The NFL Draft is just days away and the Denver Broncos are still reeling from a free agency period that left the defending Super Bowl champions about 15 players shy of a full roster. Broncos general manager John Elway will turn to the NFL Draft to try and fill his team's needs.
Thanks to compensatory picks they picked up because of free agents they lost last season, the Broncos have a total of 10 picks they can use in this week's draft. They'll need every single one of them if they are going to even begin to replace the talent they've lost so far this off-season.
Earlier this week, I put out a full mock of the draft's first round, which will take place this Thursday night. In it, I had the Broncos selecting Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. I selected Cook for the Broncos because of a simple fact: In the history of the NFL, only two Super Bowl champion teams have ever changed starting quarterbacks the following year, the 1998 Denver Broncos and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Neither of those teams repeated as Super Bowl champs the following year.
History has shown that in order to be successful in the NFL for a long period of time, you must have a franchise quarterback, hence why I had the Broncos reaching for Connor Cook at 31. However, I made it explicitly clear that I don't like Cook's game. I believe the Broncos would be better off grabbing a higher value player at 31.
That is, of course, if Cook is even on the board at 31. The more conversations I have the more I'm inclined to believe he could be selected as high as the early 20's. Besides, for all the flack I give John Elway, he's never been the type of GM to reach for a position of need in the first round of the draft. It would be out of character for him to select Cook.
So, I decided to dive head first into the Broncos war-room and make a selection for them, not just at pick No.31, but at all of the nine other spots Elway, Kubiak, and company will have a chance to pick in the draft this weekend.
While my previous mock was based on a blend of what I think will happen Thursday night and what I would do as an NFL GM, these selections are based on what I believe is the most likely outcome for each of the Broncos ten picks. If I had to put my money down on who the Denver Broncos will select in the 2016 NFL Draft, these would be the names I would choose.
Round 1; Pick #31: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Whenever I hear John Elway, head coach Gary Kubiak or offensive coordinator Rick Dennison discuss the biggest needs they'd like to address this offseason, they always seem to start with the offensive line. There's no question that unit was abysmal for the Broncos last season. While they've certainly taken steps to rebuild the group by signing players like Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, they can certainly afford to bring in another talented lineman to compete with Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield for the swing tackle job, or perhaps even the starting job at right tackle or one of the guard spots.
Spriggs is the kind of offensive lineman that the Kubiak scheme is built around. He's extremely athletic and has more starting experience than almost any other offensive lineman in this class. He's got a few technique issues to improve on, but he would be an outstanding addition to the Broncos offensive line. Of all the big-name offensive linemen in this class, including Cody Whitehair, Ryan Kelly, Taylor Decker, and Germain Ifedi, Spriggs is the only one the Broncos have actually visited with. If he's one the board at 31, which he most likely will be, I don't see them passing him up.
Round 2; Pick #63: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
The Broncos are going to bring four quarterbacks into training camp. It's what they've done in nearly every season in which John Elway has been GM. Two of those slots are already filled by Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. Assuming they don't pull the trigger on a deal for San Francisco 49ers gunslinger Colin Kaepernick, I expect the third will be filled by another low-cost veteran like Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, or even Sam Bradford if they can get the Philadelphia Eagles to eat a big chunk of his bloated 2016 salary. That leaves one spot for a drafted rookie.
As previously mentioned, there's a chance the Broncos could reach for a quarterback in the first round. They have met with both Michigan State's Connor Cook and Memphis' Paxton Lynch. Getting Lynch would be a long shot. I don't expect him to get past Cleveland at number eight, but miracles happen. If Lynch slides into the 20's, Elway and company will go get him. Otherwise, the Broncos are forced to sit and wait for a second or third-tier quarterback to fall to them in the later rounds of the draft. That's what I believe is the most likely scenario.
I was the first to report the Broncos were meeting with Prescott earlier this month. I'm told that the visit went exceedingly well, making it difficult for me to see them passing on Prescott if they can get him with this pick.
