ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There were some around the Denver Broncos' complex who looked at quarterback Peyton Manning's game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 28 with a raised eyebrow or two.

It wasn't that Manning, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 273 yards, didn't throw a touchdown pass (one of his two games last season without one) or that the Broncos struggled (they didn't in a 47-14 win). It was that Manning, with a right thigh injury he had suffered just two games before, was even playing in the final game of the regular season since the team couldn't improve its playoff seeding.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Broncos want to make sure Peyton Manning is healthy and rested for the playoffs.

Manning played deep into the fourth quarter of that Week 17 game and two weeks later looked less than 100 percent in the Broncos' playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. And with his 39th birthday having arrived this week, getting Manning at least some rest in the coming season, whenever possible, is something that is at least on the table for discussion.

Coach Gary Kubiak said this week at the NFL's annual spring meetings, it is a topic he wants to address in some way as he and Manning begin their working relationship together when the Broncos open their offseason on April 13.

"It's interesting," Kubiak said in Phoenix. "He and I talked about that and I know his mindset is totally the other way but I have to get a feel for that. I think that as a coach you have to make those suggestions to players ... I don't know what that's going to be until I get involved with him on a day-to-day basis."

It is certainly a topic Kubiak has addressed before. He was the Broncos' offensive coordinator for John Elway's final four seasons at quarterback when Elway was 35-, 36-, 37- and 38-years-old and the Broncos were regulating Elway's practice time.

Manning himself wants to take every snap he can in practice, let alone missing any parts of practice. The Broncos did have him take Wednesdays off down the stretch in the 2013 season because of ankle injuries that had bothered Manning for much of that year.

So, Kubiak knows he may have some push-back from Manning.

"The great ones -- the reason they're great is you have to battle them on things like that because they are used to being a part of every day," Kubiak said. "They are used to having that under-control every day situation. So we'll see how it works out. We want to do what's best for him. I went through the same process with John late in his career. It was a battle for me and (former Broncos coach) Mike (Shanahan) to do some things with him. ... But he battled us too and that's why they are who they are."

Resting Manning would also give the Broncos an opportunity to check on their life-after-Manning plan. Brock Osweiler, who was a second-round pick by the Broncos the same year the team signed Manning in free agency (2012), got in just four games last season to attempt 10 combined passes.

Over the last three seasons Osweiler has thrown 30 passes combined with his long career touchdown pass coming in that regular-season finale against the Raiders when Manning remained in the game deep into the fourth quarter. Kubiak said he had gone through the video of Osweiler's work in games to go with the three years' worth of practice video.

"He's got a bunch of ability, he's a big, strong kid, he's smart, he can move around," Kubiak said. " ... Now I get a chance to get my hands on him, work with him. But the thing I'm so impressed with is how, I guess I'll use the word excited, he is wanting to get going. I know he wants to be a part of the Broncos organization. He sees himself as a starter, that's the most important thing."

The Broncos will face a decision about Osweiler's future at the end of the 2015 season when he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Both Kubiak and executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway have expressed the optimism with Osweiler's progress.

For the most part Osweiler has remained patient in his time as Manning's backup, save for the Broncos' game in Oakland when Osweiler's hand-wave reaction to Manning re-entering a 41-10 game with 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter was caught by the network TV camera.He has consistently expressed his desire "to learn everything I can and understand what a good situation I'm in."

Former Broncos coach John Fox said he was responsible for the communication mix-up that resulted in Manning re-entering the game. Kubiak said this week his message to Osweiler has been, and will be, to stay ready.

"He's had a chance to sit behind, learn behind a Hall of Famer," Kubiak said. "His opportunity is going to come at some point and it's our job to make sure he's ready. ... I always tell young players nobody knows if you're taking care of your business until you're thrown in the fire. ... he's handled his business well."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – After a “recalculation’’ the Denver Broncos still have four compensatory picks in this year’s NFL draft, it’s just one of the four picks isn’t quite as good as it was just two days ago.

In what the league called a “database error,’’ the NFL’s management council, which oversees issues concerning contracts, free agency and salary cap matters, informed the Broncos Wednesday a sixth-round pick the Broncos had received Monday – the 208th pick overall – was moved into the seventh round, to 250th overall. The Broncos now have three consecutive picks – Nos. 250, 251 and 252 – in the seventh round.

Their other compensatory pick is in the fourth round, at No. 133 overall. The Broncos still have 10 picks overall – one each in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth rounds to go with two picks in the fifth round and the three in seventh.

