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Broncos Draft Prospects: Wide Receiver

IDEAL DRAFT RANGE:Rounds 2 to 4. 

In the first round, wide receiver is often a boom-or-bust proposition. While recent first rounds have brought such stellar pass-catchers as Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Dallas' Dez Bryant in 2010, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones in 2011 and the emerging Michael Floyd of Arizona in 2012, it hasn't been hard to find the duds, like San Francisco's A.J. Jenkins in 2012, Kansas City's Jon Baldwin in 2011 and Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009.

This year, it's a pretty solid bet that at least four receivers will go at some point in the first round: Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans, LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and USC's Marqise Lee. Others like Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks could slip into the first round.

But this draft is blessed with an abundance of wide receiver prospects in the next three rounds. A slew of early entries helped this, including Colorado's Paul Richardson, Fresno State's Davante Adams, South Carolina's Bruce Ellington and Mississippi's Donte Moncrief. It would come as no surprise to see more than 20 wide receivers taken in the first two days of the draft.

RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: The wide receiver the Broncos selected last year, fifth-rounder Tavarres King, didn't stick on the 53-man roster, but did pass through waivers to make it to the practice squad. But after promoting him and trying again to move him back through waivers, the Broncos lost him when Carolina claimed him for its 53-man roster in November. 

King is the only wide receiver selected in the Fox/Elway era, but that's in part due to the 2010 draft, which yielded Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the first two days. The Broncos hit on both picks; Thomas has overcome injuries to emerge as one of the league's elite targets, with a size/speed combination few can approach.

Decker provided terrific value for a third-round pick, with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons and 33 touchdowns, but the emergence of Thomas and the constraints of overall roster construction under the salary cap made it unfeasible for the Broncos to keep him and Thomas for the long term -- while also keeping enough room for tight end Julius Thomas, who emerged as a premium target last year.

King was the 19th wide receiver taken by the Broncos since 1998. In six of the last 16 drafts, they've selected at least two wide receivers. None provided more value relative to his draft slot than 2006 fourth-rounder Brandon Marshall (No. 119 overall); for the Broncos, he was a productive, albeit troubled, player.

BRONCOS OUTLOOK: The re-signing of Andre Caldwell and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders to help fill the void created by Decker's departure means that the Broncos don't feel pressure to reach for a receiver. But their long-term plans likely involve bolstering the depth.

The contracts of Welker and Demaryius Thomas expire after this year. Along with Julius Thomas' expiring contract, the Broncos' strategy for this year's free-agent class involved preparing for next year. John Elway, the executive vice president/general manager, noted this at the Scouting Combine when stating that his then-pending free agents would be allowed to test the market.

"So, especially when you look at where we are and what we have coming up -- Julius and (Demaryius), both Thomases are up next year. And Wes (Welker) is, too. All that plays into it," he said.

As with every position, the Broncos are doing due diligence. Among the wide receivers who said they've spoken with a Broncos representative at a January all-star game or the Scouting Combine were Saginaw Valley State's Jeff Janis, Pittsburgh's Devin Street, Fresno State's Isaiah Burse and Coastal Carolina's Matt Hazel. In casting a wide net, it has undoubtedly met with many others.

If the top four receivers on the Broncos' roster remain healthy, they can be patient with whatever rookies they add -- although if a rookie can handle kickoff and/or punt returns, it would ease the pressure to place those duties on a starting-caliber receiver such as Sanders. 

But to squeeze an entire team under the salary cap while working to ensure that the Thomases remain a part of the long-term plans, the Broncos will need to find a productive receiver for the 2015 season and onward who can play under a cap-friendly first contract. This draft could represent an ideal chance to procure such a prospect.

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