Baltimore Ravens DT Haloti Ngata against the New York Jets
It's obvious after Sunday's loss to the Chargers that the Broncos must improve on defense.
Ryan Mathews, a rookie, lit the Broncos defense up for 120 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The front seven looked slow, overpowered and just physically outmatched nearly the entire game.
Tim Tebow has proved he has what it takes to win games and put points on the board in the NFL. He fires up the players around him, the crowd and the coaches. His will to win and play the game is contagious. He's a leader, plain and simple, a characteristic that Kyle Orton lacks.
The Broncos have the pieces in place for a solid young offensive core. Tebow, Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas give the Broncos solid players at skill positions who should continue to improve with coaching.
On the offensive line, Ryan Clady is obviously one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Clady and Chris Kuper give the Broncos two solid veterans on the offensive line who are under contract for several more years.
Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton both got immense amounts of playing time in their rookie seasons and performed admirably. Depending on whether or not the Broncos re-sign Ryan Harris, the offensive line should be in good condition next season.
On defense however, the Broncos have severe issues. They don't know what scheme they'll be running next year. They need talent on the defensive line desperately and could be losing both Champ Bailey (free agent) and Brian Dawkins (retirement) in the offseason.
Let's take a look at a few routes the Broncos could take to improve with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Though this may be a bit of a stretch, at the minimum hear it out.
John Elway knows what is needed on the field in terms of leadership, mentality, work ethic and the natural intangibles of the game some players lack the ability to perfect. He may not have experience running an NFL team, but he does have experience being on that field.
That being said, Elway saw the Broncos defense collapse this season without Mike Nolan at the helm.
Not knowing what coach the Broncos will hire throws a wrench into knowing exactly what personnel the Broncos will be seeking, but it's worth stating that Jim Harbaugh hired Vic Fangio last year from the Ravens to install a 3-4 base defense at Stanford.
Defensive end/tackle Haloti Ngata (27) is the type of high-motor, versatile, top-shelf talent that the Broncos lack on their defensive line and is still young. This offseason he will a restricted free agent, and it's well known the Ravens will try to re-sign him. If the Ravens are unable to re-sign him, they will tag him at the highest level, which would be a first and third round selection.
With the No. 2 overall selection, anyone being a higher bidder would be nearly impossible. The Broncos have two second round selections as well in this draft, which they could use to improve the LB and NT positions if Jamal Williams isn't brought back next season. Why spend $60-70 million on an unproven rookie when the Broncos could get a player who's proved he can do what it takes to be an elite player in the NFL?
All of the defensive linemen available at the top of this draft have problems preventing them from being the perfect candidate for the Denver Broncos.
Robert Quinn has character issues after being suspended this season and is undersized for the 3-4.
Da'Quan Bowers is undersized for the 3-4 defense but other than that is absolutely amazing. He would be the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft if not for the presence of QB Andrew Luck.
Nick Fairley could just be a one-year wonder.
Marcell Dareus may be the safest pick (if the Broncos play the 3-4), but some wonder about his motor.
Haloti Ngata has none of those problems. He can play DT/NT or DE in either the 3-4 or the 4-3. He has elite power that commands double teams consistently, which would free D.J. Williams and Elvis Dumervil up to make more plays. His presence on the field alone would instantly improve the Broncos' front seven immediately, which is EXACTLY what the Broncos need.
DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
Of all the rookies available, Da'Quan Bowers is obviously the most talented defensive lineman. The Broncos can't afford to miss if they choose to draft No. 2 overall, and John Elway doesn't want his legacy to begin with a bust.
Bowers may need to put on about 15 to 20 pounds to play every down at DE in the 3-4, but at 6'4", 270 pounds he has the frame to do so without losing his explosiveness off the edge. He's considered the best defensive end prospect to come out in the draft since Julius Peppers (Bears/Panthers/University of North Carolina).
At Clemson, Bowers improved each year before finally breaking college football into pieces in 2010.
2008: 37 tackles, one sack
2009: 46 tackles, three sacks
2010: 67 tackles, 16 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception
He would pair with Elvis Dumervil to give the Broncos two explosive pass rushers if Dumervil manages to stay healthy next season and comes back from his injury at a high level. Either way, Bowers may be the only player truly worth drafting No. 2 overall.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
****Before you go up in arms and call me an idiot, make sure to continue reading****
The Broncos obviously have chosen Tim Tebow as the face of the franchise. With Elway around to mentor him, Tebow will only improve, especially if he works with the starters all off-season.
Though some ramblings are being made regarding the possibility of Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh being a package deal as they enter the NFL, the chances of that happening are nearly impossible unless Harbaugh decides to coach the Panthers or the Broncos (The only two teams with a pick high enough to draft Luck if he declares).
Pat Bowlen is a smart man. He saw what trading Cutler did to the fan base. John Elway knows how much the fans love the Denver Broncos as well after being on the receiving end of his share of cheers from the Mile High crowd. Both men know that the fans have accepted Tebow.
Tim Tebow may not throw for 4,000 yards or 50 TD's but in just 3 short games you can tell that with Tebow at the helm the game is never over. He's a fighter, a leader, and the players and fans love him. Bowlen cannot afford to alienate the fans again. Tebow isn't going anywhere.
All of this obviously rides on the Carolina Panthers deciding to stick with Jimmy Clausen as the QB, which is a big if. If they don't draft Luck, the Panthers would most likely draft Da'Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara.
In case Andrew Luck is on the board at No. 2, the Broncos would the have 3 choices:
1) Trade the pick.
2) Draft the best Defensive player available (Bowers/Peterson/Amukamara),
3) Draft Andrew Luck
The questions then become how far back would the Broncos be willing to trade? What kind of value can the Broncos expect in a trade? Trade for draft picks or players? What would the Broncos do with Tebow if they drafted Luck?
Another question is what will become of Kyle Orton with several franchises seeking quarterbacks this off-season *Cough* Vikings *Cough*. The Broncos could most likely get at minimum a second-round selection or two third-round picks in exchange for him.
Should the Broncos try to trade Orton while he still has some stock? Keep him around in case Tebow's all-out playing style gets him injured? To be the starter if they bring in Luck?
No one knows the answers, but we're all looking forward to next season as Broncos fans since last season doesn't leave us much to look back on.