Opportunities abound for Broncos' 2015 rookie class

Sam Cowhick Avatar
March 30, 2016


While the Denver Broncos mull over the upcoming draft and continue to traverse the free agency period with nearly no cap room left, they can look back to last year’s rookie class and find renewed optimism in their progress and potential.

Shane Ray and Max Garcia certainly panned out nicely for the Broncos. Each played substantial time and contributed significantly to the Broncos championship but the remaining six draft choices and a pair of undrafted players are under pressure to perform. Coach Gary Kubiak and his staff, still have confidence in the 2015 class, enough so that they will certainly be relied on in the 2016-17 season.

2nd Round, 59th Overall- OL Ty Sambrailo

Sambrailo was certainly the “feel good” story of the Broncos draft class. The four-year player from Colorado State University was selected earlier than many thought he would go at 59th overall but he quickly moved up the depth chart for the Broncos.

Another terrible, season-ending injury for offensive tackle Ryan Clady thrust Sambrailo into a starting role. While moving up the depth chart, Kubiak praised his progress and the former Ram started the team’s first three games with varying success before a shoulder injury placed him on season-ending injured reserve.

“Ty, in a lot of ways, is starting over. He’s still a rookie again, but obviously, he knows what we’re doing,” Kubiak said March 22. “Other than center, Ty could fit in and play anywhere. With what’s happened with our team here the last few weeks, obviously he would be a natural fit if he’s going to move inside, probably the guy to do that.”

With the additions of offensive tackles Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung, Sambrailo will be transitioning to one of the guard positions. At CSU, he played all five positions along the line but as Kubiak alluded to, he will have to prove himself all over again.

3rd Round, 92nd Overall- TE Jeff Heuerman

Heuerman is the biggest question mark remaining from the team’s 2015 draft class, for obvious reasons. The former Ohio State University Buckeye played in 51 games (36 starts) and caught only 52 passes in college. Shortly after his, surprisingly early, 92nd selection in the draft, he came to Denver and tore his ACL in rookie camp. He missed his entire rookie season but has not lost favor with the coaching staff. Both Elway and Kubiak have reiterated their plans to implement him heavily in their plans for the 2016-17 season.

He will undoubtedly get that opportunity. 2015-16 Tight ends Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis do not seem to be in the plans. Daniels was cut recently to make cap room and Davis has had meetings with other NFL team’s interested in his services next season and has not had any negotiations with Denver. Heuerman represents a younger version of Daniels, a nice addition to Virgil Green and his blocking-centric skill set.

7th Round, 250th Overall- QB Trevor Siemian

Siemian was drafted late last year and was a footnote behind the signing of Ray and due to the quarterbacks ahead of him. Peyton Manning was expected to be Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler was certainly in line to take over whenever No. 18 hung up his cleats. Oh, how things change.

Siemian is entering this offseason with a legitimate chance to compete for the starting quarterback position on the defending champion Broncos. The 7th-round pick won’t get any sympathy from quarterback Mark Sanchez or even former backup quarterback Kubiak when organized team activities get underway in just a few short weeks.

“It’s time to rush Trevor,” Kubiak said. “After your rookie year, usually, in my experience, if you’re going to be a really good player in this league, you make your biggest jump from Year One to [Year] Two. It’s just a natural jump. I’m really excited to watch him come back in April and see how far he has come. I know how he left and I know the confidence that we have in him, but let’s see because he’s going to be much more in a leadership role than he was in the past.

Siemian possesses a strong arm and nice mobility but he was certainly not ready to step in last season at any point. That was evident when Manning was hurt and the team signed former first-round pick Christian Ponder from quarterback depth. At Northwestern University, Siemian only had three starts before his senior year in which he started 11 games. He was drafted late only due to his potential and it is certainly time to show that this offseason.

Undrafted free agent – Kapri Bibbs

Bibbs followed in the footsteps of several undrafted running backs to make the Broncos roster. Most recently, Juwan Thompson and C.J. Anderson led the way for him. The former Colorado State Ram broke the University’s single-season rushing record (1,741 yards) and led the nation in rushing touchdowns with 31. In surprising fashion, he beat out the 2013 58th overall draft pick Montee Ball for the last spot on the roster in training camp last summer.

During the season, he only appeared in one regular season game on special teams. Kubiak was asked about Bibbs on March 22 and didn’t mince words about how important this season is for the young running back.

“I think Kapri needs to understand that—let me say this the right way—he hasn’t done anything in this league,” the coach told. “So it’s time for him to go do something. That means he’s going to have to take a big step as a player, as a special-teams player. He shows flashes of, ‘I can do this,’ but it needs to be on a consistent basis. He and I have had that talk.”

Bibbs will get an opportunity to take that “big step” as free agent Ronnie Hillman appears to be heading to another NFL team shortly. Anderson is the favored back but limited cap space makes for an open competition between him, Thompson and a future draft pick for the backup role.

Undrafted free agent – Jordan Taylor

Taylor made national news this season for his help getting Manning back into shape for a playoff run, ultimately earning a new tailored suit from the classy quarterback but his training camp performance is what should be remembered as the offseason workouts approach.

The receiver from Rice University, who gained 37 starts in 42 career college games, made play after play in training camp. Showing off his 6-foot-5 frame and surprising speed. Andre Caldwell remains an unsigned free agent and while Jordan Norwood just resigned, there is room for competition at the third wide receiver position. Cody Latimer should improvement on special teams but has not impressed at wide receiver. Taylor and other 2015 practice squad players will once again get a chance to show off their skills this summer.

“There are always a few guys that you’re very excited about,” Kubiak detailed. “It may be they’re never activated or got a chance to activate, so obviously we talked about [Taylor] and we talked about [C] Dillon Day. I think we have some really good guys on our practice squad that have a chance to take a big step. I don’t want to put too much on them too early. Obviously, they look like two kids that have a chance to help us this year.”

The rest: 5th round, 164th overall- DB Lorenzo Doss, 6th round, 203rd overall- DL Darius Kilgo and 7th round, 251st overall- DB Taurean Nixon

All three late picks remain on the roster and only Doss and Kilgo saw playing time during the 2015-16 season. Kilgo, in particular, played well in training camp, enough so to beat out the often-injured Marvin Austin Jr. and other nose tackles for the backup role. Ultimately, Vance Walker and Sylvester Williams did such a great job that Kilgo ended up only playing 10.3 percent of defensive snaps in the regular season and zero in the postseason. Doss and Nixon will again be asked to backup a very talented group of defensive backs and may not see the field much in their second years.

Kilgo will get another shot to compete and show growth in a group that needs to account for Malik Jackson and potentially Antonio Smith’s departure.

The Broncos last pick from the 2015 draft, Josh Furman was waived September 5.

The Broncos had 26 free agents and the Super Bowl 50 victory added to the leagues poaching of their talent. That is all the more reason for the sophomore’s left on the roster to step up and take advantage of their opportunity. Kubiak made it clear that a young player only has a limited time to show what he has and that starts now.

“Nothing drives me more crazy than to see a young player that is very talented, should be a success in this league and help his family out and himself out, and get the most and he’s not getting it because maybe he doesn’t quite understand how to work or how to be a pro,” he said emphatically. “I’m not trying to be hard from that standpoint, but I just feel like that’s my job.”


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