Denver Broncos Rookie Breakdown: Von Miller Solidifies John Elway's Master Plan
Since John Elway's introduction as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations in early January, the one burning question in Broncos' fan's minds is if he can orchestrate the 'Mile High Magic' as well in Denver's boardroom as he did in Denver's backfield.
Von Miller was a crucial first step, but many feel like this year's draft could be the one that finally gets the team heading out of the AFC West basement.
To better understand their optimism, we'll break down each draft pick and predict how the rookie will fare on his journey in the NFL.
OLB Von Miller, Rd. 1, #2 (2)
Denver was the NFL's 32nd ranked defense last year. There was no one who gave up as many yards or as many points as the Broncos did in 2010. With that in mind, Elway went into the draft knowing that fixing the defense was a top priority in turning this team around.
Enter Von Miller: Manimal.
Von's dominating physical presence made it almost impossible for the Broncos NOT to select him as the No. 2 overall pick. Miller was last year's Butkus award winner and posted blazing 4.4 speed at the NFL Combine.
Miller's upside is undeniable, his unique versatility will actually make the Broncos transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 easier because he'll be able to shift from an OLB on first and second down to a DE when the Broncos bring in their Nickel formations.
A physical edge rusher, he recorded 17 sacks in 2009, and should be playing opposite of the NFL's 2009 sack leader, Elvis Dumervil (who also recorded 17 in '09) for the foreseeable future.
And in that foreseeable future, it's not all too unlikely that you'll start making comparisons to the player Miller decided to honor with his jersey number selection: Derrick Thomas, No. 58.
S Rahim Moore, Rd. 2, #13 (45)
If the Denver pass defense has struggled anywhere over the last few years, it's been the center third of the field. S Brian Dawkins was frequently brought closer to the line in run support, but even so, the aging safety can't be expected to keep up with receivers as well as he did in his Philadelphia glory days.
That's where a ballhawk like Rahim Moore can realize his potential. Moore, who's undersized yet still a strong tackler, can play the center field as well as any safety available in this draft.
His 10 interceptions in 2009 proved that his instincts against the pass are superior, but there's still a bit of worry that he followed that up with only one interception in 2010.
If the Broncos don't go after a veteran safety in the frenzied pace of free agency, Moore should be able to wrap up the starting safety spot before Week 1.
T Orlando Franklin, Rd. 2, #14 (46)
New Head Coach John Fox has not been impressed with the way RT Ryan Harris has played over the last few years, making him somewhat expendable during the shortened free agency period. That's why the Broncos selection of Orlando Franklin makes good sense here.
Franklin is 6'7," 315 pounds, and has experience at both Guard and Tackle, meaning he'll have a chance to start immediately at either RT or LG; this versatility is key because of the aforementioned Ryan Harris' situation.
His brutal nature and physical power should give Denver another solid, young starter on the offensive line, which could severely use the additional depth at the position.
ILB Nate Irving, Rd. 3, #3 (67)
Just two short years ago, Nate Irving didn't worry much about football, he worried about trying to regain his strength after suffering a collapsed lung, cracked ribs, separated shoulder and a compound fracture in his left leg in a near-fatal traffic accident.
An All-American in 2010, Irving lost a bit of explosiveness after that accident, but has demonstrated a consistent downhill presence when closing in on ball carriers. Irving has even regained a bit of his speed, and still displays good range, but he'll struggle early on against athletic tight ends and slot receivers.
Irving may challenge Mario Hagan for the middle linebacker position in the Broncos' new 4-3 defensive scheme, which would probably move Hagan to the starting weakside linebacker position as the Broncos enter the 2011 season.
S Quinton Carter, Rd. 4, #11 (108)
As mentioned early, safety is a major area of need for the Broncos. While Brian Dawkins is still playing at a high level, it's a smart decision by the Broncos to go after a safety that has a similarly nasty disposition as the one known as 'Wolverine.' Carter's hands are great, but he can be overmatched at times when lined up against elite speed.
The key here is that Carter can substitute in for fellow rookie S Rahim Moore in obvious running situations, giving the Broncos flexibility in the defensive backfield they haven't had for some time.
While not necessarily ready to be a starter in his first year, Carter should get to see a good amount of playing time defensively, switching between both FS and SS, and could be an impact player on kick and punt coverages.
TE Julius Thomas, Rd. 4, #32 (129)
In a copycat league, TE Julius Thomas is in line to be the next Antonio Gates. A former basketball player at Portland State, Thomas has just one year of football experience under his belt, but his size and raw athletic ability made him a slam dunk at the back end of the fourth round.
Thomas brings great body control and good hands with him to the Mile High City, making him an ideal player to rotate with presumed starter Richard Quinn, who will replace the recently released Daniel Graham.
His above-average speed and ability to work in space means the Broncos will immediately find ways to leverage his athleticism in packages against nickel backs, and slower outside linebackers.
ILB Mike Mohammed Rd. 6, #24 (189)
Mike Mohamed is a developmental fit for the Broncos at the ILB position. His speed and tackling ability are above average for an inside linebackers, but there are major questions about his ability to beat the mauling blockers that fortify the interior of the offensive line.
Mohamed's speed could be his saving grace. Because of the Broncos' depth at the ILB position, a major emphasis will be placed on those contributing on special teams.
Expect Mohamed, Cal's leading tackler in 2010, to be on the Broncos' active roster in Week 1.
TE Virgil Green Rd. 7, #1 (204)
TE Virgil Green benefited greatly from the Pistol offense run at Nevada. The fact that he had second-round draft pick QB Colin Kaepernick throwing to him didn't hurt, either. But it's Green's ability to manufacture big plays that could be what ultimately keeps him on the Broncos roster.
Green could team up with Julius Thomas in dual tight-end packages that would bring the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, providing the mismatches the Broncos would like for their newly drafted speedster. His blocking ability is limited, but his speed more than makes up for his flaws.
He should compete for a roster spot, but if the Broncos were to bring in a veteran for help at the position, the practice squad wouldn't be a surprise.
OLB Jeremy Beal, Rd. 7, #44 (247)
Beal may be the toughest one to project out of the entire group. He's an outside linebacker that was voted to three all-conference teams, and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Still, after a lackluster outing at the NFL Combine and Senior Bowl, many teams were ready to look past him, but the Broncos feel like they got a steal at the bottom of the seventh round.
Consider this, the Oklahoma Sooners didn't offer Beal a scholarship because of his poor athletic testing at their summer camp, but he eventually became one of the most productive defenders in school history.
Beal is a workhorse, used to having the odds stacked against him, and demonstrating an ability to prove the doubters wrong.