5 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters For Denver Broncos
5 NFL Draft Prospects Who Could Be Instant Starters
It wasn't the end to the season that the Broncos envisioned when they began the year in training camp. However, despite injuries to key players such as Von Miller, Champ Bailey, Ryan Clady, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe throughout the season, the Broncos persevered on the way to becoming AFC Champions.
Though the Broncos did lose Super Bowl XLVIII by a score of 43-8, they will enter the season as Super Bowl contenders again. Denver will enter the season as favorites from the AFC and should have another opportunity to redeem themselves after being embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
The key for the Broncos in the offseason will be shoring up their defense, which ranked 22nd in the NFL in points allowed per game, including 19th in total yards and 27th in passing yards allowed. The Broncos have six defensive backs who are free agents this offseason, including starters Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris.
Another issue facing the Broncos this offseason is Bailey, who has a $10 million cap hit and will be forced to restructure his contract. If Bailey and the team can't come to a reasonable restructure, he will be released.
Other positions of concern are defensive end and wide receiver. Defensive ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips will be free agents, while starting wide receiver Eric Decker is due to command a lot of attention (and money) from free agent suitors. The Broncos will have to address these positions in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Because the Broncos have to address these positions, who are five NFL Draft prospects that could be instant starters for the team in 2014?
5. WR Jordan Matthews
In the event that the Broncos are unable to re-sign Eric Decker, there becomes an immediate void at wide receiver opposite of Demaryius Thomas. While Thomas will continue to remain the No. 1 receiver, Wes Welker should continue to be utilized in the slot where he's best at. With receivers Andre Caldwell and Trindon Holliday also free agents, the Broncos look extremely thin when it pertains to depth at the position.
This is where a guy like Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt fits into the equation. If Decker leaves, the Broncos will attempt to sign a veteran receiver through free agency to replace him, but the Broncos still need youth at the position. Matthews is a 6-foot-3 receiver and weighs 210 pounds; he is of a similar stature to Decker and Thomas. Matthews finished his career at Vanderbilt as the SEC's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yardage. He was a first-team All-American in 2013.
If the Broncos are forced to replace Decker, they can do so with Matthews through the draft and have a receiver that can start opposite of Thomas for the next four or five years.
4. DE Kony Ealy
As mentioned earlier, Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips are both free agents. Both men lined up and started at right defensive end for the Broncos in 2013. Phillips has already stated his intention to return to the Broncos, while Ayers is more of a question mark to return. Either way, even if Phillips does return, the Broncos need youth at the position because the 10-year veteran will be 33 years old in 2014.
Kony Ealy out of the University of Missouri could start immediately for the Broncos. Ealy started at right defensive end for the Tigers in 2013, but has played at left defensive end during his collegiate career. Starting left defensive end Derek Wolfe struggled with an illness in 2013, and missed the final five games of the regular season plus the entire postseason. If Wolfe is unable to return to form, and Phillips can't be a viable as a starting end in the team's defense, Ealy would provide an immediate impact.
The University of Missouri product racked up nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his final year at Missouri. Scouts have compared to him San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith because of his great pass rush ability and due to his versatility. Ealy can play either outside linebacker or defensive end, which makes him scheme versatile. Essentially, he's like Phillips, except 10 years younger.
If Ealy drops to No. 31 for the Broncos, he would make an immediate impact for the Broncos in 2014.
3. CB Jason Verrett
Defensive back is the Broncos' biggest priority this offseason. With both of their starting cornerbacks free agents and Champ Bailey likely requiring a move to safety to salvage his career, the Broncos need help. CB Jason Verrett out of TCU would be the perfect guy to stabilize the situation.
The Broncos still need to bring back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at the very least. If they are able to bring back either Bailey or Chris Harris, the Broncos' two starting corners would be set. Where Verrett fits into the equation is as a nickel back. He could be one of the NFL's best immediately.
At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Verrett struggles with bigger and more physical receivers. However, when you line him up in the slot against smaller receivers, he shows the ability of a shutdown corner. He has big play potential as well, as he had nine interceptions through three years at TCU.
Verrett is projected to be a late first round draft selection and will likely be on the board when the Broncos make their selection at No. 31.
2. DE Dee Ford
Another defensive end that will be off of the boards late in the first or early in the second round is defensive end Dee Ford. Ford was the player who increased his stock the most during Senior Bowl week when he was named the game's MVP while racking up two sacks in the first half of the Senior Bowl. Previously projected to go late in the second round, Ford increased his draft stock by a full round.
At 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, Ford doesn't possess the ideal size of a starting defensive end, which is why scouts are saying Ford could project as either a defensive end or linebacker. Regardless, you cannot ignore Ford's pass-rushing ability. He had two sacks on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston during the BCS National Championship game, and he has been able to pressure the quarterback against the very best competition in the nation.
1. CB Bradley Roby
Perhaps the safest selection the Broncos could make based upon their needs with the No. 31 overall selection would be Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. Roby is widely regarded as the fifth-best player at his position.
Unlike Jason Verrett out of TCU, Roby is considered to have No. 1 cornerback potential. He possesses good size at 5-foot-11, 192 pounds and is an excellent athlete with elite speed; Roby ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash. The negatives surrounding him are the fact that he didn't play against elite athletes in the Big Ten conference and he is considered a poor tackler.
However, if the Broncos need a starting cornerback in 2014, Roby is their best option through the draft.