The Denver Broncos are going to have a lot of work cut out for them in the coming months, especially with the number of free agents they have. Not all of them will be back, and that means saying goodbye to some good players, while keeping some others.
I don’t envy the Broncos front office for the decisions that they will have to make. However, one way to make these decisions easier is with good drafts year after year, and that's something the Broncos have quietly done very well.
Von Miller will be back after getting franchise tagged, if no long term deal is done. In terms of long term money, he is looking at becoming one of, if not the, highest paid defensive player in the NFL.
Brock Osweiler is tough because of the number of games he started, but quarterback is such an important piece of the puzzle, he will net a large contract.
From sources I have talked to, Denver is wanting to strike a deal in the 12 to 13 million dollar a year range, but are willing to go over that, as long as it doesn’t surpass the 15 million dollar a year range. If Brock’s demands exceed that, it’s hard to see him back with the Broncos.
That leaves Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson of the big four. According to a report from Eric Goodman of Mile High Sports, Denver upped their offer from three years for $24 million to 5 years for $50 million, but Jackson’s demands are in the 5-year for $75 million mark, which would make him the second-highest paid 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, behind only J.J. Watt.
After seeing this report I immediately got in contact with my sources who confirmed these numbers and said, “Jackson has priced himself out of Denver." Another source said the only way Jackson comes back is if Denver can get a long term deal done with Von Miller and Brock Osweiler before the franchise tag deadline, but he also stated that seems very unlikely.
Focus really seems to be on Miller, Osweiler and Trevathan, who, with Jackson pricing himself out of Denver, is set to get a very good deal from the Broncos. Trevathan has proven his worth and value as one of the five best inside linebackers in the NFL, and played a huge unnoticed role in the defense's success this season.
I talked briefly with one of my sources on Trevathan’s contract talks and he said, “If/when the deal gets done, look for it to be in the 8 to 9 million dollar a year range, and that’s with a hometown discount Trevathan seems willing to take." Luke Kuechly, of the Super Bowl runner up Carolina Panthers, is the highest paid inside/middle linebacker in the NFL with a deal that pays him just under 12.4 million dollars a year.
Of the remaining free agents, there are multiple ERFA’s (exclusive rights free agents), Matt Paradis, Todd Davis, Sam Brenner, Brandon McManus and Bennie Fowler, and all of them should be expected back. Along with them, Denver has three RFA’s (restricted free agents) in C.J. Anderson, Brandon Marshall and Lerentee McCray, it’s hard to see Denver putting a tender, even original round tender, on McCray which sees him on the outside. Meanwhile, Anderson and Marshall both should see a second round tender, if not a first for Marshall.
That just leaves the unrestricted free agents, and of that group I can only see Jordan Norwood, Josh Bush, Omar Bolden and David Bruton return. You can add Evan Mathis and Antonio Smith to that group, if they don’t choose to retire. That means, Tyler Polumbus, Ronnie Hillman, Kyle Williams, Andre Caldwell, Ryan Harris, Shiloh Keo, and Vernon Davis are all elsewhere come next year.
The following mock draft is based upon Denver making these moves, but not adding talent in free agency from other teams. Of course, in reality, Denver will actually bring in players, but it’s so hard to predict that, so I won’t be adding them here. Now with that all done, it is time for the mock draft, and this mock will include projected compensatory picks.
All picks for other teams were made through a simulation. I made the picks for the Broncos, and the alternatives happened to be left on the board in this sim. Many of the alternates will not be available for the pick come the actual draft, and were just names that caught my eye for still being on the board.
Defensive Lineman - Clemson
For a 3-4 defensive front, Kevin Dodd looks a bit undersized for the job. However, he knows how to use his size to his advantage, and played in a similar scheme at Clemson that the Broncos run on defense. With the frame he has, Dodd has room to add another 10-15 pounds without losing any of his burst, explosion or athleticism. What many coaches will fall in love with Dodd is his relentless motor. Dodd will never give an offensive linemen any kind of rest during the game, and is like the energizer bunny and keeps going.