The math of compensatory picks is based on a team’s net free agency losses in the previous season, so the Broncos’ picks are based on their net free agency losses last year. Since 2000 the Broncos have had four draft classes with at least 10 players selected – 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2009 -- and this will be the first time the Broncos have had more than two compensatory picks in any draft.

Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently expressed his belief the Broncos would get four compensatory picks, giving the team 10 picks overall. Compensatory picks cannot be traded so the Broncos’ ability to move around the board is not impact by Wednesday’s change, but the Broncos did lose a little draft value along the way with the pick being moved down a full round.

Last year the Broncos signed Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. All four players went on to play in the Pro Bowl.

However, in terms of compensatory math, Ware did not count as an acquisition because he had been released by the Dallas Cowboys before free agency officially opened.

The Broncos' losses in free agency before the 2014 season included wide receiver Eric Decker (Jets), guard Zane Beadles (Jaguars), Mike Adams (Colts), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Wesley Woodyard (Titans) and Jeremy Mincey (Cowboys). All of those players were starters for their new teams. The Broncos’ departures also included Robert Ayers, Knowshon Moreno (finished season on injured reserve) and Shaun Phillips, players who had significant playing time at some point during the season.

Ayers played in 12 games for the Giants in '14, with one start, while Phillips played in 16 games for the Titans and Colts combined with one start. Moreno's year with the Miami Dolphins ended early in the season because of injuries.

The new rundown of Broncos picks:

First round: 28th overall.

Second round: 59th overall.

Third round: 92nd overall.

Fourth round: 133rd overall (compensatory).

Fifth round: 143rd overall.

Fifth round: 164th overall.

Sixth round: 203rd overall.

Seventh round: 250th overall (compensatory).

Seventh round: 251st overall (compensatory).

Seventh round: 252nd overall (compensatory).

Broncos look at offensive change

March, 25, 2015
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ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the team running the ball more and how Peyton Manning will adapt.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the official opening of the Denver Broncos’ offseason program still three weeks away, coach Gary Kubiak can’t say how the team’s offensive line will look, but he can guarantee one thing awaits all those involved.

And that’s a clean slate.

Kubiak said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that strengthening the team’s offensive front is still a priority and the returning players from last year’s group will get a fresh start.

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesImproving the offensive line is a top priority for coach Gary Kubiak and the Broncos.

Asked Tuesday where things stood in the offensive line at the moment, Kubiak quickly said Ryan Clady is the team’s left tackle, Louis Vasquez is, as expected, going back to right guard where he was a first-team All-Pro in 2013 and that Manny Ramirez could be in the competition at center.

“Obviously our left tackle [Clady], Manny Ramirez and … Vasquez -- those guys have been pretty much staples of what’s going on,’’ Kubiak said to the media at the AFC coaches’ breakfast. “ … I would say those three guys have been anchors in what they’ve been doing and then from there we’re going to have to have a very competitive situation.’’

In early November, as their struggles up front continued to grow, the Broncos moved Vasquez from right guard to right tackle, moved Ramirez from center to right guard, and moved Will Montgomery from a backup role to center. The lineup stayed that way for the remainder of the season, but at times the Broncos simply could not repair their issues in pass protection, particularly in the middle of the formation.

The Broncos also saw their running backs being hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on a third of their carries, and Kubiak said the Broncos will have an eye on the position in the draft and free agency, including Montgomery.

“Obviously we have to get better up front,’’ Kubiak said. “ … But we think a lot of the young guys, we really do.’’

Kubiak has also consistently said with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and offensive line coach Clancy Barone in teaching roles, the Broncos were fully prepared to toss the younger players on the roster into the developmental mix, but a returning veteran like Chris Clark will start on even ground with the new staff.

“I told Chris, ‘We’re going to let last year go and we’re going to start over,’ and he’s done some good things,’’ Kubiak said. “I think it’s a fresh start for everybody. Obviously we’re not done trying to improve up front … the keys is going to be these young guys we have.’’

While Ramirez has started games at center for the Broncos in the past, including in the Super Bowl season in 2013, Kubiak said he believes Matt Paradis, a 2014 draft pick who spent last season on the practice squad, is an option and Tuesday Kubiak added that Dennison and Barone believe Ben Garland might eventually be a center prospect as well. It would be the third position move for Garland, who started his career with the Broncos in 2010, before his active duty stint in the Air Force, as a defensive lineman before being moved to guard.

