2011 Denver Broncos Draft: Did the Fantastic Mr. John Fox Build a Playoff Team?

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2011 Denver Broncos Draft: Did the Fantastic Mr. John Fox Build a Playoff Team?
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I’m not already thinking playoffs after just one draft am I?

What the cuss?

Thankfully, the Denver Broncos lost out on the John Harbaugh sweepstakes this offseason. Left with little choice, the Broncos hired the guy with the best overall credentials. The coach who inherited a very bad Carolina Panthers team in 2002—the Panthers were 1-15 the prior season— yet had them drastically improved the first year, and in the Super Bowl by the next one.

Yes, Denver had to “settle” on hiring the Fantastic Mr. John Fox.

Will history repeat itself in any form or fashion this time around? Can Fox help drastically improve this Broncos squad, enough so that it can make the playoffs in 2011 or 2012?

Well let’s look at the new players and try to find reason for optimism. And for now, let’s just focus on the defense, John Fox’s specialty.

The first connection that people often cite is the Julius Peppers and Von Miller discussion. John Fox helped choose Peppers for the Panthers in 2002, and now he and Elway have made Von Miller the Broncos' selection in 2011. Both were drafted with the No. 2 overall pick. Peppers was an immediate upgrade for the Panthers defense, and was a prime reason why the team so consistently boasted a great defense. Peppers is a relentless playmaker, and the Broncos see many of the same qualities in Von Miller.

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Von Miller is set to play strong side linebacker, or the same position. He has such great speed, versatility and athleticism that he can fill his gap on run plays, and drop into coverage on pass plays. There is talk that he may move down to defensive end on third down situations, but because of his immense skill level, there are a number of things that he will do for the team. John Fox will put him in position to make a lot of plays.

The Broncos also drafted two additional linebackers after Miller. One of the two is considered a likely starter at middle linebacker, or rather the Mike Position, that being Nate Irving. Irving is an extremely intense player and was a big-time producer in college. He finished up a three-year career at North Carolina State with 214 tackles, nine sacks, six forced fumbles and four interceptions. Irving looks like he can be a reliable anchor in the middle, so with Miller and Irving the Broncos have already upgraded the defense.

That leaves D.J. Williams at the will linebacker position, and Mario Haggan, Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays are three reliable players that can rotate in.

Unless the Broncos choose to make additional moves this offseason.

When John Fox lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, he brought with him a defense that was known for creating turnovers. Peppers and Mike Rucker (another defensive end) were the heart of the defense, but defensive backs like Mike Minter, Deon Grant and Ricky Manning Jr. took advantage of all the pressure generated by the front line, and combined for quite a few big plays in the process.

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Similarly, the Denver Broncos want to create a defense that generates turnovers. While the Panthers had Peppers and Rucker, the Broncos will likely play a combination of Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers at the defensive end positions. At times we should also see Dumervil and Miller, and maybe even Dumervil and Jeremy Beal.

Beal was the final Broncos' draft pick in Round 7, the No. 247 overall pick, and while he dropped to the bottom of the draft because of his supposed lack of speed and athleticism, numbers don’t lie. This guy put up a lot of numbers, and showed a relentless ability to get after the quarterback. In four years at Oklahoma, Beal totaled 28 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. If he can prove that he is fast and skilled enough to get past NFL blockers, then the Broncos would have found yet another pass rusher.

That would give the Broncos four reliable pass rushers: Miller, Dumervil, Ayers (he’s on the bubble) and Beal.

In the secondary, as it stands now at least, Goodman and Champ are the starters. With the pressure that should be generated by this new front seven, Champ Bailey should be able to do what he does best, which is make plays.

The safety positions have also been addressed with this year’s draft: Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter are two players that can come in and start on Day 1. Then again, the Broncos may choose to bring back either Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill or both. Carter projects as a strong safety. He can learn a lot from Dawkins, but he is already a capable player who is known for putting on big hits, supporting the run and playing both safety positions. He finished last season with 96 tackles and four interceptions.

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Can Rahim Moore be the Broncos next great safety?

Rahim Moore is more of a ball-hawking free safety. He finished up a three-year career at UCLA with 14 interceptions and 180 tackles. Both players have areas where they excel at, and yet both could benefit from having Brian Dawkins around, even if it’s only for one season. But Dawkins is 38, and has lost a considerable amount in his game (if last season is any indication), so the Broncos have some decisions to make.

Finally, there is the defensive tackle position. The Broncos were not able to address this position with the draft, but according to the Denver Post this morning, the team wants Kevin Vickerson to be one of their starters. Marcus Thomas could be brought back, and the Broncos may also look to add another DT in free agency or via a trade, when normal football operations resume again.

In sum, yes the Broncos have taken a rather large step forward by adding a lot of talented young players to their defense. Fox is clearly interested in adding playmakers to his squad, and between Miller, Irving, Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter and possibly even Jeremy Beal, the Broncos will be far more productive in 2011 then they were in 2010.

But playoffs? More work is needed on this defense before we can start thinking about that.

Not unless the Fantastic Mr. John Fox can get those pass rushers to live up to their billing in Year 1.

That makes it possible.

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