NFL Draft: Case for Broncos Taking a Tight End First


The tight end position for the Denver Broncos is about to get a major makeover this offseason. Julius Thomas, twice voted to the Pro Bowl in the past two seasons is an impending free agent set to break someone’s bank…

Or so he thinks.

The Broncos are also facing expiring contracts for both Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme. The Broncos acquired Green and Thomas in the same draft (2011) and brought in Tamme on a very team-friendly deal in 2012 when Peyton Manning was signed.  Tamme even re-structured his contract this past year to stay on the team again.

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John Elway has some significant decisions to make but first and foremost, I think the Broncos have to bring back Virgil Green. Green was one of the team’s most productive and consistent offensive players this past season when healthy, and looks ready for an expanded role.

While it’s unclear if  Tamme or Thomas will return to the Broncos, what is clear at this point is that the Broncos need to make some changes at tight end, and some additions as well. Gary Kubiak employs an offense that utilizes plenty of two-tight end sets, and you can imagine the Broncos will be doing much of the same under his guidance.

One player who makes a lot of sense as a veteran addition is Owen Daniels, who has played every year of his NFL career (Houston, Baltimore) with Kubiak as either his head coach or offensive coordinator. The stars are aligned for Daniels to come to Denver where he has familiarity with so many coaches but that won’t solve but a temporary hole for the Broncos.

The Broncos don’t have any clear direction they have to go with their first round pick, especially if they address key needs via free agency as is expected. That being said, the tight end position has to be considered a legitimate option in the first round with such talent coming from that position group in this year’s class.

We all know a tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend, and if the Broncos are going to be breaking in a new quarterback sooner rather than later, they need to be prepared. Not to mention, the Broncos’ red zone offense sputtered badly when Julius Thomas went down with injury this past season. Thomas, as ‘not tough’ as he appears, is a great receiver and red zone weapon, and he pushed the Broncos’ offense past the barrier between average and great when it came to production in the red area.

Here are some strong candidates and first round targets the Broncos could look at from the tight end position this year.

Devin Funchess, Michigan — 6-5, 230 pounds

Funchess has tried to pose as a wide receiver in order to position himself for more money in the future, but he is a tight end and a mismatch in that area only. He’s too slow to be an outside receiver on a consistent basis, but fast enough that when he is matched up with linebackers, nickel corners, and safeties, he can win.

Not much of an in-line blocker, Funchess is a mismatch in the passing game only, but he’s a good one at that. He is generally considered a late first round option at this point.

Maxx Williams, Minnesota — 6-4, 250 pounds

Has the frame to add some muscle and has drawn comparisons to Jeremy Shockey. Williams is a big play threat at the tight end position who is quickly coming into his own as a prospect. He entered the draft as just a redshirt sophomore, but he has plenty of upside and is a guy who could benefit greatly from playing a year in Denver behind a guy like Owen Daniels and getting in on some specialty packages.

Clive Walford, Miami (FL) — 6-4, 258 pounds

Right now, my favorite tight end prospect in the draft. Walford can do it all. He is a willing and physical blocker who would be actually an instant upgrade over Julius Thomas in that regard, but he is also incredibly exciting as a receiver.

Armed with great length, strong hands, run after catch ability, and physicality, I would rank Walford as the best tight end in the draft right now and by a pretty wide margin. He has everything scouts look for in the position, and I think he would be a phenomenal first round pick for the Broncos.

Final Thoughts

The Broncos would benefit in different ways from drafting any of these three guys. Williams might take a bit longer in the oven to develop, Funchess is a WR/TE hybrid, and Walford is a guy who can do anything. The Broncos were reportedly all over Walford at the Senior Bowl, which is good news for me and any other supporter of the team drafting him.

I don’t think the Broncos will be able to wait until the second round to get Walford, so they’d have to take him in the first or trade down just slightly to get him. It would be a shock if they didn’t use a pick or two in this draft to try and upgrade the tight end spot, so taking one in the first round is not out of the question, especially with as good as Walford looks.