The Denver Broncos are having one of the worst seasons in franchise history. They are currently on pace to finish the season 4-12, which would be the lowest mark since the NFL started playing a 16 game schedule.
Head coach Josh McDaniels is undoubtedly on the hot seat, but the popular opinion is that owner Pat Bowlen will give McDaniels at least one more year to develop his team, and the upper management in Denver recently stated that they believe McDaniels can right the ship in the Mile High City.
Josh McDaniels has had two drafts for the Broncos, each of which featured multiple picks in the first round. The Broncos have selected three SEC players and an ACC player with their four first round selections, and they traded a 2010 first rounder to select ACC cornerback Alphonso Smith in 2009. Clearly, the Broncos are on board with the fact that the SEC is the best brand of college football, and they are laying the foundation for the future with the top players from the top teams in the country.
In all likelihood, the Broncos will need two more drafts to be back to elite status. The philosophy since McDaniels has taken over as head coach has been to stockpile draft picks and fill holes temporarily with solid free agent acquisitions. Last year, that approach worked to perfection as the Broncos went 8-8 in the first year of their re-building project.
That success is due large in part to the fact that Denver was statistically one of the healthiest teams in the NFL in 2009, and they were able to mask their deficiencies. In 2010, they have had injuries to key players at almost every position. Those deficiencies have been fully exposed, and the team has been embarrassed as a result.
1. DL Depth
The man pictured, in case you can't tell, is defensive end Kevin Vickerson, A.K.A. "The Big Vick".
Vickerson stands at 6'5" 330 pounds, and was picked up by the Broncos as a late free agent acquisition this offseason when he was let go by Seattle. That was a poor mistake by the Seahawks.
The defensive end has rejuvinated his career in Denver and the Broncos have been significantly better against opposing offenses when Vickerson is in the game. In my opinion, he should have a starting spot cemented for the foreseeable future.
After that, the Broncos are playing a bunch of 2nd and 3rd string NFL players at the DL positions. Justin Bannan has been solid, but he's better as a rotational player. Jamal Williams has been good against the power running game, but he's most effective when Big Vick is on the field because he has no lateral quickness whatsoever.
Marcus Thomas is putting together the best season of his career, but again, he's no more than a rotational player. Ryan McBean and Ronald Fields likely will not be in the NFL when their time with the Broncos is up, and it's clear that Denver needs to add depth along the defensive front.
2. Left Guard
Russ Hochstein is just not a good player. The hope was that Ryan Harris could start at right tackle, and Zane Beadles at left guard, but Beadles has emerged as the team's starting right tackle and Harris is riding pine. He will not be with the team next year, and the need for a left guard remains.
The Broncos will be hot and heavy after free agent Logan Mankins, whom the Patriots likely will not retain. Mankins is familiar with coach McDaniels and would save the Broncos a valuable draft pick.
3. Inside Linebacker
Mario Haggan is a good rotational player and special teams guy, but the Broncos need a starter to compliment D.J. Williams, and they need a guy with Al Wilson's intangibles. That defense lacks a vocal presence in the worst way.
Brian Dawkins is still playing at a high level, but he's 37 years old and will eventually need to be replaced. The hope is that Darcel McBath can step in, but he's not been able to stay healthy in his time with Denver.
Renaldo Hill is undoubtedly an Achille's heel for the Broncos, and he needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
I expect the Broncos to be looking at a safety within the first three rounds.
5. Pass Rush
Elvis Dumervil being out doesn't help, but the Broncos do not have a viable second option to rush the quarterback. Robert Ayers has been getting close, but not quite good enough just yet, and he recently broke his foot.
Jason Hunter is a decent pass rusher who has adjusted to the OLB position famously, but the Broncos definitely could add a pass rush specialist at OLB.
6. Running Back
When Knowshon Moreno is hurt, the running game goes away. The Broncos like LenDale White, but his health is a question mark. Laurence Maroney was bought for a 4th round draft choice, so you hope that he can contribute in some capacity.
Correll Buckhalter is probably not going to be with the team next year.
7. OL Depth
The Broncos do not have backups worthy of playing in the NFL at the tackle position (save for Harris, who will not be retained).
You better believe it.
The Broncos' deficiencies can hardly be attributed to Orton, who is 2nd in the league in yards and 6th with 12 touchdown passes.
However, many of Orton's statistics are hollow, and the Broncos' lack of commitment to the running game is not only sickening to the fans, it's hard on Orton because he doesn't have it to fall back on.
The fact that Orton is putting up strong numbers in the Broncos' offense speaks volumes to Josh McDaniels' passing system, which clearly works. See Cassel, Matt. See Brady, Tom (2007). Orton has vaulted himself into the discussion as a top ten NFL quarterback, but something is missing, and Broncos fans have noticed it.
Orton is a tough guy. He's played on a basically broken ankle, and he almost led the Broncos to a come-from-behind victory with bruised ribs. He's a gamer, and he just loves to play the game of football. That being said, the Broncos invested a high draft choice in Tim Tebow, and Josh McDaniels believes in his system more than he does the player (see Cutler, Jay).
If Kyle Orton is putting up these numbers in McDaniels' offense, then certainly he has to believe that Tim Tebow is capable of putting up numbers as well.
The Broncos were smart to extend Kyle Orton before the season. He is due roughly $9 million next year, but the team that trades for him will undoubtedly re-negotiate his contract. Here are my list of teams who would be potentially interested or in need of a quarterback next offseason:
- Minnesota Vikings
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Buffalo Bills
- Arizona Cardinals
- San Francisco 49ers
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Carolina Panthers
- Cleveland Browns
- Washington Redskins
I put the Vikings on top for a reason. I think they are the most likely team to be willing to give up a draft pick for Orton, and I definitely think that it's more than a possibility. I would put the Vikings and Cardinals on top of the list for Orton's services. The Cardinals cannot afford to lose Larry Fitzgerald because they do not have a competent quarterback.
