The Denver Broncos had their struggles on offense in 2016, especially in the passing game. Outside of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, no Bronco had more than 265 receiving yards on the year. Denver needs to find another pass-catching threat for the offense, and while a talented slot receiver may do the trick, the Broncos also need a good pass-catching tight end to open up the passing game.
The Broncos currently have three tight ends on their roster in Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, and A.J. Derby. All three had chance to earn the starting job throughout the course of the year, but not one of them did enough to win the starting job outright. The Broncos have the option of letting the three compete for the job in camp, but Denver would be better served to find an upgrade whether it’s through free agency or the draft.
The free agent market for tight ends is a bit of a mixed bag this offseason. A lot of the players available would only provide a minimal upgrade, but there are two players that would be a good fit in Denver. The best tight end on the market is Martellus Bennett, and considering the Broncos have – of available cap space to work with, Denver has a good chance to outbid any other team for his services. Jared Cook would be a good consolation prize if Denver loses the bidding war for Bennett, but he has a track record of inconsistency and could be a huge bust.
It’s more likely than not that the Broncos will allocate their cap space to more pressing needs this offseason and might want to find a tight end this spring. The draft is fairly deep at tight end this year and the Broncos may be able to land a good player as late as the third round if everything falls their way. The best prospects the Broncos might be able to grab in the first round would be Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Miami’s David Njoku.
Howard is the best all-around tight end in the draft class. He has the most ideal frame of any of the tight ends in the draft, showed excellent run-blocking at the collegiate level and has shown scouts that he can be a legitimate receiving threat in the NFL.
Njoku, on the other hand, has a similar frame to Howard, is an athletic freak and has highest upside of any tight end in the 2017 draft class. He showed good production in the passing game in his time at Miami, but the one criticism about him is he needs to improve as a blocker.
If Howard and Njoku are off the board by the time the Broncos are on the clock in the first round, they have two options available in the second or third round. The first option is to draft South Alabama’s Gerald Everett. While he played a small school, Everett has drawn the attention of scouts around the league and many are convinced that he can be an elite receiving tight end with the proper coaching.
Denver’s second option is to take Mississippi’s Evan Engram, who might be the fastest prospect at the position. He showed excellent route running and good hands in his time at Ole Miss, and like Everett, he has the potential to become a pass-catching threat.
Both Everett and Engram would be good consolation prizes, but they may not be able to contribute as early as the Broncos would like. As of now, both players are undersized for the position and will need to add bulk to contribute as a blocker in the Broncos’ run-first offense.
It’s not Denver’s most pressing need, but the tight end is a position needs to be addressed nonetheless. The Broncos need another receiving option on offense to take pressure off their wide receivers on the outside. Otherwise, the Broncos will have another season of predictable, one-dimensional passing in 2017.
Mike Esposito is the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos Staff Writer at Endzonescore.com. Follow him on Twitter @espo6891