Kubiak wants free-agent signee Shelley Smith, who has played guard and center in Kubiak’s offense with the Houston Texans, to concentrate on playing guard. With Vasquez moving back to right guard and Orlando Franklin having left in free agency, the Broncos could give Garland a look at left guard along with Smith and a likely draft pick.

Michael Schofield, a ’14 draft pick who was inactive for every game last season, will get a look at right tackle, as will Clark.

“We like the Schofield kid, too, so we’ll see," Kubiak said. "We think he’s got some flexibility. But those three older guys will continue to go [Clady, Vasquez and Ramirez], but after that it will just be very competitive.’’

Kubiak said he’d like to have things settled by the time the Broncos close out all of their OTA workouts and minicamps by mid-June in order to take a new starting offensive front into training camp.

“We’re going to kind of take it a step at a time and see how much progress we can make this offseason,’’ Kubiak said.

2015 draft picks: Denver Broncos

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos received four compensatory draft picks from the NFL this week for their net losses in free agency before the 2014 season.

They now have 10 picks total in the draft, which will be April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. Here’s the breakdown of the Broncos picks:

First round: 28th overall

Second round: 59th overall

Third round: 92nd overall

Fourth round: 133rd overall (compensatory)

Fifth round: 143rd overall

Fifth round: 164th overall

Sixth round: 203rd overall

Seventh round: 250th overall (compensatory)

Seventh round: 251st overall (compensatory)

Seventh round: 252nd overall (compensatory)

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PHOENIX -- NFL head coaches meet with the lead referee a few hours before kickoff of every game. In his first season with the Houston Texans, Bill O'Brien brought a special assistant to each meeting. Jim Bernhardt's title is director of football research, but one of his key responsibilities, O'Brien recounted Tuesday, is knowing the monstrous NFL rule book.

"He'll advise me on things that are challengeable," O'Brien said. "He's got a rule book right next to him [in the press box during games]. I don't know if he ever uses it, but he has it there for a crutch. That's what I did. I hired somebody to help with that. He's involved in a lot of things, from situations to clock management and things like that. But one of the parts of his job is the rule book."

The NFL rule book may be the most complex set of rules in American sports. The 97-page document is full of exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, vexing fans who want simply to understand what they see on the field. If it makes you feel any better, here's a dirty little secret: Not even the coaches know all of the rules. On Tuesday, in the relaxed environment of the NFL owners meetings, a few of them admitted it.

[+] EnlargeJohn Harbaugh, Bill Vinovich
AP Photo/Steven SenneJohn Harbaugh said he took an unsportsmanlike penalty in order to get officials' "attention so they would understand what was going on." The Ravens' coach objected to a Pats subbing pattern designed to keep his team off balance.

More importantly, the half-dozen I queried supported a long-term effort to streamline and simplify the rule book -- a project headed by NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.

"I'm all for making the rule book more coach-friendly and more user friendly," O'Brien said. "... I don't even know the challenge rules. I mean, I should. I kind of know them, but the referees will come over. They do a great job. They won't [let you make a mistake]. They're good about that, and they'll come over and say, you can challenge this, you can't challenge that. But I just think that we're all in the business of trying to get it right. If we can just get to a system where we're all on the same page with that goal, I think that will help our league and it will help the officials.

"I think the officials in this league do a really good job," he added. "I really enjoy working with the officials. But I don't know how they do it. My wife is a lawyer, and I can remember her studying for the bar, and I would equate [learning NFL rules] to studying for the bar."

The nature of football makes some complexity unavoidable, according to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. When I mentioned Vincent's project, Tomlin smiled and said: "Good luck with that."

Tomlin added: "I think we all search for clarity and simplicity, but I don't know that that describes our game in today's time, particularly with the inclusion of some of the technological advances that have become very much part of our game. I think what we're looking for is clarity and as much as we can find that, I think that's what we aspire to. I don't know that that ends up with simplicity, and that's just the reality of it."

Tomlin said he started studying the rule book in 2001, his first year as an NFL assistant coach.

"It's been a 15-, 16-year journey for me to gain a real understanding," he said. "I'm not going to pretend that I know every crevice of the rule book. We were talking in the coaches' meeting here the other day, and the reality is that we continually have discussions during the course of games about the specifics of the rules. It's difficult to have a detailed understanding of it at all times."

Indeed, O'Brien and Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak all joined Tomlin in saying they routinely ask officials for rule clarifications during games. Occasionally, of course, even the referee must hustle to keep up.

