With only four teams left in the NFL Playoffs, most NFL teams have turned their eye toward the offseason and prepping for a better outcome in the 2017 NFL Season. While the free agency period is imminent compared to the NFL Draft, scouting and preparations for April are in full swing, with the Shrine Bowl just concluding on Saturday in St. Petersburg and the more prestigious Senior Bowl taking place in Mobile soon after.
The Denver Broncos have the salary cap room and the draft capital to really address the holes that became obviously apparent in the 2016 season. While some may assume that Denver’s first and only goal this offseason will be to improve the dreadful offensive line, GM John Elway has stated that in fact, staying “great” on defense is the top priority.
Furthermore, this draft has been heralded as one of the worst offensive tackle classes in years. Therefore, one should assume that Elway will do as he always has and fix the holes on the team through free agency so that he can go into the draft following the ‘Best Player Available’ model once again.
First Round: Malik McDowell, DT/DE, Michigan State Spartans
The 2016 Broncos defense was still one of the best units in the league, but as Elway stated recently, keeping the defense elite is he number one goal going forwardt. While the No Fly Zone was still the best secondary in the league, Denver took tremendous steps backward in run defense and interior pass rush from the Super Bowl defense to this last season.
This is not surprising, though, as going from a defensive line unit featuring Malik Jackson, Antonio Smith, Vance Walker, and a healthy Derek Wolfe to a not quite ready Adam Gotsis, Jared Crick, Billy Winn, and a not healthy Wolfe would cause any unit to regress. Malik McDowell came into the season considered one of the top-10 prospects in the draft.
However, after a mediocre and injury-riddled junior year and some rumors of maturity issues, McDowell is currently falling down draft boards where he could realistically be in play for the 20th selection. If McDowell does fall to within reach, and he does well in the pre-draft process, Denver should select him.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... McDowell has a tremendous frame at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, as he looks more like a power forward than a defensive lineman right now. While McDowell will need to put on some more weight to handle the interior in the NFL, he already displays traits that will let him make a big impact day one at 5-technique in a 3-4 defense.
McDowell displays heavy hands and good leverage despite often being lined up between guard and center. While he has the size to be a two-gap defensive lineman, he is at his best when asked to penetrate and use his outstanding athleticism to cause chaos in the opposing backfield.
McDowell would likely grow into his role as the season would go on, but there is no doubt he would add a defensive weapon Denver desperately lacked this past season on the interior and would help keep the Denver Defense one of the top units in the league going forward
Second Round: Dion Dawkins, OT/OG, Temple Owls
Elway absolutely needs to address the offensive line in free agency to have an immediate improvement for the unit next season. However, he would be wise to use at least one of their early selections to add talent to the unit.
While this class does lack offensive tackle depth of past years, there are still talented players that can add to Denver’s weakest positional unit. Dion Dawkins is a very intriguing prospect from Temple. At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, with a low center of gravity and long arms, Dawkins brings the size and demeanor that Denver has been lacking since Orlando Franklin left for sunny San Diego (and now Los Angeles).
While it sounds like Denver might be going with a hybrid scheme with a mix of both zone and power blocking, the team absolutely needs more powerful blockers across the offensive line. Dawkins played left tackle at Temple and was an absolute mauler.
He is aggressive in both the run and passing game and does a great job getting to the second level. His aggression is both his biggest asset and his biggest weakness, as it can lead to him reaching and leaning, which gets him off balance from time to time.
Dawkins also needs to work on his hand placement, as they can slide up and lead to holding penalties. He also sometimes displaces himself as a waist bender, which will need to be worked on at the next level.
Dawkins shows good ability to anchor against bull rushers and has the agility and fluidity in space to really do damage out in space. While Denver does have young guards on the roster in Max Garcia and Connor McGovern, they lack bona-fide young talent at tackle, so adding Dawkins, who looks like a future right tackle or guard in the NFL, would be a smart move.
