The Denver Broncos entered the 2010 NFL draft with one extremely glaring hole on their roster. Say what you will about the loss of Brandon Marshall at wide receiver, but the roster did have several players with NFL experience at that position without him. The same could not be said for center.
After Casey Wiegmann was released earlier this offseason and interest in veteran free agent Kevin Mawae waned, it was obvious that the pivot would be addressed in the draft.
With the top-rated center, according to most analysts and Denver coach Josh McDaniels, taken in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Maurkice Pouncey that left Baylor's J.D. Walton as the best available option for the Broncos.
And in the third round with the 80th overall pick Denver made their move to pickup J.D. Walton. Coach McDaniels stated that they were fortunate he was still there, and that he was the No. 2 center on their board.
At 6'3" tall and 300 pounds, he certainly fits into the transition away from the small and lighter interior offensive linemen used in the past zone-blocking scheme.
Walton will enter a competition for the starting center position between free-agent pickup Dustin Fry and Russ Hochstein, who is a versatile interior lineman on the Broncos roster that is recovering from a knee injury suffered at the end of the 2009 season.
J.D. started at center for the Baylor Bears in 36 straight games, being named to the A.P. All-American team in 2009 and an invitation to the Senior Bowl and the East/West Shrine Bowl.
In 2007, after sitting out a year due to transferring from Arizona State, J.D. shared the "Best Offensive Lineman" award as a redshirt sophomore.
The player he shared it with? Jason Smith, the St. Louis Rams' second overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft's first round.
Playing in the tough Big 12 Conference, J.D. consistently played opposite great NFL talent including Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Lamarr Houston, Jared Crick, Adrian Taylor, Colby Whitlock, and every day in practice with the massive Phil Taylor.
That experience was certainly what the Broncos were attracted to as his game tapes were the biggest factor in him being picked.
At the NFL combine J.D. was a top 20 performer in the three-cone drill (7.6 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.69 seconds).
He put up 34 reps on the bench press and measured a 27" vertical jump, but the most relevant number he scored was a 29 on the Wonderlic personal assessment test.
It is absolutely paramount that the center has to be very intelligent at diagnosing the defensive alignment and calling out blocking assignments very quickly while also hiking a clean ball and getting to his own blocks quickly.
His Wonderlic score and the fact he was named to the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll testify that he is a very intelligent and capable NFL center.
His 291 key blocks over three seasons (8.08 avg per game) testify that he can get the job done on the field. His new coach was quick to point out that he is nasty, not personally, but on the field where that attitude is important.
It is essential that J.D. steps immediately into the starting role for the Broncos to improve on last season in the running game and in the win/loss column.
He will have a lot on his plate now that he is on the squad. Perfecting his technique, improving his lower body strength, repetition of under-center snaps, and getting better at initial post-snap leverage will be his main focus in upcoming training sessions.
With half of the league defensive alignments, and two of the three divisional opponents being a 3-4 style front, his ability to man-up on massive nose tackles will be a key contributor to success.
In that area he has an advantage as he squared off with Baylor teammate Phil Taylor who weighs in at 355 pounds. At the Senior Bowl practices, however, he did have some trouble getting proper leverage against Terrence Cody.
J.D., ever the quick learner, came back on the second day and stepped up his play, showing much better fundamentals.
Aside from taking on nose tackles, J.D. has shown to be very adept at recognizing and reacting to blitzes and stunts, which is where the 3-4 defense present the biggest problem for most young centers.
His quick adjustments and ability to block while on the run help him to stuff incoming defenders on the blitz as well as make second level blocks.
The best thing about J.D. becoming a Bronco is his focus and realism: "I am going to have to come in there, bust my butt and learn the offense before I get anything," Walton said. "I have to earn that position; nothing's going to be given to me...everything's going to have to be bumped up another level just because it's the NFL.
"I am very, very happy and very, very excited to be a Bronco."
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