"The officials have the tough job," Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They're asked to do more and more every single year with the nuance. That's why anything we can do to keep it simpler for them, make it easier for them to identify formations and things like that, so they can do their job effectively and carry out their responsibilities, would be helpful. I know the officials want that. We should never be trying to make their job tougher."

Harbaugh's team fell victim to an unusual implementation of rules in the AFC divisional playoffs; the New England Patriots had an eligible player report as ineligible to confuse the Ravens' coverage assignments. Referee Bill Vinovich handled the twist the best he could, as we discussed at the time, but ultimately Harbaugh took a penalty to stop the game and draw Vinovich to the sideline for further discussion.

The Patriots' Bill Belichick isn't the only coach to dip into the nuances of the rule book for a potential competitive advantage. In 2008, then-Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt called for a "fair catch kick" in a game against the New York Giants.

Stay with me for a moment: If a team executes a fair catch, Rule 11, Section 4, Article 3 provides the option to attempt a free kick immediately afterward. The arrangement of players looks roughly like a kickoff with the exception of the holder. Because the defense is not on the line of scrimmage, the place-kicker presumably can line up a lower and longer kick.

Neil Rackers' 68-yard attempt was short, but there was no harm done as the half expired.

"When you're around it a long time, you understand some of the rules," said Whisenhunt, now the Tennessee Titans' coach. "There is always going to be something that comes up. Like the free kick. There's a lot of people that don't understand what a free kick is. It's a very seldom-used rule. We used it once in Arizona when I was there. Things like that are going to come up. You learn as you're in it, I guess."

Based on what Vincent has said, reorganizing NFL rules is a multiyear project. But when successful coaches acknowledge their own limited grasp of them, well, it seems pretty important. Kubiak has been an NFL player or coach for 32 years. His response to Vincent's idea? "I think it's a great idea."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday at the NFL’s annual spring meetings the team’s offense is ready for installation and that quarterback Peyton Manning is healthy and will be easily fit what the new playbook has to offer.

Kubiak made his comments to the media assembled at the AFC coaches’ breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix.

And has he has done since he was hired in January, Kubiak reiterated Tuesday his belief that Manning would be comfortable and successful no matter how he is aligned on plays – under center, in the shotgun or in the “pistol,’’ away from center but still in front of the running back -- as the team begins a bit of a transition to an offense that, at least at the moment, plans to run the ball a little more.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will fit their offense around whatever makes Peyton Manning feel the most comfortable, and they expect the QB to be ready to go come camp.

“We’re going to teach it all from the standpoint of scheme-wise and what you install and how you do those things, we’re going to teach it all,’’ Kubiak said in Phoenix. “He’s been back there for years, but he’s also played extremely well under center, too. I think it will be a combination of things. It’s going to boil down to what he’s most comfortable with and what we feel like we’re doing best.’’

Manning, too, has said since Kubiak’s hiring that he would “be comfortable’’ in any scheme the Broncos run short of a Delaware Wing T. Kubiak said in his limited discussions with Manning to this point about the offense, and what the Broncos had done this past season, at least some of the Broncos’ choices were based on Manning’s health.

Manning suffered a thigh injury just before halftime of the Broncos’ Dec. 14 in San Diego. The injury impacted Manning’s play, in combination with the growing success of opposing defenses in forcing Manning to have to throw toward the sidelines, down the stretch and into the Broncos' playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos also struggled in pass protection for much of the year. It all means, if the Broncos can get things in order in the offensive line where they are looking for as many as three new starters, Kubiak is prepared to line up Manning more directly under center.

“In my conversations, late in the year, he was not under center much because he wasn’t feeling real good,’’ Kubiak said at the meetings. “When I’ve watched him play under center, the steps and all those things, he’s been doing it for years. I don’t think that’s a big adjustment. Now, how much you do it probably depends on how comfortable he is and how successful we are with it.’’

Kubiak also talked about the pistol look, something former offensive coordinator Adam Gase used plenty as well, being an option to get Manning away from center without tipping the Broncos’ hand in the run game.

“One of the things about being under center is your back is not offset, so there is obviously tendencies in football to what you do and then how you line up,’’ Kubiak said. “The pistol has created a good situation because even though you’re in the gun, the back is still directly behind the quarterback and you have a two-way go. You’re not always offset with your backs. It’s something as an offense that you don’t want to be too tell-tale from that standpoint. The pistol will be a part of what we do also.’’

