Denver Broncos: Looking Back on the McDaniels Era

Austin QuickContributor IIIJanuary 29, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 5, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In light of the Broncos' crazy and emotion-filled season, I think now would be a good time to reflect on exactly how we got to this point. Many commentators and experts have been enamored with pointing out that some of McDaniel’s draft selections, especially on the offensive side of the ball, played a big role in the success of this year’s team.

Whether it be Demaryius Thomas, who had an awe-inspiring second half of the season, or Tim Tebow, who we all know about already, the McDaniels draft selections came up big throughout the season and even more so throughout the playoffs. It makes me reflect on exactly what McDaniels’ thought process was when he made two highly controversial selections in the first round of the 2010 draft.

McDaniels’ claim to fame, prior to running the Broncos organization into the ground and the infamous Spygate II,  was being the mentor to quarterback Tom Brady and the offensive coordinator of the dynamic 2007 Patriots offense.

When McDaniels was hired by the Denver Broncos, he was touted as an offensive genius. Many Broncos fans hoped that he could groom a quarterback that would bring the Denver faithful back to the days of the John Elway era. But the McDaniels era was filled with turmoil starting with the Jay Cutler saga. It was evident that McDaniels wanted to bring in players that fit his “system” but what exactly was his system?

Prior to his eventual firing, McDaniels made two of the most controversial decisions of his tenure. The first was selecting Demaryius Thomas out of a run-happy Georgia Tech offense over the consensus best receiver in the draft in Dez Bryant. Demaryius was scrutinized by draft experts for having a lacking route tree, his history of drops and the fact that he came from a triple-option offense in college.

The second controversial selection was quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow was considered to be a second-round prospect at best and light years behind Jimmy Clausen as a prospect. The elongated throwing motion and his college-style offense made him a huge reach in the eyes of the draft experts, but maybe, just maybe, did McDaniels have a plan for these two all along?

Being the “offensive genius” that McDaniels was is it possible that he was trying to revolutionize the idea of a successful offense in the NFL by installing a spread-option attack? After looking at some of his most controversial draft selections I believe the answer to be yes.

Five years ago the thought of a spread passing attack was in its beginning stages and many believed it couldn’t work as a successful offense. Now in the NFL we see it successfully executed by the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, who trot out five pass-catchers between wide receivers and tight ends on multiple occasions.

McDaniels engineered one of the greatest spread passing attacks with the 2007 Patriots. He saw that offenses were beginning to evolve, and the famed Bill Walsh’s West Coast attack was starting to fade. To me it is clear that McDaniels was attempting to usher in a new offensive attack to the National Football League.

The spread-option in college is a very unique offense that is comprised of many skill players that specialize in certain aspects of the offense. Many spread-option attacks consist of a dual-threat quarterback, a versatile running back with pass-catching ability, a speedy slot receiver who can stretch the field, a pass-catching tight end, a blocking tight end and receivers who have the ability to block downfield as well as contribute in the passing game.

Let’s look at the offensive personnel that McDaniels ushered in through the draft. Knowshon Moreno was the first-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2009. He was considered by many to be the best running back in the draft class and had a nice mixture of running and pass-catching ability. Richard Quinn was selected in the third round of the same draft. With only 18 career receptions, Quinn was considered to be primarily a blocking tight end and a huge reach by Coach McDaniels. Kenny McKinley was drafted in the fifth round and was considered to be a speedster who could excel in the slot-receiver position.

That brings us back to infamous 2010 draft. With the 22nd overall pick the Broncos selected Demaryius Thomas, who was a big, athletic receiver with experience in the option attack and good downfield blocking ability. Demaryius was selected over Dez Bryant who was considered to be the better prospect but would not have fit in a spread option offense.

With the 25th overall pick, the Denver Broncos selected Tim Tebow who had mastered the spread option attack in college over Jimmy Clausen, who was also considered a better prospect. Eric Decker was another selection made during the 2010 draft who was a bigger receiver with the ability to block.

Having experienced this Tebow-filled season, one that ended in an AFC West Divisional crown, a wild-card playoff game in which the spread-option attack gave the Pittsburgh Steelers fits and an eventual loss to the Patriots, I would like to thank Josh McDaniels.

Despite the two years of turmoil he has put us through, he may be the man responsible for revolutionizing an NFL offense. His selections have given this team a solid foundation in an extremely specialized offense. Nobody knows if this is a sustainable offense in the NFL, or if these players will be successful in the future, but you have to give credit to McDaniels for putting the Broncos in a position to revolutionize the NFL.

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