You Got Served: Rosterbation and the NFL Draft

Happy Tuesday, friends. I had some time over the weekend to look at some combine footage, and I’ve generally been thinking about the go-forward state of affairs for the Broncos.

I thought we’d do a little bit of rosterbation, and that I’d also share some thoughts about the draft class.

Can we take ‘em to the bridge? Yeah, let’s kick it old school one time. Ready…BEGIN!!

1. First things first (man, you're #^%$ing with the worst, I be sticking pins in your head like a #^%$ing nurse). I never really did a proper postscript to the Broncos season, or the Super Bowl. Frankly, I just really didn’t want to watch that film, because it reminded me too much of my youth in the 1980s and early 90s.

Today, though, I’m going to take stock of it over the course of a few paragraphs, in the service of setting up the comments which will follow. I’ll try to keep it clinical and pain-free, to the extent that that’s possible.

There were several reasons that the Broncos lost the Super Bowl, but the most important one is that they failed to protect Peyton Manning effectively. The Broncos did a good job during the rest of the season (with the exception of the Colts game) of keeping the pocket clean, but against Seattle, they had nothing.

Getting Ryan Clady back is going to certainly help, and even with probably losing Zane Beadles, I think that the Broncos will be better up front next season just by virtue of keeping Chris Clark in the starting lineup. He could go in at RT, with Orlando Franklin shifting to LG, or Clark could just play LG and leave Franklin outside. There’s already been a lot of talk about this in the comments section, and we have a particularly adamant Facebook commenter who often opines on the subject, but the only way to know which is the right move is to try some stuff in the offseason program, and see what looks best.

The silver lining of Clady getting hurt is that the Broncos were able to develop another reliable starter up front, right as they’re getting ready to need a replacement for a guy who has been up and down in his career, and plays a non-premium position.

The second reason that the Broncos lost the Super Bowl is that they lacked something all season that should have allowed them to avoid mental mistakes. I think it’s probably some mixture of mental toughness and laser focus, but whatever it is, great championship teams make far fewer mistakes than the 2013 Broncos did.

We lamented their proclivity to make unforced errors all year, but it was easy to gloss over it, given the other strong positive indicators. It’s hard to get too mad about leaving ~100 points on the field, over the course of 16 games, when you set the NFL scoring record with 606 points anyway.

At the Super Bowl, the game got away from the Broncos real quickly, and eventually, I think they just said “the hell with it” and played out the string.

The third reason for the shellacking was poor special teams play. That gets improved through better staffing at the bottom of the roster, and better coaching of the guys playing in the kicking game.

Frankly, I think that the Broncos' tough year for injuries hurt them in the kicking game, as guys who were being counted on in September to be core special teamers ended up playing more on offense and defense, with scrubs off the street backfilling poorly. Really, the special teams performance was much better early in the year than it was later on.

The 2014 Broncos face some staffing decisions, but they should be right back in the mix. If the QB was anybody other than Peyton Manning, I’d be worried about a letdown season, on the heels of a Super Bowl blowout loss. Since it’s not, I have no worries of that sort.

2. I’m in the minority, but I think the most important position that the Broncos need to fill this offseason is the WR spot that Eric Decker has played. I’m not too far from thinking that he should be franchised, regardless of the cost, like what the Patriots do when they feel like they need a guy for a one-year window, but are willing to let him bounce after that. That’s how they did Wes Welker in 2012, and it’s a defensible play under average circumstances.

The reason that I’m not fully enthusiastic is that I think there are probably going to be some good-enough replacement options available at more reasonable prices. There’s a strong free agent class, and an even stronger draft class this year at WR.

Remember, this team, as presently constructed, was a better day in pass protection away from competing to win the Super Bowl. Its advantage over other teams was the fact that nobody could cover Demaryius Thomas, Decker, Welker, and Julius Thomas at the same time. It would be a fool’s play to give up that advantage voluntarily.

The question is, can you find somebody else (or possibly a combination of two players) who can pick up Decker’s production? I think that the Broncos can.

For one thing, there’s some production capacity from Welker that went unused in 2013. We can make the assumption that it will remain in 2014, as the Broncos get better at working the slot. That’s a partial solution with no incremental cost against the salary cap.

For another thing, there are going to be some WRs out there who don’t find the long-term deal that they may want in free agency, and who may be interested in coming to play on a one-year, make-good contract.

The guys who are likely to get paid are Hakeem Nicks, Decker, Golden Tate, and James Jones. Anquan Boldin will do okay, but it’s likely that he returns to San Francisco before free agency even starts.

There’s a second tier of guys like Julian Edelman, Riley Cooper, and Emmanuel Sanders, who may or may not get the big contracts they want. Those could be some of the make-good guys.

