The 2008 Denver Broncos' problems are well-documented: A defense that finished 29th in total yards allowed, 30th in scoring defense, and produced only 26 sacks, forced a meager nine fumbles, and claimed only six interceptions. For all of Denver's second-ranked offense and Jay Cutler's 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns, the Broncos only managed 23.1 points per game, good for 16th in the NFL.
All of this led to Mike Shanahan's firing, the hiring of Josh McDaniels, and an almost total clearout of the coaching staff. This makes the 2009 offseason one of the more important in recent Broncos history. A good defensive draft could propel the Broncos in the playoffs for years to come; a poor one could mean years of mediocrity at Mile High.
Obviously a lot depends on free agency, but barring any major acquisitions, the draft needs will not change. With this in mind, let's look at some of the possible things the Broncos might do with the 12th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Draft BJ Raji, DT, Boston College: A prototype 3-4 nose tackle at 335 pounds, Raji is the monster in the middle that teams crave. He blew scouts away at the Senior Bowl and in fact he was so good, he will probably be off the board by the time the Broncos pick at No. 12 with the Bengals and Packers likely to be interested.
Raji would be the perfect pick for the Broncos as he would anchor their new 3-4 defensive scheme, allowing other players to make the plays as he would command constant double-teams. However, there is likely to be substantial interest in the best defensive tackle in the draft, and if he slips past the Bengals and Packers, there will surely be teams looking to trade up and get him, just like the Saints did last year with Sedrick Ellis.
One thing is for sure, impact defensive players like BJ Raji don't hang around for long on draft day.
Draft the best defensive player available. Realistically, the Broncos have needs at every position on defense and No. 12 and with projections of up to four offensive tackles and two quarterbacks going in the 11 picks before the Broncos, there will be defensive talent available.
Brian Orakpo, Everette Browne, Aaron Curry, Rey Maualuga, and Malcolm Jenkins would all be great additions for the Broncos and provide immediate upgrades on defense. Orakpo and Browne would be prototypical pass rushing outside linebackers in a 3-4, Curry could play inside or outside and Maualuga is a dominating run-stuffing force at ILB. Jenkins is the top cornerback prospect in the draft, and with the Broncos only managing six interceptions all season, this is another position that cannot be overlooked.
In all honesty, Maualuga and Jenkins will be the only ones of that group who will be there at the 12th pick, but if the others happen to fall, the Broncos will snap them up instantly.
Trade down. If Raji, Orakpo, Browne, Curry, and Maualuga are all off the board by the time the Broncos come to select, they will curse mightily, but they will also consider looking to trade down. Teams like the Chargers or Buccaneers might look to trade up to get a top running back, if a top tackle like Michael Oher or Jason Smith slides you can be sure that teams will look to move up.
If the Broncos do manage to trade down to somewhere around the 18th-20th pick, they will look at players like William Moore (safety), Michael Johnson (defensive end), Aaron Maybin (DE/OLB), or Peria Jerry (DT).
In this scenario, not only would the Broncos get an impact defensive player but they would likely pick up an extra second or third round pick as well as a late round choice. For a team that is lacking in so many areas on defense, this would allow the Broncos to add both talent and depth.
Draft the best player available. In the same way as scenario three, if the top defensive players are off the board, the Broncos might pull something out of left field. At the 12th pick, the best available player is likely to be an offensive tackle, something the Broncos really don't need. However, a running back like Chris Wells or Knowshon Moreno would be possible at 12. Tight End Brandon Pettigrew is an excellent prospect but the Broncos are stocked at that position, and a wide receiver would be a real reach.
Although the Broncos have many defensive needs in this draft, help on the defensive line is the top priority However, the linebacking corps is weak and other than Champ Bailey, the Broncos lack a playmaker in the secondary. All three areas will need to be addressed in this draft and in an ideal world, the Broncos would probably take BJ Raji in the first round, a pass rushing outside linebacker in the second and a safety in the third.
However, an ideal draft is a very rare thing in the NFL.