On Manning’s health Kubiak said “he’s doing great actually,’’ and said Manning would be full go when the Broncos open their offseason work on April 13. Manning is expected to soon gather the Broncos pass catchers at Duke University for some early work.

Newly acquired tight end Owen Daniels said he expected to attend.

“He’s been working hard,’’ Kubiak said. “He’s back in Louisiana a little bit and bouncing around a few places, which it sounds like he does all offseason. Every time you talk to him it’s about getting his workout in. [He says] ‘just got through working out. Coach, just got through doing this,’ and so I know he’s getting ready to go.’’

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning turned 39 years old Tuesday.

He will officially begin his return for his 18th NFL season when the Broncos open their offseason program next month. He already holds, or is tied for, 25 significant NFL records.

And any of the major records he doesn’t have at least a share of -- career passing yards is likely the most notable missing -- he will reel in during the coming season if he simply plays at his career pace. After all, since he signed with the Broncos in 2012 he is averaging 309.7 passing yards per game. The Broncos have won 13, 13 and 12 games, respectively, in those seasons, with three division titles.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning is averaging 309.7 passing yards per game since signing with Denver in 2012.

Shortly after he was hired by the Broncos as head coach, Gary Kubiak looked at the team's game video from this past season and said: "He’s got a lot of good football left in him. I’m excited to work with him, excited to see him up close, have those back-and-forth exchanges that make everybody better. He’s one of the best to ever to do it, and I’m really excited about building an offense for him, for our team, so we can get done what we all want to get done."

So, where Manning is right now isn’t uncharted ground -- five quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, including kicker/quarterback George Blanda, played in the NFL past their 40th birthday. That means the other quarterbacks enshrined in Canton, as Manning will be five years after his last NFL game, were out of the game before their 40th birthdays.

In the not-so-distant future Brett Favre will be the sixth Hall of Fame quarterback who played beyond his 40th birthday, but he threw 19 interceptions and 11 touchdown passes in his last NFL season. Dan Marino retired when he was 38, Joe Montana at 38, Dan Fouts at 36, and Manning’s boss, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, retired when he was 38.

But times have changed some. Manning is coming off a 4,000-yard passing season -- his 14th. Though he didn’t look like himself in the pocket down the stretch last season, his 4,727 passing yards were the second-highest single-season total of his career, and his 39 touchdowns were his third-highest single-season total.

Looking at his age, their cash reserves, their salary-cap situation, and with an eye on the future, the Broncos asked Manning to take a pay cut this offseason. He agreed to a $4 million salary trim that he will earn back if the team wins the Super Bowl.

Manning’s mood has been a topic of conversation since the deal was done. Some wonder how Manning will fit the new offense, how a player averse to surprises will transition to his third offensive coordinator/play-caller combination in his four seasons with the Broncos. For his part Kubiak said: "We’ll have things in place that fit and he does well, because we’d be stupid not to."

The Broncos also find themselves in an occasionally uncomfortable spot as they try to balance maximizing Manning’s presence with the franchise with the directive owner Pat Bowlen has long passed down to all team officials -- that the Broncos get in win-now mode and stay in win-now mode after even the likes of Elway and Manning are done behind center.

As Manning blows out the candles on another spring birthday, the Broncos are again in the Super Bowl conversation. Whether they are good enough to rise to the season’s biggest moments and close the deal remains to be seen.

Manning has always said he is "year-to-year" at this point in his career.

He’s not the oldest future Hall of Fame quarterback with at least one Super Bowl win on his resume to play in the league. However, that list gets shorter every year as the list of players he has passed grows. But there is no question Manning would wait for his favorite football present until, oh, about Feb. 7, 2016, to play in the game that lured him back for another season -- with a pay cut -- in the first place.

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV's Spreecast Episode 49 as we welcome in draft hopeful Brett Hundley and break down the latest in offseason league news.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined all show by Jeremy Fowler (Cleveland Browns and ESPN senior reporter), in addition to Hundley and two other NFL Nation reporters. Wells and Gutierrez will provide updates from the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

Fresh off a record-setting career at UCLA, Hundley is one of the many former college players hoping to be claimed in this year's draft that begins April 30. He's regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in this year's class. He'll stop by for a few moments to discuss his pre-draft journey, and how prepared he believes he is for the NFL.

Also, Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will chat about Greg Hardy's recent free-agency signing in Big D, and the reaction it has sparked there.

Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings reporter) will fill us in on the latest in the Adrian Peterson saga. Are the words of Peterson's agent a benefit or a hindrance? Also, what was up with the camel-riding birthday celebration the embattled rusher had over the weekend?