Third Round: Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama Jaguars
This past season, Denver’s offense was rather poor, bordering abysmal. While much of the failures of the passing game will fall on the pass blocking and quarterback play, Denver really lacked a third weapon in the passing game.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are considered one of, if no the best, wide receiver duos in the entire league, but they often saw heavy doses of coverage because Denver lacked other weapons that opposing teams respected. Denver also has had issues with third down conversions and in scoring touchdowns in red zone.
A position Elway should look at adding talent to in the draft, and one of the deepest positional groups in this class, is at tight end. While many know the names of Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Miami’s David Njoku, and Michigan’s Jake Butt, one that should be getting more attention is South Alabama’s Gerald Everett.
Everett is one of the best-kept secrets in the draft, although he will likely be well known soon as he likely will be one of the stars of the Senior Bowl. Everett is transfer from the recently shutdown UAB Blazers’ football program. After the program was dissolved, Everett was allowed to transfer to any school without having to sit out a year.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1746525-finding-broncos-4-under-t... Over the last two years for the Jaguars, Everett has accumulated 90 receptions, over 1,200 yards, and 12 touchdowns. What makes this even more impressive is the less than stellar quarterback play Everett has had to endure at South Alabama.
When watching the tape, it is obvious that Everett plays at a different level than his peers. He is an incredibly smooth route runner that is more reminiscent of a wide receiver than a tight end. While not a fantastic blocker, Everett has been transforming his body and game to improve in that aspect of the game, having added over 30 pounds of muscle since joining South Alabama.
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he will never be a Rob Gronkowski-level blocker, but he shows an appetite for combat and the work ethic in the weight room to continue getting bigger and better in the blocking game. While Denver has tight ends in Virgil Green, A.J. Derby, and Jeff Heuerman, they do not have a weapon like Gerald Everett who could come in and really open up the middle of the field for the Broncos passing game.
Third Round (Compensatory): Eddie Jackson, DB/KR/PR, Alabama Crimson Tide
With 5 picks in the first 100, Denver can afford to keep adding talent to the defense to keep it running at a high level. While the No Fly Zone does not ‘need’ another weapon, after just re-signing Darian Stewart to a long-term deal and drafting two safeties last year, if a talented player is available, Elway should not shy away from talent.
One of the more underrated secondary players in this year’s draft is Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. Jackson started off at Alabama at cornerback, but due to his size, ball skills, and the depth at corner the Crimson Tide had, Nick Saban moved Jackson to safety.
This move paid off almost immediately as Jackson showed to have the instincts, ball skills, and tenacity needed to play safety in the rough SEC. Due to his instincts and aggression in playing the ball, Jackson was a turnover machine his junior year at Alabama, netting six interceptions while returning two for touchdowns.
Jackson also shows he has a nose for the end zone and being a weapon in other ways, notching multiple punt returns for touchdowns while at Alabama, a position Denver has been sorely lacking at over the last few season. While Jackson is not a ‘thumper’ for the safety position, he shows the ability to diagnose run plays and take efficient routes to the ball carrier, upon which he then delivers a technically sound tackle.
Furthermore, due to his time at cornerback, Jackson is a very versatile weapon for a secondary, as he was often moved around the defense as free safety, strong safety, and even coming down to play on the line at cornerback. Unfortunately for Jackson, he broke his leg this season, which caused him to miss the second half of the season and causing his draft stock to slide in a loaded secondary class.
Despite missing the second half of the season, Eddie Jackson remained one of the most vocal and supportive leaders on the team, constantly talking with teammates and pumping them up. He was one of the more vocal and strongest leaders in an already stacked Alabama locker room, and would and could add another dynamic leader to the Broncos’ defense.
Jackson has the skill set of a late round one/early round two selection who may fall due to his injury and would be another amazing chess piece for the No Fly Zone and the Denver Defense.
Third Round (Compensatory): David Sharpe, OT/OG, Florida Gators
While the left side of the offensive line struggled this season, it was nothing in comparison to the sad play the right side offered game after game. It is true that Russell Okung might not be a Bronco next year, it is doubtful Elway will leave himself so vulnerable going into the draft as to not have left tackle figured out going into it.
