How do the Broncos rookies fit?

Happy Tuesday, friends.  I’ve had a few days to digest the 2013 Draft, and I have some thoughts on the class of players that the Broncos took.  It’s not going to be like a grading exercise, or anything like that, because you can get that crap around the internet from any fool who has a keyboard, just like you can get mock drafts.  For the most part, those grading exercises are worth about as much as the mocks are.

What we should be concerned with is how this group of players fits into this roster.  The time to be worried about reaches and relative draft value is over; it doesn’t matter if you think that some other player who was picked in the fourth round was better than the guy the Broncos took in the third.  Sunk costs are irrelevant to the team’s affairs and decisions of today.  People who dwell on them are morons.

What is relevant is how these players can help the team, both now and in the future.  That’s the topic of today’s article – how does it all fit together?

Let me start by saying that I think the Broncos were good enough to win the Super Bowl before they ever made a pick this past weekend.  Any additions they made are bonuses to a championship contender.  If they had a draft like the 49ers had last season, where no rookie started a game, and only combined to appear in 12 games, that would be okay, and somewhat understandable, given the existing overall talent level.

What were so breathlessly touted as needs by the Denver Post weren’t really needs, per se.  They were more like wants.  That’s a pretty good position to be in, as a football team.  Pick-by-pick, let’s explore how the Broncos filled some of those wants.

DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

I said on Thursday night that I think this is a fantastic pick, and I continue to think so.  A few interesting things happened in this draft.  One is that the QBs selected mostly went according to their grade.  Another is that offensive linemen tended to be overdrafted for need.  A third is that defensive linemen fell to slots that were artificially low, because so many offensive linemen went more highly than they probably should have.

Williams is one of the top ten talents in this whole class, and I believe that he was underrated because he only played at a major college for two years, and also because he played with a persistent ankle injury throughout his senior season, which limited his production somewhat.

This is a cornerstone player - a guy who can penetrate and consistently whip offensive guards with quickness.  He’s also very strong, and can hold up well against double-teams.  Between Williams, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson, and Terrance Knighton, the Broncos are going to be really difficult to run against.  This is a top-notch defensive line group when you add in guys like Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson, and Mitch Unrein.

I think this team would have been fine with Knighton and Vickerson inside, but Williams represents a level of talent that those two solid veterans can’t match.  Even if he’s used only as a sub-package pass rusher, there’s a lot of value there, but I think he’ll play more than that.

RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin

I’ll give it up to Mike Klis, whom I had been publicly disagreeing with, because he was right, and the Broncos took a RB and a CB early.  Nice call, Mike.  However, Ball is not the “big back” that Klis and Jeff Legwold were all hot and bothered about.  He’s about the same size as Knowshon Moreno, actually.

I don’t consider myself to be the greatest evaluator of RBs ever, and I tend to feel most confident in my judgment of QBs, WRs, offensive and defensive linemen, and defensive backs.  That said, I said a few times in the lead-up to the draft that I wasn’t too big a fan of the idea of Ball.

 My concerns, vis-à-vis Ball as a draft prospect, were as follows:

  1. He’s not particularly fast for his size.
  2. He has really high mileage from his college career.
  3. He played in the craptastic Big 10, behind huge and excellent offensive lines, against overrated and inferior competition.

I just saw some risk factors there that turned me off to Ball, as productive as he was in college.  The thing is, Ball isn’t a draft prospect anymore.  Now he’s a player for the Broncos, and that shifts the focus of the evaluation.  They took him, now what can he do to help the team win?

My biggest reservation about Ball is that he’s not really very good in pass protection.  That tends to be the issue that most rookies face, and while he’s had more exposure to trying to protect the QB than many collegians do, his effectiveness at the task was spotty, at best.

If you only had Ball, and he was the third guy in a group featuring Moreno and Willis McGahee, who are both above-average in protection, you’d be able to live with that.  Unfortunately, though, the Broncos have Ronnie Hillman, who is their best home run threat, but who has shown no particular indication of being able to pick up a blitzer either.

If the idea is that Ball and Hillman are your go-forward primary backs, I see that as being a bit problematic.  Wes Welker had better be ready to break off a lot of routes as the outlet man.

As a pure runner, Ball is growing on me, despite the risk factors I cited above.  He does have a nice jump cut, and he is quick through the hole in a short area.  He probably can be a good and productive runner of the football at the NFL level.  If Rob Rang is correct, and he is like Curtis Martin, I’ll be happy to have been wrong about him before the draft.

CB Kayvon Webster, South Florida

Webster seems to be a projection based on excellent size and speed, because it’s been said that he has better man-to-man cover skills than zone skills.  USF played a lot of zone, and really, Webster’s film wasn’t even that bad there.  One thing that jumps out is that he’s clearly a really excellent tackler.

