different in 2015. The biggest holes the team is looking to fill are on the offensive line, at safety, nose tackle and tight end. Some will be resolved via free agency. But with limited cap space, the draft offers the best opportunity to restock the cupboard.
The Broncos enter the draft with six original picks, with an estimation of four additional compensatory picks on top of them. They will have plenty of draft capital to play with. So with that in mind, we’re going to focus on prospects who could help the Broncos fill a roster hole. One such player to watch at the Combine is Fresno State free safety Derron Smith.
Smith enters the draft following his senior season. He is the No. 3 safety on Scout.com's big board. As a four-year starter, he was highly productive for the Bulldogs. He’s a quintessential free safety and projects well as such at the pro level. He can play close to the line of scrimmage or deep as a single-high safety. The Broncos have been searching for a difference maker at centerfield.
Rahim Moore was drafted with those aspirations, but he they did not come to fruition. As a prospect, Moore, a veritable one-hit-wonder at UCLA, was billed as a ball-hawk, but nary a ball did he hawk in his time in Denver. Smith, on the other hand, accumulated 15 interceptions in his four years with the Bulldogs, to go along with 277 combined tackles and 2 forced fumbles.
To see a free safety put up tackle numbers like that means that he’s instinctual and unafraid to stick his nose into the action. The biggest knock on Smith is that 14 of his 15 career interceptions came in his first three seasons. He only snagged one in 2014. But the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Whichever NFL team selects Smith, they will indeed get a ball-hawking free safety who has a consistent track record to back it up.
As a former high school quarterback, Smith has high football I.Q. and understands the psychology of a signal caller. He understands their on-field processes and how to bait them into making bad decisions. He also has excellent coverage and ball skills, which are key tools for a productive NFL free safety.
At 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, some might call Smith undersized. But I sumbit to you one Earl Thomas, who measures 5-foot-10, 202 pounds. Smith could use some direction from a pro Strength and Conditioning coach, in order to better develop an NFL body, but as a free safety with range, I don’t see his size being a hindrance in the pros.
Another knock on Smith is that he takes poor angles to the ball carrier, but much of that can be attributed to him feeling like he had to do too much on an underachieving Bulldogs defense. The bottom line is that Smith is a playmaker and possesses all of the key tools NFL teams look for in a free safety. Most mock drafts have him off the board in the third round, but I can see him going in the second.
The Broncos need a playmaker at free safety and Rahim Moore isn’t it. Darron Smith is one prospect to watch closely in Indianatpolis this week.