In my conversations with scouts and sources from in and around the NFL, Dodd is climbing up boards, and doing so fast. What he does at the combine this weekend will be huge for his overall draft stock. The highlight’s of his season, per my sources, were how he got better as the season went on, and how he controlled a tough Alabama defensive line. The big knock on him is his little experience and being tagged with the “one year wonder” stamp.
His lack of experience, and some technical issues are on his short list of cons as a player. His big area of concern is his hand usage and technique. If he can get that down, he will be a monster in the NFL. In many ways, Dodd reminds me of the player he would be replacing, Malik Jackson. Difference is, Dodd is more pro ready now than Jackson when he entered the draft, and has a higher upside than Jackson.
If he is there at No. 31, the Broncos should jump all over Dodd. They have the perfect coach to work with him in Bill Kollar, and he would be in a scheme that really plays to his strengths. Dodd can step in as the starter opposite Derek Wolfe on the defensive line and have a big impact as a pass rusher and run defender.
Now the last two here I have a hard time seeing available. Elliott is something special, and should be gone by the time Denver picks. If he is available, he could be a huge boost to their running game, and make a deadly combo with C.J. Anderson, should he return.
As for Jaylon Smith, his injury would be what sees him fall. If he didn’t get hurt, he’d be gone in the top ten. His injury would be why Denver should take him. Get him healthy, groom him, and have him replace Brandon Marshall next year and put him next to Danny Trevathan, who I see returning.
Finally Vernon Butler from Louisiana Tech. Butler is a bigger defensive linemen at 325 pounds, but moves like he is 280. He would be able to play inside or out in the Denver defense and reminds me so much of NY Jets defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson.
Running Back - Louisiana Tech
I know the adage about drafting running backs late, and Gary Kubiak has a knack for it, but Dixon is a talent that I couldn’t pass up here. He fits the scheme perfectly, with his speed, burst, explosion, vision and decisiveness. There are a few negatives with Dixon, like a couple of ankle and knee injuries that kept him from playing. Also, Dixon fumbled 13 times in the last three seasons, which is a big cause for concern, and a focus for coaching to work with.
Despite the fumbling, he is still well worth the pick. He really is a perfect fit for the scheme, and can be a three-down back, with work put into his pass protection. Dixon also likes to finish runs with authority and willing to lay a hit on the tackler before going to the ground. With how explosive Dixon is, and how well he fits with the scheme, I just couldn’t pass up the selection here, as previously stated.
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk of about Henry that makes me wonder if he will be available, not only for this pick, but at the start of round two. Through sources I have heard a couple teams like Henry in the first round of the draft.
Kentrell Brothers is a similar situation as Henry. While I haven’t heard day-one talk, I have gotten a lot of early round two talk. With how thin the inside linebacker class is, a team can reach on Brothers, same with Henry as the tight end class is weak as well.
Now, Sheldon Day has first round talent and ability, but the depth of the class will see him fall. I would have had him as the pick here, but having mocked Dodd in the first, I went with Day as the first alternate. I like Day a lot, and he fits what Denver wants.
Offensive Guard - Arizona State
If you want a guard that fits the zone scheme, look no further than Westerman. His athleticism and technique are perfect for the scheme, and the textbook zone scheme guard. Last year I praised Ali Marpet for his technique, as it was some of the best I have ever seen. Well, Westerman is right there with Marpet.
There are some concerns with his strength, but he answered many of those with the amount of bench reps he posted. Once I saw the number I texted a source at the combine and asked him about it.
“Westerman dropped the jaws of every offensive line coach here," my source said. "The muttering started and I was hearing some coaches mention first round."
So, the status of Westerman is up in the air, with his draft stock apparently on the rise. Finally, Westerman is a young player, who just turned 23 on the 23rd of February.
