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Denver Broncos Team Needs

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Denver Broncos Team Needs
By: Christopher Hart

After coming off an impressive 2005 campaign, the Denver Broncos do not have the luxury of picking high in the 2006 NFL Draft, however they certainly have the luxury of being the only team with two first-round picks. The Broncos acquired a first-round and fourth round draft choice in this years draft by trading the #24 overall last year to the Washington Redskins, who drafted Jason Campbell out of Auburn at that slot. In return, the Broncos also received a third-rounder which they used to select rookie cornerback Karl Paymah out of Washington State.

With two extra early picks this year, the Broncos have a lot of ammo to address their needs for the upcoming season, and may even have more when the compensatory picks for the draft are announced at the NFL Owners Meeting after the end of the season. Where the Broncos may have been tied for the second best record in the NFL last year, every team has holes and the Broncos are certainly no exception. Listed below are the five major needs for the Broncos this off-season, with in-depth analysis as to why drafting to these positions are necessary and how they’ll improve the Broncos as they begin planning for their 2006 campaign.

Although the combined efforts of Nick Ferguson and John Lynch paid big dividends for the Broncos this season, the need for a future starter at the safety position is pertinent. At this stage in his career, John Lynch is certainly contemplating the possibility of retirement. He’s thirty-four years old and besides while aspirations of winning another Super Bowl, he has nothing left to prove to anybody about his career. Where Lynch has gone to the Pro-Bowl two years in a row as a member of the Broncos, he’s not the same football player he used to be. On top of that, Nick Ferguson may have had his moments during this season, but any Broncos fan knows that Ferguson was a key component to the sole three losses the Broncos had this season. Ferguson plays the run well and is above-average in pass coverage, but mental lapses have often left him on the wrong end of defensive series leading to points for the opposition.

The Broncos have average depth behind Lynch and Ferguson, such players include seasoned veteran, jack-of-all-tradesmen and former starter Sam Brandon who has the ability to play strong safety and corner, but who lacks the ability to be a consistent starter at the professional level. First year player Curome Cox saw significant action on special teams and occasionally ended up in the rotation on defense, but it’s doubtful that he can ever be a starter at the professional level either. The end of the rotation at the safety position features rookie safeties Hamza Abdullah and Brandon Browner, along with Chris Young who has been on IR for his entire third-season in the NFL.

Where the Broncos seem to have added some youth to their secondary through off-season acquisitions the past few years, none of the players aforementioned have the ability to make the kind of impact the Broncos will need in the future whenever Lynch decides to retire. With a deep safety class, the Broncos should be able to draft the heir to John Lynch somewhere on the first day, preferably within the first two rounds.

Defensive Line
When Mike Shanahan decided to sign and trade for ex-Cleveland Browns lineman Michael Myers, Ebenezer Ekuban, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, he became the laughing stock of the NFL. Nobody believed that these Cleveland cast-off’s would amount to anything in Denver, but the proof is in the pudding. Along side Trevor Pryce, Demetrin Veal, John Engleberger and several other veterans, the “Browncos” helped lead a formidable defensive line that ranked very high in quarterback hurries and pressures, but had struggles finishing of the job and ranked among the leagues lowest in sacks. However, the pressure generated by the defensive line helped the Broncos snag 20 interceptions, which was 6th most in the league and a +8 difference from the 2004 season.

By that information, most would believe that the Broncos all is well on the defensive line, however that is not the case. Gerard Warren is due a very large signing bonus this off-season which the Broncos more than likely cannot afford due to having one of the worst predicted caps for the upcoming season. Although Trevor Pryce has been an All-Pro and voted to the Pro-Bowl on numerous occasions, his gigantic salary of nine million dollars is limiting what the Broncos can do in the off-season. If Pryce does not re-structure, Broncos fans should anticipate General Manager Ted Sundquist to once again try and trade Pryce for the third consecutive season, and if that goes to no avail, the “Pryce” may not be right for the Broncos and you could very well see him playing for another team in 2006.

Demetrin Veal, who looked very impressive in his rotational role for the Broncos at DT this year is will be a free agent this year and could draw interest from several teams this off-season. If he is not re-signed, there is more than a definite need at tackle. Along with Veal, Marco Coleman and Monsanto Pope are free agents on the defensive line and are unlikely to be resigned either. In the past two years, Denver has let big name pass rushers Bertrand Berry and Reggie Hayward fine other homes via free-agency so a pass rushing threat at the end position is also a high need for the Broncos. Although Mike Myers performed well this year, it wouldn’t hurt if Denver looked into taking an under tackle or a pass rushing defensive end with one of their two first-round draft picks either.

