While everyone following the Broncos waits to see both this year’s and last year’s early picks really show up, talks about how well the team did to land Perrish Cox and Syd’Quan Thompson so late in the draft, and pretty much hopes this team can stay healthy enough to show what they can really do, a draft day victory already has emerged from under the radar. His name is J. D. Walton. The 6’ 3”, 305 lb. rookie out of Baylor has quietly, without fanfare, and without selling thousands of replica jerseys, established himself as the team’s new center.
Before the draft last Spring, the Broncos knew they were in a fix. After the departure of veteran Center, Casey Wiegman, back to the Kansas City Chiefs, (a team he played with for seven years before a two year stint with Denver beginning in 2008), the only centers they had left on their roster were Russ Hochstein, and long snapper, Lonie Paxton. Both were good, veteran players, but neither had yet shown the abilities needed to start at Center on a regular basis. They needed to find a veteran Center on the waiver wire, trade for one, or gamble on drafting a talented rookie. They ended up drafting a rookie who turned out to be a pretty good choice.
Even though Walton was listed as the second best Center available in the draft after Maurkice Pouncey, (who went to the Steelers), he was 19th on the list of the best Offensive Linemen, and even six below fellow Bronco draft pick, Zane Beadles from Utah. During training camp, both Beadles and Walton saw a lot of time with the first team, but, when the start of the season rolled around, only Walton remained on the first team. While Beadles did make the roster as the back-up Right Tackle, and third string Right Guard, Walton beat out the veteran Hochstein, and all other challengers to become the team’s new, starting Center.
Although Walton has a tough job in front of him, centering an offensive line on the professional level, he’s proved so far that he’s up to the challenge. And, more than any other draft pick this year, he’s also proved himself ready to play well at the professional level. Being just a rookie, that’s great for him and even greater for the Broncos, since it looks like things can and will only get better.
So, while everyone is wondering if Tebow will start, if Orton can lead this team, if Moreno will break through, and if any wide receiver will step up to fill the void left by the departure of Brandon Marshall, just keep your eyes on the middle of the Broncos’ offensive line. There you will find the team’s real prize from this year’s draft. It’s Center, J.D. Walton. He’ll be there quietly taking care of business, and making sure everyone else can take care of theirs.
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