The NFL has slowly grown into a nearly year-round season. The NFL combine starts Tuesday, only a few short weeks after the Super Bowl. Rebuilding a roster is the reality of the NFL and the Broncos free agency questions, combined with the team’s aspirations make this week vital to the success of their 2015 season.

With 17 free agents on the roster, the team must prepare to lose some important pieces of their team. As speculation and rumors fly as to who is staying and who is going, John Elway and Gary Kubiak will have their work cut out for them in Indianapolis this week. Three players in the combine could shore up some potential gaps on the roster and come onto the team ready to start in September.

Benardrick McKinney is simply a beast of an inside linebacker and is the most NFL-ready prospect at his position. More importantly, the Broncos lack depth and size at middle linebacker and their veteran inside linebacker, Nate Irving, will be an unrestricted free agent on March 7th.

McKinney, a 6’5”, 249-pound junior linebacker from Mississippi State University played exceptionally well this past year. According to MSU’s site he led the team in tackles, compiling 71 and was named first-team All American. He started all of the team’s 13 games and was a force in the middle.

His size and strength makes him a great fit for the Broncos shift to a 3-4 base defense. He can take on offensive lineman and shed lead blockers to contain the run. He also has great attention to detail and plays within his assignments as well. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has McKinney going in the top thirty picks. He has been going anywhere from 11th to 25th in most experts mock drafts.

His talent, exceptional size and impressive play in the SEC has helped him prepare to immediately make an impact on a NFL roster. The Broncos may have to move up to get him but he is exactly what the team needs at that position.

It is no secret that the Broncos will be retooling the offensive line this offseason and the draft will contain a number of great players upfront. According to ESPN’s Jeff Legwold, the Broncos are planning life without Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery and Manny Ramirez. Ramirez is the only player that will be under contract as of March 7th. A.J. Cann from the University of South Carolina would fit in great at left guard next year.

After drafting a center and tackle in last year’s draft the Broncos lack depth at guard. The Gamecocks’ redshirt senior’s experience and healthy track record could go along way for any team that drafts him. According to the team’s site he started 51 games, was named a permanent captain in 2013 and was named first-team All-American by several publications. He was rarely penalized while excelling as a run blocker and his natural position at left guard is just what the Broncos need.

He will likely be a late first-round, early second-round pick and that suits the Broncos well with their first pick at No. 28. Much like McKinney, Cann is NFL-ready and has shown exceptional skill and leadership, something the Broncos can always use more of.

Lastly, with the more and more likely departure of Julius Thomas, the Broncos will be looking for a pass-catching tight end to replace him. The remaining free agent tight ends in the NFL lack the talent for the dollars they will be asking and the 2015 draft has several talented tight ends. If Thomas leaves and the Broncos sign unrestricted free agent Vigil Green as is expected, Maxx Williams is the obvious choice for the team.

Williams is the prototypical pass catching, big man and has shown his knack for adjusting to the ball mid-flight, just YouTube his highlight reel. According to his bio on, 82 percent of his catches were for first downs or touchdowns. If Thomas departs, Williams could step in nicely. He also can line up on the line or out wide and has the size and football IQ to improve as a blocker.

According to the Gophers team site, in only his second year at the University of Minnesota, the 6’4”, 250-pound tight end caught eight touchdowns and was only the third sophomore to become a Mackey Award Finalist. He led the team in receptions (36) and yards receiving (569).

It will be tough replacing Thomas who caught 24 touchdowns in the last two seasons but Williams is by far, the best option in the draft to replace him. Williams is projected by most experts, to be the first tight end drafted but he will likely be available when the Broncos selected their first pick.

The Denver Broncos have a million questions yet to be answered but these three players in the draft represent very likely positions of need due to free agency and are more importantly, individuals that can have an impact immediately if they are selected. The Broncos will have a chance to get one and with some maneuvering, two of these studs come March. All eyes will be on all of the future NFL players this week. The draft runs from the Feb. 17-23, with on-field workouts starting Friday.

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