Reassessing Broncos' Offseason Plan and Breaking Down What's Left to Address
The Denver Broncos have seen a good amount of turnover since their 2013 season ended in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In spite of that turnover, the Broncos look poised to repeat as AFC Champions.
Despite losing key players such as Champ Bailey, Wesley Woodyard, Zane Beadles and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Broncos have brought in such names as DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Emmanuel Sanders.
The team has managed to retain a strong defensive backfield by bringing in a couple of big names along with re-signing cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos have also watched their leading sack specialist from 2013, Shaun Phillips, sign a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans. Phillips will be replaced in the starting lineup by superstar end Ware from the Dallas Cowboys.
Although the Broncos have managed to fill key voids through free agency, the franchise still has two major voids—at middle linebacker and left guard—that they will have to address through the 2014 NFL draft.
Over the past several days, the Broncos signed head coach John Fox to a three-year extension.
Here are five key aspects the Broncos will need to reassess as they march toward the draft.
The Team Needs to Find a Left Guard
When starting left guard Zane Beadles signed a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars early on in free agency last month, the Broncos didn't just lose their starting left guard—they essentially lost their whole depth at the position.
As it stands at the current moment, the Broncos have no offensive lineman fit to replace Beadles.
According to Sports Illustrated's Audibles, Beadles gave up just one sack in 1,449 snaps in 2013. That is a lot of stability the Broncos are losing along the left side of the offensive line.
The site also projects who the Broncos will draft with their first overall selection, and a couple of choices they mention at guard—Stanford's David Yankey and UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo—are both projected to be possible options at left guard for the team in 2014.
With the Broncos having around $6 million left in cap space at the current moment, don't expect them to make any more big signings through free agency. With the Broncos signing Ware in the pass-rushing role and managing to sign Talib and re-sign Harris Jr. and Tony Carter, expect Denver to go with a left guard in the first round of this year's draft.
Huge Void at Middle Linebacker
As mentioned in the intro slide, middle linebacker is one of two positions the Broncos have a glaring need at.
Unlike the dire situation at left guard, the Broncos do have a player capable of playing the position if need be in Nate Irving. The problem is, Irving is best suited as a backup at strong-side linebacker to Von Miller rather than as the team's starting middle linebacker.
After Irving, the Broncos have no suitable depth at the position.
In today's NFL, offenses depend upon the passing game more than ever. With the increasing use of three-wide receiver sets, more and more defenses are lining up in the nickel package, thus negating the importance of the middle linebacker in today's defenses.
The Broncos should still address left guard with their first-round draft selection. But middle linebacker should also be addressed at some point during the 2014 NFL draft.
The position has become so overlooked that the Broncos have managed to get by over the last two seasons with two over-the-hill linebackers in Keith Brooking and Paris Lenon.
Both linebackers were on the wrong side of 30 and were in their first seasons with the franchise before being plugged in as starting middle linebackers.
I've mentioned it many times before, but it really needs to be stressed again: The Broncos need to either restructure the contracts of or just cut either/both tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.
Both players have salary-cap hits over $3 million in 2014. The Broncos have two other tight ends under contract, Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, who have larger roles within the team's offense.
Both Tamme and Dreessen's strengths are in the passing game, and during their first seasons in Denver in 2012, both veteran tight ends played pivotal roles within the team's offense when both players caught over 40 passes.
However, with Thomas' emergence in 2013 as the team's starting tight end, both players saw drastically reduced roles on the team to the point where they had to play special teams just to contribute. Tamme had just 20 receptions in 2013, whereas Dreessen had just seven receptions.
That extra $5-$6 million in cap space could help the Broncos when it comes to signing their draft picks. Expect the Broncos to cut one of these two tight ends leading up to the draft.
The Will Montgomery Effect
The Broncos signed offensive lineman Will Montgomery to a one-year contract last week.
The former Washington Redskins center/guard started the last three seasons for the team. According to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Montgomery will get the first look at being the team's starting center. In this scenario, the Broncos would shift current starting center Manny Ramirez to starting left guard.
The Broncos need to determine if Montgomery is starting material because it will likely impact how high they draft a left guard in the 2014 NFL draft.
Head coach John Fox had the following to say on the Broncos' offensive line situation at the NFL's annual spring meetings (via Legwold):
We're going to try a lot of things and guys are going to work at multiple spots. We want to be ready to do what we need to do, like I've said you only take seven guys into a game for five spots, if something happens there is about three different re-coils for that.
The Broncos have a huge void right now at left guard. Instead of simply drafting a replacement in the first round, the franchise might just elect to re-shuffle their entire offensive line to compensate for the void along the left side of the offensive line.
Stabilizing the Running Back Situation
Though the Broncos seem confident in second-year running back Montee Ball to carry the load for the franchise after the free-agency departure of former starting running back Knowshon Moreno, the position can still be improved in the NFL draft.
The Broncos have three key running backs currently on the roster in Ball, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. No matter how talented all three backs are, you can't feel too confident entering the season with those guys as your three top backs.
Anderson has played in just four career games and has seven carries to his name. He was an undrafted free agent who eventually made his way onto the Broncos' roster as the season progressed.
Hillman is a former 2012 third-round draft pick who has fallen out of favor in Mile High. Hillman lost the No. 3 running back job to Anderson as the regular season came to a close and was inactive for all three postseason games.
This is where finding a complement to Ball in the running game becomes key for the franchise. With running back being one of the easiest positions to develop when prospects make the transition from the collegiate to the pro game, the Broncos can draft a back in the middle rounds.
Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and Boston College's Andre Williams are two top backs who are projected to go in the third or fourth rounds.
All three of the Broncos' current running backs are too green and unproven. The franchise needs to add one more piece to bring more confidence to the running back position.