If you have yet to do so, now would be the time to read the MHH article on Julius Thomas being out in Denver. He will not be back in a Broncos uniform for 2015, per Brandon Spano. With him on the way out, we've received a lot of questions regarding how the Denver Broncos can replace him.
It should be remembered that the Broncos are switching their offensive scheme up under the new coaching staff. Instead of the three wide receiver sets that you saw from the Broncos so often since 2012, you will likely see a lot more two tight end sets. The tight ends have to be complete players, who can catch and block. There are multiple options that the Broncos can look at to replace Julius Thomas. Let's get started.
Status: unrestricted free agent formerly of the Denver Broncos.
Green was drafted in the 2011 draft, same as Julius Thomas. Green has struggled to get serious playing time with the Broncos, but through his blocking, he was able to achieve it late in the 2014 season.
While he does not have the big receiving numbers that Thomas does, he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. His blocking will be vital with the scheme switch for the Broncos. His lack of passing numbers comes from not being utilized in the passing game, like Thomas was. Had Green been used instead of Thomas, Green very likely puts up numbers close to the same, if not better, than Thomas did.
Green is a very capable tight end who can do it all. He has shown he can make tough catches, has shown he can block and has even shown that he can run with the ball. He truly is a complete tight end; one who can excel in Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme.
Status: 2015 NFL draft prospect out of Minnesota.
Along with free agents, there are some options in the draft. This year the tight end position is not the strongest draft class, but there is some talent available. At the top of the board is Maxx Williams, a talented pass catcher, who can do whatever is asked of him in the passing game, as well as a give solid effort as a blocker. He shows potential and willingness to grow as a blocker, as well.
Throughout his career at Minnesota, Williams has made some amazing NFL-like catches, which is why he stands out as a receiver. He is young and has been described as eager to learn and play by his coaches. Other attributes Williams possesses are his toughness and passion for the game, unlike the player (Thomas) he could potentially replace in Denver.
With the Broncos switch of offensive schemes, Williams is an ideal fit, for now and the future. One of the most common comparisons made with Williams is Jason Witten, coming out of college.
Witten has become one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL. Is Williams a guarantee to follow those steps? No, but with the right coaching and hard work, he very well could end up on that level, if not higher. All it takes is John Elway being willing to pull the trigger at pick 28 in the first round, if Williams is there.
Status: unrestricted free agent formerly of the Baltimore Ravens.
Daniels was a fourth round pick by the Gary Kubiak-coached Houston Texans back in 2006. Since then, Daniels has played every year on a Kubiak-coached team -- eight with the Texans and this past season with the Baltimore Ravens, with Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Daniels knows Kubiak’s system inside and out and has excelled in it for years.
He is not the most talented tight end, but he is a solid contributor who can execute in all phases of the game. The only thing going against Daniels is his age. He is currently 32 years old and will turn 33 toward the end of the season. He can help for a couple of years, but he isn’t a long-term solution like some other players on this list can be.
Daniels can be brought in to help the transition of other players into the new scheme, especially the tight ends. Of all on this list, Daniels probably has the second highest chance of being a Bronco next season. With his connection to Kubiak and some of the other coaches, it just makes a ton of sense for both sides.
Status: 2015 NFL draft prospect out of Rutgers.
Kroft is an athletic prospect from Rutgers. He has work to do in every aspect of his game, but looks like a jack-of-all trades type tight end, and there is nothing wrong with that. The biggest concern with Kroft is his poor catch radius, but that is something that can be worked on by his pro coaches. His game will need a lot of coaching and refinement for him to excel in the NFL, but he can still be a solid contributor from day one.
He has the athleticism to challenge defenses in the passing game. All he has to do is become more consistent, especially when playing down the seam. One thing he does really well though, is get chunks of yards after the catch with his surprising quickness and agility. He is also one of the better blocking tight ends in the draft, but has plenty of room to grow.
