Woody Paige: Will Broncos find another gem among undrafted players?

Woody Paige: Will Broncos find another gem among undrafted players?
Posted at 12:57 PM, Mar 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-23 14:57:15-04

DENVER -- Like a free-diver in the Indian Ocean searching through thousands of mollusks, the Broncos are attempting to find another pearl.

Chances of finding a genuine gem in an oyster is about one in 12,000.

The odds for the Broncos have been considerably higher, but not earth-shaking. Since John Elway assumed control of the football operations in 2011, the Broncos have sifted through more than a hundred college free agents, and three, perhaps stretched to four, on the current roster have proven to be major contributors.

There will be as many as 45 players in training camp who weren’t drafted.

The off-season roster includes almost 30 players who were signed by the Broncos last season, or to futures contracts, or by other teams as young street free agents. One already has been on the practice squads of six different teams, and eight with their fourth team still aspiring to play in a real National Football League game. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

They all want to be the next Chris Harris Jr., C.J. Anderson or Shaquil Barrett.

Or even a Jordan Taylor, who finally has gotten to catch footballs as a wide receiver and a punt returner after being known solely as Peyton Manning’s caddie when the quarterback was recovering from injury his final season.

Then, there’s Kyle Sloter, who was signed by the Broncos as a free agent out of the University of Northern Colorado before the last training camp. He certainly outplayed the other three quarterbacks during the four exhibitions, but was cut, with the Broncos’ intention to have him as a practice squad scout quarterback. The Vikings lured him away with more money, and Sloter ended up on their active roster as a backup quarterback.

Ironically, Sloter played behind Case Keenum in 2017. Now he will play behind Kirk Cousins, and once again he will compete with Trevor Siemian – this time for the No. 2 job in Minnesota.

Only two players remain from the 2011 Broncos – No. 2 pick overall Von Miller and Harris, who was not selected in the draft.

About halfway through that year’s camp, I talked with the unknown Harris and wrote a column about the lack of respect shown him coming out of Kansas, where he played in the defensive backfield with Aqib Talib. “I’m here to prove everybody wrong,” Harris said bluntly. He did – and made the team. Harris is one of the five premier cornerbacks in the league – and went from a minimum NFL wage to a five-year, $42 million contract.

Anderson, who grew up in Northern California, was poised to go to California-Berkley after high school, but he didn’t qualify academically. He enrolled at Laney College in Oakland, recommitted himself on the field and in the classroom, and was given a second chance at Cal. Despite impressive numbers, he was unchosen. The Broncos signed Anderson to a free-agent contract in 2013. After getting hurt in camp, he didn’t play until late October. C.J. did make a limited appearance in the Super Bowl loss.

Although the Broncos have entertained offers for Anderson recently, he’s still here after his first thousand-yard rushing season.

Shaq Barrett played high school at the famed Boys Town in Omaha, then at Nebraska-Omaha before transferring to Colorado State. He was named the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year in 2013, but was not appreciated enough to be selected. A day after the draft, the Broncos, who obviously knew of Barrett, signed him, He spent 2014 on the practice squad, but was on the next year’s roster – and even started six games at outside linebacker. When not injured (missing the first seven games last season), Shaq’s a stalwart on the other side with Shane Ray (a No. 1 draft pick) from Miller.

Taylor and Kyle Peko, who have been on and off the active roster, are a couple of other examples of college free agents with the Broncos. Last year the defense utilized free agent safety Jamal Carter in all 16 games, primarily on special teams. He has an opportunity to play more in ’17. And cornerback Marcus Rios was on the Broncos’ practice squad until being activated on Dec. 1. Tackle Elijah Wilkinson (nine games) and safety Dymonte Thomas (three) will be back. Those four actually saw more action than four of the Broncos’ draft choices.

Everybody’s talking about the No. 5 pick in the draft next month, but is there another pearl for the Broncos among the undrafted players?