With the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos are now considered to be the front runners in the AFC West, and likely to repeat as division champions for the 2012 season. Acquiring safety Mike Adams and cornerback Tracy Porter add starting potential in the secondary, while the signings of wide receiver Andre Caldwell, tight ends Joel Dressen and former Manning target Jacob Tamme give the Broncos depth and versatility in the passing game. Undoubtedly, these free agent moves have improved the Broncos roster moving forward, but if they are serious about their “win now” manta, they have some serious work to do before the season rolls around.
On defense, the Broncos are truly a paper tiger. Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter give the Broncos excellent options on the outside, but the back end of the secondary remains weak. Last year’s fourth-round selection Quinton Carter matured quickly and showed flashes of being a consistent NFL starter when veteran Brian Dawkins went down for the season with a neck injury. Questions remain regarding sophomore free safety Rahim Moore, but Broncos faithful are hopeful he can rebound after an inconsistent freshman campaign. Moreover, the overall depth at the safety position still poses a concern even with the addition of Mike Adams. and uncertainty looms as to whether or not Dawkins will return to the gridiron one last time. Nobody questions Von Miller or Elvis Dumervil’s uncanny pass-rushing abilities, but they must get better against the run.
More concerning than anything is Denver’s situation with their front seven. It has been a common running theme since the drafting of Trevor Pryce for Broncos fans to be concerned about their defensive line situations. They’ve tried trades, overpaying for washed-up free agents and even auditioned the Cleveland Browncos to fix what we have been missing for nearly a decade. Flash forward to present day — what we have on the roster now isn’t much better.
Ty Warren hasn’t played football in two seasons and he is penciled in as a starter at defensive tackle for the Broncos moving forward. It doesn’t look like the Broncos will be able to re-sign Marcus Thomas, which places Kevin Vickerson (most recently seen on Injured Reserve) as the starter opposite of Warren. Regarding depth: Do the names Mitch Unrein and Sealver Siliga mean anything to you? How about Jeremy Jarmon or suspended Ryan McBean? Nah, didn’t think so. I can barely even spell or say their names, so the odds that they amount to anything in the NFL are probably slim, well, closer to none. Long story short, the Broncos crop of defensive tackles is by far the worst in the NFL, and has likely held that title for at least 5 years straight.
At defensive end, I am glad we have a Pro-Bowler in Elvis Dumervil and I remain cautiously optimistic on the prospect of Robert Ayers, who will be entering his second-full season as a down lineman. Robert has shown flash and potential to anchor the left side of the line, but still needs more consistency in his play, especially as a pass rusher. A full off-season program and quality training camp should allow Ayers to be at his best for the coming season. Jason Hunter is what he has always been, a quality rotational player, but don’t get too excited or expect to much with Jeremy Beal being a second-string defender. He was a late-round draft choice for a reason, and surely should be replaced via the draft.
The grim reality of our defensive line woes boils down to this: No team or coaching staff is taking that unit of cast-off’s, has-been’s and never-was’ seriously. To win in the NFL, you have to win in the trenches and the Broncos don’t have many difference makers at the position to let that happen. Factor in the undersized nature and inexperience of our linebackers, (with DJ Williams also facing a suspension), a new defensive coordinator and the picture begins to muddle even more.
General Manager Brian Xanders insists that the Broncos aren’t done signing players in free agency, but lets face it — what front seven players are left on the market that can make a difference anyways? Answer: There are none, which is exactly why the Broncos have to add to their stable there through the draft. Welcome to the solution:
Strengthening A Paper Tiger: Draft Take (Part I)
#25 — Jerel Worthy, DT — Michigan State — Worthy is my second rated 3-technique UT in this class behind Fletcher Cox. He is one of the most accomplished, seasoned defensive tackles in the class and can be an immediate contributor in the NFL. He is a team leader, a hard worker and versatile defender. Jerel helped anchor one of the best pass rushing and rush defenses in NCAA and has been durable throughout his career. He has great athleticism and gets off the snap well. He just needs to be coached up, refined and increase his stamina through proper strength training and conditioning. I believe John Fox and Jack Del Rio are the perfect coaches to ignite a flame in Worthy to get him to play at a high level consistently. This is a pick that addresses our biggest need on the football team and gives us a player who can come in instantly and contribute.
#57 — Vinny Curry, DE — Marshall — Ideally, Brandon Thompson would be available for the Broncos at 57 to play the nose, but I think he is a Top 50 lock, so I will shift my attention elsewhere in the second to add depth to the defensive front seven. Vinny Curry is one of my favorite prospects in the draft. He is strong against the run and an absolute terror as a pass rusher. I think he is an immediate contributor in the NFL because of his instincts, technique and pass rush repertoire. Dumervil and Miller are great, but it never hurts adding another dynamic weapon to the line. He also offers insurance if Dumervil were to go down or Ayers never develops. He also guarantees that Jeremy Beal doesn’t see the field. At this point in time Curry could be one of the best players available so that is why I would choose him. It wouldn’t surprise me of the Broncos opted to go for more of a base end with greater size instead of Curry, but he reminds me of prior Fox defensive ends like Everette Brown who were great off the snap and could get after the quarterback.
#87 — LaMichael James, RB — Oregon — The Broncos need speed on offense and James is one of the fastest players in the draft. He has exceptional short area quickness, makes defenders miss and is a home run threat. I can only imagine the possibilities the Broncos would have with him as a receiver out of the backfield for Peyton Manning I also believe he some of the best vision and instincts out of any runner in this draft. My concerns are fumbling (12 in his collegiate career) and durability, which is why I believe he will end up being around in the third round. A great value selection that addresses a need for the Broncos. I feel that explosive plays and speed are needed more at the position as opposed to another tough runner between the tackles. Lance Ball is serviceable in that area.
#108 — Nigel Bradham, OLB — Florida State — As a Seminoles fan, I feel that Bradham is a player who is really flying under the radar. He has been a consistent, durable player for the Seminoles defense and always seems to be around the ball. Even if DJ Williams isn’t suspended, the Broncos need depth at WOLB, despite the re-signing of Wesley Woodyard. Bradham has the speed and athleticism to cover in the passing game and would immediately become our best coverage linebacker. Bradham can and will start in the NFL and could be used as a versatile defender like Daryl Smith was for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.
#120 — Kheeston Randall, DT — Texas — Randall is not a flashy player, but he has the size and experience to excel as a two-down funnel defender playing the nose in the NFL. He has great arm length, uses good leverage and can take on two defenders in the running game. I feel that this is the right area in the draft to go after that type of player. Randall was a defensive leader for the Longhorns and a high character player who will serve best as a rotational player in his first season, but has the ability to be a solid starter in the NFL. Just don’t expect to get any pass rush from him.
#137 — T.Y. Hilton, WR — Florida International — Signing Andre Caldwell is nice, but replacing Eddie Royal also means that we need to grab a player who can return kicks. Hilton injured his quad in the Beef O’Brady Bowl against Marshall and was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl or NFL Combine. However, Hilton was impressive at his Pro Day and ran under a 4.4 forty-yard dash and performed well in position drills. One of the most impressive returners in college football, Hilton was arguably the best player in the Sun Belt Conference the past several seasons and scored over 25 total touchdowns in his four year career for the Panthers. Hilton and James are going to cause nightmares for opposing defenses.
#188 — Ryan Miller, OG — Colorado — Obligatory Colorado Buffs pick, but is a late-round player who can fill in at guard and has experience at right tackle. Need I say more?