Manning would need help in Denver

The Peyton Manning sweepstakes is still playing out, and the Denver Broncos are among the top contenders for Manning's services.

However, just as my colleague Kevin Weidl pointed out about the Arizona Cardinals, signing Manning alone won't be enough to push the Broncos over the hump, even if he is 100 percent healthy. Denver Executive Vice President John Elway and his staff will still have plenty of work to do.

What else do the Broncos need?

The biggest key for any team that signs Manning will keeping him upright and healthy, and while Broncos LT Ryan Clady is flagged for holding a little too often, he is capable of protecting Manning's blind side. Besides, holding is better than letting the quarterback get rocked.

Denver could address the interior offensive line though the draft and/or free agency, but the line shouldn't be one of its pressing needs come draft weekend. Here are four other areas the Broncos should address even -- and in some cases especially -- if they land Manning.

Wide receiver

Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are vertical threats on the outside, but Thomas has had problems staying healthy. Plus, Thomas and Decker are similar in that both are big-bodied receivers who are at their best shielding defenders underneath and winning one-on-one balls downfield. With Eddie Royal becoming an unrestricted free agent, adding a quicker receiver who can separate underneath and produce after the catch makes sense.

Ideally, this receiver could push for the No. 2 role opposite Thomas and kick inside to the slot when Denver goes with three or more receivers. Baylor WR Kendall Wright (Scouts Inc. Grade: 91) fits the mold. Wright's stock had been spiking before he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the combine. That could cause him to fall to the Broncos at No. 26 overall. That 40 time might give teams pause when it comes to taking Wright in the first, but he is far more explosive on film than he is in shorts and would be a good value late in the first round.

Defensive tackle

The Broncos need to bolster their run defense, and defensive tackle is a pressing need with Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas in free agency. Denver could fill this need late in the first with Michigan State's Jerel Worthy (90) or Penn State's Devon Still (89), both of whom can penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield.

The defensive tackle class is deep enough that the Broncos could also wait until the second round with the hopes that a player like Clemson's Brandon Thompson (86) slips to them. Thompson is capable of pushing for immediate playing time and he has the potential to develop into an effective interior run-stuffer.


New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio inherited a talented defensive front capable of getting after the quarterback, but CBs Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman will both turn 34 before the 2012 season begins and Denver needs to address its back end.

Keep an eye on LSU CB Ron Brooks (73), who was overshadowed by teammates Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu in college. Brooks has the natural ability to start in the NFL and should push for early playing time in sub packages.

And with 38-year-old Broncos S Brian Dawkins a free agent, Denver could add some depth there with a player like South Carolina State's Christian Thompson (50) late in the fifth round. Thompson's size (6-foot-2⅛) and speed (4.50) translate into above-average upside.

Running back

Former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno has been a disappointment thanks to durability issues, and while Willis McGahee is coming off a strong year you have to wonder whether the 30-year-old back can do it again.

Manning is at his best working off play-action, and getting a running back would help ease his workload. The best option at that spot might be a midround back like Utah's Robert Turbin (65), who has the size (5-10, 222) and hands to develop into an every-down back. There's a chance he could fall to the Broncos in the fourth round and he would be a good value at that slot.