On the surface, it would appear that the Denver Broncos filled their biggest needs in the opening week of free agency. Addressed? Yes. Completely filled? No. Heading into the 2017 offseason, Denver focused on adding some muscle to both the defensive and offensive lines.
On day one, the Broncos signed offensive guard Ronald Leary, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Leary checks off one major need as an interior player, and will be called upon to lead and lift Denver's much maligned O-line.
Next, GM John Elway signed former Oakland Raiders second round pick Menelik Watson. Watson is a monstrous offensive tackle with a very high ceiling, but in four years in the NFL, he's only started 17 games due to injury.
However, if Luke Richesson and the Broncos strength and conditioning staff can keep Watson on the field, he will upgrade the rushing attack at right tackle. He has the power to move opponents one-on-one, and the athleticism to pass-block. But it's all about staying healthy for Watson.
The next day, Denver signed two behemoth defensive linemen — nose tackle Domata Peko and defensive end Zach Kerr. Although neither one of these veterans would be considered tier-one free agents, they will upgrade what Denver fielded at their respective positions in 2016.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... Peko almost doubled Sylvester Williams' run-stop percentage in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. And Kerr is a major improvement over last year's starter, Jared Crick, who was one of the lowest graded 3-4 ends in football.
With DeMarcus Ware hanging up his cleats, and Dekoda Watson signing in San Francisco, the Broncos signed outside linebacker Kasim Edebali to a one-year deal. As a rotational edge rusher, who can play special teams, Edebali brings real talent to Denver's linebacker corps.
Those five signings represent 100 percent of Denver's free agent movement since March 9. With the exception of Ronald Leary's contract, the Broncos haven't spent a lot of money this offseason. They still have $20.6 million — or so — in available salary cap space.
Most believe, including myself, that Elway has earmarked most of that remaining cap space to account for Tony Romo. Whether it's via trade, or when Dallas finally does release him, the Broncos will make a push to acquire Romo but to do so, they had to make sure the financial means were there.
With or without Romo, the bottom line is that Denver still has some significant roster holes. Elway says he likes to use free agency to fill needs, which — according to him — allows for staying true to the Broncos big board on Draft Day.
However, an in-depth study of Elway's six draft classes paints the picture that he drafts far more often for need than for best player available (BPA). Without being in on those pre-draft meetings at Dove Valley, nobody can say for certain. But on the surface, Elway seems to have targeted need picks far more often than BPA.
Two and a half weeks into the new league year, many of Denver's roster holes are still glaring. Let's look at the Broncos top needs heading into the Draft.
*D = developmental prospect
About two weeks ago, Elway said that the Broncos are going to "take a peek" at Donald Stephenson at left tackle. Broncos Country collectively freaked out.
Nobody wants to see Stephenson as the Broncos starting left tackle, although he's likely better suited to the left side than the right. Denver had the opportunity to target some of this year's top free agent left tackles, but again, they hedged their position with regard to Romo, saving money by signing Watson.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1763185-do-peko-kerr-really-upgra... Watson has some experience on the left side. But Denver will likely play him at right tackle. The team has not given up on Ty Sambrailo, as the fan base seems to have. The front office still believes that he has talent buried beneath the surface that can be mined by the right coaches. Enter Jeff Davidson.
For what it's worth, Sambrailo played well at left tackle as a rookie, starting the first three games of 2015 protecting Peyton Manning's blind side, before suffering a season-ending shoulder surgery. Still, Sambrailo has a lot left to prove and is far from being a known commodity.
This year's draft class is not deep at offensive tackle — and top heavy. If the Broncos want an immediate impact player, they'll have to take a flyer on a guy likely in the first round.
Yes, the Broncos signed two starting-caliber defensive linemen, but beyond the Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko, Zach Kerr triumvirate, Denver's lack of depth in the trenches is alarming. Adam Gotsis still has a long way to go in his development and Jared Crick is at best a serviceable pass-rusher who can push the pocket from the inside on obvious passing downs.
There is no backup nose tackle. There's Peko, and then little else. Domata's cousin, Kyle Peko, could be an option, but heading into his second year, he's still an unknown quantity.
After finishing No. 28 in rushing defense, the Broncos have nowhere to go but up. This year's draft class is replete with impact players in the trenches and Elway is not the type to turn a blind eye to the strength of a respective draft class. I don't expect 2017 to be any different.
Due to the lack of depth, I would expect the Broncos to spend more than one of their 10 selections on D-line, with at least one of them coming in the first three rounds.
I don't think the Broncos quite expected Danny Trevathan's departure to hurt as badly as it did. Todd Davis did an admirable job stepping into the starting lineup — not missing one tackle all year long — but he's far from the difference maker Denver needs.
Brandon Marshall signed a long-term deal last year, but the Broncos are becoming alarmed at his battles with the injury bug. The best ability is availability and this is another position group lacking true depth.
Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson are solid players, but neither are the caliber you want to hang your hat on. This year's class of off-ball linebackers offers a multitude of options and I expect the Broncos to partake.
The Broncos didn't get much out of their tight end group in 2016. Virgil Green finally had his open road to being the No. 1 guy, but an early ankle injury sidelined him, forcing the front office to look elsewhere. A.J. Derby was acquired via New England, and he went on to serve as the 'move' tight end for the Broncos.
Jeff Heuerman has potential but he's yet to put it all together. Heuerman is another candidate, similar to Sambrailo, whom the Broncos believe can improve dramatically with better coaching.
Still, it's not a group of strength. And if the Broncos move into 2017 with either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch as the starting quarterback, they'll need a security blanket who can serve as the third option in the passing game.
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This year's class offers a multitude of options, both early and later on in the draft. In a perfect world, Denver needs a dual-caliber tight end, who can block and catch.
The Broncos haven't had a legit third receiver since Wes Welker departed. They've tried to get by with the likes of Jordan Norwood, Bennie Fowler and Jordan Taylor, but none of them have been able to lift the offense.
The Broncos are still holding out hope that Cody Latimer could be that guy, but they can't count on it. 2017 is Latimer's last hurrah in Denver, and he'll have to show out early in camp to avoid getting the Montee Ball treatment.
Wide receiver is deep this year, and the Broncos can get great value in the middle-to-late rounds. Elway has only drafted two receivers as GM — Cody Latimer and Tavarres King. Expect that number to increase in 2017.