Fowler will help close things down by discussing the latest in the Browns' quarterback soap opera, and the television show they could be featured on later this summer.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got some much needed draft help Monday, or at least the potential for some much needed draft help.

Or as the team's top football decision-maker, John Elway, has put it; "you want the picks, but then you have to hit the picks, you've got to make them count, find some good football players who can be productive Denver Broncos."

The Broncos were awarded four compensatory draft picks by the NFL for their net free agency losses in 2014, pushing their original total of six selections to 10 picks in this year's draft on April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.

Denver received a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks. Denver now has the potential for the team's first 10-player draft class since 2009.

And given starters and key depth players can found all over the board in a seven-round draft -- the Broncos had three starters alone last year in cornerback Chris Harris Jr., running back C.J. Anderson and long snapper Aaron Brewer who were all originally signed as undrafted rookies -- the Broncos are at a point with the salary cap and on the depth chart they need to make them all count.

The draft is a decidedly inexact endeavor, but the teams that succeed at it season after season consistently find the "fit" players well into the second and third days of the draft.

In Elway's four previous drafts since taking his current job the Broncos have had some quality hits and also some misses from the fourth round on. They also have some players who they still believe, and hope, will grow into key contributors.

The Broncos have three players selected from the fourth round on in those four drafts who have been starters and are still under contract with the team -- tight end Virgil Green (7th round in 2011), defensive end/tackle Malik Jackson (5th round in 2012) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (6th round in 2012).

They have one other player – tight end Julius Thomas (4th round in 2011) -- who was a starter as well as a two-time Pro Bowl selection before he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month as an unrestricted free agent. Safety Quinton Carter (4th round in 2011) also started 10 games in 2011 for the Broncos before knee troubles derailed his career and he is an unsigned unrestricted free agent.

The Broncos selected five players form the fourth round on in those drafts who are no longer on the roster and didn't have a significant impact with the team while they were in Denver -- Mike Mohamed, Jeremy Beal, Philip Blake, Tavarres King and Vinston Painter -- though Mohamed did play in 14 games, with two starts, this past season for the Houston Texans.

The Broncos also have five other players still on the current roster who were selected from the fourth round on in those last four drafts who have not yet been starters, but the Broncos continue to hope they can carve out bigger roles.

In particular Elway has mentioned center Matt Paradis (6th round in 2014) as one of those players who could step forward for a far bigger role in the coming season. Paradis spent the 2014 season on the practice squad. Linebackers Lamin Barros (5th round in 2014) and Corey Nelson (7th round in 2014) each played a smattering of snaps on defense last season and each was a regular on special teams.

And Quanterus Smith (5th round in 2013) has potential to find some snaps in the new 3-4 defense if he can put his knee troubles behind him -- he has spent time on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons after an ACL tear in his senior season at Western Kentucky. Quarterback Zac Dysert (7th round in 2013) has spent the last two seasons, one on the practice squad and one on the active roster as the team's No. 3 quarterback.

In this draft the Broncos will have the newly-arrived fourth-round pick to go with two picks each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. And since compensatory picks cannot be traded the Broncos' ability to make those picks count will directly impact how aggressive they feel they need to be in the free agency market in the seasons ahead.

As Elway has put it: "We want those homegrown players, we want to hit those picks ... to stack those drafts."

The Denver Broncos hoped they had packed some quality arithmetic in their luggage when they prepared for the NFL's annual spring meetings. Turns out their numbers were right on the draft money.

The Broncos, as executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway had cautiously predicted just after free agency had opened on March 10, received four compensatory draft picks Monday for their losses in free agency a year ago.

The Broncos received a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks. With the six picks they already had, the Broncos now have the potential for the team’s first 10-player draft class since 2009.

Since 2000, the Broncos have had just four draft classes with at least 10 players selected – 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2009. With the picks they received Monday, the Broncos now have at least one pick in every round, including two picks each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.

When Elway has discussed the team’s plan in free agency – it took a far more low-key approach this year than last – he has routinely answered questions about what other additions the team could make with “well, we’ll have 10 picks,’’ and often added “if we did the math correctly.’’

Compensatory picks cannot be traded so the Broncos’ ability to move around the draft board doesn’t improve all that much with the four extra picks, but it does give them the chance, if they hit the picks, to add some youth to the depth chart.

