IDEAL DRAFT RANGE: Third day, specifically rounds 6 to 7.
The value isn't there at the position in the early rounds, unless you have an unexpected descent from a top-flight prospect like North Carolina's Eric Ebron or Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
But the Broncos don't need a ready-made tight end, anyway, and the position is of a relatively low priority given the talent on hand. Another developmental tight end in the later rounds would not be a surprise, but the Broncos may also opt to see how Gerell Robinson develops in his conversion from wide receiver, and that may be the Broncos' developmental focus, instead of a rookie out of the draft.
RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: Give credit to the Broncos for patience with the last two tight ends they selected -- Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. Both were selected in the 2011 draft, and their development came at a deliberate pace, during which the Broncos got by with veterans including Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario (both in 2011) and Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme (2012-onward).
Thomas, as a fourth-rounder, could become one of the biggest draft steals in Broncos history. Certainly he has played well above his status, something that could not be said for 2009 second-rounder Richard Quinn and 2006 second-rounder Tony Scheffler, the last tight ends drafted by the Broncos before Thomas and Green. Scheffler was solid and productive, but never broke out, and Quinn's blocking-first skill set was ill-suited to his draft status; you can usually find effective blockers in the later rounds.
Sixth-rounders Jeb Putzier (2002) and Desmond Clark (1999) were good, productive players who outplayed their draft status. The only other tight end drafted by the Broncos in the last 20 drafts was Kansas State's Justin Swift in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, making just seven draftees in two decades.
BRONCOS OUTLOOK: Four expiring contracts in the next 12 months loom for the tight ends that return from last year's 53-man roster, so there could be some shuffling as the Broncos plan for long-term depth at the position. But assuming they can keep Thomas and Green around, the long-term task would be only to develop depth -- and even that might not be necessary if converted wide receiver Robinson blossoms this summer in his first full-contact work at the position.
A relatively stable roster at most spots means that the Broncos have few pressing needs. If the "best player available" in a mid-to-late-round slot is a tight end, they could add one for depth.
But in an ideal scenario, Thomas is both the present and the future; having displayed elite receiving talent, he gives the Broncos the kind of threat that is at the level of generally acknowledged top-tier tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, Dallas' Jason Witten, San Diego's Antonio Gates and New England's Rob Gronkowski. These types of weapons are difficult to find, and with Thomas, the Broncos are blessed to possess one for the first time since Shannon Sharpe's heyday.