'Tis the season to be jolly, and I'm posting my first in-depth, official mock draft of the 2010 season a whole week later than I did last year, so for that I apologize.
This 3-8 start has been absolutely dreadful, but suffering through a tough season means your team at least has a chance at the elite talent in college football. The Broncos are currently on pace for a top 10 draft choice, and if the season ended today, they would have the 7th pick pending the result of tonight's game between the 49ers and Cardinals.
Unfortunately for the Broncos (as if it gets any worse), they have played one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Losing against a tough schedule means a worse pick if another team has the same record and a weaker opponent win percentage. The Broncos are losing to good teams, therefore their draft pick will be lower (in case of identical records) than a team like the Cardinals or Cowboys, whose schedule isn't quite as tough.
So, it looks like right now, this team is on pace for a higher draft pick than many fans have seen in a lifetime.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I see the Broncos' needs as follows:
1. Pass Rush
2. Secondary Help
3. DL Depth/Developmental Players
I also went through a list of players who could be traded/released at season's end so this team can completely start over defensively. They are:
Considering those are the Broncos' most proven, veteran players, it would be another offseason filled with people questioning Josh McDaniels, and another offseason in which we would get to defend ourselves as Broncos fans on a constant basis.
I also mentioned that the Broncos could trade Kyle Orton. Orton has played well this year, but his trade value will never be higher, and we didn't draft Tim Tebow to sit on the bench. Not only that, but McDaniels' time here may be running out, so if he's going to go down, he better go down with all his chips in the middle.
Not only that, but there are more teams looking for a starting quarterback this offseason than any year I can remember recently.
You have Arizona, San Francisco, Minnesota, Carolina, Oakland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Miami, and Buffalo all either in the market or potentially in the market for a new quarterback this year. The Broncos have a veteran (but not old) player who could have a nice market this offseason.
I have compiled a very preliminary list of players I think the Broncos could/will target come draft day, which I will put out at a different time. Mock drafts are hard to do at this point because free agency has yet to happen (hopefully it will indeed happen), but we will press onward either way.
In order to gauge what the Broncos will do with their top pick, we should look at how the rest of the draft could play out:
There are some who feel the Panthers simply cannot pass on Andrew Luck here. Much will depend on who the new regime is, but for now, I think the Panthers have bigger problems elsewhere. Jimmy Clausen was my least favorite QB prospect of the 2010 crop (between Bradford, McCoy, and Tebow), and thus far, he hasn't done anything to really impress me. He did show some fight against Cleveland, though, but made a dumb throw at the end. He needs time, but would you pass on Luck here?
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Well, the Bengals just missed out on their guy, which is a huge disappointment for them. I wouldn't be shocked to see them try to maybe trade up to get Luck, maybe give a king's ransom for him. Carson Palmer has totally flamed out, and is nowhere near the player he once was. That said, the Bengals have huge needs on defense as well, and it starts with the pass rush.
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Bills are doing just fine with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but their defense has been the real story. They are desperate for a pass rush, and could use some help on the defensive line next to Kyle Williams. I think a pass rushing linebacker is just what this team needs, but I wouldn't be shocked to see them go for a defensive lineman either.
Nick Fairley, DL, Auburn
Well, the Lions are about to get the steal of the draft here already. Their defensive line is ferocious, led by Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh. Now they need some ball hawks in the secondary who can capitalize on their great pressure.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Cowboys need help on both the offensive and defensive lines. They also have no good safety play to speak of. This is far too early to take a chance on a guy like Prince Amukamara in hopes that he can convert to safety, so the Cowboys are going to have to think big here.
Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama
The Cardinals need a quarterback in a bad way. They could look to trade down, or pick up a veteran quarterback via trade (hello, Kyle Orton?). This team is having serious troubles in the defensive backfield right now, especially at cornerback, but if they can draft a signal caller of the future here, I think they could take their chances.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
This leaves the Broncos with a few options at pick #7. They can either go with Prince Amukamara, Adrian Clayborn, or Stephen Paea, who are my next top three prospects. If they have that many guys on their board, they could look to move down once again.
Broncos trade pick #7 to Houston Texans for pick #12, 3rd round pick, and 5th round pick
This is a good deal for both teams. The Texans jump in front of whoever to get Prince Amukamara, whom they desperately need, and the Broncos are still in good position to draft one of their DL targets.
7. Houston Texans (from Broncos): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
8. San Francisco 49ers: Jake Locker, QB, Washington (reach)
9. Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (surprise pick)
10. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Here we are again, again with an interesting scenario. At this point, we're in range for some of my other targets in Brandon Harris, Janoris Jenkins, and Paea is still on the board. This is another scenario where we could look for another trade down, because Cam Newton is still around.
In another surprise move, I think we could trade down with a team like Jacksonville at about pick #19, so they can get a QB for the future, and we continue to stockpile picks.
