ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway heads to this year's scouting combine with a rather significant roster makeover on his hands.
The Broncos have just finished back-to-back seasons with double-digit losses for the first time since the 1960s, when the team was still in the AFL. And with a long list of impending free agents, including starters at cornerback (Bradley Roby), tackle (Jared Veldheer), center (Matt Paradis) and linebacker (Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett and almost certainly Brandon Marshall), the Broncos have more than their share of needs as they head to the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Here are three players to watch:
Jonah Williams, T, Alabama
Why the Broncos are watching: Garett Bolles has shown flashes since the Broncos made the left tackle their first-round pick in 2017, but he's among the most penalized players in the league and has been resistant at times to fix the parts of his game that need it, especially in pass protection. And Jared Veldheer, who played in 11 games at right tackle last season, is a free agent. The Broncos would need to use the No. 10 pick to get him, as he started games at both left and right tackle in his three seasons with the Crimson Tide. He's a player with superior fundamentals who has shown he can play with power in the run game and match some of the quickest edge rushers in college football in the passing game.
What the Broncos want to see: They just need confirmation on this player, to meet him face-to-face, offensive line coach Mike Munchak in particular, because to use a top-10 pick on a tackle means you believe he's a walk-in starter for a long time. Some scouts have expressed some minor concerns about a slightly smaller frame compared to other tackles on the board, but Williams is a complete prospect at a position where that is difficult to find on this draft board. Hand placement, footwork, how he mirrors pass-rushers, how he anchors against the power guys and how he pushes people in the run game, it's all there.
Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
Why the Broncos are watching: They have three -- count 'em, three -- impending free agents at cornerback in Roby, Tramaine Brock and Jamar Taylor, so there almost has to be, at the bare minimum, one cornerback in the 2019 draft class, and that cornerback had better have the ability and mental makeup to step in and play. Ya-Sin has the long reach and physical look any defensive backs coach would want -- he is over 6 feet and expected to check in around 200 pounds. He's a willing tackler who has shown the ability to play off in zone or in press coverage and could be a target on Day 2 of the draft.
What the Broncos want to see: They'll want to know he's ready to learn, because he isn't one of the players on the board with a long résumé in Division I football. He played three seasons at Presbyterian College before finishing out at Temple. He has technique things to work on, and the last time the Broncos took a cornerback in the draft who didn't have a particularly long collegiate résumé -- Brendan Langley -- it didn't work out right away. To this point, Langley has spent his time bouncing between the practice squad and roster.
Porter Gustin, LB, USC
Why the Broncos are watching: Elway has shown throughout his tenure he will take a long look at a player coming off injuries if he thinks that player is a fit. Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt, Chad Kelly and Quanterus Smith are players Elway has used a draft pick to acquire, often on Day 2 or Day 3, because he believed the potential value was there and outweighed the injury concerns as the draft unfolded. Gustin, who missed much of his junior season with a broken toe as well as a biceps injury and then missed significant time as a senior with a fractured ankle, is one of those kinds of players on this year's draft board.
What the Broncos want to see: The Broncos are far more interested in play speed -- it's why they selected Josey Jewell last season after a subpar showing in the 40-yard dash at the combine -- and Gustin is a high-motor player. Some personnel executives believe Gustin lacks quickness in the pass rush, but he has the potential fit on defense and special teams. He missed half of his senior year -- he played in six games -- and still led the Trojans with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. What the Broncos think after his medical exam at the combine might have a lot to say about what they think of him as a prospect. Gustin has a place on an NFL roster in the later rounds as a high-effort situational pass-rusher and special-teamer -- if he can stay on the field.