In conclusion, the Broncos would be wise to look into drafting a few players on the defensive line. With the plethora of picks they have to work with between rounds one and four, a double-dip on the trenches of the defensive front surely isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Denver come draft day.

Offensive Line
Head Coach Mike Shanahan and former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs have long emphasized athleticism over size when it came to the zone-stretch blocking system the Broncos have implemented over the years. That will not change anytime soon, but it seems as if long-time anchor of the Broncos offensive line, Tom Nalen is suited to retire by the end of next season, if not as soon as the end of this one. Broncos left guard Ben Hamilton is expected to assume the position held by Nalen, but doing so would leave a question mark at his current position. Coaches seem to be impressed with the progress shown by Taylor Whitley and Chris Myers, and were hopeful that PJ Alexander would play a role for the Broncos before getting involved in a non-football related injury shortly after completing his season in NFL Europe, but upgrades over these three could be found on the first day of this draft with guys like Mark Setterstrom and Greg Eslinger, whom like Ben Hamilton, played their college ball in a similar offense to Denver’s at the University of Minnesota.

Along with questions on the interior, it’s still unclear whether or not Matt Lepsis will be a Bronco heading into next season. Lepsis was given a contract extension, however he has the opportunity to opt out of his current contract and pursue other teams via the free agent market if he wishes. If Lepsis were to leave, Denver would have a big hole at left tackle. Long-time tight end and current G/T Dwayne Carswell was seriously injured in a car accident during the middle of the season and his future with the Broncos is still up in the air. Luckily enough for the Broncos, the 2006 NFL Draft has many quality prospects at the tackle position.

With that said, don’t be the least bit surprised if Denver takes an offensive lineman early on day one, as it is certainly a position that could be upgraded for the future.

Wide Receiver
It seems like Rod “Old Man” Smith is ageless and could play for many more years, but Denver fans have to come to terms with themselves and realize that it’s unlikely that Smith plays more than two more years in the Broncos orange and blue. Several years ago, the Broncos drafted Ashley Lelie out of Hawaii in the first-round in hopes he’d the successor to Rod Smith. Ashley Lelie has shown the potential to become a number one option at the professional level, but will never be able to carry the burden as the only reliable receiver left on the Broncos roster when Smith decides to hang them up. The Broncos also used a second-round draft choice on Darius Watts out of Marshall in 2004, but after inconsistency issues he has slipped to the 5th receiver on the Broncos depth chart and is unlikely to live up to the potential Denver coaches had hoped for when drafting him two years ago. Slot receiver Charlie Adams had a decent year, but had issues hanging to the ball when running routes through traffic. Todd Devoe showed some promise, but will never be the type of player who can fill the void the Broncos now face at receiver.

At the beginning of the year, the Broncos even brought in future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice to solidify their squad and later brought in former Chicago Bear David Terrell, however these actions have amounted to nothing for the Broncos this season.

There is no question that the Broncos are in need of a receiver to pair up with Ashley Lelie once Smith retires. However, the problem with this draft is that the receivers available aren’t top-end prospects like we’ve had in drafts past, but the Broncos seem to be very interested in drafting a receiver at the tail end of round one anyways.

If the Broncos want to continue their tradition of having one of the best offenses in football, it’s necessary that they upgrade the wide receiver somewhere on the first day.

Offensive Coordinator and former Broncos Quarterback Gary Kubiak along with Coach Mike Shanahan have been successful into bringing the best out of quarterback Jake Plummer. In Jake’s three year at the helm of the Broncos offense, he has lead the Broncos to three straight playoff appearances with a total of 10,195 all-purpose yards, 66 touchdowns (including six rushing), an 88.6 passer rating , 60.5 completion percentage accompanied by just 34 interceptions. There is no doubt that Jake will remain with the franchise for a while, however the Broncos have only first-year player Bradlee Van Pelt to back-up Plummer in case of injury. Bradlee showed a lot of potential during the pre-season, but an unimpressive outing against the Chargers in the final game of the season could make Denver fans skeptical about him being the future of the franchise.

Due to the fact that the Broncos have extra picks early in this year’s draft, they can certainly afford to look for a young signal caller who has the potential to be a future starter for the Broncos several years down the road, and provide the securityof an established back-up if needed.

Discuss the Broncos team needs in our Denver BroncosForum.

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