Only two weeks remain until the 2014 NFL Draft. We could be talking about who the Broncos and everyone else picked in the first round if not for a schedule change from the NFL, but that’s disappointingly not the case.
The wait will be worth it, and it just gives us more time to remain confused about what teams will pick which players. My mock drafts for the Broncos are a mixed bag of what I deem realistic, my personal preferences of prospects, rankings from other major outlets, as well as considering the players the Broncos have had into team facilities for visits and workouts.
1. First Round, 31st overall: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The more you read about Shazier, the less likely it seems he’ll be available when the Broncos pick at 31 overall. Denver has had some pretty big name linebackers in for visits and workouts in recent weeks, including Shazier and Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, who are both widely considered the only two non-pass rushing linebackers that will go in the first round of the draft next month.
Shazier has been labelled a three-down linebacker, and I think that’s a load of trash. He is a FOUR down linebacker, and a guy who NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah says could be a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year, specifically as a member of the Broncos.
“I’m going to say Ryan Shazier from Ohio State is a player that could have an immediate impact from this draft class,” Jeremiah said on NFL.com’s “Mock Draft Weekly”. “If he were to land at a place like Denver, where he’ll be playing against the pass, his ability to run, blitz, cover will have an immediate impact.”
I have written extensively this offseason about Shazier’s fit in Denver, even going so far as to call him a “perfect” fit back on St. Patrick’s Day.
This would be an almost ideal pick for the Broncos at the back end of round one. Shazier’s athletic ability and the way he flies to the football are extremely desirable traits for a defense that has lacked a third playmaker, one who can play inside on first and second down and one who can cover, blitz, and do a number of different things for them on passing downs.
Shazier presents that versatility, which is why I have a top 15 grade on him, but his value as a non-pass rushing linebacker could push him to the Broncos which would be a God-send.
2. Second Round, 63rd overall: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
I know this isn’t a popular opinion, and I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, but I think the Broncos have to add a highly rated receiver with some decent size and speed that can fill the void left by 6’3″ 225 pound Eric Decker.
With Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos were able to do things offensively that not many other teams in the NFL could do. This year, the Broncos will still have both Thomas’, but Decker is off to New York and they have replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders, a smaller but speedy receiver who is dangerous after the catch.
As the Broncos transition into the future of this organization, they are going to need to get some receivers with a broad catch radius and Matthews has that.
The cousin of Jerry Rice is a fantastic athlete with smoothe route running skills and strong hands. In my opinion, he’d also be a really nice value for the Broncos with this selection.
3. Third Round, 95th overall: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
The Broncos haven’t taken a ton of risks on smaller school prospects, especially in the early rounds of John Elway’s drafts in charge of the team.
However, Desir is a guy that has been compared to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and while he doesn’t possess that kind of timed speed, his athletic ability and size lend credence to the belief that many have that he can eventually be a starter on an NFL team.
Desir’s skill-set includes very good feet, length, and fluidity. He is rising up draft boards at a premiere position in this league right now, so he might be snatched up well before the Broncos pick in the third round but if he’s available, this would be a really intriguing pick and a player the Broncos and their defensive back-minded coaches (Fox, Del Rio) could work into a star.
4. Fourth Round, 131st overall: Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
What? Two small-school cornerbacks in consecutive picks?
As was mentioned previously, the Broncos have some of the best defensive back coaching in the NFL with John Fox and Jack Del Rio, and they just so happen to have a couple of spots wide open at the cornerback position, which is why they are considering a number of players with their first round pick as well.
The Broncos would do well to get the 6’1″ 203 pound Aikens, who initially chose Illinois but was kicked off the team in 2010 when he was arrested for theft. With his legal issues behind him, Aikens was a star athlete at Liberty not just in football, but playing basketball and competing in track as well.
At the Senior Bowl, he showed off his fluidity and swagger, as well as better than average speed at his pro day (4.49).
This is the type of mid-round prospect the Broncos could develop into a very nice player down the road.
5. Fifth Round, 171st overall: Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama
Every year since John Elway’s been in charge of drafting, the Broncos have spent at least one pick on a player who had some injury problems and fell in the draft because of it, based purely on upside.
In the fifth round, this would be a heck of a value for Denver. Steen falls in this draft due to his injuries at Alabama but he was one of the best guards I graded in the entire class. He’s got some versatility up front, but has the look of a future starting guard for a long time in the NFL if he can stay healthy.
6. Sixth Round, 207th overall: DeAnthony Thomas, OW, Oregon
The Broncos were willing to use a roster spot for nearly two full seasons on Trindon Holliday, who was strictly a return specialist. Thomas — as many of you already know — provides much more than that.
I don’t buy that his poor timed speed is going to translate to the NFL field, but his lack of size might, which is why he will fall in the draft. If he falls to the Broncos’ sixth round pick, there are a lot of worse picks they could make. Thomas has blazing game speed and provides some serious pop in the return game as well as a receiver and out of the backfield. Who knows, maybe he could even be a replacement for Wes Welker in the slot down the road.
7. Seventh Round, 246th overall: Brandon Thomas, OL, Clemson
Thomas is a player that I had previously considered for the Broncos as a second round pick. The talent is definitely there, but in a pre-draft workout, he tore his ACL, which should push him off some draft boards (unfortunately) and likely provide some team like the Broncos with a fantastic value in the 7th round or as an undrafted free agent.
There will be some who believe Thomas could still go in the earlier rounds because of his potential, and that’s always a possibility given the fact that he was likely on the radar of any team in need of an offensive lineman pre-injury.
Thomas is a versatile tackle/guard who could play left guard or right tackle in the pros. For the Broncos, he is an ideal pick because he doesn’t take up a roster spot and would go straight to IR while rehabbing with the hopes of contributing in 2015.
Priority Undrafted Free Agents
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami (FL)
Morris is a player that has actually some really nice potential and could provide the Broncos with an athletic fourth camp arm that has a chance to at worst make the practice squad.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
Dual-threat back who is one of the better high upside potential late-round/free agent pickups I think you could ask for. Some injury questions here but a former JUCO standout who made his presence felt for ASU.
Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
Intriguing size/speed combo and a team captain for the Huskers, Enunwa would have a decent shot at making Denver’s roster with their need for a WR or two.
Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
Hazel is a player the Broncos have talked to, and is a hard worker with a decent combination of size and speed who is a solid route runner and has a ton of college experience.
James Morris, LB, Iowa
Four-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Morris is the son of a coach and one of the most instinctive players the Hawkeyes have had over the last four years. Very hard worker, team captain, and a blue collar kid who is going to claw his way onto an NFL roster.