Broncos trade pick #12 (from Texans) to Jaguars for pick #19, 3rd round pick, 4th round pick
It might be crazy to predict all these trade downs, but McDaniels is definitely not shy about it.
My top three targets at this point are:
1. Stephen Paea, NT
2. Brandon Harris, CB
3. Jimmy Smith, CB/S
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Broncos via Texans): Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
13. Seattle Seahawks: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
15. Tennessee Titans: Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina
16. Washington Redskins: Stephen Wisniewski, OL, Penn State
17. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
18. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OL, Mississippi State
Again, here we are, again with all of our top three targets available. At this point, we've compiled enough picks that we can trade up and take advantage of their fall. The time has come to make a selection (I made you work for this one):
1. First Round, 19th overall (from Jacksonville): Stephen Paea, DT/NT, Oregon State
It's pretty rare for a guy to sit atop my draft board for two consecutive weeks. If there's a chance Paea could fall to the mid-late first round, the Broncos should take advantage. Despite his lack of ideal height, Paea is an ideal nose tackle prospect in my opinion, and if McDaniels is returning as head coach, there are not many other players who have every trait he looks for in a player.
Paea has unmatched toughness, and every Pac 10 guy I've talked to has echoed that sentiment. His strength is not to be taken lightly either. He might be only 6'1", but he packs a serious punch. He can bench press 225 pounds 44 times, which would be overrated if that was his only strength (no pun intended).
Paea has great quickness and is a former rugby player from New Zealand. He is as tough as they come, and has been making plays in the backfield all year long for the Beavers. I think he can be an understudy to Jamal Williams next year, learn from the best, and be a force for us someday. I really think this guy is going to be a steal. He has talent, work ethic, toughness, and despite the fact that he's undersized, he packs a bigger punch than any defensive tackle in the draft.
From NFL Draft Scout:
Paea (pie-uh) is one of the premier defensive tackles in the nation … considered opting out of his senior year for the NFL Draft, but will return for what could be an All-America season … strong player with a rugby background from his youth in Tonga … faces constant double teams … has quickness and strength to wreak havoc on opposing backfields … the strongest player on the team, and possibly the nation's strongest tackle … tied for third at OSU for career sacks with 19.5 … Lombardi, Outland and Nagurski Award Watch lists … co-team captain for second year … Lindy's Football Preview and Athlon Sports First Team All-American.
Phil Steele's First Team Preseason All-Pac-10 … NationalChamps.net preseason second team All-American … candidate for the Lott Trophy, which is awarded to the top FBS defensive player who exhibits "integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity" … as of mid-may he holds all of OSU's defensive tackle records in the weight room - vertical jump (30"), shuttle (4.37), 225-pound bench (44 reps), bench press (500 lbs), squat (600 lbs), clean (365 lbs) - all would be in the top-10 statistically at the 2010 NFL Combine.
From all of the trading down, we now sit with two 2nd round picks, three 3rd round picks, a 5th, and two 6ths. I think the Broncos are primed for another big trade, and yes, it involves quarterback Kyle Orton.
I can see both ends of the spectrum here. I think Orton could very well stay for the 2011 season, but I also don't think his value will ever be higher. The Broncos could choose the Orton route and let Tim Tebow develop another year, or they could go all in with Tebow and let the future begin.
I also believe Brady Quinn will have made strides this offseason, and he is not as incapable as people make him out to be. He showed me in the final pre-season game that he has some skill, and while he's not going to make an impact like Peyton Hillis is for the Cleveland Browns, I still think he can be a solid, reliable backup with more seasoning in this system.
If I'm the GM of the Denver Broncos, I'm putting all of my chips in the center and betting the house on Tebow. Why else would you draft him?
Get maximum value for Orton while you still can, and trade him to a team in desperate need of his services (meaning they have no developmental QB's).
Kyle Orton traded to Minnesota Vikings for 2nd round pick and conditional 2012 draft pick
The Vikings have not been shy about giving up picks for veteran players (Jared Allen, Randy Moss), and with Brett Favre retiring this year, the need for a quarterback is going to be the biggest question in Minnesota this year.
Being that I'm forced to watch EVERY Vikings game, I can say with confidence that they have the type of front office who would fall in love with Orton. He's a midwest guy, and put him in a dome for a full season and his numbers could stay at a high level. The Vikings' defense is good enough that Orton's conservative style of play will fit what they do perfectly, and with Adrian Peterson running the show anyway, he won't need to do all that much.
They already have the targets in place, and they drafted Adrian Clayborn (per this mock). They have addressed their defense, so getting Orton for a 2nd is probably the top option for them unless they want to deal a first and more for Kevin Kolb, or invest in a rookie.