The Vikings are in a win now mode, and who knows if they will be able to play well with Tarvaris Jackson over Brett Favre? Obviously, Favre is getting paid $16 million for a reason. Tarvaris is not a good player.
Both teams have draft assets to offer the Broncos in return. In the end, I think the Broncos could trade him to either spot, but I choose the Cardinals for this particular mock draft.
The Cardinals give up a 2nd and 5th round pick for quarterback Kyle Orton.
Size: 6'4" 285
Adrian Clayborn is, in my mind, the most ferocious defensive lineman in this class. Marcell Dareus is obviously a supremely talented player as well, and he will likely be the first defensive end selected. But Clayborn had a dominant 2009 season, and while he's not putting up huge numbers in 2010, he's never received this much attention.
Clayborn plead guilty to battery charges in a case which he allegedly punched a cab driver, but he never served any time in jail, nor did he get suspended by Iowa, so the situation must not have been something that Kirk Ferentz thought was punishable, and Ferentz has never been shy about that.
This is a kid who has a bull rush like no other. He is equally capable against both the pass and the run, and he is constantly making plays in the backfield. I can't think of a more perfect compliment to Kevin Vickerson at one end spot than Clayborn, who would likely rotate with Justin Bannan.
Clayborn is a four down player who would give the Broncos a much needed boost on the defensive front.
If there's one thing the Broncos' offense lacks (outside of offensive line) is a playmaking tight end. Tony Scheffler was not really a tight end for the Broncos, he was more of an oversized wide receiver who could not get on the field in running situations, so he became a liability.
Kyle Rudolph is by no means a blocking tight end, but he's a willing participant at least, and is a far better receiver than Tony Scheffler, and a higher character guy, to boot.
Rudolph is as good as they come, and he will fall to the second round likely because of a leg injury that ended his 2010 campaign prematurely. Rudolph is a huge target with great hands, and he will be a valuable part of this team if the Broncos can snatch him.
Sheppard could very well be the missing ingredient for the Denver Broncos' defensive unit.
He is the emotional leader of the LSU defense, which is one of the best in the country, and he is a guy who can get you 8-10 tackles on a game-by-game basis.
He has great instincts and is a very good tackler, and has a career high four sacks already this season. He is said to diagnose film extremely well, and is a hard worker off the field.
By all accounts, he is a high character player who coaches love, which is exactly the type of prospect McDaniels and company are attracted to. He will team with D.J. Williams to give the Broncos a fearsome tandem at ILB.
Very durable cornerback who has been productive in his career at Virginia Tech. Carmichael is another high character guy who has had to overcome a lot to get where he is today. Carmichael is a guy who adds fantastic speed to the defensive backfield and teams with Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson as Denver's young cornerback tandem of the future.
At 5'11" 185 pounds, Carmichael is about the standard size you look for in a cornerback, and he has solid ball skills.
I think the Broncos need to address the defensive backfield early on in the process in order to replace Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman, guys who are both aging and will not be around forever.
I can't think of a more perfect player to replace what Renaldo Hill does for the Broncos as their defensive "quarterback" and center fielder.
Deunta Williams has the talent of a late first or early second round pick, but he will likely drop to the late second to mid-third round because of his suspension at the start of the season for receiving extra benefits (what UNC player didn't?) and he has had a down senior season.
To date, he has 12 career interceptions to go along with 162 tackles and three forced fumbles. At 6'2" 215 pounds with a 4.53 40 yard dash, he has a great size/speed combination and has the makings of a solid NFL starter.
Williams is the leader of the North Carolina defense, and is an active member in community service.
Projected Trade--Broncos trade a future pick and one of their 6th round picks for an additional 4th round selection
Roy Helu is currently my favorite running back prospect. He combines superb speed with outstanding size, and he has receiving capabilities. Helu is a big play waiting to happen, and has averaged more than five yards per carry throughout his collegiate career.
And that is with teams having to key against the run.
Helu's speed and big play ability have to be attractive to the Broncos, who really lack that right now at the running back position. This is a high character guy who runs like a gazelle, and who is very tough to stop. He could be an ideal tandem back to compliment Knowshon Moreno and replace Correll Buckhalter.
Brooks Reed is simply just a guy you want on your team.
He plays hard all game long, has great intensity, and flashes good pass rush ability. Injury concerns have kept him out of top tier draft discussion, as well as being fairly raw on the defensive side of the ball having made the transition from h-back in 2007.
Reed has the feel of a guy who could be a great mid-round find because of his motor and hard work ethic. The Broncos desperately need another pass rush specialist and a guy who can add some much needed depth.
Fua is a guy who was highly regarded coming out of high school that hasn't quite lived up to the billing in college, but he's definitely got NFL talent.
I see him as a developmental guy at nose tackle, a guy who has a low center of gravity and can hold his ground and consume blockers with his great girth. Fua checks in at 6'2" 306 pounds, so he's got good size. He's one of the strongest players at Stanford, and has plenty of experience in the 3-4 defensive alignment as the nose guard.
Being the nose tackle in a 3-4 is a different job than a 4-3 tackle in that the 3-4 nose guard occupies two gaps rather than just one. Nose tackles do not often have huge statistics, but that is because they are consuming blockers.
Fua can do that pretty well, so he's worth a late round flier.