Prescott is really unlike any quarterback I've ever seen on tape. The first thing that pops into your mind when watching him is a Tim Tebow comparison, and many people have certainly offered that up. However, he's a far superior passer than Tebow ever was. His release is smoother and quicker, he's more accurate with the football, and I can actually see him going through progressions, which is something Tebow never did at Florida.
After scoring 37 rushing touchdowns during his collegiate career, you know he's certainly a threat with his legs and he has a similar running style to Tebow's — in that he'll often just run though arm tackles and flat out bowl people over with his powerful frame.
As a passer, Prescott is a work in progress. When given a clean pocket to throw in, he's shown great accuracy and touch. When asked to throw inside of a phone booth, he's struggled. He's too quick to abandon his progressions and tuck the ball away and became ultra-sensitive to pressure during his last year at Mississippi State. .
There are also some off-field concerns with him surrounding a DUI arrest he went through in Starksville, MS following the combine. The results of his breathalyzer were inconclusive and the case is still in the courts. Even considering how poorly timed the arrest was, it appears to be an isolated incident and Elway has never been one to shy away from minor off-field issues.
Prescott is in no way ready to start at quarterback in the NFL. However, he has enough raw potential and upside that with a year or two under Gary Kubiak's tutelage, he could become one of the most unique and talented starting quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen.
Round 3; Pick #94: B.J. Goodson, ILB, Clemson
Losing Danny Trevathan to the Chicago Bears this offseason will hurt the Broncos more than most of the other losses the defending champs suffered this season. His ability to play the middle of the field is essential to Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. His loss necessitates a day-two draft pick to find either a replacement or quality depth on the interior of their defense.
B.J. Goodson doesn't have the pure speed or athleticism of Trevathan, but he's a far more physical and scrappy linebacker than Danny really ever was. The Broncos have shown interest in Goodson since the combine and had him in for a visit in the middle of April. He has experience as a team captain on one of the nation's best college football teams and would add much needed depth depth to the Broncos linebacker corps.
Round 3; Pick #98 (compensatory): Malcom Mitchell, WR, Georgia
The Broncos are not exactly hurting at wide receiver. With Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leading the way, Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler providing quality depth, and Jordan Taylor providing the Broncos with a quality practice squad option, Denver has plenty of talent at the position. However, after deciding to let Andre Caldwell walk away after four seasons, Elway and Kubiak will likely consider adding players at the position.
Mitchell would be an excellent fit. He lacks top end speed, but excels at just about everything else needed to play receiver. Mile High Huddle's own Erick Trickel wrote up a detailed scouting report on him as part of his "Finding Broncos" series. In it, Trickel professes his love for Mitchell's game, but says he's uncertain if Mitchell will be available at a place where the Broncos would be willing to grab him.
Sources tell me the Broncos are high on Mitchell. I suspect they may be more interested in taking a receiver than most expect. If Mitchell falls to them here, it'll be difficult to pass up.
Round 4; Pick #136 (compensatory): Adolphus Washington, DE, Ohio State
In my first mock draft of this year, I selected Washington as the Broncos first round pick. As the process has gone on, it's become clear that teams don't evaluate him as a first round prospect. Some scouts I've spoken to have a second round grade on him, others have given him a fifth round grade.
However, all of them have said he has the potential to be a great NFL player. He simply hasn't put all of his talent together consistently. If a team falls in love with him, they could take him at the end of day two, but if he's on the board for the Broncos with their first pick of day three, I suspect they'll pick him up.
He possesses outstanding athleticism and a great build, but he's not a great fit for the Broncos 3-4 scheme. He'd probably be better off as a more traditional defensive end. However, something about him getting into the defensive line room with Bill Kollar and Wade Phillips gets me awfully excited.
Round 5; Pick #144 (from Baltimore): Vincent Valentine, NT, Nebraska
Much like Washington, this kid could do some pretty incredible things with the structure and coaching that comes from playing for a well-run NFL team. He's been a productive and impressive college prospect. He has quick feet and an impressive striking ability. He's also a very large human being. Valentine is 6-foot-4 and weighs a reported 329 pounds. He looks every bit of it. That's part of his problem.