Also, while Max Garcia did struggle to start the season, specifically in pass blocking, he was a decent run blocker as indicated by the level of success the Broncos ball-carriers had running left the last half of the season. Furthermore, if Denver is switching to a more power based blocking scheme, Garcia — and Connor McGovern for that matter — should show better play as their skill-set is much better as strong earth movers rather than agile quick footed big men.
Elway likely will also address the right side of the line in free agency, as neither Ty Sambrailo nor Donald Stephenson showed anything worthy of an NFL roster spot last season and Michael Schofield lacks the foot speed to be an option at tackle and doesn’t play with the strength or leverage to hold up at guard. If Denver is to improve on offensive line, they need to add talent both in free agency and early in the draft.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1746034-broncos-roster-holes-pote... One of the biggest offensive linemen in this class, at 6-foot-6 366 pounds, is Florida left tackle David Sharpe. While Sharpe played left tackle for the Gators this season, he does not have the movement skills to likely hold up there in the NFL. This is not a knock though, as there are only two or three offensive tackles in this class who have a shot at left tackle at the next level.
Therefore, Sharpe is another candidate to move to right tackle or guard in the NFL. Coming to Florida, Sharpe was one of the highest rated recruits in the country. He was a two-sport athlete, playing both on the gridiron and the hardwood, but eventually decided to focus on football.
While Sharpe shows okay feet, he doesn’t have the foot quickness to hold up against elite edge rushers consistently and sometimes struggles to get to the second-level of the defense. He is a very strong and tough run blocker, who has no issues moving defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage and blasting open run holes.
Also, despite his size, Sharpe needs to show more attitude on the field, and is too often okay with just getting in the way of a defensive player rather than blocking them and driving them to the turf. Sharpe also will need to work on adding more knee-bend to his blocking reps, as right now he tends to be a waist bender, which can get him off balance and lead him to getting beat more often than he should.
Sharpe will need to likely drop some weight in the NFL, but on an NFL diet and exercise plan and personal motivation, this should not be a problem. Many thought Sharpe should have stayed in school one more year to drop weight, improve his technique, and get better in pass blocking, but given proper coaching and time to develop, Sharpe could develop into a very good power blocking guard or right tackle in the NFL, but he must show that he can drop his weight to a better range if he is going to last in the NFL.
The combine weigh-ins will be very telling about how serious he takes football and how much he worked to prepare for the draft.
Fourth Round. Carlos Henderson, WR/KR/PR, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Again, Denver really lacked weapons in the passing game outside of their two number one receivers. Also, despite promising flashes from Jordan Taylor and even Cody Latimer this season, Denver currently lacks an explosive wide receiver whom can handle duties out wide, in slot, and even in the return game.
Carlos Henderson, an explosive wide receiver, is an excellent option to fulfill all those needs. After having a solid freshman and sophomore campaign, Henderson exploded this past season, hauling in 82 receptions, 1,535 yards, and 19 touchdowns — and notching 23 total touchdowns when accounting for special teams and handoffs.
Averaging over 18 yards per reception, Henderson is an explosive, twitched up option in the pass game that could really help the receiving core bump up to another level. He may not have the size to hold up on the outside, but rather is the dynamic player in the mold of Tyler Lockett or T.Y. Hilton who can be an impact receiver in the slot.
Whether it be 30 yards down the field, or behind the line of scrimmage, once the ball is in Henderson’s hands, the opposing team is holding their collective breath because any touch could turn into six points. While Henderson is still raw, he shows a decently developed route tree and fluidity in his routes.
He will have to get cleaner in and out of his breaks with his footwork in the NFL, as he was often able to win on pure athleticism in college, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem. Henderson also was a very dynamic returner this past season averaging over 32 yards per kick returner for Louisiana Tech in 2016.
Denver lacked weapons outside of their big two receivers this last season, as shown by constantly trotting out the circus show that was Jordan Norwood in slot and in the return game, and adding a weapon like Henderson would provide an instant spark to an otherwise uninspired offense from last season.
