DENVER -- Free agency brought offensive line fixes. The Broncos paid market price to add a tough, durable guard in Ronald Leary, while rolling the dice on talented, but oft-injured right tackle Menelik Watson.
The new faces should strengthen the team's most maligned unit. By any measure, the Broncos' offense was ugly last season. Of their 198 drives, 56 ended in three and outs, ranking fourth worst. That Denver managed a winning record remains a credit to a defense that held opponents to 50 three and outs, second best. But the Bronco' porous rush defense created vulnerability given the offense's glaring shortcomings.
Let's be blunt: the Broncos need more playmakers regardless of the quarterback.
Receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas provide an effective duo, but can't produce at an elite level without help from complementary parts. Denver had at least slight interest in change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy boasts a history of adjusting his offense to his weapons. Give him a third-down back, slot receiver or prolific tight end and he will maximize the player.
Again, repeat after me, the caffeine-free offense requires a jolt. The Broncos had 31 total touchdown drives (Atlanta ranked first with 58). Denver produced 12 red zone touchdowns. Only five teams were worse. Even more sobering, the Broncos produced four runs of more than 20 yards. No team had fewer.
Playmakers please apply. Or at least post your resume on Monster.com.
I bring this up this point because of where the Broncos draft. At the 20th selection with the starting left tackle not on the roster, either Garett Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk makes sense. However drafting for need instead of taking the best player available remains a greasy proposition.
There's no way the Broncos can pass up Christian McCaffrey if he's on the board at No. 20. He has more uses than khaki slacks. He can run between tackles, line up in the slot, and return punts and kicks. His upside could be Brian Westbrook, a breathtaking former Philadelphia Eagles great. At worse, he figures to be a younger version of Woodhead. If McCaffrey's there at 20th overall -- which seems to be growing increasingly unlikely with teams like the Saints eyeing him -- the Broncos should select him.
If not McCaffrey, then what is the answer? The tight end position boasts a plethora of options. Alabama's O.J. Howard and Miami's David Njoku provide skillsets that profile well in a McCoy offense. Howard is the rare college player who will be better in the pros because there were so many mouths to feed on Alabama's offense. Njoku has established himself as a mismatch in the red zone. If not those two, Mississippi's Evan Engram provides startling speed on vertical routes -- he's more of a true flex tight end -- and Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges could be available later in the draft as an inside-the-20 threat.
Even receiver John Ross, who ran an NFL combine record 4.22 40-yard dash surfaces as an option. How can you not love the former Washington star's speed? I do. But not at 20.
If not McCaffrey, the tight end position makes more sense with a high draft choice because of the versatility it provides the offense. The Broncos only had 44 plays of 20-plus yards last season. Putting gash plays back into the mix would go a long way in helping Denver realize greater team success.