The 2014 NFL Draft gets underway on Thursday, May 8, at 8 p.m. ET, and Broncos fans are eager to find out which college standouts will join the team and help erase the nightmare that was Super Bowl XLVIII. The experts have spent the last six weeks drooling all over themselves trying to convince anyone who will listen that their mock draft is the prettiest in all the land. But the time for prognosticating is done. The bottom line is nobody outside of the Broncos War Room has any idea who the team will pick. Rather than waste any more time throwing out names and hoping they stick to the wall, here’s a look at five things Broncos fans hope to see on Draft Day.
- Get Better on Defense.
It’s no secret that the priority for the Broncos right now is getting better on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of defensive free agents TJ Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib should go a long way to improve a squad that, at times last year, left fans praying they could just find a way to get off the field and get the ball back in Peyton’s hands. But the team still has several needs, including middle and strong-side linebackers, depth at cornerback, and probably a pass rusher. The likelihood that any player drafted by the Broncos this year will make an immediate impact with the team is low, but we all know the NFL season is a grind and at some point the injury bug will rear its ugly head. Denver’s defense is thin enough in spots that a talented rookie soon could find himself thrust into the spotlight even if he doesn’t win a starting job coming out of training camp.
- Add Depth at Wide Receiver.
Some would argue that the one position where the Broncos are set is wide receiver. While the starting lineup remains one of the most stacked receiving corps in the league even after Eric Decker signed with the Jets to pursue his dream of becoming a reality TV star (I mean, what other reason could there possibly be for choosing to catch passes from Geno Smith instead of Peyton Manning?!), most fans agree WR is a position where the team could always use more bodies. Free agent signee Emmanuel Sanders looks to make some noise in the Broncos system, but with experts calling this year’s group of wideouts one of the deepest classes in years, most fans would like to see the team find a youngster who could push Sanders and Andre Caldwell for snaps in the rotation.
- Have a Better Draft than the Raiders.
And the Chiefs. And the Chargers. When the experts start handing out their draft grades, I want the Broncos to grade-out higher than any of the other AFC West teams. If that happens, it means, on paper at least, no one closes the gap in talent within the division, ensuring the Broncos are the clear favorites to win their fourth straight AFC West title. And more importantly, it adds extra fuel to Broncos fans’ bragging rights. Oh, Chiefs fans want to start chirping about how they won’t get swept by Denver again this year? Nope, we’re better and our draft was better. Chargers fans are really excited about the weapons the team added to help Philip Rivers finally get over the hump? Nope, we’re better and our draft was better. Raiders fans think this is the draft class that finally leads their embarrassment of a franchise back to relevance? HAHAHAHA! Nope. We’re better and our draft class was better.
- Find the Next Late-Round Legend.
Tom Jackson. Rick Upchurch. Karl Mecklenburg. Mark Jackson. Tyrone Braxton. Shannon Sharpe. Tom Nalen. Terrell Davis. Mike Anderson. What do all of those names have in common? They were all drafted in the fourth round or later and went on to become some of the most productive and beloved Broncos of all time (And that doesn’t even take into account guys like Rod Smith, Greg Kragen, and Steve Watson who were undrafted free agents and, through sheer guts and determination, found ways to cement themselves in Broncos lore). More recently, the Broncos snatched up Julius Thomas in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft and Danny Trevathan in the sixth round the following year. Both players are now rising stars. The Broncos have a history of finding players in later rounds of the Draft who develop into major contributors. And given Elway and his brain trust’s track record so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team uncover a hidden gem again this year.
- Make a Splash.
The draft is essentially the last bit of excitement NFL fans get until training camp opens later this summer, so hopefully the Broncos will find a way to give fans plenty to talk about over the next four months. I know we all consider ourselves die-hard Broncos fans and love the team no matter what, but tell me it’s not just a little more fun being a Broncos fan when they are the hottest story in the league. During last year’s historic offensive explosion and Super Bowl run, the Broncos were consistently one of the main topics of discussion throughout the media. Everywhere you looked, the orange and blue was staring you in the face. And you have to admit it’s awesome to, say, turn on ESPN’s NFL coverage and see guys like Tommy Jackson or Mark Schlereth smile a little wider when the Broncos and their players pop up in conversation. So whether it’s being part of a big trade that shakes up the first round or taking a flyer on a top prospect who drops down the board, let’s hope the buzz around the team is strong heading in the doldrums of the offseason.
What’s on your wish list for Draft Day? Is there anything you’re hoping the Broncos accomplish beyond selecting a specific player?