Broncos draft preview: Offensive line


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The countdown to this year's NFL draft is in the final days with the Denver Broncos poised to use 10 picks to create the class. Whether that means packaging some for a trade or simply picking the 10 players they believe can pump up the roster remains to be seen.

With the bulk of their work in free agency done, this is the fifth of a position-by-position look at where things stand on the roster and what draft prospects could be a fit for the Broncos.

Friday: Offensive line

Saturday: Defensive line

At the moment: The Broncos have just two starters in place in the offensive front to go along with candidates they believe can fill the three openings they have.

Louis Vasquez is returning to right guard, where he was named an All-Pro in 2013. He moves back from right tackle, where the Broncos moved him nine games into the 2014 season to try and repair issues in the offensive line. Ryan Clady is the team's left tackle.

After that, the Broncos have openings at left guard, center and right tackle. They would like Michael Schofield, who was a third-round pick a year ago in the draft, to compete and position himself to win the right tackle job.

On Thursday, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said Schofield is poised to do that.

"Obviously there is a lot of competition there, but that's what we drafted Michael for," Elway said. "... It's been good for Michael to get that first year under his belt. He's bulked up quite a bit. He's gotten stronger and I think he's looking forward to competing this year."

The Broncos made a trade for center Gino Gradkowski, who was in Baltimore last season when Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison were on the Ravens' coaching staff. They also signed guard/center Shelley Smith in free agency. Elway and Kubiak have also said they believe center Matt Paradis, who spent 2014 on the team's practice squad, is ready to at least push for playing time.

And the Broncos retained Manny Ramirez and Chris Clark -- each has been moved out of a starting spot in his time with the Broncos. Kubiak said both players will get a "clean slate" with the new staff.

Need factor: It all means the Broncos feel like they have more depth in the middle of the formation at the moment and any move in the draft, especially early on, would likely come at tackle.

Clady has had major surgeries on his foot, knee and shoulder since 2010 and finished the 2014 season dealing with thigh and groin injuries. The Broncos have also gone from a more man-on-man, power-based scheme in the offensive line to more zone blocking, which means they are looking for different kinds of players in some ways, players with top-shelf movement skills.

Names to keep handy: The strength of this draft board overall is likely best in rounds 3 through 5, according to many personnel executives in the league. While the overall strength of the board is considered fairly tepid this year, many in the league feel there is good value to be found in the middle.

But in looking at potential picks in the opening round for the Broncos, at 28th overall, tackle certainly fits the value of this draft board with LSU's La'el Collins, Stanford's Andrus Peat and Florida's D.J. Humphries all players the Broncos would give a long look at if they were available when they're on the clock.

Florida State's Cameron Erving, who was a tackle for the Seminoles before being moved to center late in the 2014 season, is considered a dominant center-in-waiting despite the small sample size. He could also start at tackle if needed.

Overall, after those potential first-rounders, a look at the game video shows the more proficient blockers in a zone scheme to include Oregon tackle Jake Fisher, who is just over 6-6, Oregon center Hronnia Grasu, who was a 52-game starter in his career, Hobart's Ali Marpet, Colorado State tackle Ty Sambrailo, Missouri tackle Mitch Morse (he might be an NFL guard) and Auburn center Reese Dismukes, a 50-game starter who won this past season's Rimington Award as the nation's best center.

All would fit what the Broncos will do in the new offense and all are possibilities.