DENVER -- The Broncos can talk about improvement without a smirk. They have enjoyed a strong offseason.
Consider it the foundation. The house needs to be furnished -- especially on offense.
That's where the April 23-25 draft comes into focus. It will be unlike any seen -- with the Broncos hopeful that five or so employees, practicing social distancing, can assemble in one location. Whether general manager John Elway and coach Vic Fangio are together, the goal remains the same: upgrades. The Broncos need a more dynamic offense. It represents a fact, not a nuanced secret.
The issue becomes how much do you trust Drew Lock's five-game cameo when making decisions in the first round? The Broncos were not good offensively, averaging 17.7 points per game in their first 11 contests and 21.8 under Lock. However, Lock boasts interesting peripheral numbers that could figure into the draft decisions as the Broncos look for the best player of available in a position of need. Is that left tackle or receiver?
Under Lock, the Broncos' line improved because of his mobility and the quick strikes. Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen, neither of whom will be back this season, were sacked 36 times in 11 games, ranking near the league worst. Opponents sacked Lock five times in five games, and maligned left tackle Garett Bolles showed improvement. Yet, there's no denying the attack needs to leave a larger footprint on games.
While the team increased scored under Lock and posted more big plays, the Broncos averaged fewer yards passing (204.0 to 212.4) and rushing (89.4 to 110.5). They need caffeine. That could come through a speedy receiver like Henry Ruggs III, Denzel Mims or Jalen Reagor in the first round or early second.
However, an argument can be made that investing in the line is more prudent. It appears unlikely that the Broncos will pick up Bolles' fifth-year option given his penchant for penalties -- that decision will be made after the draft. And right tackle Ja'Wuan James managed 63 snaps last season after signing a four-year, $51 million contract with $27 million guaranteed.
It remains within reason, if James' left knee doesn't respond this season, that the Broncos could need two starting tackles in 2021. So get one this spring, right? Well, how would a tackle help the Broncos this season if it is a swing player who only starts occasionally? Denver is desperate to ends it four-year playoff drought, a fact that must be considered.
Here are top potential options with the 15th and 46th picks:
T/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa, 6-5, 320
Wirfs, pictured, boasts breathtaking athleticism as a former track and wrestling star. He turned the NFL Combine into his own talent show, setting records in vertical jump (36.5 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-1 inches) for his position group. Wirfs started three years at Iowa. He is young with a high ceiling. He's not expected to be available at 15, and, interestingly, some believe he profiles better at guard. That is no longer a need for the Broncos with the signing of Graham Glasgow and return of Dalton Risner.
LT Mekhi Becton, Louisville, 6-7, 364
No longer a secret, Becton's rare size and ability makes it likely he could go in top 10, possibly to Arizona or Tampa Bay. He needs to improve in pass protection, but has a reputation as coachable. He controls the edge in the running game. And he is big by any measure.
T Jedrick Wills, Alabama, 6-4, 312
Wills played right tackle for the Crimson Tide, but has the skills that should allow him to move to the other side. He isn't as big as some of the tackles in this class, but he moves well, has requisite strength and profiles as a first day starter. Cleveland could take him.
LT Andrew Thomas, Georgia, 6-5, 312
Thomas has been a national star since early in high school and didn't disappoint at Georgia. He anchored an offensive line that left tread marks in the running game on opponents' chest. His experience makes him a projectable starter as a rookie. He has slipped some on the draft board because he isn't the freakish athlete that others are at his position. He brings reliability and durability, and he could be there at 15. The argument for taking Thomas centers more on needs for 2021 than this season.
LT Austin Jackson, USC, 6-5, 322
Jackson is a great story. He donated bone marrow to help his little sister Autumn. It sapped his strength entering last season, but he has called it a "godsend" to help her. Jackson is a bit raw, and didn't dominate in college like others on this list. But, he has huge upside. The issue is simple: he's not good value at the 15th pick, and probably won't be on the board in the second round at 46. He would be type of piece that makes sense if the Broncos trade back in the first round to pick up an additional second-round pick.
LT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State, 6-6, 311
Cleveland is sound in technique. He boasts quick feet, and can move in space. Questions remain about his strength at the pro level. The Broncos have had success with Boise State linemen in Ryan Clady, a longtime tackle stalwart, and Matt Paradis, who advanced from practice squad center to Super Bowl 50 starter and Pro Bowl alternate. Cleveland fits as a possibility at the 46th pick.