Broncos draft preview: Left tackle or best player available?

KUSA - In a matter of hours, John Elway will gather his player personnel executives headed by Matt Russell, his scouts, his new coaching staff led by Vance Joseph, and commence the Denver Broncos’ draft meetings.

There have already been thousands of hours put in during the player evaluation process, a bulk of which occurred during the NFL scouting combine five weeks ago. Come Monday morning, Elway and his men will start talking about how to proceed with their No. 20 pick in the first round, No. 51 pick in the second round, two selections in the third round, and 10 draft picks overall.

The draft will be held April 27-29. Plenty of time for the Broncos to settle on their favorite rookie players. But also time to get going.

“Once we start getting our board stacked, then we start talking philosophy and looking at different game plans,’’ Elway said last week at the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix.

This draft will test Elway. Always, the Broncos’ general manager has said he wants to take the best player available.

It’s been a while, though, since Elway went into a draft with some glaring needs.

Best player available? Or best player available at position of need?

“I think it’s a combination of all of that,’’ Joseph said. “Obviously, you don’t want to reach on a player because of need. But if a player’s there that you feel good about, it’s value at the spot, and it’s a need, then it’s a slam dunk. I think it’s going to be a combination of all those things.”

The Broncos must get a left tackle who can play Day 1. But unlike the drafts of recent years, there are not five or six, first-round caliber offensive tackles in 2017.

The Broncos don’t pick until No. 20. Do they take Cam Robinson, Garett Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk if one of those offensive tackles are there even if living local legend Christian McCaffrey is available? In this case, McCaffrey would clearly be the better player.

But the Broncos have C.J. Anderson and his $3 million guaranteed salary, plus second-year, fourth-round draft pick Devontae Booker returning at running back.

The Broncos do not have a legitimate starting left tackle. Left tackle, or best player available?

“It always depends,’’ Elway said. “We always want to get the best player available and hopefully that fits those scenarios. That’s the ideal situation if that were to happen, but the bottom line is when you go into a draft you want to draft guys who are going to make your team better and sometimes that doesn’t fall into positions of need. Because if you start reaching that’s the worst you can do.’’

Here are some players at positions of need whom the Broncos may consider with their top two draft picks, No. 20 and 51 overall:

Left tackle: If this offensive tackle class is as thin as many draftniks say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos try to acquire an established left tackle by dangling a couple of their extra draft picks for trade.

Joseph said if the season started today, veteran Donald Stephenson, who took a pay cut from $4 million to $2 million this season, would be the left tackle. Elway hasn’t given up on Ty Sambrailo, who was the Broncos’ starting left tackle through the first three games of 2015 until he was beset by various injuries.

But expect the Broncos to zero in on a left tackle in either the first- or second-round of the draft. Robinson, of Alabama, may be the best fit for the Broncos’ new power-blocking offensive line scheme. But there are draftniks who believe Robinson is a better right tackle, and possibly a guard, than a left tackle.

Wisconsin’s Ramczyk, Utah’s Bolles and Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp are considered first-round offensive linemen. Taylor Moton, Will Holden, David Sharpe and Julie’n Davenport would be second-day (second- and third-round) candidates.

If the Broncos don’t get their left tackle by day 2, they will have to either sign a free agent or execute a trade before the draft concludes.

All-purpose running back: I haven’t spoken to Ed McCaffrey about this but I could understand if he would have reservation about his son Christian playing in Denver.

I’ve been around professional sports enough to know any excitement generated by the hometown hero factor can be offset, and then some, by hometown distractions.

Still, the Broncos do need a McCaffrey-like player. That became obvious when the team met two weeks ago with Joe Mixon, a talented running back from Oklahoma who is the No. 1 character concern in this draft.

What the Broncos’ offense may need more than a left tackle is a home-run threat. Demaryius Thomas’ yards-after-the-catch have dipped the past two years. Neither Anderson nor Booker are speed backs. The Broncos don’t have a true slot man or returner.

If McCaffrey is available at No. 20, it would take a conference roomful of guts for the Broncos not to take him. If McCaffrey and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are gone by No. 20, or the Broncos feel they can’t pass up a left tackle, they could possibly get Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara or Mixon in the second round.

Tight end: Like running back, this draft is considered deep with tight ends. It’s long past time for the Broncos to get one.

Look at the Patriots. For a few years they had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Last year it was Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. When Gronkowski got hurt, the Patriots still had Bennett.

These are tight ends who not only catch passes downfield, they serve as a sixth offensive lineman in the run game.

Shannon Sharpe was a Hall of Fame H-back and Julius Thomas was a Pro Bowl receiving tight end, but the Broncos haven’t had a two-way tight end since Riley Odoms. You can look him up.

The Broncos could do worse at No. 20 than take Alabama’s O.J. Howard or Miami’s David Njoku.

Edge rusher: It was an hour after Super Bowl 50 and in the victorious Broncos’ locker room at Levi’s Stadium, Elway talked about how the first picks in his first five drafts were all defensive players.

Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Bradley Roby and Shane Ray.

Even though the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 largely because of their swarming group of edge pass rushers – Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Ray and Shaq Barrett – Elway said he’d take a pass rusher again if one was there with their No. 31 draft selection.

He traded up to take quarterback Paxton Lynch instead in the first round of 2016, but then followed up with defensive players Adam Gotsis and Justin Simmons in the second and third rounds.

If Elway happens to fall in love with an edge rusher like Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, or Tennessee’s Derek Barnett or Alabama’s Tim Williams and one of them falls because of a last-minute issue, don’t forget DeMarcus Ware cannot be replaced by Shane Ray alone.

5-technique defensive end: The Broncos tried twice to upgrade their 3-4 defensive end position opposite Wolfe this offseason. But they lost out on, first, Earl Mitchell, and, then, Calais Campbell in free agency.

The Broncos then decided to upgrade their nose tackle position by signing Domata Peko, while taking an inexpensive flyer on Lawrence Kerr, who can play the nose, 3-technique and 5-technique positions.

Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell – another 5-tech Malik! – should be high on the Broncos’ draft board. Which is about to get set.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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