Fourth Round (Compensatory): Corn Elder, CB, Miami Hurricanes
Denver already has one of the best secondaries in the NFL. With two first-team All-Pros at cornerback, it is a safe bet to say no other team in the NFL has a group of that caliber that can line up and take on any receiving core in the NFL week to week.
Despite the fantastic shape of the Broncos at cornerback, Elway would be silly not to consider adding another corner to the roster in the draft for a vast number of reasons. First of all, Aqib Talib’s future for Denver is questionable. While there is no reason Denver should move on from Talib next season, he has had some issues rising up that are worth monitoring.
Talib has had his fair share of off the field issues. This past offseason, he almost got in big trouble after discharging a weapon on himself under the influence of alcohol — he is very fortunate the incident did not harm him to a greater extent or worse.
Also worth mentioning, Talib had a number of back issues this season that caused him to miss multiple games. Both these things were issues for him before he arrived to be the outspoken leader of the No Fly Zone, as he was known as a headcase and injury prone during his time in Tampa and New England.
Talib will hopefully be in Denver for a while longer, but it might be time to start planning for life after him. Also, after having what many consider to be a down year, Bradley Roby is coming up on the forth year of his rookie contract and Denver will have to decide whether or not he will be worth accepting the fifth-year option on his deal.
Despite Roby’s ‘down’ year at the position, he still is one of the better corners in the league — and probably the best third corner in the NFL — and Elway will likely exercise the fifth-year option. Kayvon Webster is also a free agent this offseason and unlikely to return to Denver as he will probably be offered a larger role with more money elsewhere in the league, perhaps in re-joining Wade Phillips in sunny L.A.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1745806-denver-s-2017-cap-situati... Furthermore, this is one of the best cornerback classes in the last decade, so talents who normally would have been selected mid day two will find themselves falling to day three this season. Standing at a smaller 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Miami’s Corn Elder is one of the most unheralded cornerbacks in all of college football this past season.
Elder is definitely undersized and lacks tremendous length, which will push him down and even off many team’s draft boards, putting on the tape shows a tremendously athletic, smart, and tenacious defender. When watching Elder, his intelligence immediately jumps out, as he often undercuts routes with amazing burst and change of direction to contest passes most corners would not come near to disrupting.
Also, despite his lack of size, Elder is tremendous in run support, often avoiding blockers to make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage for little gain. He consistently delivers better hits than one would think given his body type, exhibiting very sound tackling technique.
Under the tutelage of technical master, Chris Harris Junior, and one of the best defensive back coaching groups in the league, from head coach, to defensive coordinator, to defensive back coach, Elder could help Denver maintain Denver’s cornerbacks as the best cornerback group in the NFL.
Sixth Round: Josh Tupou, NT/DT, Colorado Buffaloes
Denver’s run defense went from a top-3 unit in 2015 to a bottom-5 unit in 2016. This occurred for a number of reasons, including lost talent on the defense in free agency), injuries to Vance Walker and Derek Wolfe, and an offense that could not sustain drives or get leads, causing opponents to have greater time of possession and wear the Denver defense down.
Another reason for the step back was the drop in play from former first round selection Sylvester Williams. There are a number of reasons for Sly’s drop in play this season, ranging from lack of run-stuffers around him, being a poor fit for nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, and potentially his reported irritation with the organization for not exercising his contract’s fifth-year option.
Given these factors, it is unlikely that Sly returns to Denver in 2017 and Denver will be on the market for a block eating, run stuffing, pocket collapsing defensive tackle. Denver very well could add one during free agency for not too much money, as nose tackles are not a high-paid position in the NFL today.
Some of the better options out there include Kansas City’s Dontari Poe, Philadelphia’s Bennie Logan, and Baltimore’s Brandon Williams. Denver could also look to add defensive tackle talent in some portion of the NFL Draft, and one of the better values is Colorado’s 6-foot-3, 345-pound nose tackle Josh Tupou.
Tupou shows tremendous burst for his size, often able to pressure the interior offensive line in either gap next to the center. Tupou also shows tremendous strength to push back blockers and disrupt pass plays and run plays alike. When occupying blockers, Tupou has shown enough agility and skill to disengage from offensive lineman and make plays on the ball carrier, something surprising for a nose tackle his size.