On the current roster, defensive tackle Malik Jackson was a fifth-round pick in 2012, linebacker Danny Trevathan was a sixth-round pick that same year and tight end Virgil Green was a seventh-round pick in 2011.

When they signed Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos were certainly one of the high-profile teams last March. However, in the world of compensatory math, Ware didn’t count as an addition for the Broncos because he had been released by the Dallas Cowboys before free agency opened last year.

And the Broncos' losses in free agency before the 2014 season included wide receiver Eric Decker (Jets), guard Zane Beadles (Jaguars), Mike Adams (Colts), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Wesley Woodyard (Titans) and Jeremy Mincey (Cowboys). All of those players were starters for their new teams. The Broncos' losses also included Robert Ayers, Knowshon Moreno (finished season on injured reserve) and Shaun Phillips.

Ayers played in 12 games for the Giants in '14, with one start, while Phillips played in 16 games for the Titans and Colts. Moreno's year with the Miami Dolphins ended early in the season because of injuries.

In the last eight drafts, the Broncos have had just one compensatory pick -- in 2011 when they selected Jeremy Beal in the seventh round. Since the 2004 draft, they have had just five compensatory picks overall -- 2004 (Brandon Miree), 2005 (Domonique Foxworth, Maurice Clarett), 2006 (Domenik Hixon) and 2011 (Jeremy Beal).

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- He didn’t want to quite call it a first impression, but Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson had to wait far longer than he wanted to make his best impression on the NFL’s talent evaluators.

Grayson, one of the top passing prospects in this year’s draft, had suffered a hamstring injury Feb. 10 in a workout to prepare the league’s scouting combine. As a result, Grayson could not throw at the combine and did not throw March 11 at Colorado State’s pro day.

It all made Monday’s workout, with just Grayson and Colorado State wide receiver Charles Lovett taking part, a rather large chips-in-the-middle-of-the-table affair.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Grayson
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesGarrett Grayson on his workout for NFL scouts: "I was happy with my performance today ... I think I proved I can make all the throws."

"Last night, I’ll be honest, I got a little nervous and usually I don’t get nervous," Grayson said. " ... Last night I couldn’t fall asleep for anything ... I’m definitely happy to have this day over with."

Grayson was 70-of-74 passing in the workout, and one of the incompletions was a drop by Lovett. Grayson performed a variety of throws from three-, five- and seven-step dropbacks to go with a smattering of roll-out throws. Grayson did his jumps -- 34-inch vertical, and a 10-feet, 1-inch broad jump -- and ran his 40-yard dashes (a 4.60-second hand-timed was his best).

Grayson, who measured 6-2 and weighed 213 pounds at the combine, said he weighed 214 Monday. It will be Grayson’s only throwing session for scouts as a group before next month’s draft, but he has private workouts in the coming weeks on campus with the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers.

"I’ve been, honestly, just waiting to get this over with, just been training for the past three months, so it’s been a long process," Grayson said. "Obviously was a little bummed couldn’t do anything at the combine. I was happy with my performance today ... I think I proved I can make all the throws so, again, was happy with it. Biggest thing for me is I know I can go under center -- with Coach (Jim McElwain) we did it a lot -- but this past season we were probably 90 percent (shotgun), so I wanted to prove to everybody that I can take the five-step, the seven-step drops, under center and throw with accuracy."

Grayson is among the quarterbacks most personnel executives say is among those in the "next" grouping after the top two quarterbacks on the board -- Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Grayson threw for 4,006 yards this past season with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Vancouver, Washington, native said he has spent the past six weeks since his injury continuing to prepare, pointing toward Monday’s workout.

So much so that Grayson said his two 40-yard dashes were the first two times he has sprinted since the injury. He was concerned enough about it that he flip-flopped the order of his workout.

Most often players will do the jumps, cone drills and 40-yard dashes before any on-field, positional work. However, Grayson did his throwing session to open the workout, then did the rest of the drills and ran his 40-yard dashes.

"To be honest I didn’t know how I was going to do because I haven’t ran, sprinted or anything, since it happened," Grayson said. "What you guys just saw was my first sprint in over a month. That gives me confidence going forward that I can move without something happening. I knew at the end of the day quarterbacks don’t get paid to run 40s, they get paid to throw the ball. I wanted to make sure if something did happen with my hamstring, my throws, at least I got that out."

Grayson said he will leave Tuesday for Florida to sit down with ESPN analyst Jon Gruden on Wednesday as part of "Gruden’s QB Camp."

