- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
With Peyton Manning under center and the No. 1 seed in the AFC secured, Denver Broncos fans are thinking about Super Bowl XLVII, not the 2013 NFL draft. That's a bigger concern for followers of the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs, which hold the No. 1 overall pick.
However, the Broncos have weaknesses like any other team, and plenty of people at team headquarters are surely examining ways to strengthen the roster.
Whom might Denver target early in the draft? Here's a look at three key need areas and how the Broncos might address them with their first three picks in the upcoming draft, which will come late in each of the first three rounds.
Joe Mays landed on injured reserve after fracturing his left fibula in the New Orleans game and has played in all 16 games of a season just once during his five-year career. Mays also lost his starting job to 37-year old Keith Brooking after the Week 5 loss to New England, and teams have since had success exposing Brooking in coverage. Plus, Brooking is slated to become a free agent after the season.
There is an outside chance that Notre Dame's Manti Te'o could slide down the board following his struggles in the BCS title game, and while Alabama exposed his weaknesses, Te'o is still far and away the top inside linebacker prospect with the skill set to be an effective NFL starter.
Denver has been stingy against the run, and its defensive tackles deserve their share of the credit. However, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson are both on the wrong side of 30, and their contracts expire at the end of the season. The Broncos would do well to bring in a defensive tackle who can help with the interior pass rush.
As important as it is to find help at inside linebacker, passing over a defensive tackle like Missouri's Sheldon Richardson or Purdue's Kawann Short at the end of the first would prove difficult. Richardson is more of a one-gap penetrator who is at his best lining up at the 3-technique or over the guard's outside shoulder in Denver's scheme. Short has the size and power to line up at nose tackle in the Broncos' front.
The point is that the Broncos need help at both spots, and each player has the talent to push for immediate playing time. Florida State's Everett Dawkins would also fit well at that 3-technique spot, and he projects as a middle-to-late second-round pick
Denver is set on the outside, where Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season. Slot WR Brandon Stokley has also turned in his most productive season since 2008, but the Broncos can't assume they'll get the same kind of production next season. Stokley is 36 years old and played in just two games for the Giants last season, and he's another Bronco scheduled to hit free agency.
Yes, Denver already has one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league, but taking a receiver in the first two days of the draft makes sense. Manning is 36 years old and missed all of last season due to neck surgery. His window of opportunity to win another Super Bowl is closing. The team needs to put him in the best position to succeed.
Michigan's Denard Robinson was a quarterback for most of his college career but is expected to line up at receiver at this year's Senior Bowl. Depending on how he fares there, it will be interesting to see where Robinson's stock stands in a few weeks. He definitely has the speed and explosiveness to be an asset.
Notre Dame's Theo Riddick is a more likely candidate. Riddick, who can line up in the slot or at running back, has the burst to separate from man coverage and is dangerous after the catch. His versatility would make it easier for the Broncos to pick up the tempo when they see fit because he doesn't have to come off the field regardless of the formation.
Don't forget the O-line
If Denver and LT Ryan Clady part ways via free agency, you can move offensive tackle to the top of the needs list. If the Broncos were to go in that direction in the first round, a tackle like Central Michigan's Eric Fisher or Virginia's Oday Aboushi would be likely considerations.
If Denver re-signs Clady or puts a franchise tag on him, it should still look to add depth and competition along the interior offensive line. But that's not a top-three need as long as they feel that C J.D. Walton will successfully return from a season-ending ankle injury and 2012 fourth-round pick C/G Philip Blake can get healthy after a season-ending thumb injury.
Steve Muench looks at the top three draft needs for the Denver Broncos and the players who might fill them, including Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o.