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Broncos arrive at NFL Combine with offense on their mind

Elway, Fangio lead small crew looking for talent
Posted at 6:24 AM, Feb 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-25 08:52:55-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL combine remains one of the oddest job interviews in sports. It is equal parts American Gladiator competition, Grey's Anatomy evaluation and LinkedIn conversation.

The NFL invited 337 players to go through a car wash of events, including on-field skill tests -- those will be televised in evening hours this year for the first time -- medical exams and face-to-face interviews at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center.

The breakdown by position is as follows: 55 receivers, 52 offensive linemen, 46 defensive linemen, 43 linebackers, 35 cornerbacks, 30 running backs, 27 safeties, 20 tight ends, 17 quarterbacks, seven punters, three kickers and two long snappers. The breakdown by conference reflects the polls and recruiting from three and four years ago: SEC 93, Big Ten 57, Pac 12 47, ACC 35, Big 12 29, AAC 20, Mountain West 12, C-USA 11, Sun Belt 7.

The local players involved from CU include receivers Laviska Shenault Jr., a projected first-round pick, and Tony Brown, quarterback Steven Montez, and linebacker Davion Taylor, who told me he hopes to "shock the world" by running a 4.3 40.

It is from these crop of players -- and some who aren't here, right Phillip Lindsay? -- the Broncos must mine gems. Coach Vic Fangio set precedent by leaving his coaches at home to study prospects. In his second year in charge, he will lead a small contingent including general manager John Elway and Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell.

For the Broncos to end their four-year playoff drought, it is imperative they hit on the draft, especially on offense. They figure to have 12 picks this April when compensatory selections are announced, and already have seven in the first four rounds. This is a draft strong in receivers, offensive linemen and corners, all positions of need for the Broncos.

My Denver7 look at some of the players who make sense with the 15th overall selection:

WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama: He plays at a different speed. It can be argued that his full talent wasn't on display at Alabama because of the crowded receiver room. He would arrive in Denver as the clear No. 2 to pair with Courtland Sutton. For Drew Lock's development to be more microwave than crock pot, he needs weapons. Ruggs qualifies in every way as a burner.

WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: When I write his name, I can hear announcer Gus Johnson blaring it as he makes a big play. That's all he seemed to do at OU. He baths in the spotlight, and would embrace the pressure of invigorating Denver's offense. He must improve as a route runner, but he is explosive with the ball in his hands.

WR Laviska Shenault Jr. Colorado: The Broncos know him well, having seen multiple of his games in person. Shenault is a rare athlete -- he weighs 227 pounds -- who blends power and speed. If you want yards after contact and a receiver who can be used on reverses like Deebo Samuel, he's the guy. So, what's the concern? Injuries. He suffered a serious of issues at CU, including a core problem that limited him last season. If his medicals check out, he will go in the top half of the first round. Other receivers who could be on the board as intriguing options: Clemson's Tee Higgins and LSU's Justin Jefferson.

LT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa: He is a freaky athlete from a school that produces NFL starters. The Broncos need a tackle with the future of Garett Bolles and Ja'Wuan James uncertain after this season. The Broncos are not expected to pick up Bolles' fifth-year option for 2021, and James must prove mentally and physically equipped to play after a MCL tear limited him to 63 snaps in his first year in Denver. Wirfs might not start at tackle, but could top the depth chart at guard then switch to the outside in year two. Houston's Josh Johnson is another name who could fit if the Broncos go with a grunt up front.

CB C.J. Henderson, Florida: The Broncos have cornerback issues. They will let Chris Harris Jr. test the market, but might lose him. He has told Denver7 he is keeping an open mind about staying, but with likely five-to-seven teams interested -- the Colts, Texans, Eagles, Cowboys, Raiders among them -- the Broncos might not match the offer. So, where does that leave them? I would expect them to bid for the Cowboys' Byron Jones, continue monitoring Darius Slay's trade market and look at Prince Amukamara for depth. C.J. Henderson could fit if no splash is made in free agency. He is long and angular and embraces the physical part of the position. Tackling is non-negotiable for Fangio. That's why Henderson cannot be dismissed if the Broncos go corner early.