After a strong Shrine Game, Tupou is a strong combine away from potentially being taken earlier than this selection. However, there is reason that a player of his size and skills very well could be available in the sixth round.
Tupou will have to answer some off the field questions, as he didn’t play in 2015 after being kicked off the Buffs due to a number of chargers including assault, trespassing, and reckless endangerment. All reports indicate that Tupou has grown from his past off the field problems, and is maturing both as a football player, but as a person.
If he answers well to these off the field problems, Tupou could be a very great value pick for Elway and the Denver Broncos’ defense.
Seventh Round: Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami Hurricanes
Denver has a pretty decent backfield situation currently. While none of the running backs are ‘elite’, a combination of C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, and Kapri Bibbs should be more than good enough to be an effective trio next season. And while Denver could easily go running back earlier in the draft, they would be wiser to invest in the offensive line so that the backs they already have and have shown talent can succeed.
Despite this, Elway will very likely add another running back at some point in the draft. One of the more underrated running backs in this class, and surprise early entrant, is Miami RB Joseph Yearby. While he was surpassed on the depth chart this season, his tape shows a very versatile running back with the skills to make an impact on an NFL roster.
At 5-foot-9, 209 pounds, Yearby is smaller than an average running back in the NFL. Most backs at that size are explosive or Darren Sproles types. That is not the case with Yearby. Instead, Yearby displays tremendous short area quickness and balance.
He has outstanding body control and from time to time makes opposing defenders look silly, using his low center of gravity and shiftiness to put them on skates. He plays with decent power for his size and is an elusive ball carrier in the open field.
Yearby also shows excellent patience and vision in his running, often times running to the line and jolting as a backside lane opens up on the line of scrimmage. He's a ‘bouncy’ and a hard runner despite his weight, dragging defenders for extra yards or breaking arm tackles showing solid pad level.
Yearby will never be a home run threat, but get him carries and he will be effective. He will need to work at getting stronger to challenge for more carries in the NFL and be a better blocker, but he doesn’t shy away from contact and will square up and take on blitzers when needed.
Given Denver’s current state of the offensive line, netting a running back with great vision and a hard running style could end up being a steal in this class.
Seventh Round (Compensatory): Brandon Bell, ILB, Penn State Nittany Lions
While Malik Jackson was a huge loss for the defense this year, as Denver took major step backs in run defense and interior pass rush this last season, some would argue that losing Danny Trevathan was just as big, if not a bigger blow to the defense. Brandon Marshall is still an upper-level inside linebacker in the NFL, but he has had injury issues that make him somewhat a concern.
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Still, it should be expected that Marshall will be around in Denver for a few more years. The main issue for the inside linebackers show when one looks at the unit after Marshall. Whether it be Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, or Zaire Anderson, Denver’s inside linebacker corps is far from a strength of the elite Broncos defense.
Unfortunately for Denver, after the big three inside linebackers in this year’s draft — Reuben Foster, Jarrad Davis, and Zach Cunningham — there is a huge drop-off in talent at the position. Instead of reaching in the mid rounds on a two-down thumper, Elway should wait and take a chance on a player later in the draft.
One name to watch out for, out of ‘Linebacker U’, is Penn State’s Brandon Bell. Bell really showed on the biggest stages this past year for the Nittany Lions, notching 18 tackles against Ohio State, 18 against Michigan State, and 13 against Wisconsin — including what one may call a Super Man Sack, flying over a blocker and taking out the quarterback.
At 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, Bell has marginal size and decent speed to hold up as the weak inside linebacker in Denver’s defense. He is a leader for Penn State’s defense this year and highly instinctual, rarely taking false steps when reading the flow of the offense.
What will keep Brandon Bell from going earlier in the draft is the myriad of injuries he obtained throughout his career in Happy Valley. Despite his extensive injury history, Bell’s tape and leadership are worth a draft pick and if he is able to stay healthy, could be a hit lottery ticket for the Bronco Defense.
Nick Kendell is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ndkendell.
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