The Denver Broncos are fresh off of an amazing season that saw them go 13-3 and reach the Super Bowl. They put up the most points in NFL history on offense, while Peyton Manning broke the single-season records for passing yardage and touchdowns.
What can they possibly do for an encore? How about return to the Super Bowl and send Manning out in style.
Whether or not Manning would actually retire is a debate for another day, but with a still stacked offense, the Broncos are arguably some defensive moves away from getting back to the final game of the year. It won’t be easy, but if they make the right moves it certainly can be done.
Denver already made one move that should help them do just that, as they cut loose regressing cornerback Champ Bailey, saving roughly $10 million in the process. They’ll probably have to kiss free agents Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker goodbye, too, but that’s not something they shouldn’t be able to get over.
With the 2014 NFL Draft looming in May, Denver will need to think smart and go cheap. Finding an instant impact player on either side of the ball could be key in helping them get back to the promised land. With that, let’s take a look at five prospects they could consider with the 31st overall selection:
Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Denver needs to make sure they don’t lose any effectiveness in their pass rush. Von Miller is coming off of a torn ACL and both Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers are free agents. Tuitt has the strength and versatility to lineup all over the line and would give the pass rush a boost, even if he wound up as just part of the rotation. Someone like Dee Ford is also a possibility here, but Ford is a little under-sized and Tuitt’s versatility is much more attractive.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Champ Bailey is gone and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may ask for too much money on the open market. Denver suddenly has a lot of work to do in their seconary. With the stud corners likely gone inside the top-25 picks, Verrett will probably be the best corner available. The Broncos won’t be able to pass on Tuitt if he’s still there, but perhaps they should. Verrett has lockdown potential and fills a huge hole.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Pryor’s stock is skyrocketing way too fast to bank on him sliding to the 31st spot, but it’d be a dream free fall if it happened. Rahim Moore is probably okay at one safety spot, but Denver needs someone to pair with him. Pryor is a hard-hitting safety with great instincts and play-making ability. He’s be an absolute beast in the back of this defense.
Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Eric Decker is as good as gone and the aging Wes Welker could be done after 2014. Denver needs to think ahead with Demaryius Thomas also hitting free agency soon. Beckham has decent size and is a very reliable and athletic receiver. He’d thrive in this offense, and probably even as a rookie. This is obviously a pick with sights toward the future, but it’s not like Decker was some scrub that can be replaced in-house. Denver needs to find a talented receiver to make up for the loss. Beckham could be it.
Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
If anyone is going to make Borland a first rounder, it just might be the Broncos. They can’t afford to roll into 2014 with the likes of Paris Lenon or Wesley Woodyard in the middle of their defense. Borland is a solid athlete with excellent instincts. He’d be a tremendous leader over the middle. The only question is if the 31st overall pick is a tad too early. It might be.
*Photo credit – Eddie and Andy Hanson via Flickr.