Others (with warts in parentheses) include Kenny Britt (elite talent, off-field baggage), Jericho Cotchery (age), Robert Meacham (failure in San Diego), Jerome Simpson (off-field issues, declining performance), Jacoby Jones (hatred from Broncos fans), Nate Burleson (age), and Sidney Rice (injuries).

Personally, I like Cooper as a deep threat, and Sanders as an intermediate guy, but I think they’ll probably both get decent middle-class deals to stay home. From the “warts” group, I like Burleson and Rice.

Burleson is a quality team guy, and a professional route-runner. I think he still has something to give in the short term. Rice is a big, physical guy who has been hurt a lot. He has excellent talent if he can stay healthy.

If you wanted to gamble, and try to get an injured guy relatively cheaply, the guy to sign would be Jeremy Maclin. If his medical checked out, and he was willing to come to Denver for something like one year, and five million dollars, I’d be all over that.

As for the soon-to-be-rookies, I was very impressed with what I saw at the combine over the weekend. Brandin Cooks from Oregon State blazed his 40, and will probably be in the mix around the 31st pick. Davante Adams from Fresno State is a bigger guy who has some stylistic similarities to Decker.

Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry from LSU will also be in the mix at the bottom of Round 1 or the top of Round 2. Beckham is another speedster, and I like the way he caught the ball in Indy. Landry is on the slower side, but he has some Hines Ward qualities to him. Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt is another player who will remind you of Decker some.

If you’re waiting till the 63rd pick (or thereabouts), you’re probably looking at guys like South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Wyoming’s Robert Herron, Colorado’s Paul Richardson, and Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman. Ellington, Herron, and Richardson are smaller, faster guys, while Coleman is a 6-6 monster who ran a pretty good 4.56 40.

For the people who are affirmative action-minded, your white boy quota can be filled with players like Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis, who are more of third- or fourth-round kind of players. Abbrederis ran a 4.5 in Indy, which was maybe a little faster than he looks on the field. He’s your typical Try Hard White Guy, with good hands and guile. I could see him having a Ricky Proehl-like career, and I could also see him being out of the league in two years.

Janis put on one of the better shows among receivers in Indy, all jokes aside. Check out these measurables and rankings among the receiver group:

Event Result Position Rank
40 Yard Dash 4.42 T5
Bench Press 20 T4
Vertical Jump 37.5 T12
Broad Jump 10'3" T13
3 Cone Drill 6.64 3
20 Yard Shuttle 3.98 6

Janis is obviously a really excellent athlete, because he did all of this while standing 6 foot 3, and weighing 219 pounds. He also caught the ball very well in drills.

The problem Janis is going to have is that he played Division II ball at Saginaw Valley State. Since Jeff Legwold has started to beat the Janis drum, here’s his NFL.com profile, which was written by Doug’s favoritest draft writer ever, Nolan Nawrocki. Notice that Nolan says Jeff has small hands. Is he trying to say that white WRs have little penises? That’s raycess.

Bringing it back to the Broncos, they have some choices for replacing Decker. Personally, I’d sign Rice and either trade down from 31 or up from 63 to get one of the mid-second-round WRs. I favor Adams, Matthews, or Beckham above the rest.

You start Rice, and work the rookie in as the season goes along. After the year, Rice goes and gets his payday, and you’ve developed a quality replacement. For the one bridge year, I think not much is lost with Decker leaving.

3. I do definitely favor keeping the offense as intact as possible, and as previously mentioned, I also am quite concerned about the Broncos’ ability to pass protect. For those reasons, I favor bringing back Knowshon Moreno, as long as the price doesn’t get ridiculous.

The benchmark contract, in my opinion, is that of Reggie Bush, who signed for four years and $16 million last year. It indicates that a guy who is more dynamic than Moreno, but somewhat similar in terms of value-adding traits, was only worth $4 million of average annual value.

That’s a palatable price, to me, for a guy who was as important to the Broncos as Moreno was in 2013. It’s a fun idea to think of Montee Ball as the workhorse, but it’s probably a better idea to keep them in tandem.

4. Another player who I think the Broncos can retain on the (relative) cheap is Wesley Woodyard. The stinger that he suffered in October limited his effectiveness, and the snaps that he played, but I think there’s a lot of reason to think that he can return to his old form.

It remains to be seen how the market will value Woodyard, but I think there’s a good chance that he’s back on a reasonable deal. I would be fine with drafting a guy like Ryan Shazier at 31, but to me, if you have Woodyard at his 2012 form, there’s no need to spend the pick.