Kroft is a good fit in Kubiak’s system because of the fact that he is a jack-of-all trades. He can do whatever is asked of him and do it well. He is best as an in-line tight end, but can also play as a fullback, or in the slot. His versatility is an added bonus. Right now, Kroft sits as a mid-round pick by most draftniks and on my own personal draft board, he carries a fourth round grade.
Status: unrestricted free agent formerly of the Miami Dolphins.
Clay was a sixth round pick by the Dolphins in the 2011 NFL draft. The one key thing to note with him is his ability to contribute as a fullback as well, which is what he was drafted to be. Clay is a hybrid tight end/fullback that you see often in the modern NFL. He has become one of the best run blocking tight ends in the NFL, which is why the Dolphins also used him as a fullback.
He is extremely versatile, not just with where he can line up, but in what he can do. Basically, Clay was the Dolphins Virgil Green, but utilized more in the passing game. As a receiver, Clay is rather underrated. He is tough before, during and after the catch. After the catch, he forced 12 missed tackles, which was fifth among tight ends in 2014. He doesn’t drop passes, only dropping two out of 60 catchable balls.
Clay would fit in perfectly with the Broncos moving forward. He is a young player, so he helps the team for long term, as well as the short term. He can step in and play a major role in the offense. His ability to play fullback, like Green, adds a lot to what the offense can do, and would make it so that the Broncos would not have to add a full-time fullback.
Status: 2015 NFL draft prospect out of Notre Dame.
Coming out of Notre Damn, Koyack is a bit of a mystery in the passing game. He was primarily used as a blocking tight end, and under-utilized as a receiver. When he was used as a receiver, he flashed potential, but nothing consistent. His blocking is some of the best among tight ends in the draft, however.
When he is drafted, Koyack will need some coaching as a receiver to make an impact in the NFL passing game. However, his blocking will get him a role on offense immediately. Koyack has shown that he is capable of handling one-on-one duties as a blocker, which isn’t a common attribute among blocking tight ends, let along tight ends in general.
His rawness in the passing game makes Koyack just a solid fit in Denver, instead of being a great fit, at this time. However, he still would have a place with the Broncos. His receiving ability can be coached up, and he has the blocking ability to make an impact right away. With the Broncos, Koyack can also see snaps at fullback, depending on the situation.
Status: unrestricted free agent formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The trend continues with another well-rounded tight end in Gresham. He never did develop into the type of tight end many thought he would when he came out of Oklahoma in 2010. However, he is one of the better pass blocking tight ends in the NFL and is a solid receiver, though that is where most of the concerns with him can be found.
As a pass blocker, Gresham is one of the best, but his run blocking isn’t anything special. He is a capable run blocker, but it isn’t his strong suit. In the receiving game, Gresham can have an impact. His drop rate was the best among qualifying tight ends, with only one drop on 63 catchable passes. He also does a lot after that catch and can force missed tackles to pick up yards after the catch.
At 26 years old, Gresham is still a young player, so he can provide a piece for the future. His well-rounded skill-set is a bonus for the Broncos, although his run blocking is somewhat bothersome. He is a scheme fit, though it is not the best fit. His run blocking could be coached up, which, if he is willing to work at it and learn, he would become a great fit for the Broncos moving forward.
Status: 2015 NFL draft prospect out of Oklahoma.
Raw. That sums up Blake Bell. Bell was a quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners before he made the switch to tight end. With the late position switch, he would take a while to coach up in the NFL as a tight end. However, Bell shows signs of being a fast learner and grew rapidly as time went on at his new position.
He has flashed time and time again as a receiver. Being a former quarterback helps him in multiple ways, the biggest being his understanding of defenses and being able to read them. This has helped him make an impact in the passing game by being able to find the soft spot in a zone defense.
Of all the tight ends on the list, Bell is the only one who would take time before making an impact at the NFL level. He would be a late round pick at highest, but there's a good chance he goes undrafted and is a priority free agent. Either way, he is one that the Broncos should look at to stash on their practice squad while they coach him up. He would be a low risk, high reward player, but he wouldn’t replace Julius Thomas' production this upcoming season.