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Mason's Mailbag: The best at the Senior Bowl, Andy Janovich in the new offense, and more

Posted Jan 29, 2017

There was plenty to like among the prospects at the Senior Bowl ... plus ....

You can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase or use the submission form to your right (if you're viewing on a standard browser) or at the bottom of the page if you're on the mobile site.

Who surprised you most at the Senior Bowl?

-- Samuel Khalil

I'll start with East Carolina WR Zay Jones. I didn't expect him to be quite as effective all over the field as he was. He has enough speed and length in his stride to get separation, but he can make tough catches on short-to-intermediate routes with a cornerback grabbing him, and he displays good body control when going up for a deep pass in one-on-one coverage. Jones' film is outstanding, and I'd be surprised if he's not a Day 2 pick.

Temple's Haason Reddick looked much farther along in his transition from defensive line to inside linebacker than I thought he would be at this point, and he displayed marked improvement in his pass coverage from the Tuesday practice through the Thursday session. If he puts up some big numbers at the Scouting Combine -- as I suspect he will -- he will go off the board earlier than anyone envisioned just two weeks ago.

Florida ILB Alex Anzalone proved to be the equal of Clemson's Ben Boulware agains the run. With Anzalone, the questions are about health, not performance.

Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp has position flexibility, although he didn't have a chance to display that to the extend he'd hoped because he suffered a high ankle sprain. He was impressive in limited work.

St. Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome improved as much as any player did this week; he looked tentative and out of position early in the week, and settled down by Thursday. Day-to-day progress is something on which I place a high priority during Senior Bowl week, and the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Jerome came a long way.

But the standout group is at tight end. Which brings me to ...

Love reading your column, Mase. And as a real FAN-atic, I'm already getting overly involved in the Broncos offseason upgrades.

If they can get any help at all for the O-line in free agency, I think that having a great receiving tight end would make a huge difference for them. Look back at what Julius Thomas added to the team. And the best looking tight end coming out sure looks like O.J. Howard, who the Broncos have a real shot at at #20. So he's my choice for the Broncos this year. What do you think?

-- Jim Niederriter

First of all, thank you.

Howard is the class of the tight-end group, and did nothing to change that at the Senior Bowl. He looks like he could be an immediate upgrade for at least half the teams in the league. The biggest question on Howard could be whether he falls that far.

Unless there's a run on tight ends in the first round, I think you can wait until Rounds 2 or 3 to find a potential star. Of course, the extreme depth at the position could work against Howard going early in the draft; teams may look at the position and think, "There's talent all around at the position, let's wait." And that may leave Howard available at No. 20.

But there are myriad options at the position. Miami's David Njoku, Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges, Michigan's Jake Butt (coming off a torn ACL) and Clemson's Jordan Leggett can all be helpful. Hodges, in particular, might be the best tight end in this class at creating mismatches. All of them should be off the board by the middle of the second day, at the latest.

The collection of tight ends at the Senior Bowl was the best I've seen in my decade of covering practices there. Toledo's massive Mike Roberts and Mississippi's athletic, long-striding Evan Engram also look like they could be immediate contributors, if not starters. South Alabama's Gerald Everett also does a lot of the same things that Howard does well, but needs to get stronger; he's at 227 pounds right now. If Everett's frame can handle another 15-20 pounds, he could be a beast. I will be curious to see his weight at the Combine.

I love this group. It's the right collection of players at the right time, because the tight end has never been more critical or more versatile in offensive schemes.

The philosophy on the offensive side isn't set in stone; it will adapt to the players on hand. Mike McCoy has been a part of offenses that were pass-heavy in San Diego, run-heavy (as in 2011 when Tim Tebow was quarterback) and balanced (in 2008, he was the passing-game coordinator for the Panthers, who ranked second in yardage per carry and fifth in yardage per pass play that year).

As for the fullback specifically, consider this: In Carolina, McCoy and then-offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, now Denver's offensive line coach made extensive use of fullback Brad Hoover. Last year in San Diego, McCoy and Davidson were back together when the Chargers drafted Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt, who had a 53-yard catch-and-run at the Broncos' expense in Week 8.

