One. That is the number of touchdown receptions by Denver Broncos tight ends this season.
Since then, Broncos tight ends have been shut out of the end zone. Hardly even a sniff, in fact.
Does it make sense, then, for John Elway to take a hard look at Miami (Fl) Hurricanes tight end David Njoku, who just declared for the NFL Draft on Wednesday, and even spend their first-round pick on him?
Right now, the Broncos have four tight ends on the roster that appear to factor into the team's future in some capacity.
Start with the veteran, Virgil Green. In his sixth season, Green has been a steady presence on the team and a hard-nosed bulldozer in the run game, but never quite broke out as a receiver like the team expected after the departure of Julius Thomas. He's started 10 games this season, and caught 19 passes for 220 yards. It's not the production you would like out of a starter at the position, but there's no doubt he's got a place on the team as a solid role player.
Then there's A.J. Derby, who the Broncos exchanged a fifth-round pick for with the New England Patriots. Out of everyone on the roster, Derby probably has the best chance to bloom into a really dynamic receiver given another year in the system. In six games, he's caught 16 passes for 160 yards.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... Next is Jeff Heuerman. Most were ready to anoint Heuerman a bust until, after Green suffered a concussion against the Patriots, he came from nowhere to catch a back-to-back passes for 40 yards. A week later, he started against the Chiefs and hauled in three balls for 32 yards. Right now, he's averaging just over 17 yards on his seven catches this season.
Finally, Henry Krieger-Coble was just called up to the active roster a week ago and got in the action, snagging a 13-yarder against the Chiefs. He's got a big opportunity to prove his worth against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. He's the least athletically gifted of the bunch, but that doesn't necessarily mean he can't carve out a role for himself on the team.
So the Broncos have four cooks in the kitchen at the tight end position, but no obvious standout. They've combined for just 43 receptions, 563 yards, and no scores. In terms of production, that's worth roughly one Charles Clay or Vernon Davis, if they were both allergic to the end zone.
Unless Elway is counting on Derby to make the leap and emerge as the clear-cut leader at tight end, it would make sense for him to address not just the tight end position, but really the massive void that exists at receiver after Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Fortunately, there's some pretty good options that the Broncos could explore in the draft. Njoku is currently drawing the most intrigue after declaring for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but guys like O.J. Howard and Jake Butt are both heralded prospects that would likely both start for the Broncos right out of the gate.
Specifically, Njoku is probably the most tempting option given his speed and overall freakish athleticism at six-foot-four and 245 pounds. He's been a serious receiving threat and security blanket for Brad Kaaya at Miami, snagging 38 balls for 654 yards and seven touchdowns this season. In a pretty impressive tight ends class, Njoku has a good chance to go second off of the board behind Howard.
While a game-changing tight end could really lift the offense, it's certainly not as much of a priority as the offensive line. Outside of Matt Paradis at center, every position on the line is worth evaluating and potentially upgrading. Spending a number-one pick on a tight end would be putting a band-aid on an offense that will be fundamentally doomed until they improve up front.
Njoku would certainly be a good fit in the offense and probably would immediately be the third-best receiver in the offense if he were drafted, but the window-dressing of selected a skill position when there's trouble on the offensive line would be a hasty choice right out of the Ryan Grigson playbook (see Phillip Dorsett).
Also, depth of the class would give the Broncos the luxury of holding picking a lineman (perhaps both offensive and defensive) before they target a tight end. They could certainly wait for a player like Clemson's Jordan Leggett on day two of the draft, or even wait until the third day and pick up someone like Josiah Price.
Of course, you never know with a GM like Elway. Regardless of need, it wouldn't be shocking to see him pull the trigger on Njoku if he's the best player on the board when it's time to turn their card in to the commissioner.
In terms of need, however, it would be wise to go in another direction.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.