Valentine carries too much bad weight in the middle of his body. If he adds muscle to his frame and drops some of the fat he has he'd potentially be an elite prospect at nose tackle. Instead, he's viewed as a late-round developmental guy. I haven't been able to directly link him to the Broncos, but I've been told Denver is interested in adding depth at nose tackle late in the draft. I view Valentine as a high value prospect who'd make sense for the Broncos if he's available at 144.
Round 6; Pick #219 (compensatory): Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall
Prior to signing C.J. Anderson to a big-time contract extension and deciding to bring back Ronnie Hillman, the Broncos had planned to take a running back in the first four rounds of the draft. They still might, but it's far more likely they'll look to add depth at the position in the later rounds.
Devon Johnson is a bulldozer. They call him "Rockhead" for a reason. He runs with extreme power and a fierceness that not many rookie prospects have. Many teams view him as a fullback at the NFL level because of that. However, I like Johnson as a chain-mover and power runner more than I like his ability to run block or pass protect in Kubiak's offense.
The Broncos visited with him earlier in the draft process and are high on both his versatility and strength as a runner.
Round 7: Pick #228 (from San Francisco): Justin Simmons, S, Boston College
Darian Stewart's contract ends after this season. The Broncos would be wise to select someone in this draft they can groom this year to replace him when the time comes. Some scouts believe Simmons could be available for them in the top of the seventh round.
He's a tremendous ball-hawk with lots of natural ability that's made him an ACC-All Conference player. However, he's rail thin and lacks the frame you look for in a starting safety. He also gets fooled easily when asked to play as a single high safety. Experience and good coaching should fix that issue for him.
When I was referred to Simmons' tape, I was surprised by what I saw. His frame will keep out of the first two days of the draft, but he possesses both the toughness and talent necessary to be a quality starting safety in the National Football League. If I had to name my favorite "sleeper" in this class, I would pick Simmons.
Round 7; Pick #235: Lene Maiava, G, Arizona
Throughout their history, the Broncos have had a knack for finding talented offensive linemen late in the draft. You won't hear much talk, if any about this athletic Samoan, but the Broncos know all about him and could target him late in the draft. They were one of two teams I know of who brought him in for a visit this off-season. The Miami Dolphins have also worked him out.
He's versatile, having experience at both guard spots and at right tackle. However, he's a much better fit at guard where the issues he has protecting against edge speed aren't as acute. He could be available for them as an undrafted free agent, but don't be surprised if the Broncos take a flyer on him with their second-to-last pick.
Round 7; Pick 235: Michael Miller, TE, Taylor University
When the Broncos invited draft prospects from Denver area high schools to work out at a "Local Pro Day," Miller was the first kid to catch my eye. He's a graduate of Valor Christian high school and I can honestly say I had never heard of him. I wasn't the only one. No one else in the media group, including some of the most knowledgeable draft experts in town, knew who this kid was. Yet, there he stood, all 6-foot-7, 235 pounds of him. He was enormous and worked out well in front of the Broncos coaches.
After reviewing the little bit of tape I could find on him, there are a few things that are instantly noticeable. He's every inch of his listed size and his arms hang down to below his knees. He uses his enormous frame effectively to post up defensive backs and often just goes right over the top of them. He looks like a man among boys.
Some Denver media types compared him to Julius Thomas at the workout, but he's bigger than Julius and shows something on tape Julius never showed during his time with the Broncos. Miller is an aggressive and competitive blocker capable of flat out mauling defenders in the running game.
Now, I admit his competition isn't exactly the SEC, but he's shown the necessary desire on tape to do great things as an all-around tight end.
He isn't a perfect prospect. The biggest negative I have on him is weight. He's about twenty pounds too slender to match up in the NFL and will have to spend a great deal of time in the weight room if he's going to make an NFL roster. Furthermore, he lacks the speed you need to gain consistent separation from NFL linebackers and safeties and often relies on his length a bit too much.
You're not going to draft a surefire bet with the last pick. It just isn't going to happen. The Broncos could use another tight end in camp, despite the signing of Garrett Graham. I see them taking a flyer on a local kid with huge upside and great character.
Jake Marsing is the Broncos Beat Writer for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @JakeDMarsing
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