So much went right for the Broncos last season. Peyton Manning made history, directing an offense that crushed teams and dreams with a dizzying array of weapons.

Then on the biggest stage, Denver was numbed by the Seahawks, creating a trollapalooza on Twitter of what's wrong with the Broncos. While Manning fizzled, the Super Bowl rudely revealed a larger concern: a lack of defensive toughness.

General manager John Elway, obsessive as ever with another title, began addressing the issue in free agency with an American Express Centurion card, signing pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to a guaranteed $35 million.

They bring experience and a clenched fist. Yet the Broncos aren't done. When the best reality show in sports — the NFL draft — begins Thursday, the Broncos will consider stocking their defense. Cornerback is among the chief areas of need.

Even with Talib in the fold, he has struggled to stay on the field for a full season. And cornerback Chris Harris, one of the Broncos' best players last season, is recovering from ACL surgery on his left knee.

The idea of adding a cover cornerback is more necessity than luxury. The Broncos are in an interesting position — an all-in, win-now mode. That can lead to reaches in the draft, where need is valued over the best player. But when it comes to cornerback, it's realistic to believe the two won't be mutually exclusive.

Many mock drafts project five cornerbacks — Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett — going in the first round Thursday. The Broncos draft in the 31st slot, leaving them on the edge of having a defender fall to them.

Denver offered a glimpse of its desire by having Gilbert visit recently. He's considered more wish list than reality. Though there are some mild concerns about his ability to transition to NFL passing routes, his ability on special teams guarantees he won't be around for the Broncos.

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The most intriguing name in ability, availability and fit is Fuller, from Virginia Tech. He began last season as a solid second-round pick. His game against Alabama changed how he is viewed. Crimson Tide quarterback AJ Mc- Carron said Fuller was the best defensive back he faced last season. Fuller brings physicality. He can hit, and even more surprising, he likes to tackle, leaving his stock improving.

"Fuller is my No. 1 corner. He has it in his DNA," said the NFL Network's Mike Mayock. "He can play man or zone."

ESPN's Todd McShay went back through Fuller's video after the season, leaving more impressed. Fuller isn't the fastest corner, but a 4.49-second 40-yard dash with good instincts and the willingness to find the pile is intriguing.

"He's my No. 2 corner behind Dennard. I have the identical grade on him as Justin Gilbert. He catches the ball away from his body, and he's a guy who tackles," McShay said last week. "There's real value in guys who can tackle and not just in run support. The run after the catch is so big, you have to have corners who can tackle."

If Fuller is not around — it could require a trade up, because of the Eagles' interest in a corner at No. 22 — Verrett becomes a possibility. He doesn't fit the Broncos' profile of bigger, stronger corners. But what Verrett lacks in size — he's only 5-foot-9 — he makes up with speed and instincts. He could fill a void as a nickel corner, and if he grows into a starter, the pick in subsequent years would align with Denver's needs. McShay and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. have had mock drafts with Denver taking Verrett.

"Verrett is an underrated player," Kiper said.

Ohio State's Bradley Roby is a wild card. He arguably is the most athletic corner, and will seek contact. Off-field issues have sparked concerns about his reliability.

A linebacker or lineman could be the Broncos' first pick, but no one should be surprised if they attempt to corner the market in the No. 31 slot.

"You need three or four corners in this league," Kiper said. "And the (corners) will be flying off the board."

Troy E. Renck: trenck@denverpost.com or twitter.com/troyrenck

Corner market

The Broncos have a prolific offense, an improved defense and a secondary that needs more depth. So it won't be a surprise if they select a cornerback in the first few rounds of the NFL draft, which starts Thursday. Broncos beat writer Troy E. Renck examines the top five cornerbacks available:

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, 5-foot-11, 199 pounds: Brings confidence, intensity and résumé. Won the Thorpe Award as college football's top defensive back. Was a team captain, but battled injuries during his college career.

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 202: Playmaker who's capable of a pick-six or kick-six as a returner. Most athletic corner in this draft, but can be inconsistent. Covered a lot of the same routes against spread offenses in the Big 12.

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech, 6-0, 190: Not a burner, but compensates with smart play. Already considered NFL ready because of his ability to play press coverage and tackle in the open field.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State, 5-11, 194: Natural athlete with a high ceiling. Eager tackler who's not afraid to mix it up on running plays. But off-the-field problems have sparked concern among NFL teams.

Jason Verrett, TCU, 5-9, 189: Doesn't pass the eye test, because of his size. But he grows on you with his relentless effort, speed and instincts. The Broncos need a nickel corner, and he could play right away.