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With the initial waves of free agency behind us, ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he expects the Broncos' draft strategy for their first picks to be unchanged.
"I think when you look at what they need right now, and I think it's still the same thing going in," Kiper said on Thursday in a conference call with NFL media. "You think about the offensive line, you think about an inside linebacker, another receiving entity, so I would say offensive line or linebacker at that particular point for the Broncos would make a lot of sense."
Noting the additions of tight end Owen Daniels, defensive lineman Vance Walker, safety Darian Stewart and guard Shelley Smith, Kiper said the number one priority for Denver looks to be offensive line for their first-round pick at 28th overall.
In his latest mock draft, dated March 5, Kiper projected the Broncos to pick Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving, but he thought a few other prospects could fit the Broncos' roster with their first-round pick.
"For Denver at right tackle, I would think where they're picking late-one, you're looking at that particular point, maybe for a guy if he drops—I don't think La'el Collins from LSU would still be there, I don't think Ereck Flowers will be there from Miami of Florida; they would be two ideal fits at that particular point in the draft, I just don't think they'll be there," he said.
But barring slides from Collins or Flowers, Kiper thinks there's still a strong fit there they can draft without reaching.
"If you look at T.J. Clemmings from Pitt, played right tackle, [a] late-developing football player — former D-lineman didn't play football until late in his high school career," Kiper said. "He was a right tackle at Pitt, struggled at left tackle at the Senior Bowl practices. He's the kind of guy at that point, he would make sense. He's a developmental tackle prospect who, as I said, played very well at that spot. Left tackle may be asking too much. Clemmings may be the guy that's there. I think Flowers or Collins would be a bit more highly rated if they slid down that far."
However, he said he could see the Broncos looking at inside linebacker with that pick. Denver's defense is transitioning to a 3-4 scheme, and expectations are that Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan will lead the competition for those two spots inside, but with Nate Irving's departure to the Colts, they could look to help their depth.
"I think an inside linebacker at that point—Benardrick McKinney from Mississippi State, Stephon Anthony from Clemson, you have Eric Kendricks from UCLA—the guys that I think would deserve first-round consideration at that point would be McKinney and Kendricks," he said.
In an earlier iteration of his mock draft, he projected Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman to fit the Broncos' position.
Fullback worth few looks in the draft
The fullback position should see a bit of a revival in Denver with Gary Kubiak's offense using a fullback as a lead blocker in many cases. He's also used tight ends lining up in the backfield in the past, however (James Casey, for one).
However, the Broncos don't currently have a fullback on the roster. Juwan Thompson could be a converted fullback as discussed previously, and tight ends Virgil Green and new signee Joe Don Duncan could fill in as lead blockers.
Though fullbacks aren't exactly priority prospects in the draft, a few players might get their names called. However, Kiper doesn't see many making that cut.
"Fullbacks are kind of being phased out," Kiper began. "You're looking at guys who are your big backs that can maybe put a little weight on, hope they can at least develop as an adequate blocker that can catch the ball."
"But the pure fullback — a versatile guy like Jalston Fowler out of Alabama, Lee Ward at Stanford, Aaron Ripkowski at Oklahoma, Michael Burton [of] Rutgers, Connor Neighbors out of LSU," he continued, "There's a few like that but then there's the projected guys that maybe if they can at least be adequate blocking then maybe you can live with it. But a lot of these teams want the dominant blocker that can actually catch it adequately—forget about running, they're not going to run the ball."
Kiper emphasized that it's all about what you're looking for in a fullback, but he only expects two guys who get drafted: Fowler or perhaps Tyler Varga of Yale or South Dakota State's Zach Zenner.
"It depends on what you're looking for," Kiper said. "If you want a guy who can run, catch and maybe not help you as much as a lead blocker, there are several of those. You want the versatile guy, it's Fowler. If you want the lead blocker, there's a couple. It just depends what you're looking for."