So here we are again. After yet another mediocre season by our beloved Broncos, local legend Mike Shanahan was sent packing in favor of the young hotshot Josh McDaniels.
The architect of quite possibly the greatest offensive season ever put together with NFL MVP Tom Brady and the '07 Patriots, his offensive credentials speak for themselves. How well he fits with our personnel has yet to be seen, but expect to see him continue the remarkable development of QB Jay Cutler and the Broncos offense.
McDaniels' staff now being in place, you can see with the additions of Mike Nolan (49ers) as defensive coordinator, Wayne Nunnely (Chargers) defensive line coach, and Ed Donatell (Jets, but also worked with new general manager Brian Xander in Atlanta from 04-06) as secondary coach, McDaniels sought people with experience in the 3-4 system, even plucking from within the division for Nunnely and new special teams coach Mike Priefer (Chiefs).
The most overlooked additions to the staff however have been Mike McCoy, the new offensive coordinator/QB coach (Panthers), and the returning former offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who will serve as offensive line coach.
Lost in the team's need to upgrade the defense, is the team's obvious commitment to field a formidable offense as well.
The wild card in this scenario is new GM Xanders, a man who held nearly every job possible during 14 years with the Atlanta Falcons. He joined the Broncos shortly after the 2008 NFL Draft to become assistant GM.
Known for his thorough knowledge of salary cap management and hardworking mentality, Brian's reputation as being a very organized and prepared individual is widely known. A former middle linebacker for the Florida State Seminoles, Xander graduated with a Master's in Business Administration.
After looking at the staff, now let's look into what the Broncos might be looking for come draft day 2009.
A lot of people believe a switch to the 3-4 means a huge defensive overhaul for the Broncos. However, Jarvis Moss is built to be a great stand-up rusher on the outside of a 3-4 and Tim Crowder is a natural to play RE in Nolan's 3-4 defense. It's up to Nolan and Nunnely to get the most out of the former first and second round picks before we give up and go in another direction.
Look for the Broncos to pick up one or two mid-level free agents (Igor Olshansky, anyone?) and maybe use a third or fourth round pick on an end such as Mitch King (Iowa) or Cody Brown (Connecticut). I think they will agree it's too early to give up on the talent just drafted, but expect to see some competion brought in.
Obviously the big name out there is Albert Haynesworth, and although he's shown the ability to be the nose tackle in a 3-4, don't expect to see the Broncos join the bidding war for his services.
I think the Broncos will avoid the Albert Haynesworth contest and try to add more than one new body to the rotation. Look out for free agents Colin Cole (Packers) and Darrell Reid (Colts). Though neither is a permanent fix, Cole would provide an inside rush on third downs and Reid has extensive knowledge of the 3-4 from his time in Indy.
In the draft, look for the Broncos to target a player in the late second or third round, like Ron Brace, a massive 329 pound nose tackle who played behind top DT B.J. Raji at BC. The Broncos have 10 picks in this year's draft so I don't anticipate them shying away from movement for the players they want.
Obviously we've come to the conclusion D.J. Williams is amazing. He is fully capable of playing every LB spot but it'd be nice if he didn't have too. Williams is a natural weak-side, LB so look for the Broncos to try to bring in a strong-side backer through the draft or free agency.
I think you will see the Broncos pick up several hybrid LB/ends in the coming weeks. I believe they will stockpile them and let it sort itself out in training camp. Look for players like Eric Barton (Jets), Michael Boley (Falcons), and Marques Harris (Chargers, my sleeper) in free agency and expect the Broncos to look to fill this hole as early as possible.
In the draft I don't think the Broncos will go that route with their No. 1 pick, instead opting to look for role players later in the draft like Zack Follett (California) or Victor Butler (Oregon State).
Ever since Al Wilson's abrupt retirement/dismissal the Broncos have lacked a presence in the middle, even having used (Who else?) D.J. Williams at the position. Well, he performed admirably and unselfishly when called upon, and it's time to solve this once and for all.
As much as I'd love to see the Broncos draft Knowshon Moreno, it's not going to happen. Bottom line is when you finish No. 2 on offense and No. 28 on defense, you have a problem that needs a solution. That's where the Broncos are in luck.
