With free agency beginning Tuesday at 2 PM MDT and the draft next month, it’s time to look at who the Denver Broncos might take in free agency and what that might mean for how they draft:
1st round, 25th overall. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State.
.NFL.com analysis: “Cox is an impressive athlete who is capable of making big, impactful plays from the interior of the defensive line. He is extremely quick off the ball and can get into the backfield as quickly as any tackle prospect in the country.”
.The Options: This pick is a bit of a reach given Denver’s position in the draft, but I’m more and more convinced that there is a substantial gap between Cox and the next two tackles, Jerel Worthy and Devon Still. When you identify weaknesses on the Denver Broncos defense, defensive line is the most glaring…but perhaps the easiest to fix. This Broncos line could be a Brodrick Bunkley signing and Cox drafting away from being very talented when you combine the return of Ty Warren and the pass rush of ends Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers. If the Broncos opt not to bring back Bunkley/use a first rounder on Cox, signing the massive (6’4″, 323 lbs.) and versatile Red Bryant from Seattle to stuff the opposition’s run game would be a step toward helping the line correct its weakness.
2nd round. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Dwight Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette
.NFL.com analysis:”Bentley is athletic and it shows once the ball is thrown to his area. He is able to jump and adjust his body to make a play on the ball. He is very natural when working on the line of scrimmage and in zone coverage.”
.The Options: Denver’s secondary is next on the list of needs, but not as easy to fix as the defensive front. I’m always leery of the late-first round cornerback and with decent depth in this year’s draft I feel like a second rounder is a great place to draft a corner. Bentley isn’t as big as you’d like to see (5’10”, 178 lbs.), but his speed (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash) is what you’d want out of a high-round cornerback. A huge plus is that Denver may desperately need a kick returner to jump right in if Eddie Royal departs in free agency as I fully expect him to do. With Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman still the starters at cornerback and the surprising Chris Harris as the nickleback, I don’t see a big splash on the free agent market at this position. Names like Tracy Porter, Carlos Rogers, and Brandon Carr are players who will want to start, not play their way into a starting position.
3rd round. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest
.NFL.com analysis: “Givens is an elite deep threat receiver who is fluid and quick off the ball. He can eat up a defensive backs cushion in a few steps to get them on their heels, and then accelerates in a very controlled, explosive motion.”
.The Options: Running back is probably a more pressing need, but the field thins out after the second round. Aside from Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, the Broncos are suddenly thin on receivers. Defense takes precedent in this draft, so receiver has had to wait until now. The Broncos need a speed man and Givens (4.41 seconds) sits in between projected first-rounders Stephen Hill and Michael Floyd on that front. He’s not huge at 5’11”, but he is physical enough to compete for the third receiver spot. Laurent Robinson may be a good fit with his size and performance in Dallas to take the second spot and push Decker into the third receiver role, which would suit him very nicely. Other possibilities would be Marques Colston and Mario Manningham, though both might come at a slightly elevated cost given their performances in past years.
4th round. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State
.NFL.com analysis: “Turbin is very athletic. Has the size to be a thumper inside, but moves more like a shifty, quick back. Has very quick feet that he employs to stop and start instantaneously out of the backfield.”
.The Options: Turbin is a large, quick running back with a great deal of strength (28 bench press reps, 122 inch broad jump). Pair him with Willis McGahee and new free agent Mike Tolbert and you have an exceptionally productive backfield. While wideouts may not be lining up to be role players in the Denver offense, what running back wouldn’t want to be a part of this game plan? Tolbert is a monster who is a great change of pace back and is big enough that he could line up at fullback. Speaking of…Peyton Hillis perhaps? Maybe a return to Denver is just what he needs to get back on track.
5th round. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
.NFL.com analysis: “If Wilson were three inches taller there would be debate at the top of the draft as to where he fits in.”
.The Options: When a player of this caliber is limited only by scouts’ apprehension of the under 6’0″ quarterback, you take out a flier. Wilson has everything you want out of a quarterback sans vertical presence. Each pick in the draft is precious, but Wilson could be one of those underdog stories. Feel free to jump to my full post on the Broncos’ options at quarterback to see what free agent options the Broncos have. At the top of the list is Dennis Dixon, Mark Brunell, and as of last week, Peyton Manning.
7th round. Denver Broncos
.The Pick: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
.NFL.com analysis: “Acho is an instinctual inside linebacker who usually takes a good first step toward the ball off the snap. He is good to meet running backs inside and fill a gap, if not two, to make a play and get the ball carrier to the ground.”
.The Options: A high-character pick who may be a special teams/depth player that the Broncos may need given the uncertainty of D.J. Williams after the league suspended him for six games due to a positive PED test. Denver was able to get good linebacker play in 2011, but don’t have a surplus of talent behind the starters. The Broncos do, however, have three options for linebacker that are free agents in Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, and Mario Haggan. The rest of the field of free agents isn’t great and there aren’t many who would fit in Denver. I think London Fletcher would be a tremendous piece given that he’s one of the most underrated players in the entire league, but I don’t see him meshing well with a 4-3 scheme this late in his career. Look for the Broncos to re-sign their own before making a splash at linebacker.