NFL Denver Broncos

2014 NFL Draft: Ranking the Denver Broncos’ Top 5 Needs

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2014 NFL Draft: Ranking the Denver Broncos' Top 5 Needs

Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

The Denver Broncos have major holes at five major positions. Due to free agency, the Broncos will have many key players due to hit the open market next week when the signing period begins. The franchise has 22 free agents and among those are starters from last year such as wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris Jr., strong safety Duke Ihenacho and defensive end Shaun Phillips.

With the Broncos already having a veteran nucleus following their 2013 season in which they finished as Super Bowl the runner-up, the team will likely look toward the NFL Draft in May to address these holes with young players. It was apparent in the Broncos' 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII that the both units -- the offense and the defense -- were physically and athletically outmatched by the Seahawks. In order to ensure that the Broncos aren't humiliated on the game's biggest stage for a second straight year next season, general manager John Elway will have to surround this roster with younger, more aggressive and more athletic players for 2014.

With veterans such as cornerback Champ Bailey, guard Chris Kuper and tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme having large cap hits for the 2014 season, do not be surprised if the team either restructures these players' contracts or outright releases them. In the event of this, this would clear up more cap space for the team and open more roster spots to fill for the Broncos.

Entering the 2014 NFL Draft, here are the Broncos' top five needs.

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5. Middle Linebacker

Chris Humphries - USA Today Sports

Middle linebacker is a position the Broncos will either fill through free agency or the draft. The free agent options at the position are underwhelming, with Minnesota Vikings LB Desmond Bishop a possible option. Because the middle linebacker position has seen a decline in value as the NFL has progressed into more of a pass-heavy league, the Broncos can plug many linebackers in this role. After all, Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon split reps at the position throughout 2013, and 37-year-old linebacker Keith Brooking held the position in 2012.

Because the Broncos play in the nickel defense a lot of the time, this position isn't as vital as the other four mentioned on this list.

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4. Wide Receiver

Ron Chenoy - USA Today Sports

Three of the Broncos' five wide receivers from last year are free agents -- Eric Decker, Andre Caldwell and Trindon Holliday. If Decker receives a huge deal from another NFL team during free agency, don't expect the Broncos to match the contract offer. The team is well aware that they have Peyton Manning at quarterback and still have three legit receiving options in Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker.

This leaves a hole at the No. 2 receiver position. The Broncos can draft receivers such as Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss or Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt in the third round to compensate for the loss of Decker and the other receivers.

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3. Safety

Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

The Broncos need an intimidating presence in the defensive backfield. As solid as Mike Adams and Duke Ihenacho were as the starters at the safety positions, this particular unit of the Broncos was one of team's weakest units in 2013. Adams is a free agent and is 33 years old. With starting strong safety Ihenacho and backup free safety Michael Huff also free agents, the Broncos will have the opportunity to address the safety position in the middle rounds of the draft.

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2. Defensive End

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Both Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers are free agents. Phillips led the team with 10 sacks, and Ayers had his most productive pass-rushing season with 5.5 sacks in 2013.

Even if Phillips is to return, the DE will be 33 years old this year. The Broncos have a need for a premier pass-rushing defensive end, and that need will be addressed within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

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1. Cornerback

Thomas Campbell - USA Today Sports

The Denver Broncos have a major need at cornerback with their starting corners from 2013, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris Jr., slated to become free agents. Champ Bailey is due to earn $10 million in 2014 and may be a cap casualty.

With such a stacked cornerback class in the draft, look for the Broncos to target Ohio State CB Bradley Roby with the No. 31 overall pick.