Denver Broncos Move Forward to the Draft Much Improved
Throughout the past week, Broncos Country has been busy. The free agent signings, the euphoric feeling that came with the introduction of Brian Dawkins quickly faded to anger and disbelief when the Jay Cutler rumors surfaced.
Then came another scrape with the law for receiver Brandon Marshall.
And then, of course, all the speculation on Josh McDaniels as a head coach, Marshall as a person, and the state of the franchise.
As the week comes to a close, however, the Denver Broncos are most definitely an improved football team. If Cutler is able to work out his problems with McDaniels in next week's meeting, things will be looking up.
In mid-February, I wrote an article about the new front office and coaching staffs, and about the importance of the 2009 NFL Draft, which is coming up on April 25 and 26.
McDaniels has been under the microscope so far in free agency, and has been accused of trying to make the Broncos "Patriots West" or "the J.V. Patriots."
While McDaniels has certainly targeted players from his former team, in particular, Jabar Gaffney, Lonie Paxton, and LaMont Jordan are all solid assets who will help Denver win games.
These players all come from a "culture of winning." The same can be said for Brian Dawkins from the Eagles and Renaldo Hill and Andre' Goodman from the Dolphins. When rebuilding a defense that ranked near last in every category last year, it is important to have guys around who know "how" to win.
In any case, McDaniels and GM Brian Xanders will be in control on draft day, and their options have become much clearer over the past week.
It is highly likely that the Broncos will draft a defensive player with the 12th pick in the first round. Of course, with McDaniels at the helm, nothing is absolutely certain.
Initially, most fans and experts believed the Broncos would draft B.J. Raji, the dominant nose tackle out of Boston College.
However, Raji's stock skyrocketed at the senior bowl and combine, and it appears that he will not be available at the 12th pick.
After the Raji hype faded, Rey Maualuga's name began to be mentioned. A dominant inside linebacker from USC, which boasted one of the nation's best defenses, Maualuga showed heart by attempting to overcome a hamstring injury and participate in the combine, and he shows great potential to have an excellent NFL career. However, the addition of Andra Davis from Cleveland and the availability of young Spencer Larsen may cause McDaniels to look elsewhere.
The defensive line undoubtedly needs a new player. Marcus Thomas, Darrell Reid, Kenny Peterson, and Ronald Fields are competent defensive tackles, but none are dominant.
In order for the new 3-4 defense to work, there must be a big nose tackle to clog up the middle of the opponent's offensive line. If B.J. Raji is still on the board, the Broncos will pick him.
The more likely scenario, however, is that Raji and possibly even Maualuga will be drafted by the time McDaniels must make his decision.
Don't be surprised if the Broncos take a top-prospect cornerback in the first round. Vontae Davis from Illinois and Alphonso Smith from Wake Forest will be available and would be smart selections.
Although the Broncos did significantly bolster their secondary through free agency, Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman are both 31 and are not getting any younger.
In addition, the team will need a quality nickel back, a role that looks to be currently occupied by Josh Bell or Jack Williams. A rookie with more skills such as Davis would fill that role, and get to train under the best cornerback in the NFL (when healthy), Mr. Bailey.
If the starters are ever injured, fans would feel confident putting a guy like Vontae Davis out in the secondary to cover an opponent's second best receiver. Even with Bailey out, a tandem of Goodman and Davis would be better than the Bly-Bell combination that was used for much of 2008.
On offense, McDaniels filled most of the glaring needs by bringing in several competent, but not spectacular, running backs at very reasonable prices.
While Correll Buckhalter is expected to be the starter in Week One, Jordan could get the ball in goal-line situations and J.J. Arrington may be the third-down guy. Peyton Hillis will resume his duties as starting fullback, and be available to play tailback if needed.
It does not appear that the Broncos will be looking at any running backs in this year's draft, although McDaniels may try to bring in a gem in the sixth or seventh rounds.
The offensive line is set for 2009 and beyond, with young center Kory Lichtensteiger waiting to take over when veteran Casey Wiegmann retires. Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper, and Ryan Harris are all under 26 years of age.
Wide receiver is a need that the Broncos may look to address in the draft. With Brandon Marshall beginning the season serving a suspension, Eddie Royal, Gaffney, and Brandon Stokley will have a heavy load.
The Broncos could look at wide receivers such as Brandon Tate, Brian Robiskie, or Derrick Williams in the second and third rounds.
Finally, a player I would like to see in Denver is Worrell Williams, the brother of current Bronco D.J. Williams. Worrell has said he'd love to be mentored by his brother, and could be the primary backup at inside linebacker.
McDaniels has done a very strong job of rebuilding the defense through free agency, and with a good draft this could be one of the best defensive single-season turnarounds we've seen in a long time.
On offense, some of his moves have been questionable, but we have to believe that he has a plan and knows what he wants for this team.
There are only seven weeks until the draft begins, and in eight weeks the Broncos will have improved themselves even more.
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