AFC West: Kevin Minter

NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Denver: The Denver Post reported that the Broncos plan to let Nate Irving and Steve Johnson battle for the middle linebacker job. But this is a strong class and I think Denver will closely be watching the movement of the middle linebackers at the combine. It could start with Manti Te’o. He clearly has a lot of damage control to do after the fake girlfriend fiasco. If Te’o falls down the board at the combine, Denver could have a decision to make at No. 28. Football-wise, Te’o would be a great value at that spot. Also, Denver will be watching fellow Mike linebackers Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Kevin Minter of LSU. Both are rising stars. Ogletree, though, was recently arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, and that will be a major topic at the combine. It will be interesting to see if the performances of the middle linebackers at the combine sways Denver from committing to the competition between Irving and Johnson.

Kansas City: It’s the biggest question of the combine. Will a quarterback impress the Chiefs enough to tempt them to use the No. 1 pick on him? Right now, the odds are against it. Top quarterback prospect Geno Smith of West Virginia plans to throw at the combine. If he excels, Smith could put himself in the conversation for the top pick. If not, the Chiefs will likely find their new quarterback on the veteran trade or free agency market. Another top prospect, Matt Barkley of USC, is still not healthy enough to throw at the combine because of a shoudler injury. Still, the Chiefs will likely talk to him with the idea of possibly using a second-round pick on him.

Oakland: The Raiders are in a position of strength in the draft. They are simply going to let the draft board come to them with the No. 3 pick. Oakland has massive defensive needs across the board. It will very likely take the best defensive player available at No. 3. Fortunately for the Raiders, this draft is loaded with defensive talent at the top of the draft. So Oakland is just going to watch the combine and stack its defensive board. It's a good place to be for Oakland.

San Diego: The Chargers need a left tackle badly. The problem is, the position isn’t deep at the top of the draft. The top left tackles are Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. Joeckel will surely be a top-five pick, and Fisher and Johnson were stars at the Senior Bowl. If both players shine at the combine, the Chargers may have to worry that both will be gone by the time they pick at No. 11. So it’s almost as if they’ll hope Fisher and Johnson don’t have mind-blowing performances at the combine.

How Denver can improve in 2013

February, 16, 2013
The winter doldrums of a football-less mid-February are taking over in the Rocky Mountains. The days are a little colder and a little darker as the Denver Broncos come to grips with what could have been.

Watching confetti fall on the jubilant Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl victory Feb. 3 had to further damage the Broncos’ collective psyche -- part of a haunting winter theme of “it could have been us.”

The Broncos saw their Super Bowl push end in a 38-35 double-overtime defeat to the visiting Ravens in the AFC divisional round. Denver was 13-3 in the regular season, had the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and entered the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak in which it won every game by at least a touchdown. Its early exit from the postseason was stunning -- and particularly painful for the Broncos because they know it was so avoidable.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesFilling a few holes, including at receiver, could give Peyton Manning and Denver a better end in 2014.
Baltimore sent the game to overtime on a 70-yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a play in which Denver safety Rahim Moore inexplicably allowed Jones to get behind him in the final seconds of regulation. Countless former players said they had never seen an NFL defensive back make that type of play. Had Moore simply done his job, Denver would have advanced.

Instead, the Broncos will try to regroup and move forward. Despite the sobering end of the season and its painful aftereffects, the Broncos should feel good about themselves heading into the 2013 season as NFL Comeback Player of the Year winner and MVP runner-up Peyton Manning prepares for his second season in Denver at age 37.

“There’s a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger,” veteran middle linebacker Keith Brooking said shortly after the season. “This is a great locker room. The Denver Broncos are really close.”

The Broncos are not alone in building high expectations for the immediate future. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Broncos the early favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl. In an Insider piece, pegged them as a strong early contender for next season Insider.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had this to say about the Broncos heading into next season: “I think their roster is exceptional.”

Still, it would be inaccurate to say this is the perfect roster. The Broncos, two years removed from a 4-12 season, need to upgrade at certain spots. With the No. 28 pick in the draft and expected room under the salary cap, Denver should be able to improve. Let’s take a look at some areas the Broncos should look at as they aim for a long Super Bowl run next season:

Running back: The Broncos have the making of a decent stable of running backs but could use another pair of legs. I think Denver needs to find a bigger back to help in short-yardage situations. Jacob Hester did a nice job at the end of the season, but Denver might want to find a better back. Again, with Willis McGahee, a revived Knowshon Moreno and young Ronnie Hillman, there is a lot to like in the immediate future. But another talented runner wouldn’t hurt.

Receiver: Brandon Stokley did a nice job at age 36 as the slot receiver, but I could see Denver looking for a younger, more special option. There will be some interesting options available, including Wes Welker in free agency and perhaps Percy Harvin in a trade. Denver could even try to go big and add a player such as Mike Wallace. If Denver’s brass decides it can afford to make a big splash, this could be an area where Manning can take advantage. The truth is that the future is now in Denver. Manning has only so many years left, so Denver could be intrigued by striking big at this spot.

Defensive tackle: Denver’s defense made huge strides in 2012 under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Veteran defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan were good in their roles. But both are free agents, and Denver might want to get younger. There could be some solid options in the first round at this position, such as Purdue’s Kawann Short and Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins. Denver should find a good, young run-stuffer to plug in the middle of an explosive defense.

Middle linebacker: Brooking played well last season, but he was 37 and Denver needs to find a better starting option, whether via free agency in the form of someone like Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe or in the draft if Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter is available. Denver has a lot of young pieces on defense. Adding another one at this position wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Secondary: The last time we saw the Broncos, it wasn’t a great day for Denver’s secondary. In addition to Moore’s last-second gaffe, surefire Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey was torched. But Bailey, who will turn 35 in June, had a good season and the Broncos will keep him for another year with young, promising Chris Harris and Tony Carter. As at receiver, though, Denver could be tempted to go big and try to get into the Darrelle Revis trade talks if the Jets make a move. I also could see Denver looking to upgrade at safety. Moore, a second-round pick in 2011, made strides in 2012, and the team likely will not give up on him because of the one bad play. But adding another safety might be smart.