Both Garnett and Perkins I don’t see being here. Garnett should be gone no later than the mid-second and Perkins by mid-third. As for Shepard, I can see him getting taken around this point, but how Tyler Lockett did in Seattle could get Shepard taken earlier. Shepard has a comparable skill-set to Lockett.
Round Three (Compensatory)
Wide Reciever - Colorado State
The Colorado State receiver is being drafted to a team deep at receiver. Some teams really like Higgins, from what I have heard, while others don’t even have him on their board.
There are many concerns about his get-off at the NFL level, especially against press coverage. Couple that with some lazy route running, and confidence bordering on arrogance, the young receiver could see his name slide until late day two or early day three.
Chris Jones, a defensive linemen out of Mississippi State, is a first round talent, and will see his name called no later than early round two. It is a similar situation with Austin Hooper, who sits towards the top of a very poor tight end class.
As for Ward, I can see him being available here due to his bad tape, but he flashed serious potential, which could see him drafted earlier. However, he is a multi-year project and whoever drafts him needs to be well aware of that.
Round Four (Compensatory)
Tight End - Western Kentucky
Tyler Higbee may be the most talented tight end of the class, but has seen some injuries which hurts his draft stock. Higbee also will need a lot of work to improve his blocking, but his ability as a receiver is excellent.
He is smooth as a route runner, and that is probably due to him being a former wide receiver. With soft hands, athleticism, and speed to separate, Higbee could easily grow into one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL, but his blocking may never be anything more than just average.
Alexander is a hybrid mix of Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. I had one NFC scout tell me, “Alexander is the type of linebacker the Broncos love and want”. As for Ioannidis, he was part of a very underrated Temple defense, and showed some really good play. However, many scouts believe he has hit his ceiling and has little room to grow.
As for Ochi, he would be a pick based on potential. The small school player has generated a lot of buzz, but all with his ceiling. Denver is deep at rush linebacker, which makes taking Ochi a not so bad idea.
Cornerback - Virginia
Canady looks the part of an NFL cornerback, both with his size and length, but there are some technical issues in his game. All the pieces are there, but he needs great coaching and mentoring to help him put them together.
There are concerns with what kind of scheme he belongs in. While I think he should be gone by this pick, the concerns could see him fall. If a team does get him around this time, and are able to put those pieces together, watch out, NFL.
Basically, I see all three alternates being gone by this pick. The only exception may be Ridgeway, due to some concerns with his conditioning and health.
Round Six (Compensatory)
Offensive Lineman - Washington State
Dahl isn’t gifted athletically, which shows, but does have the ability to play in a zone scheme. There are major health concerns with Dahl, which could see him go undrafted.
If he were able to stay healthy, he would be getting talked about for the first three rounds, per a source. There are area’s of concern with him outside of health, as well. This late in the draft, he is worth taking a flier on and will be solid backup for his rookie year, at least.
I think Calhoun would be gone by this pick. The other two I can see going in this range, but not sure of their fits with the Broncos.
Fullback - Wisconsin
The younger brother of J.J. Watt, Derek is a really good fullback in college. This late the pick is value, especially with the Broncos need for a fullback for Gary Kubiak’s scheme to run right.
Both Young and Adams are probably off the board by this point, while Johnstone is undraftable to many teams due to his extensive injury history and concerns.
Punter - Utah
The Broncos are expected to part ways with punter Britton Colquitt, so why not look for help? Hackett is widely considered the top punter in this draft, and with their second-to-last pick, why not fill a void? Although, I can see Hackett being off the board by now.
Pretty much all three alternates are probably off the board by this point
Offensive Lineman - Missouri
.Another one of the zone scheme guards in this draft. It is highly doubtful that McGovern falls the the last round of the draft. However, his rawness as a pass blocker and strength limitations could see him fall this far, although it's doubtful. The upside here is tremendous.
Both Spruce and Reader are more than gone by this point. Reader is getting round-two buzz, while Spruce likely goes in the fourth-fifth round. As for Driskel, there are some things to like, but a lot to dislike. This late in the draft, he may be worth the risk.
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