The Thorn Report – Denver Broncos Draft Recap
The Denver Broncos came into the 2015 NFL Draft with several positional needs but more importantly, a desire to get tougher. They started things off with ten selections but drafted only nine due to a first-round trade to move up and select Missouri defensive end Shane Ray at pick 23. The trade involved Denver moving up from pick 28 by sending the Detroit Lions their 28th first-round selection, their 2015 fifth-round pick, 2016 fifth-round pick, and OG Manny Ramirez. Some say this was a bit much for the team to give up but I saw it more as a credit to Elway for having the courage to go get the personnel department’s guy. Ray was the 10th overall player on their draft board, making this a steal in the eyes of Broncos’ decision-makers.
The common trend throughout this draft – particularly in the first four picks – was a major emphasis on leadership and toughness. Adding these types of talented players with the right attitude is something the team hopes bleeds into the rest of the roster. Last year’s playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts made one thing abundantly clear: we didn’t respond to adversity kicking and screaming, rather we rolled over. I believe this draft better equipped us to respond in tough situations.
The entirety of the 2015 draft class is as follows:
- Pick 23: Shane Ray, DE, RS Junior, Missouri
- Pick 59: Ty Sambrailo, OT, RS Senior, Team Captain, Colorado State
- Pick 92: Jeff Heuerman, TE, Senior, Team Captain, Ohio State
- Pick 133: Max Garcia, C/OG, RS Senior, Team Captain, Florida
- Pick 164: Lorenzo Doss, CB,
- Pick 203: Darius Kilgo, DT, RS Senior, Maryland
- Pick 250: Trevor Siemian, QB, Senior, Team Captain, Northwestern
- Pick 251: Taurean Nixon, CB, RS Senior, Tulane
- Pick 252: Josh Furman, DB, RS Senior, Oklahoma State
Shane Ray – 6-3/245
- Very sudden in his movements laterally which makes him very difficult for bigger OL to block, even touch at times
- Outstanding burst and snap anticipation – explodes out of the gate
- Highly coordinated player who is able to keep his feet moving forward while working his hands
- Active/fast foot fire, fast hands, able to keep his chest clean in his rush
- Snap to whistle player who plays with a rare and special ferocity
- Devastating kicked inside on a guard, an area he will likely see a lot of time at in Denver, at least initially
- Looks much bigger than his listed playing weight of 245. Large frame with room to grow
- Struggles to convert speed to power, more of a speed than power rusher right now
- Can get high off the snap at times resulting in too easy of blocks for OL coming downhill
- Limited pass rush moves – relies heavily on his rip
- Doesn’t have elite bend around the edge
Where he fits:
In Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme there is a stand-up defensive end spot that DeMarcus Ware will start in with Ray as the guy who gives him a breather. I expect the Broncos to role out a Nascar type of package with all pass rush specialists that includes Ware and Von Miller at end with Ray over a guard. This is going to provide headaches for opposing offensive lines, plus allow Ray to see the field as a part-time player in 2016 while he gets bigger and stronger.
It’s really an ideal role for Ray. The best part of this fit is that Phillips is a creative strategist who is most effective when he has several pass rushers to work into various roles. In Houston (his last gig as DC) Phillips had at one point Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, and Connor Barwin at the same time. That same season the Texans finished with a top ten defense and ranked fifth in sacks. Mercilus was also a first-round pick before the season, after the team already had two very capable pass rushers. There is a similar trend happening here in Denver.
Another aspect of this pick that makes sense is when you look at the fact that DeMarcus Ware will be 33-years old at the beginning of the season and is in the twilight of his career. Von Miller is also entering a contract year and if he performs to his talent, could demand the richest defensive contract in NFL history. Not that the team won’t do everything in their power to re-sign Miller for the long-term, but this pick provides assurances on both fronts.
Ty Sambrailo – 6-6/311
- Technically sound player with crisp pass sets, hand usage, and foot fire
- Smart in recognizing exotic blitzes and the twist game
- Has the athleticism to mirror in pass pro
- Fluid and agile on the move, able to latch onto smaller players
- Much better fit in a zone than power scheme
- Team captain, relentless on the field
- Needs work unlocking hips to generate movement at the POA
- Can struggle in his anchor versus hulking lineman due to average strength (23 reps)
- Balance issues stemming from previously mentioned lack of strength
Where he fits:
This pickup was a matter of both need and value. When I scouted Sambrailo I felt like he lacked the strength and power to fit into a power, head up blocking scheme. This lowered his value to many teams except those who still run a zone scheme favoring athleticism over strength and size, making Denver a natural fit. Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme is an ideal situation for Sambrailo to come into as a rookie because it plays to his strengths and will mask some of his weaknesses. Sambrailo has extensive experience all over the line in college and his versatility was a major draw for the Broncos. He will be asked to play right tackle for us and has the athleticism to really excel moving to spots rather than moving people. He is a hard-nosed, tough player who doesn’t back down from anyone and fights through the whistle. Denver’s personnel was lacking up front not only in the amount of quality starters but in their fit to the scheme. We were built more so for a power run scheme under John Fox so this pick helps eases our transition with a prototypical player. Sambrailo should battle in camp with Chris Clark and Paul Cornick (both only have 1-year remaining on their deals) for the right tackle spot, but I fully expect him to win the job. Sambrailo has starter qualities and is fortunate to be in a scheme that will put his strengths on display as well as have his weaknesses hidden a bit with the heavy play-action, misdirection style that Kubiak likes to employ.
Jeff Heuerman – 6-5/254
- Enough speed to threaten the seams (4.80 40)
- Large frame allows him to win one-on-ones
- Played through injuries
- Strong hands catcher (10 1/8 hands, 33 1/4 arms)
- Team captain and workout warrior
- Very athletic player with vertical ability to play “above the rim” (34 1/2 vert, 10-0 broad jump)
- Strength to play in-line as an “F” TE or “Y” TE
- Versatility to be moved around both in-line, flexed, and as an H-back
- Needs work on route running, particularly getting separation out of breaks
- Not overly explosive on the field, more of a smooth athlete
- Wasn’t utilized in ’14 nearly as much as ’13, minimal production
- Durability concerns
- Struggles with the occasional focus drop
Where he fits:
Head coach Gary Kubiak loves his tight ends, as evident by the signing of Owen Daniels and James Casey in the offseason to go along with current listed starter Virgil Green. With the decision to let Julius Thomas walk in free agency its apparent the team is replacing him with a tight end by committee approach, which should work just fine. In Kubiak’s offensive scheme the tight ends see the field quite often, particularly two at a time and they are asked to block as much as catch the ball. All three of the tight ends on the roster are at the minimum competent at blocking (Virgil Green is excellent) but not all of them are young. Owen Daniels will be 33-years old by the start of the season and James Casey will be 31-years old. Heuerman’s skill-set is a natural fit and he brings youth with an element of athleticism that is needed at the position. While it’s difficult to imagine him making a significant impact in 2016, by getting into our system and working on his weaknesses he can contribute on occasion initially before asked to do more in games. The decision to draft him where we did was a case of drafting the best overall player available regardless of position while getting someone who could immediately influence the locker room, weight room, and practice field in a positive manner.
Coming up next – Rounds 4-7