Before a pick had been made in this year’s NFL draft, John Elway knew that it was going to be a tough sell to get some of the better undrafted players who remained on the team's draft board to sign with the Denver Broncos.
After all, the Broncos were a Super Bowl team last season with fairly young players on the depth chart. Denver also was one of the league's most active teams in free agency, making for limited spots to keep the team’s undrafted player streak alive.
The Broncos were able to convince 15 undrafted players to agree to terms Saturday night. And for the past 10 seasons at least one undrafted rookie has made the team’s cut to 53 players before the season opener. Last year it was running back C.J. Anderson who made the roster.
“It got much harder last year, and I’m sure it’ll be harder this year once the draft is over and we do start calling the college free agents," Elway said last week. “But there’s no question, it makes it more difficult when you have a real good football team, because those kids are looking for opportunities and trying to go to the places where they’re best going to be able to make a roster. So it makes it more difficult for us … it’s a good problem to have."
This year’s road figures to be bumpy for those undrafteds because the Broncos simply don’t have much room for any of them on the roster. But there are some possibilities.
There are three players who were invited to the scouting combine this past February in the group – Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs, Fresno State wide receiver/returner Isaiah Burse and Michigan State wide receiver Bennie Fowler.
The Broncos are a little thin at running back, so there is some room for Bibbs to make a push. Bibbs entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore after a 1,741-yard, 31-touchdown season. In a quirky bit of production Bibbs, who had 603 yards rushing combined in back-to-back games last season, had more games with fewer than 100 yards rushing last season (eight) than he did with more than 100 yards rushing (six).
But the Broncos are on the hunt for another back in the rotation, so Bibbs has a shot as does another undrafted player signed Saturday -- Duke’s Juwan Thompson. Thompson played for David Cutcliffe at Duke -- Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee -- and he came with a quality recommendation from Cutcliffe to the Broncos.
Manning and the Broncos pass-catchers were at Duke for some workouts earlier in the offseason. At 5-foot-10 ½ inches tall and 226 pounds, Thompson is a big back well versed in the passing game. He ran a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.
He’ll be a player to keep an eye on in training camp. Duke had six players carry the ball at least 62 times last season and none of the players had more than 113 carries. Thompson finished the season with 64 carries for 355 yards to go with seven receptions.
Burse, too, will have a quality chance because of his ability as a returner. At 5-10 3/8, 188 pounds, Burse was an undersized receiver in a draft class filled with tall, big and fast wideouts. But Burse was one of the better punt returners on the board, averaging 12.5 yards on punt returns with two touchdowns this past season.
“Obviously with Burse he’s a good slot, productive receiver,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “[Return work] obviously helps his chance, but his skill set is something we were impressed with.’’
For Fowler's part, he ran 4.35 (hand-timed) at his pro day to go with an attention-grabbing 17.3 yards per catch last season, but he has suffered fractures in both feet during his career.
Colorado State linebacker Shaquil Barrett was the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year last season and set the conference’s record for tackles for loss (20.5). His play speed is far better than his workout numbers, so he could find a way on the roster if he makes a quick impact on special teams.
Also, Mister Cobble, a 333-pound defensive tackle from Kentucky, shows quick feet for a player his size in his game video. Cobble missed time in the 2012 season with an infection, had shoulder surgery in 2011 to repair a torn labrum and missed most of the 2010 season with academic issues.
But the Broncos like that kind of bulk in the middle of the defensive line, so Cobble will get a long look.