Going into the offseason, the Denver Broncos will need to address their pass rushing issue. Their primary guy on Defense charged with applying pressure to the opposing Quarterback is Von Miller, who was limited by suspension and injury in 2013. It is plain to see that even though the team did an adequate job without Miller, they are inherently better with Von in the lineup. Defensive End Shaun Phillips was a bargain veteran pickup in Free Agency last year and responded with 10 Sacks. Shaun may be back in Orange for one more season, but he’ll be 33 in May. It’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket, so let’s look at what the Draft has to offer this season.
By virtue of being the AFC Champions, the Broncos currently own the 31st, 63rd and 95th overall picks in the first 3 rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. This years crop of Defensive End prospects is pretty good, even after Jadeveon Clowney, Kony Ealy and Dee Ford. There is no way those three will fall to Denver at 31, so we will look at the 2nd round and beyond. Since DE is a need position the Broncos should fill, here are some of the better prospects based on their production on the field and their Combine performances. All Round projections are from CBSSports.com’s rankings and are definitely not set in stone. But since we have to start with some guideline, that is my source. I also listed the Overall take from Nolan Nawrocki at the NFL.com Combine analysis site. These are both open to interpretation.
2ND ROUND PROSPECTS
*Scott Crichton – Oregon State – 6′-3″, 273 lbs.
Crichton played 38 games in his college career, averaging over 4 Tackles per game. He finished with 51 Tackles For Loss and 22.5 Sacks, giving him a 1.93 Production Ratio. He was a multiple All-Pac-12 selection and set an OSU single-season record with six Forced Fumbles. In 2012, Scott led Oregon State with 17.5 Tackles For Loss and nine Sacks. He is currently listed as the 42nd overall and the 4th ranked Defensive End prospect.
Strong, athletic, raw defensive end prospect who would have been better served returning for his senior season. Despite being rough around the edges at this stage of his development, Crichton shows in flashes and has power potential as a 4-3 defensive end. Could require patience.
Trent Murphy – Stanford – 6′-5″, 250 lbs.
A Consensus All-American selection and first-team All-Pac-12 in 2013, Murphy led FBS with 15 Sacks. In 43 games, he averaged just under 4 Tackles per game and finished with 52.5 TFL’s and 32.5 Sacks for a 1.97 Production Ratio. Trent is the 43rd overall and 5th ranked DE prospect.
As a base end in an even front or a LOLB in an odd front, Murphy’s instincts, motor and toughness are what define his success and could allow him to eventually become a double-digit sack producer in the pros. Will require a few years to adapt to the speed of the NFL game.
2ND-3RD ROUND PROSPECTS
Marcus Smith – Louisville – 6′-3″, 251 lbs.
This guy reminds me a little of another Louisville product, Elvis Dumerville. Marcus was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-AAC in 2013. He recorded 14.5 Sacks, the 2nd-most in the College ranks. In 45 games, he made 33 TFL’s and 24 Sacks for a Production Ratio of 1.27. Listed as the 70th overall and 7th ranked DE Prospect.
A high school Quarterback turned pass rusher who broke out with 14.5 Sacks as a senior (1.12 sacks-per-game average led nation), Smith projects as a pass-rushing, 3-4 right Outside Linebacker in the pros. Should contribute initially on passing downs and has eventual starter potential as his game becomes more well-rounded.
Chris Smith – Arkansas – 6′-1″, 266 lbs.
Chris was a 2nd-team All-SEC selection after starting in all 12 games and leading his team with 8.5 Sacks in 2013. In 43 games, Smith had 30.5 TFL’s and 21.5 Sacks for a Production Ratio of 1.21. He is the 80th overall and 8th ranked DE prospect.
A weakside pass rusher who could most ideally project to the rush Linebacker position in the pros for a 3-4 front, Smith graded more highly as a junior than he did as a senior, yet possesses the tools to earn a starting job in the pros in multiple schemes. Versatility is a plus.
3RD ROUND PROSPECT
Kareem Martin – North Carolina – 6′-6″, 272 lbs.
A 1st-team All-ACC pick in 2013, Kareem played 49 games for the Tar Heels, with 45.5 TFL’s and 19.5 Sacks for a Production Ratio os 1.33. He is listed as the 90th overall and 11th ranked DE prospect.
Big, narrow-framed, long-levered defensive lineman who shows flashes of potential as a developmental, 4-3 left end, though he needs to fortify his base as a run defender and hone his technique as a pass rusher.
5TH ROUND PROSPECT
James Gayle – Virginia Tech – 6′-4″, 259 lbs.
Two-time 2nd-team All-ACC selection and Third-team All-ACC pick in 2013, James played 53 games for the Hokies, with 40.5 TFL’s and 22 Sacks for a Production Ratio of 1.18. He is the 160th overall and 14th ranked DE prospect.
Explosive, high-motor see-and-go reactor whose calling card is his ability to pressure the edge. Does not play to his weight-room numbers against the run and lacks desirable length and smarts, projecting as a situational 3-4 rush linebacker.
7TH ROUND-COLLEGE FREE AGENT
Larry Webster – Bloomsburg – 6′-6″, 252 lbs.
A small school project from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East, Larry was a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award (small -school defensive player of the year). A 2-time First-team All-PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East), he set a school record with 13.5 Sacks in 2012. His father (Larry Webster Jr.), was a 3rd round draft pick by the Dolphins and he won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in 2001. The younger Webster played 24 games with 31 TFL’s and 26 Sacks for a Production Ratio of 2.37. He is listed as the 255 overall and 22nd ranked DE prospect.
A gifted athlete with NFL pedigree and intriguing developmental tools as a speed rusher, Webster could prove to be better fit as a flex tight end in the pros, possessing more of an offensive temperament and the size, wingspan, athletic ability and coordination to create mismatches in a similar mold as Broncos TE Julius Thomas and Browns TE Jordan Cameron exiting college with limited football experience.
These are the guys I like for the Broncos. Obviously they are not polished, turn-key, Day 1 starters, but there aren’t more than a dozen draft picks that are this year. Some will need to get an “NFL body” and all will have to adjust to the speed of the Pro game, but each will infuse the team that selects them with some youth.
– Kaptain Kirk