With the 2017 NFL Combine less than a week away, take a look back at current Broncos' combine experiences before they were NFL players. (Photos by AP)
INDIANAPOLIS --The Broncos and representatives from the other 31 teams are in central Indiana a week later than in past years, mashing the Scouting Combine and the start of the free-agent signing period together in a way not seen before on the NFL calendar.
But in a way, it's appropriate. Free agency and the draft are complements in the team-building process. If you hit on the former, you have more flexibility in the latter. If you draft well and can retain players, then your future free-agency shopping list is shorter.
As the Broncos arrive at the Combine, here are three storylines to keep an eye on:
- FOCUS ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE**
There appears to be little doubt that offensive line -- both in the free-agent and draft pool -- is a key priority for the Broncos this offseason.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock minced no words when he described the quality -- or lack thereof -- of this year's offensive-line class, calling it "bad," and noting that the lack of depth could push third-round-caliber prospects from previous years up a round in this year's group. That doesn't mean there aren't prospects who can help the Broncos in the short or long run.
But even the top ones have questions. For Alabama's Cam Robinson, it's a question of position -- guard or tackle? It's possible that he could follow the trajectory of Miami's Laremy Tunsil, who worked at left guard last season but looks set to move to tackle in the wake of the Branden Albert trade to Jacksonville, which is expected to be finalized when the new league year begins March 9.
Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk will not work out at the Combine because of a hip injury, but he will undergo the full battery of medical evaluations from teams. The results will likely determine whether he is a first-rounder -- and maybe the first offensive lineman off the board.
Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles must answer questions about how quickly he can adapt; given that he will be 25 when he begins his rookie season and started just one year for the Utes, his equation for success likely requires a rapid adjustment. Meetings with teams in Indianapolis could be the biggest factor from this week's doings in determining his post-Combine draft stock.
Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp is arguably the most versatile player at his position group, with the ability to line up at four positions. He should draw plenty of attention at the Combine.
But the Broncos' plan up front for the draft will be affected by how they attack the first two weeks of the free-agent signing period.
Take an in-depth look at Andrew Mason's evaluations of the potential draft prospects from the 2017 Senior Bowl who caught his eye through Day 3. (Photos by Andrew Mason)
- THE DEEP TIGHT END CLASS**
The point in the draft at which the Broncos select a tight end -- if they choose to add to their complement headed by Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby -- could be determined at least in part by when the run of tight ends off the draft board takes place.
With a bumper crop of prospects whose measurables and skill sets fit the evolution of the position, it could be possible to get a Round 1-caliber talent as late as Round 3, because teams may see the glut of starting-caliber players and choose to wait. But if the dominoes at the position fall earlier, teams need to be poised to react.
Those with the most to gain are the non-Power 5 prospects -- some of whom got long looks at the Senior Bowl, where South Alabama's Gerald Everett and Toledo's Michael Roberts had some flashes of brilliance and stacked up well in the side-by-side, repetition-by-repetition comparison with Alabama's O.J. Howard, who is widely expected to be the first tight end off the board.
Drake's Eric Saubert used an impressive week at the East-West Shrine Game to jump on some radars, but needs a good Combine to back it up. But perhaps the one tight end who can strap a rocket to his draft prospects is Adam Shaheen of Division II Ashland.
The 6-foot-6, 277-pound Shaheen turned pro early, and could not participate in any all-star games, so this is his first chance to stand on equal terms with Division I prospects. If his workout backs up his impressive film, he could be off the board early on Day 2 -- and could start that aforementioned run on players at the position.
3. LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS -- AND TWO MONTHS
Not only will all team executives and coaches be at the Scouting Combine, but agents will, too. This week offers a chance for face-to-face discussions that are the genesis of deals, particularly re-signings of players.
With free agency bearing down, there is greater urgency to these conversations. Just one day after Combine workouts end March 6, the free-agency calendar begins with the legal tampering period -- during which teams can discuss contract terms with prospective free agents from other clubs, but cannot sign them.
With the Combine one week later than in previous years, the altered schedule forced teams to do all of their free-agent preparations before leaving for Indianapolis, with minimal time before the start of the new league year.
When the Broncos' brass returns to Denver, the first goal becomes to use free agency to fill any gaping holes in the starting lineup and among key rotational reserves, allowing Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway and Broncos executives the freedom to tailor their draft plan to picking the best players on the team's board rather than reaching for need.