Broncos Need Successful Draft to Climb Out of NFL Doldrums
By Dan Karpiel
This week’s NFL Draft is the most important in the 60 year history of the Denver Broncos. That is not hype or hyperbole or hysteria or hogwash. The Broncos must hit with their draft picks this year if they hope to escape the NFL cellar.
The draft is so essential this year not only because the Broncos are a team bereft of talent but also because they are a franchise desperately trying to regain the confidence of their fan base. The franchise, once the crown jewel of Colorado sports, was beaten, battered, busted and bruised when Hurricane Josh tore through Dove Valley.
With a new leadership structure headed by John Elway, the Broncos know that restoring the franchise to the upper echelon of the NFL will hinge largely upon the draft.
Denver currently holds seven picks in the draft including four of the first 67. In his pre-draft press conference last Wednesday Elway said, “I’d like to get four really, really, really good players.” General Manager Brian Xanders echoed Elway’s statement saying, “The biggest thing is to get four starters.” Talk about setting the bar high; 2006 was the last time the Broncos got four starters out of one draft.
The Broncos’ play on the field over the last several seasons is ample evidence of what befalls a team with far too many misses and not nearly enough hits the draft. This year the Broncos will be looking to hit on the draft prospects who themselves do the hitting on the football field – defensive players. Denver’s defense allowed an average of 29.4 points 390 yards a game; both marks were the worst in the NFL.
Fortunately for Denver the 2011 draft class is flush with defensive talent. Denver currently holds the second overall selection and figures to get their pick of the lot on defense.
Xanders referred to Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, a real option for Denver with the second overall pick, as “probably the strongest defensive lineman (in the draft)” calling him “a disruptive player.” At 319lbs he is not going to be a dynamic pass rusher but he can help collapse the pocket from inside as well as be a dominating force against the run.
Another option for Denver at number two overall is Texas A&M’s Von Miller. Miller played a hybrid rush end/outside linebacker position for the Aggies but would play the strongside linebacker position for the Broncos. Miller, a three-year starter in College Station, has rarely seen athleticism and is widely regarded as the draft’s best pass rusher. There are some questions however about Miller’s ability in coverage as he was rarely asked to drop back during his college career.
Elway’s face lit up when he spoke about Miller saying, “When you turn on the film you don’t even have to know what number he is, that’s how dynamic he is. He’s a guy who is all over the field.”
The other player expected to be heavily considered by the Broncos with their first pick is LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson is considered by many scouts to be the draft’s best overall player. An athletic freak, Peterson weighed in at 220lbs and runs the 40 yard dash in an astounding 4.3 seconds. Peterson shines in man-on-man coverage and possesses superb ball skills.
New Head Coach John Fox likes speed on defense and players who can create turnovers, both areas at which Peterson excels. Xanders referred to Peterson as “a true play-maker,” something the Broncos’ defense desperately needs.
What the Broncos decide to do with the number two overall pick will help determine what they do with their remaining picks. The Broncos have needs at defensive tackle, strongside linebacker, middle linebacker and free safety.
The team would also like to add talent to the offensive side of the ball as well and could use a pass-receiving tight end and a big-bodied running back to complement 2009 first round pick Knowshon Moreno. Since it appears as if Elway is willing to allow right tackle Ryan Harris to leave in free agency, Denver could also consider selecting an offensive tackle at some point.
Because of the NFL’s current labor strife, teams have not had the opportunity to sign free agents. Elway declared that, even though it is unorthodox to not have a veteran free agency period prior to the draft, he views it as a positive. “This way we can go out and get the best players for the Denver Broncos (in the draft) and then fill in with free agency.”
Elway explained that the work will not be done when the draft concludes on Saturday afternoon. “We realize that draft picks when they come here are not finished products, it’s how we handle the draft picks when they get here and how they can improve.”
That is where Fox and his assistant coaches will earn their paychecks.
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