Denver Broncos Hot Topics - Monday, April 24

One possible scenario which would be interesting for the Denver Broncos on draft day is if a top quarterback like Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler falls to the 15th pick. Broncos starter Jake Plummer will be 32 years old this year and passing up a player with Cutler's potential would be difficult for Denver, despite their other needs. Read more about the Broncos' draft strategy in today's edition of "Hot Topics."

DRAFT STRATEGY:

After sitting on two first-round picks for a full year, the Broncos surprised a lot of people by trading away one of their first-rounders to San Francisco.

Denver picked up a second-round picks (37th overall) and a third-round pick (68th overall) for the 22nd overall pick of the draft. The Broncos moved up from the 29th to the 15th overall pick in an earlier offseason trade, which gave Denver many options before the draft.

The Broncos acquired an extra first-round pick last April when it traded its 2005 first-rounder to Washington for a 2006 first-rounder.

With little chance to move up this year, the Broncos decided there wasn't much difference between the 22nd pick and the 37th pick and picked up an extra third-rounder. Denver now has four of the top 68 picks of the draft.

The Broncos' top priority on draft day will likely be helping the offense. Whether that is by picking a receiver who can contribute right away, a tight end to fill Jeb Putzier's old role or a running back that can challenge for a starting spot, Denver will likely try to add a few playmakers.

Receiver might be the top priority. Rod Smith will turn 36 years old in May and Ashley Lelie wants a trade and likely won't be back in Denver even if he plays out 2006, which is the final year of his contract.

After Smith and Lelie, the top receiver might be former first-round pick David Terrell, but he has yet to catch a pass for the Broncos.

With the top pick, the Broncos might have a chance to take the top receiver available. If a receiver is taken before the 15th pick, it will probably be Florida's Chad Jackson. If Jackson is off the board the Broncos will have to decide if they want to take Ohio State's Santonio Holmes, or go in a different direction and take a receiver at 37th overall.

Denver's receiving corps was weakened when Putzier, the team's third leading receiver last year, was released. There are many talented tight ends available but Maryland's Vernon Davis will be gone before the Broncos' pick and none of the other tight end prospects will be worthy of being selected 15th overall.

The Broncos' best value with the 15th pick might come at running back. After Reggie Bush is selected, there isn't another team drafting before Denver that has a huge need at tailback.

The Broncos might have the choice of any back after Bush, although they have to decide if they could better use the first-round pick on another position. In Mike Shanahan's tenure, he has taken low draft picks and turned them into 1,000-yard rushers. Shanahan has never picked a back in the first round but has had five players become 1,000-yard rushers.

Even if the Broncos don't use a first-round pick on a back, they will likely draft a running back at some point to build depth. Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell are the top two tailbacks on the roster, and the third back is Cedric Cobbs, who was on the practice squad all last year.

Denver has a few defensive needs that will be addressed in the draft. The first priority might be finding a safety that can eventually be a starter when John Lynch and Nick Ferguson are no longer able. Lynch will turn 35 in September and Ferguson will be 32 in November.

The Broncos' other needs on defense are on the line. They could use another tackle for depth, and they might add an end after releasing Trevor Pryce in March. Denver didn't have many sacks last year so it will be looking for a pass rusher off the edge.

One possible scenario which would be interesting for the Broncos is if a top quarterback like Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler falls to the 15th pick. Broncos starter Jake Plummer will be 32 years old this year and passing up a player with Cutler's potential would be difficult for Denver, despite their other needs.

TEAM NEEDS: Wide receiver, Running back, Defensive end, Tight end, Safety

WR -- Rod Smith is the only sure thing for the Broncos at receiver. Ashley Lelie isn't happy and he wasn't very productive last year. He had 770 yards and one touchdown last season. Denver would be thrilled if David Terrell plays to his talent level, but that wouldn't entirely solve the problem. Denver has very little depth at receiver and adding a playmaker in the draft would be a big help.

RB -- The Broncos seem to be able to find productive tailbacks late in the draft or off the scrap heap, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Denver passes on drafting a back in the early rounds and Ron Dayne has a good season. Or if a late-round pick has an impact as a rookie. But the Broncos, who always bring more backs than they need to training camp, don't have many backs on the roster now.

DE -- With Trevor Pryce gone, end becomes a priority. Also, even though Courtney Brown stayed healthy most of last year, he has always had problems staying on the field. The Broncos have high hopes for former practice squad player Corey Jackson, but adding an end in the draft would ease some concerns about the depth at the position.

TE -- The Broncos hope Wesley Duke, a basketball player in college, takes some steps as a second-year player. But Denver, which likes to use two tight end sets in the passing game, are a bit thin at tight end after releasing Jeb Putzier. Stephen Alexander will be the starter again but there isn't a proven second option. The Broncos might use a first-day pick on a tight end.

S -- John Lynch and Nick Ferguson are productive, but getting older. Sam Brandon revived his career last year and will be the main backup, but there are plenty of good safeties in this draft and the Broncos will probably select one of them. Whoever gets picked will have the luxury of sitting and learning for a year or two before being asked to make an impact.

PLAYER NOTES

--The Broncos were interested in Joey Harrington, whose preference is to go to Miami. Denver will continue looking at veteran options to back up Jake Plummer, but are also pleased with the progress Bradlee Van Pelt made last year. Van Pelt is a great athlete who is learning to play quarterback in the pros.

--Denver signed free agent linebacker Ray Wells, who was out of football last season. The Broncos want to add a little more depth behind their three impressive starters. Wells was a solid special teams player with Tennessee and San Francisco, and that will be his best chance of making the Broncos.

--Wide receiver Ashley Lelie isn't pleased with his current situation with the Broncos and has been working out in Arizona instead of at the team's facilities. Denver usually likes its players to work out in Colorado, although they can't require it. Lelie is unlikely to be moved before the season starts because he will be in the final year of his contract.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--S Chris Young (not tendered as RFA) was injured last season, but he was a promising player and still could return.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS --WR Charlie Adams had a decent season as Denver's third receiver and will be back.
--LB Louis Green is a good special teams player who fills a role for the Broncos.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--S Sam Brandon: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Keith Burns: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Patrick Chukwurah: UFA; terms unknown.
--RB Ron Dayne: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE John Engelberger: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, $750,000 SB.
--LS Mike Leach: UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--OT Matt Lepsis: Potential UFA; $25M/4 yrs, SB unknown.
--DT Demetrin Veal: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Gerard Warren: UFA; 6 yrs, terms unknown.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--DE Kenard Lang: FA Browns; $5.9M/3 yrs, $900,000 RB; 2006 cap: $1.9M.
--LB Nate Webster: UFA Bengals; $1.505M/2 yrs, $200,000 SB; 2006 cap: $685,000.
PLAYERS LOST
--RB Mike Anderson (released).
--DE Marco Coleman (retired).
--DT Monsanto Pope: UFA Jets; $625,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB.
--DE Trevor Pryce (released).
--TE Jeb Putzier (released).
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.



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