If McCoy and the offensive staff like what they see in Janovich, he'll get chances and be a part of the offense -- and given what he showed as a rookie, there's little reason to believe that they won't find ways to involve him.

None. Thomas doesn't have a Pro Bowl incentive in his contract. He and his fellow AFC Pro Bowlers will get $30,000 for playing in the game, and if the AFC wins, another $31,000.

I'm a bit puzzled about the way Ty Sambrailo has played. Initially he was playing left tackle as a raw rookie and seemed to be holding his own. When he finally got back from his injury, he was overmatched. Was he not in shape? Is he better on the left side? And do you think he can be part of the solution in the OL?

-- Mike Evans

Yes, he was holding his own as a rookie, but you have to consider his first injury: a torn labrum. That necessitates a six-to-eight-month recovery following surgery, and was why he didn't see any OTA repetitions until a handful of snaps near the end of that period of work. The rehabilitation work put him behind on the field -- and also in the weight room. Then came the elbow injury in training camp as he tried to make the transition to right guard -- and also further hindered him as he worked to get back to 100 percent following his offseason rehabilitation work.

Sambrailo can be part of the solution up front, but I would expect he would not be handed a starting job in the offseason. The most likely short-term outcome in the short term is being a swing backup who could push the first-teamers during OTAs and training camp. If he earns anything beyond that, the Broncos would be delighted. But with his struggles last year, his injuries and just seven starts in two seasons, it's unlikely that he will be penciled in on the first team; he will have to earn his way back to the top line of the depth chart.

Would it be possible to go after Matthew Stafford? I think he would be a great addition but don't know if the cap space is there.

-- Greg Himes

Possible, but not feasible. First, Detroit has given no indication he would be available. Further, Stafford's cap figure for 2017 is $22 million, and if you did trade for him and he played well, re-signing him would chew up at least $25 million of your 2018 salary cap, and perhaps more, which would cause problems with the overall salary-cap plans.

Remember, the Broncos have Von Miller taking up quarterback-like salary-cap figures in the next few years -- $20 million in 2017, $22.5 million in 2018, $21 million in 2019, according to overthecap.com. In order to maintain room for upgrades around the roster, the best outcome for the Broncos is to continue to have a cost-controlled quarterback position while Miller receives such a high outlay.

Further, is Matthew Stafford that much better than what you have on hand? He hasn't been the starting quarterback for a playoff win, and his career quarterback rating of 86.8 is just a few horse hairs above the league average of 86.5 in that span. I get the appeal of Stafford, but I don't see adding him as the best way to get back to a championship level, especially given his historical performance and the presence of young quarterbacks who should improve -- as is typical when young players get more time and experience.

Do you think making the Super Bowl interferes with the teams participating in doing the self-assessment and Senior Bowl/Pro Bowl scouting that the majority of the non-participants are doing right now, and thus contributes to the difficulty in making a repeat Super Bowl appearance?

-- Doug Blauser

In terms of information gathering, not particularly, because personnel executives and scouts are doing most of the interviews, legwork, research and analysis at the all-star games this month. It delays the involvement of the coaches, but not every team's coaching staff is involved with Senior Bowl/all-star practices and scouting, anyway.

The disadvantage for draft/free-agency preparation actually comes from the time that is lost. Going to the Super Bowl adds another five weeks to the season. It's what you want, obviously, but that often means off-time to refresh and recharge that isn't made up. Given the grind of the season, in which 90-to-100-hour weeks can be common, some winter downtime is essential, because free-agency and draft season is a grind in its own right; there's a lot of scouting and evaluation involved, and coaches travel around the country for Pro Day and individual workouts.

As for the Pro Bowl ... no one's scouting the Pro Bowl. The only thing you can get in terms of team-building is the formation of friendships between players, which sometimes leads to the choice of one team over others in free agency.

Submit a question for the next Mailbag!

The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.

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