At almost $20 million under the cap (following the release of DT Dwayne Robertson, DE John Engelberger, LB Jamie Winborn, LB Niko Koutovides (the MLB who failed last offseason), and TE Nate Jackson), the Broncos have several ways they can go for the MLB position.
Several free agents stand out such as Ray Lewis (Ravens), Jonathen Vilma (Saints), Bart Scott (Ravens), and Mike Peterson (Jaguars). Also, Rey Maualuga (USC) has all the makings of a future great and should be available at No. 12.
However, moving back to pick up an extra pick and getting James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) wouldn't be a bad consolation. Either way expect something to be done about the middle of the Broncos defense.
Probably the single biggest disappointment in Denver since Clinton Portis went to Washington (but we love you Champ, we'd never take that trade back, and we fleeced em') has been the Broncos rushing game.
Every "good" football team in the NFL has two decent options at RB. Well, the team drafted Ryan Torain with an eye to the future, and he's yet to prove he can stay healthy.
(Note: RBs Deuce McAlister (Saints) and Fred Taylor (Jags) were both released today. They both immediately become free agents.)
I'd love to see the Broncos aggressively try to upgrade the RB position. Doing so would instantly make the defense better by keeping it off the field, and make it easier to sustain drives by relying less on big plays to score.
Fred Taylor would be a great fit in Denver where he could compete for a starting job in a familiar offensive scheme. Plus, his leadership and work ethic would go a long way in a young locker room.
If the draft is how they choose to address the RB position, let me say this: Draft Knowshon Moreno! The guy is amazing. He reminds me of TD the way he's willing to do anything to score. Now, back to reality, Shonn Greene (Iowa) or Javon Ringer (Michigan State) would add a nice bruiser between the lines to help punch it in.
Safety (Added it after thinking about it)
John Lynch was a decent safety during his time in Denver, but his replacements have failed to fulfill their duties. It's been a long time since Denver has had a true presence to fear in the secondary (Steve Atwater long...) and it's really about time Denver look to do something about the biggest issue this defense has.
I think you'll see the broncos unfortunately do about nothing. Free agent Brian Dawkins (Eagles) would be a nice addition but not a long term fix or cheap. Look for the Broncos to pursue one or two lower lvl free agents. Jim Leonhard (Ravens) and James Sanders (Patriots, where Mcdaniels was offensive coordinator) are both possibilities that are young and cost efficient. In the draft players like Nic Harris (Oklahoma) and Chip Vaughn (Wake Forest) come across as possibilities. Harris is more of a Tween-er Backer/Safety at 6'2'' and 230+ pounds, but runs around a 4.5. He would add a very physical presence between the lines and could be had in the late 2nd early 3rd round.
I think overall the Broncos will work hard through free agency at adding depth to a depleted defense. However, don't expect to see a big splurge. It's not Mcdaniels' or Xanders' style to blow cap money, even though the Broncos have some room to work with.
Expect to see alot of mid-level deals to players who fit the 3-4 scheme employed by Nolan. Linebackers and Safeties are important pieces of a 3-4 defense (Any defense really) and the Broncos are aware of their shortcomings at the positions. Don't be surprised to see a player like Mike Vrabel possibly signed to a deal for a veteran presence in the defensive huddle. Bart Scott also deserves alook given his age and experience.
In the draft watch for the Broncos to aggressively move around to acquire players they have their eye's on. Linebacker is an obvious problem and odds are the Broncos will do something about it in the 1st round. Rey Maualuga (USC) or Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) are both possibilities at number 12. If neither is available look for the Broncos to move back and try to get James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) or Brian Cushing (USC) later in the 1st.
I think a RB is a distinct possibility later in the draft (4th of 5th round), someone durable with more of a goal-line mentality. Shonn Greene fits this bill, and would be a very welcome, though unlikely, addition. Rashad Jennings (Liberty) is a possibility (If you don't know him go to youtube and look him up).
Expect to see them stick with most of what they have on offense with the exception of maybe a few recievers and lineman.
On Defense, expect to see alot of new faces. With free agents and the draft i'd say expect to see 5+ new starters next season. I just hope we make the right decisions.
Thanks for taking the time to look through the Broncos' upcoming draft with me, and check back for more Denver Broncos news.