How the mighty have fallen. Two years after lifting the Lombardi Trophy the Denver Broncos are firmly in the basement of the league.
2017 saw them go on an eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season as their great defense was shredded over and over while the offense struggled to put forth anything meaningful with consistency.
While Vance Joseph kept his job by the skin of his teeth, the poor performance from an aging defense and the lack of talent offensively have shined a light on how poor John Elway’s recent stretch of personnel decisions have been.
Coming into 2018 the Broncos have the #5 pick overall and $25 million in cap space. While they will undoubtedly make some moves to create more, it is with their nine draft picks that most improvements will have to come. So, where should Elway focus his attention this offseason?
The first and most important piece for the Broncos to get in place is the quarterback. Trevor Siemian has proven too inconsistent to be relied upon any longer, and they must move on from him. 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch has been unable to fully grasp life in the NFL and also is in no position to lead the team going forward. Leaving the Broncos with two choices; sign a veteran in free agency or draft a rookie at #5.
Recent Bronco history would suggest that signing a veteran would be the best move, but quarterbacks on the open market don’t come cheap. Kirk Cousins would be the leading candidate, and with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to throw to the Broncos have a carrot to dangle that no one else can really match, but they also don’t have the cap room of the Jets or Vikings to offer him a monster contract.
If they can’t tempt Cousins then Case Keenum or Sam Bradford are options, otherwise they will turn to the draft. While Cleveland will have the pick of the litter at #1 and teams are likely to trade in front of them, there should still be someone available for the Broncos in what looks to be a deep quarterback class. With Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson all worth a first round pick at this point they should land at least one, the question is if they get scared and have to move up for their guy. They have the extra picks to make the leap up a few spots, but they need those picks too.
The Broncos live in a world where they have to face Khalil Mack, Justin Houston, and Joey Bosa twice a season. They picked Garett Bolles last year in the first round and that looks to be a very good selection, but there is scope for improvement everywhere and a glaring hole at the right tackle spot.
Nate Solder represents the only proven NFL left tackle in the free agent class, but the Broncos couldn’t possibly create enough cap space to sign both him and a veteran quarterback. An option is to chase some of the right tackles like Byron Bell or LaAdrian Waddle who could be reasonable one-year fill-ins, but the draft offers a more likely place to get talent.
Quenton Nelson is a monstrous guard prospect with the kind of aggression and work-ethic that coaches love, while Texas’ Connor Williams is someone the Broncos could target should they be able to move down from #5.
The Broncos defense is not the monster it used to be. They still have Von Miller and, for now, a trio of strong cornerbacks, but the middle of the defense has taken some blows over the last few years. In particular, their work in coverage against tight ends and running backs has been a major pot hole in their pass defense.
Finding coverage players in free agency is not cheap, especially as the new generation of linebackers quickly proves just how obsolete the older, slower, more run-focused linebackers are.
This is where the Broncos are going to have to focus in the draft, because the tool set the need is simply not available on the free agent market.
Minkah Fitzpatrick and Roquan Smith would give them speed and athleticism in the middle to match with the likes of Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce, and if they want to wait until day two then the likes of Rashaan Evans or Josey Jewell could do a job for them in the middle.
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