Denver Broncos New 3-4: The Danger of 'Tweeners

John RansomContributor IMay 13, 2009

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 03:  First round draft pick linebacker Robert Ayers #56 participates in Denver Broncos Minicamp at the Broncos training facility on May 3, 2009 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

On a team that’s defied convention repeatedly, the Broncos took perhaps the biggest chance in the NFL Draft this year by sticking to conventional wisdom and taking the best available athlete with their picks.

At least with their 18th pick, that is.

After the draft, the Denver Broncos got mixed reviews regarding how they used their picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Some analysts chastised the Broncos for not doing enough to help their new 3-4 defense. Others praised the Broncos for staying to their “value” board and picking the best available players at their slots.

They point to the selections of Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno as a case in point.

Some analysts had Ayers rated as the best defensive end in the draft this year. And by waiting until the 18th pick to take the defensive player from Tennessee, instead of just reaching for a defensive player, the Broncos were able to pick up a running back who many believed was the highest rated pick at that position first.

However, in the final call, the conventional wisdom doesn’t select where these players will play, coaches do.  And coaches have a little conventional wisdom they need to apply as well.

For Moreno, the conventional wisdom is just fine: He upgrades a running back by-committee-system with one nice featured running back, even if fans and analysts didn’t think they needed the upgrade.

With Ayers, the conventional wisdom’s a little more sticky than that.

Because Ayers falls somewhere between a defensive end and a linebacker, he’s known as a "tweener". Typically, a "tweener" ends up at outside linebacker. But Ayers is not just an ordinary "tweener". He’s more like a "taint".

You see, Ayers is too small (at 272 lbs.) to play defensive end in the 3-4 defense and too slow at a 4.9 40-time to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.

He 'taint no defensive end, and he ‘taint no outside linebacker.

So the Broncos depth chart currently has him listed at inside linebacker behind DJ Williams.

One of the problems with "tweeners" is that because you have to teach them a new position, you don’t really know what you have until they get a chance to play that position.

Plus, by moving Ayers inside, who is used to playing outside in space, you have to teach him a whole new set of techniques and skills, like shedding 300-pound blockers in traffic.

Never mind that so far the rap on Ayers, and the reason why he was available at the 18th pick, has been that he’s resistant to coaching and was only a half season wonder at Tennessee anyway.

Maybe the Broncos will ask Ayers to put on another 20 lbs. of muscle in the next year or two and move him to defensive end. He’s a stout run defender and his penetration skills and ability to rush the passer would be a nice bonus.

Maybe in that way, Denver gets the defensive lineman we’re all bellyaching about.

Or does that sound way too conventional?