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NFL Draft Preview: Broncos keep options open

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The big expenditures were accounted for well before the new league year began. The Denver Broncos gave Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr. a $42.5 million, five-year contract, picked up the fifth-year option on linebacker Von Miller for $9.754 million and slapped the franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas at a $12.823 million charge.

Any more big expenditures would have left the Broncos pushing themselves into cap trouble down the road. Instead, they tried to fill the holes created by the free-agent departures of tight end Julius Thomas, offensive linemen Orlando Franklin and Will Montgomery, nose tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore with value signings or from within.

The additions of tight end Owen Daniels, guard Shelley Smith, center Gino Gradkowski, defensive ends Antonio Smith and Vance Walker and safety Darian Stewart gave the Broncos veteran options at those positions.

“It’s hard to go into the draft with a big need, and that’s the last thing you want to do, because that’s when you end up chasing,” general manager John Elway said.

“We always try to be solid at all positions going into the draft, with some veteran presence to be able to go into the draft, and then when you get into the draft, take that player — as I say — that you think is the best player available and has a chance to have a good NFL career, and that’s the key thing — whether it be a position of need or not, the players that you pick, you want them to be able to compete and be successful in the NFL.”

Last year, need and quality dovetailed perfectly, as the Broncos took cornerback Bradley Roby, who immediately became the team’s No. 3 cornerback and played a majority of the snaps as a rookie.

But not every position will yield immediate dividends. If the Broncos take an offensive lineman in the first round, they might try to force him into the lineup. But new head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison typically like to develop offensive linemen on the practice field for a year before promoting them to the starting lineup.

Trading up is a possibility, and with the team covered with veteran options at every position, the Broncos can wait and react if a player like Nebraska’s Randy Gregory falls through the draft into the 20s.

But they won’t take any deal.

“The hardest thing about the draft that no one realizes is that you can’t move when you want to move. Everyone says, ‘Move down.’ Really? We need someone to move down with or move up. We tried to move up last year with a team and they wanted my three first grandchildren, and I said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ It didn’t happen.”

But the Broncos do have the flexibility to react and let the draft fall to them. Elway said he plans to take the best player available. Then, the draft’s success or failure will rise and fall on the prospects themselves.

2014 Record: 12-4, 1st in AFC West

First Draft Pick: #28 Overall

BEST FIT: ILB Bernardrick McKinney, Mississippi State

With both projected first-team inside linebackers coming off injuries, the Broncos have some questions at the position — similar to the ones they faced last year at cornerback as Chris Harris Jr. recovered from a torn ACL. That helped steer the Broncos toward Bradley Roby, and could guide them toward McKinney, who at 246 pounds is stout against the run and strong enough to take on offensive linemen at the second level, an essential skill given that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prefers agile, smaller nose tackles.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Offensive line: Three starting positions remain unsettled as the Broncos begin offseason work: left guard, center and right tackle. The additions of guard Shelley Smith and center Gino Gradkowski give the Broncos a pair of veterans who have experience working under head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme, and 2014 third-round right tackle Michael Schofield was a prospect Kubiak liked as a fit for zone blocking leading into last year’s draft. Kubiak and Elway could target a top-flight prospect in the first round.

2. Linebacker: The transition to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense fits the Broncos’ personnel, but their two intended inside linebackers are coming off injuries. Danny Trevathan is working out after having his kneecap replaced, but Brandon Marshall might be out until training camp following surgery after a Lisfranc injury. Trevathan is set to become an unrestricted free agent next year, which could factor into the Broncos’ planning.

3. Quarterback: The Broncos express confidence in the development of Brock Osweiler, but their reported interest in former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor spurs questions about their commitment to the 2012 second-round pick, who is in the last year of his contract. They met with Bryce Petty and Garrett Grayson at the Senior Bowl, and could pick one of them on the draft’s second day.


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