DENVER — Four straight losing seasons and a developing young core left the Broncos positioned to remake their roster this spring.
They moved strategically to address needs, acquiring cornerback A.J. Bouye and interior defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and signing running back Melvin Gordon, right guard Graham Glasgow, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel and punter Sam Martin.
“There was a lot of prep work that went into it,” coach Vic Fangio told the team website on Wednesday. “We had all the coaches’ input, the pro scouts’ input, John (Elway)’s input, Matt (Russell)’s and myself. We came up with some guys that we’d target and would like to get, and with the help of (vice president of football administration) Rich Hurtado doing the contract end of it, we were able to come up with some guys that will really help us moving forward.”
It represents a solid start in the race back the playoffs. Reaching the postseason for the first time since Super Bowl 50 requires a better offense. Period. The Broncos have ranked near the bottom in scoring for four straight years. Signing Gordon makes Denver one of three teams with two Pro Bowl running backs. Gordon is expected to get the bulk of the carries with Phillip Lindsay complementing him as a change of pace weapon whose improvement in the passing game will be critical to getting him more touches.
“Exactly how that will look remains to be seen, but it’s pretty common right now in the NFL that most teams have two backs that do the bulk of the ball-carrying … (and divide) up the third-down responsibilities. So I don’t see it as a problem getting enough work for both of them. We’re happy to have them both.” Fangio said. “I just think (Gordon) is a quality running back, both when he’s toting the rock and when he’s running pass routes. I think he can pass protect. I think he’s a very versatile running back in that he can do all the jobs a running back has to be asked to be done, and I’m excited to have him.”
Improving from 20th in rushing remains critical. But it’s not enough. The Broncos require another receiver. They don’t necessarily need a big target — they possess that in Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton. A burner would help diversify the offense, and open up the middle of the field for promising tight end Noah Fant.
In the first of my several Denver7 draft pieces over the next month, I narrow the focus on speedy receivers that could fit in the first or second round. The draft remains scheduled for April 23-25.
WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama, 5-foot-11, 188 pounds
The Broncos need speed. Ruggs runs on nitromethane, running a 4.27 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. And that is the problem. He might be too fast to last for the Broncos. From everything I am hearing, Ruggs could be gone before the 15th pick. Oddsmakers have set his over-under at 15.5. Will there be a run on left tackles keeping him at that spot or will the Las Vegas Raiders snag him at him No. 12 overall?
Ruggs posted modest numbers at Alabama because there were so many mouths to feed. I told him at the combine I thought his best football was ahead of him. He didn’t dismiss the idea, likely knowing he would have been the No. 1 target at most schools.
The idea that he’s somehow the next John Ross is unfair. Ross rode his 40 time to explode on the scene at the combine, earning a first-round selection. Ruggs is a more accomplished route runner with a higher upside. Pairing him with Sutton could force opposing safeties to make difficult decisions. Ruggs led Alabama by averaging 18.7 yards per catch last season, and he features a 42-inch vertical jump. This is the type of dynamic weapon who could help caffeinate the Broncos offense and accelerate quarterback Drew Lock’s development.
WR Jalen Reagor, TCU, 5-11, 206:
Reagor, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Monte Reagor, is another freakish athlete. He won the long jump in high school with a national-best 26-foot mark. He put up solid college numbers despite inconsistent quarterback play. He was a threat in the open field, a legitimate playmaker. However, he struggled against press coverage at times, and must get better on contested catches. Most mocks have him going in the middle of the second round, where he could fit for the Colts at 44, the Broncos at 45 or the Falcons at 47. He ran a 4.47 40 at the combine.
WR Denzel Mims, Baylor, 6-3, 207 pounds:
Mims was a track star in high school, winning a state title in the 200. His speed translates in pads. He is bigger than Ruggs and Reagor without sacrificing speed. He ran a 4.38 40 at the combine, featuring long strides. Mims could work if the Broncos want to trade out of 15, and into the early 20s, while picking up another second-round pick. The ability is there, but can he show the fire consistently to evolve from an athlete into a playmaker at the pro level? I like Mims over Reagor, if only by the slightest margin.
As for those wondering why I didn’t go into detail about Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, who could go to the 49ers at 13, and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, who could go the Jets at 11, Raiders at 12 or 49ers at 13, let me explain. They are terrific, and project well at the next level. They, however, are more similar to Sutton. Sutton is staring at multiple Pro Bowl honors over the next five years. Complementing him means more straight speed through a burner or slot receiver. I wouldn’t complain if the Broncos take either of the aforementioned stars. But they are more like Sutton than I think the Broncos want as they seek to diversify the offense.
Ruggs is built like a modern slot receiver with elite speed. The Broncos hired Pat Shurmur, their fifth offensive coordinator in five years, to help create deeper strikes. The Broncos had five touchdowns passes of 20-plus yards last year, ranking 27th. The Giants, Shurmur’s last team, had 15, second only to Chiefs (19). Ruggs could be an ideal fit especially if Shurmur leans on play action and loosens defenses with screen passes.