Entering the 2018 offseason, John Elway had plenty of work to do. The Broncos’ offensive roster was a shambles and the defensive roster faced major questions about its future. Elway had been itching for his opportunity to address the team’s issues for months, and finally got his chance.
Quarterback: The trifecta of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch was supremely underwhelming. Right Tackle: Menelik Watson was terrible, and Donald Stephenson was no better. Cyrus Kouandjio at least offered a glimmer of hope in his one start. Guard: Broncos fans’ hopes for Max Garcia’s development went unanswered, as he proved to not be a long term starter at right guard. Dime Linebacker: This role has been the No Fly Zone’s one achilles heel, with running backs and tight ends being the few players consistently finding opportunities to get open. Running Back: A presumed need, but (for the moment, at least) CJ Anderson remains a Bronco and the team’s depth chart at RB is solid. Wide Receiver: Another presumed need, with significant rumors that either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders would not remain a Bronco. Both are sticking around, but slot receiver remains a question mark. Tight End: The production at this position in 2017 was highly disappointing, with AJ Derby cut, Virgil Green off to the rival Chargers, and Jeff Heuerman showing a Green-esque inability to break out.
Quarterback: Siemian is gone and Case Keenum now inhabits his spot at the top of the QB depth chart. Osweiler is likewise gone, while Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly round out the depth chart. The franchise is poised to take the first top 5 overall QB in its history… but doesn’t necessarily have to. Right Tackle: Stephenson is gone and John Elway recently acquired tackle Jared Veldheer from the Arizona Cardinals to shore things up at the right end of the line. Guard: Recent reports indicate that the Broncos intend to push Garcia down the depth chart, with 3rd year Guard/Center Connor McGovern already penciled in as the starter at right guard with Ron Leary moving back to his more traditional spot at left guard. That’s not to say there won’t be competition for the right guard spot, but the team seems to think they have an acceptable in-house solution already. Dime Linebacker: The way free agency played out pushed the Broncos to re-sign free agent ILB Todd Davis, which they did. But that still left a hole in the defense, as neither Davis nor Brandon Marshall can consistently cover tight ends or pass-catching running backs. Enter Su’a Cravens, lately of the Washington Redskins. He officially joined the Broncos via trade just yesterday, and offers intriguing potential to be a long term starter and solution at this safety/linebacker hybrid position. Running Back: There’s not much to say here, except that CJ Anderson is still on the roster when most fans assumed he’d be long gone by now. That means the Broncos’ depth chart at RB remains essentially as it was in 2017, which is serviceable. The team can and likely will draft a rookie rusher, but doesn’t necessarily have to. Wide Receiver: Both DT and Sanders remain on the roster, along with Jordan Taylor and 2nd year players Isaiah McKenzie and Carlos Henderson. Henderson spent last season on injured reserve after looking quite unready in training camp, and will be making his debut in 2018. He, Taylor, and McKenzia can compete for WR3 duties and rotational action. The addition of another receiver would be ideal, but isn’t strictly necessary. Tight End: The Broncos are reportedly still looking to add a veteran tight end, but also hope that 2017 draft pick Jake Butt will step up and claim the starting TE role in 2018. Butt, who was injured in his final collegiate game, missed the entire 2017 season and is an intriguing addition to the gameday roster.
No one would say that the Broncos’ roster is ready for Week 1 by any means. But while the solutions currently in place at each of the questionable starting spots might not all be as nice as we’d like, they’re all at least serviceable. That’s an important achievement, because it means the team will have the flexibility to adapt to the draft no matter how it plays out.
That’s also consistent with how Denver has approached the draft in the past. If there’s something John Elway hates more than losing, it might be going into the draft with a glaring, critical need that absolutely must be filled as soon as possible. And this year, he’s done a particularly shrewd job of it. Working with limited cap space, Elway has negotiated his way through via judicious free agent signings and several savvy trade deals.
The end result? An acceptable if not always inspiring solution to meet each need, while the Broncos are prepared to enter the 2018 NFL Draft with 8 picks, all in the first 5 rounds. In fact, 7/8ths of Denver’s picks are within the top 150 of the draft. Elway has given himself the luxury of being able to navigate the draft however he chooses without being forced to try and correct any one critical need. If he wants to go QB at 5, he’ll likely get his chance to do that. If he wants to take one of the top non-QB prospects, he’s perfectly set up to do that as well. Or if he chooses to trade back? Yeah, that’s cool too. All of that will, hopefully, result in replacing some of these stopgap solutions with far more exciting young talents.
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