The Denver Broncos are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense this offseason under the direction of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

They have a lot of potential in presumptive starting inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan, but both are recovering from injuries. Marshall battled a foot injury last season and Trevathan's season ended early due to a dislocated kneecap.

When will they be back to full

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through the early part of free agency, the Denver Broncos have seen six players who started at least one game for the team in the last two seasons leave and signed a handful of players to try to cover the losses.

They also hope they did the math correctly and that four compensatory draft picks are headed their way on Monday to give the Broncos at least a 10-player draft class. At the moment they have 73 players under contract for the coming season – 34 on offense, 34 on defense and five specialists.

Here's the third of a three-day look at the current depth chart; tracking the departures and the signings to see where work still needs to be done.

Today: Special teams

Kickers: When the Broncos released kicker Matt Prater following Prater’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, they tipped a domino that ended up costing them a roster spot.

And that roster spot is still in play.

It started when they traded a conditional draft pick to the New York Giants -- it ended up being a seventh-round pick -- for Brandon McManus to replace Prater.

The Broncos believed McManus had shown the potential in his time with the Giants to be a strong-legged, strong-willed, reliable kicker who could handle field goals as well as kickoff duties. And that assessment may ultimately prove true down the road, but McManus missed four times in regular-season games after his arrival, the coaching staff quickly lost confidence in him, passing up field opportunities they wouldn't have before his arrival, and the Broncos signed Connor Barth to replace him.

But Barth could not kick off, at least not with the touchback consistency the Broncos wanted, so McManus was re-signed shortly after his release to handle kickoffs the remainder of the season.

They got the consistency they wanted on field goal attempts – Barth had two five-field goal games last season – and McManus routinely put kickoffs out of play. McManus’ 64 touchbacks were second in the league and touchback percentage (70.3) was fourth.

And now they must decide if they want to keep using three roster spots on kickers/punters moving forward.

Punters: To this point, the Broncos’ most significant move of the offseason in the kicking game has been to take a chance on a player well off the radar for some. When they signed Karl Schmitz, an NFL rookie who last played in college in 2008 at Jacksonville University, the Broncos signaled they’re willing to look near and far for a chance to go from three kickers to two.

Schmitz, who can punt, kick off and kick field goals, or at least has done all three at former Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis’ kicking academy, is a power leg the Broncos have deemed worthy of a look.

Where he fits, if at all, is still to be determined when the Broncos can actually get on the field for work next month. But with the Broncos' two-man look at kicker last season to go with punter Britton Colquitt’s 2014 season having been not quite as good as 2013, to go with a $3.75 million salary-cap figure for ’15, the Broncos are now willing to take a look at a long-shot prospect with potential.

Returners: Consider this job open for business on all fronts, but especially at punt returner with a kick returner at least penciled in at the moment for the new coaching staff.

Omar Bolden showed he can certainly provide some impact as a kickoff returner, or at least he could when he was finally given a chance in '14. Last season as the Broncos used several players in the job early on -- mostly wide receiver Andre Caldwell -- Bolden didn’t have a kickoff return in a game until the Broncos’ Nov. 2 loss at New England and he wasn't the go-to option until the 11th game of the season.

Yet of the four kickoff returns the Broncos had of at least 40 yards in '14 Bolden had three of them. He had the team's two longest kickoff returns of the season -- 77 and 76 yards -- in the Broncos’ last two games of the regular season.

At punt returner, however, the Broncos need far more than they got at most any point last season. In games the Broncos had at least one punt return (non-touchback, fair catch or punt out of bounds) this past season, they had fewer than 10 yards worth of punt returns six times, including the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

For the year they were tied for 20th in the league with 7.2 yards per punt return and were one of just four teams in the league that didn’t have a punt return longer than 22 yards for the season (Indianapolis, Chicago and Houston were the others). And they're still on the hunt for potential candidates for the job.

Coverage: Whenever the Broncos look to defensive players in particular on this year’s draft board, special teams will be a huge priority as the team transitions to new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

DeCamillis has promised fast units across the board, or at least units that play fast. And as some injuries hit last season, especially at linebacker, that affected how the Broncos had to construct the game-day roster. The Broncos were at a speed deficiency at times in their coverage units or didn't always tackle as well as they needed to. The Broncos did sign linebacker Reggie Walker this past week.

Walker is a quality depth player on defense, with the potential to play, at least some, of the four linebacker spots in the 3-4 scheme, but he is a productive special teams player who should quickly have an impact there.

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Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson used some of his playing-time bonus and surprised his grandmother with a new car.

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