Denver Broncos Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State – Round 3
If the Broncos hadn’t changed to Gary Kubiak’s offense I probably wouldn’t pick Heuerman to become a solid starter. He isn’t an uber-athletic or fast receiving tight end like what Denver lost wit Julius Thomas. However in Kubiak’s offense, I think Heuerman has a shot at being an Owen Daniels-caliber starter. Heuerman is an excellent blocker for Kubiak’s zone-blocking system while having enough receiving skills to contribute to an aerial offense.

The 2014 season wasn’t a good indicator for Heuerman’s receiving ability. He played the whole year with a foot injury that limited his pass-catching potential. Aside from the injury, Ohio State had a running-based offense with quarterback T.J. Barrett being the starter until the end of the year, and the Buckeyes also featured stud back Ezekiel Elliot. Heuerman totaled 17 receptions for 207 yards with two scores. The 6-foot-5, 253-pounder was a tough blocker for Ohio State and helped open a lot of holes on the ground.

In the NFL, Heuerman looks safe to become a starting Y tight end who serves as a blocker on the edge and helps establish the ground game. He has more athleticism than one would think, so he could end up being a moderate contributor as a receiver. Heuerman could use some development, but he has solid starting potential for the Broncos.

Most Likely To Bust

Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State – Round 2
Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, I repeatedly wrote that Sambrailo needed a redshirt year or two in the NFL. However after Ryan Clady tore his ACL this spring, Sambrailo looks poised to be thrown right in the fire and could be the starting blind-side protector for Peyton Manning as a rookie. With an aging statue for a quarterback, and teams looking to tee off on Sambrailo, this could be a recipe for disaster for Sambrailo in 2015.

Sambrailo was a reliable protector for quarterback Garrett Grayson at Colorado State over the past three seasons against weak competition. The senior didn’t allow any sacks during 2014 until his bowl game against Utah, which had a lot of success rushing against Sambrailo. That trend continued at the Senior Bowl as Sambrailo was abused all week. He clearly needs to add more strength for the NFL. With his lack of power, Sambrailo couldn’t sustain his blocks against the all-stars in Mobile and they were able to toss him aside. The higher competition at the Senior Bowl also made Sambrailo look slow and stiff as he was reaching after speed rushers rather than showing the ability to mirror them. It was a bad week that made Sambrailo (6-5, 311) look more like a guard or right tackle candidate in the NFL.

It looks likely that Sambrailo will play as a rookie, and I think that could send his career into a tailspin. I think speed rushers are going to give him a lot of problems as he is in store for a massive jump in competition. That was the case at the Senior Bowl and it didn’t look good. Now, Sambrailo will have to go against the likes of Justin Houston, Khalil Mack and many other good edge rushers with a first-place schedule and taking on the talented NFC North. I think Sambrailo needs development, but it could easily not be afforded to him, and as a rookie, I think Sambrailo will be a liability for protecting Manning.

Potential Boom Pick

Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri – Round 1
The Broncos were the perfect landing spot for Ray to pan out. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder is a speed rusher off the edge with a great get-off and the ability to translate speed to power when rushing against offensive tackles. Ray needs to improve his run defense for the NFL, and that could limit his snaps in the early portion of his career. Luckily for him, the Broncos are a team that often plays with a lead, so he should see plenty of opportunities to tee off on the opposing quarterback as a rookie. Having Von Miller on the other side should make Ray even more potent as Ray should see plenty of single-blocks with double-teams going Miller’s direction.

Ray was a pass-rushing force in the SEC during 2014, recording 14.5 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss. He beat up on some good teams, including his performance against the Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick D.J. Humphries. Ray slid in the 2015 NFL Draft because of a marijuana arrest. Some teams also questioned how he would translate to the NFL, specifically those that run a 4-3 defense.

However, Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense is the perfect system for Ray with Miller on the other side. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ray puts together a nice sack total as a platoon player during his rookie season and augments his pass-rushing skills with better run defense in years to come. Ray could be a boom pick for Denver.

Future Depth Player

Max Garcia, C, Florida – Round 4
This pick made a lot of sense for Denver. Garcia started at tackle, guard and center during his time at Florida. The 6-foot-4, 309-pounder wasn’t overwhelming at any position in particular, but he was a competent blocker who improved over his final two seasons.

The Broncos traded away Manny Ramirez in the offseason and lost Orlando Franklin in free agency, plus last year, they surprisingly missed Zane Beadles. Denver is projecting Gino Gradkowski to be its new starting center, but he was a huge disappointment in Baltimore, and the Ravens had to trade for Jeremy Zuttah to get an upgrade over Gradkowski. With Ryan Clady going out for the year, the Broncos are looking for a lot of solutions up front.

That makes the Garcia pick very sensible. Between Denver’s questions at guard, tackle and center, Garcia should be able to help provide some competition. He may not be good enough to win a starting spot, but with his flexibility, he should be a valuable backup on game days.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

23. Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri: B+ Grade
I stupidly dropped Shane Ray to the third round in the wake of his arrest, but I was told to slot him back into the first round. I ultimately had Ray going No. 22, so this is definitely the right range. Ray would’ve been a top-10 selection if it wasn’t for his off-the-field issues, so Denver is getting a potential steal. Ray won’t start right away, but he’ll provide quality depth behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and ultimately take over for the latter once he retires.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

59. Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State: C Grade
Meh. That’s how I feel about this pick. Meh. Ty Sambrailo was a third- or fourth-round prospect for me, so Denver is picking him a bit early. Still, the selection makes sense, as the Broncos had to find an upgrade at the right tackle position to help protect the ancient Peyton Manning.

92. Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State: B Grade
I think I had Jeff Heuerman slotted to the Broncos at this juncture in one of my updates. Thus, I can’t really argue the pick, as it makes a ton of sense. Heuerman fits the range as a late third-round prospect, and he definitely fills a need in the wake of Julius Thomas’ departure to Jacksonville.

133. Max Garcia, C/G, Florida: B Grade
The Broncos had to keep adding to their offensive line, and they’re getting a solid fourth-round prospect at the end of that very frame. Max Garcia can play center and guard, so it’ll help to have his versatility on hand.

164. Lorenzo Doss, CB, Tulane: B Grade
Lorenzo Doss was a fifth-round pick, and he fits a need as a player who can give the Broncos some cornerback depth, so he’s a logical choice. Doss is a small corner, but he can fit in as a slot player.

203. Darius Kilgo, NT, Maryland: B Grade
A new nose tackle for Wade Phillips. After losing Terrance Knighton, the Broncos were expected to find a replacement much earlier than this, so I’m shocked they waited this long. Darius Kilgo, who got a ton of interest in the pre-draft process, was projected to go in this area.

250. Trevor Siemian, QB, Northwestern: B- Grade
The Trevor Siemian selection is curious, as the Broncos passed over some other quarterbacks like Shane Carden or Brandon Bridge. I don’t think this is a bad pick though, as Siemian will have a chance to become a long-term backup.

251. Taurean Nixon, CB, Tulane: C Grade
Taurean Nixon wasn’t on my radar at all. He’s a good athlete, but has a long way to go before he can see the field in the NFL.

252. Josh Furman, S, Oklahoma State: C Grade
Josh Furman played linebacker at Oklahoma State and Michigan, but he’ll be relegated to special teams as a pro. I don’t see him making Denver’s roster.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: B . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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