5. Shaun Phillips should also be back, but he’s earned a little more money than he got in 2013. I would expect to see him around $3 million, and he’d be worth it at that price level. As for Robert Ayers, I think he’s probably played his last snaps in Broncos orange. He was terrible in the Super Bowl, and while he’s had some good stretches in Denver, he’s never fully maximized his ability.

Guys to watch for in 2014 are Quanterus Smith and Lerentee McCray, who were both medical redshirts as rookies. Don’t be surprised if one or both of them contributes to the pass rush this upcoming year. Also, just speculating based on his size, speed, and tackling ability, I wouldn’t be shocked to see McCray moved inside. I think the talent pool there is a little bit more lacking, to where he’d have a good chance to make the team.

6. The cornerback position is the most troubling to me on the defense. It’s pretty obvious that Champ Bailey is going to have to take a haircut to stay in Denver, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent, who is likely to command some good money. Quentin Jammer is on his way to the glue factory.

Assuming Chris Harris is retained as a restricted free agent, and Tony Carter is back as an exclusive rights free agent, the Broncos currently have Harris, Carter, Kayvon Webster, Omar Bolden, and Jerome Murphy under contract. Bolden, of course, played safety in 2013, and Murphy has never played.

To me, CB should be a draft priority early on, especially if DRC isn’t re-signed. While there’s no dominant prospect at the top of the first round, there are probably 10 guys who should go in the first two rounds. Some second-round favorites of mine are Loucheiz Purifoy (exceptional athlete), and Marcus Roberson (sound technique), both from Florida, Kyle Fuller (good in zone coverage) from Virginia Tech, and Keith McGill (long, Seattle-type guy) from Utah.

7. Retired for John Elway.

8. As for general draft impressions, here go some quick hitters.

a. I think there are legitimately seven QBs in this class who could develop into starters in the NFL. Here’s a one-liner on each one of them, roughly in the order that I expect them to be drafted:

Blake Bortles, UCF – Has size, arm strength, and pocket mobility to be really good, but his fundamentals need some work.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Small, and likely to struggle from the pocket, but a playmaker and a face-of-the-franchise type; I think he’ll be a star if the offense is built around him.

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – The cerebral, precise guy with a lot of playing experience, despite coming out as a junior; I like his poise and accuracy, and I view him as a poor man’s Peyton Manning.

Derek Carr, Fresno State – Fair or not, he gets compared to his brother David, who also had all the physical attributes; from listening to him talk, I wonder if he loves football enough (like David), but all the talent is there to be a good starter.

A.J. McCarron, Alabama – The only thing wrong with McCarron is arm strength outside the numbers; the funny thing is that he actually does have some stylistic similarities to Tom Brady, particularly in terms of ball placement on inside throws.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU – If I were running the Arizona Cardinals, I’d be taking Mettenberger in the second round; he’s tall, has a strong arm, and played very well in an NFL offense under Cam Cameron.

Aaron Murray, Georgia – A little on the shorter/smaller side, and not the greatest arm ever, but Murray has excellent accuracy and good mobility; if he could improve his arm strength, he can become a Drew Brees-type down the line.

That doesn’t even include some intriguing project guys like Logan Thomas, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Tajh Boyd. While there’s no Andrew Luck here, this is a deep and strong QB class.

b. I’m not feeling the RB class much. For a really strong draft class overall, it’s short on quality RBs. I want to know why DeAnthony Thomas ran so poorly too. He looks a hell of a lot faster on film than 4.5.

c. The safety group also could be a lot better, but I am encouraged by seeing more free safety types coming than strong safety types. The days of the box safety are ending, unless you want to play a ton of Cover 3 and Cover 1 like Seattle does.

d. I think Chris Borland is a reasonably good ILB prospect, but I’d rather have Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. (And yes, I’ve historically not liked OSU players.) Shazier can really run, and if you paired him with Danny Trevathan, you’d have two inside guys who can give you a decent facsimile of San Francisco’s pair with NaVorro Bowan and Patrick Willis.

e. This is a very strong offensive line draft, with 10 tackles, four guards, and three centers among ESPN Scouts Inc’s top 100 players. There are going to be guys taken in the third and fourth rounds who can do a good job playing NFL football. I like Penn State’s John Urschel (a zone-blocking guard) as a late third-round type who could start, if needed, as a rookie, and grow into a good starter over time as he improves his functional strength.

f. You know how I just said that 17 offensive linemen are in ESPN’s top 100, well add to that 11 DEs and 11 DTs. 39 of the top 100 players are linemen! Everybody knows I love me some Florida guys, but if you want an undervalued player, check out Dominique Easley, who can play both as a closed-side DE and as a three-technique DT. He was dominating in his junior year until he tore his ACL. His film says he’s a mid-first-rounder, but he’ll almost certainly go in the third or fourth round, due to his injury history.

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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