I’d really like Webster to be my unicorn matchup safety, and cover tight ends man-to-man.  Feeling comfortable with playing man-free inside will really free up Jack Del Rio to scheme up pressure, and frequently bring a fifth rusher.  Webster’s size, length, and physicality suggest that he could possibly be effective in covering larger tight ends.

Back to the whole Klis thing, the reason I didn’t see the Broncos prioritizing the corner position highly is that they already have four good ones on their roster, as well as last year’s fourth-rounder, Omar Bolden.   I would presume that Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, and Tony Carter would combine to take virtually all of the snaps at corner, and that Bolden would stay in his special-teams role, which he did a very good job with as a rookie.  That would seem to leave Webster as a game-day inactive, and it would leave the Broncos roster corner-heavy, with six of them.

In any case, I expect the liveliest and most fluid competition on the whole team to come at both the corner and safety spots this summer.  The Broncos have a lot of quality athletes and players competing for just a few spots.

DE-OLB Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

Smith is a guy who got a lot of buzz before the draft from the “internet scouting community” (their term), but I didn’t really get around to checking him out, because I was usually riding in a van pool or getting ready to study for part of the CPA exam when I saw his name.

When I got a look at his tape from the Alabama game, I saw a lot to be impressed with.  Smith beat 2013 first-round pick D.J. Fluker (Chargers) for one sack, and he got by probable 2014 first-rounder Cyrus Kouandijo for two more.  He defeated those two players off the line a number of other times as well, and no pass rusher but Smith seemed to give the Alabama line so much trouble the rest of the season.

The issue is that Smith is recovering from an ACL tear from November, so this is probably a delayed gratification play.  Smith says he’ll be ready for training camp, but I find that doubtful at best.  It’s more likely that he’d start the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and that he’d miss the first six games.

If you could get a live pass rush body for the last ten games of the regular season, and the playoffs, you would probably feel pretty good about how you spent your fifth-round choice.  One thing I do really like about Smith is that he rushed from both sides at Western Kentucky, which suggests that he’d be comfortable doing so for the Broncos, as well.  Since they flip their formation to open and closed, that’s a key factor.

WR Tavarres King, Georgia

According to Captain Arbitrary, it’s a real problem that King never had a 50-catch season, or 1,000-yard season at Georgia.  As a junior, he had 47 catches, and as a senior he had 950 yards, but those numbers fall short of what makes a good receiver.

The reality is that King was the leading receiver on a pro-style team that spread the ball around to a fairly unusual extent.  He’s not really very big, and he’s been known to drop a few balls here and there, but he’s fast, quick, and fluid.

I think that King can definitely compete with Andre Caldwell to replace Matt Willis as the Broncos’ fourth WR, and play some on special teams.  Somebody is going to have to fill that role, and it might as well be a young player who has some upside.

OT Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech             

Painter has a lot of athletic upside, but doesn’t look to be a very proficient player yet.  I think he looks like a gameday inactive, at best, and more likely a practice squad or IR guy for his rookie season.  The reason the Broncos drafted Painter was almost certainly for the 2014 season and beyond, once their coaching staff is able to get his talent developed.

QB Zac Dysert, Miami (OH)

Dysert has NFL talent, and he’ll occasionally remind you of fellow Redhawks alum Ben Roethlisberger.  I think that he can certainly compete with Brock Osweiler to eventually replace Peyton Manning.  Dysert represents a large upgrade for now over Caleb Hanie, as the third-string QB, because he has upside that Hanie will never have. 

It will be a few years before Manning retires, hopefully, but I think we’re all going to be pretty glad that John Elway and company picked Dysert.  Either he wins the job, or you can probably coach him up and sell him off.  It would be nice to see the Broncos get into the grow-and-sell QB business, as a way to bring back some draft picks.

The Undrafted Class

This Broncos roster is pretty stacked, so I have a hard time seeing any of the undrafted rookies making the 53-man roster.  I know a lot of fans like to worship the scrappy underdog, but I don’t think this is probably the year to get too attached to anybody.

If I had to pick one guy from the list who I think is most likely to make the roster, it would be DE-OLB Lerentee McCray.  He got a little bit lost in the shuffle at Florida, among a lot of defensive talent, but he has some natural pass rush skills that could be mined and developed.

Beyond that, maybe one of the three WRs (Kemonte’ Bateman, Lamaar Thomas, or Quincy McDuffie) could stay in the mix if a guy gets hurt in the preseason.  The rest of the group looks like candidates to fight for spots on the practice squad.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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