The Denver Broncos' defensive line needs a make over. A defensive stat that parks the Mile High defense at 27th in the league against the rush puts the onerous squarely on the shoulders of the defensive line and the defensive coaching staff.
Amongst the blogosphere and various sports news outlets, one will find mostly the postulations and suppositions that for the Denver Broncos to have even the slightest chance of an improved defense this year, they will need to draft defensive line early and often. A good D-Line shuts down the run.
The consensus among observers is that early picks on "the best players available" and NOT solid defensive line run stoppers is risky and reckless.
But perhaps a consideration of the best D-Lines around the league is in order. Are they all stocked with former first round draft picks from end to end? Hardly.
The Minnesota Vikings' defensive line is all about stuffing the run. It's what they do. They've lead the league in run defense over the last three seasons, allowing an average of only 70.8 rushing yards a game over that span.
Last year they did it without two starters in the secondary (due to injuries) for much of the year.
The line finished with 45 sacks in 2008, putting them fourth in the NFL in that category, and overall the defense as a whole notched a sixth place ranking. Quite respectable.
Let's take a look at the Viking line from last year, and the respective draft positions of each player when originally selected.
The starting defensive end on the right side, Jared Allen, was drafted by Kansas City in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft. His backup, Brian Robinson, was also a fourth round pick.
Kevin Williams, the starting right defensive tackle, was the Vikings' ninth pick of the first round, and his reliever, Letroy Guion, was a fifth rounder.
At left side DT there's Pat Williams, an undrafted free agent, and his breather, Fred Evans, a seventh round grab.
Ray Edwards, at left defensive end, was snagged in the fourth Round, while the player under him on the depth chart is Jayme Mitchell, yet another undrafted free agent.
The only other first round linemen on the DL roster are Jimmy Kennedy, widely considered a bust and positioned third string on the depth chart, and Kenechi Udeze, who was turning out to be a force (and still could be), but is presently battling leukemia.
So of the starters and second string guys, one was a first rounder, three were picked up in the fourth round, one in the the fifth round, one in the seventh, and the other two were undrafted free agents.
This rag-tag bunch has been the dominant run stuffing line in the league for the past three seasons? You bet.
Surprisingly, it's not an uncommon scenario. Some of the very best defensive lines across the NFL are often a riff n' raff bunch of tough guys ranging from first round darlings to undrafted blue collar muckers.
If the Denver Broncos do some interesting things in the first couple rounds of the draft, there's no reason to panic. Gigging a linebacker and cornerback before looking at the line is not out of the question. Picking up some solid linemen later in the draft has precedent.
McDaniels and Xanders aren't the types to panic. They certainly understand the history of draft picks and the defensive line, and will do the right thing.
That doesn't necessarily mean going with linemen early. It doesn't mean passing up on one either. It simply means going for the best defensive player on the boards in the early stages of the draft, regardless of position needs.