The Vikings take on Orton and his high 2011 salary, re-negotiate a new 4 year extension, and both teams get good value in the deal.
This mock will assume that Champ Bailey has been franchise tagged and possibly even re-signed, and I'm open to the possibility that he can make the switch to safety. In fact, I promote it. Champ Bailey could be dangerous in the role that Renaldo Hill plays right now, and the thought of it is very intriguing. Rod Woodson extended his career doing it, I think Champ Bailey can as well.
Broncos trade 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks for pick #30 and a 7th round pick
2. First Round, 30th overall (from Jets): Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, Colorado
This is obviously pretty high for Smith, who right now is considered a second round pick. I think that will change by the time the draft rolls around.
Admittedly, I don't know a ton about Smith. I am excited to watch him play some more, but what I do know is that he has fantastic speed to go along with his impressive size. According to his official biography, he is the third fastest player on the team and runs a 4.35 second 40 yard dash. A guy of that size with that speed will not make it out of the first round. Look at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was a fringe second round pick but ran a blazing 40 yard dash at the combine. He shot up draft boards.
Smith is a great athlete and the Broncos need to take advantage of a deep class of cornerbacks. You might not see it right now, but Smith is a legitimate first round talent athletically, despite playing for a team as pathetic as Colorado this year.
Just like Demaryius Thomas was taken at the end of the first round last year, the physical freak in Smith falls to the Broncos here, who trade a few picks to move up and get him.
3. Second Round (38th overall): J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Wisconsin
Watt truly is a feel-good story. A guy who went from delivering pizzas, playing ball at Central Michigan, to now starring for one of the premiere teams in college football.
This guy has been an absolute load for teams this year, and started his dominance last year. He started his collegiate career as a tight end for Central Michigan, and has deeloped into one of the nation's most feared and dominant defensive linemen.
He's quickly rising up draft boards, and with this pick (essentially an extra first round pick), the Broncos get a hard-working defensive end prospect to team up with their new nose tackle prospect. Watt already has fantastic size at 6'6" 292 pounds, and I think he has room to add even more weight. He could potentially be a dominant player at the next level, and has a motor that never stops.
He's got four career blocked kicks, and in only two years with the Badgers, he has 33.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, and an interception.
4. Second Round (from Vikings): Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame
Remember when Tim Tebow was at Florida, and he built a great chemistry with tight end Aaron Hernandez? Kyle Rudolph can provide that and much much more for the Denver Broncos. Coming off of a season-ending injury, Rudolph's stock has taken a bit of a hit, but make no mistake about it--he's the real deal.
His size is elite, his blocking skills are improving, but he will make his mark in the NFL in the pass catching department. He has better ball skills than most of the wide receivers in this class, and is one of the better red zone threats I have watched in a long, long time.
I know offense is not on anyone's mind right now, but Daniel Graham is on the downside of his career (possibly a cap casualty), Richard Quinn has shown nothing in the passing game, and Dan Gronkowski is still developing but appears to be just average at this point. Rudolph is an elite talent and the final piece to the puzzle on offense.
5. Third Round: Dontay Moch, Linebacker, Nevada
One of the premiere pass rushers in the country. Moch has outstanding speed, and reportedly has clocked a 4.25 second 40 yard dash, which is unheard of not just for a linebacker, but for almost every position.
Moch's insane speed makes him a valuable asset on special teams, and he could learn how to be an elite pass rusher from Elvis Dumervil.
The Broncos need to be able to survive a season if a guy like Dumervil is hurt again. While they shouldn't plan on him getting injured, they should be prepared in case he does. Pectoral injuries are hard to come back from, and Moch has some serious skill.
6. Third Round (from Jaguars): Jaiquawn Jarrett, Safety, Temple
Jarrett will be a great value pick in the third round. The Broncos need to add some talent to their safety position, and this kid is an outstanding student-athlete who has played every game in his collegiate career.
Jarrett's best assets are his ability to diagnose the play and make tackles. He's not a ballhawk like Darcel McBath was in college, but he will knock some people out.
He's a very smart kid who could be a nice find here in the 3rd round.
7. Fourth Round (from Jaguars): Joseph Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, LSU
I like Barksdale here because we have little to no depth at offensive tackle, and he has experience blocking for mobile quarterbacks. We have not had good luck with fourth round picks in recent years, so hopefully he can buck the trend here and become a nice backup.
Powerful guy in the running game who has played both right and left tackle for the Tigers. Durable and one of the most experienced linemen in LSU history.
8. Fifth Round (from Texans): Greg McElroy, Quarterback, Alabama
McElroy is a smart, tough, gritty player who does nothing but win games. Alabama has had a down year in 2010, but really that takes nothing away from McElroy, who has displayed the ability to make every NFL throw.
If the Broncos are to trade Kyle Orton, then getting McElroy is, in my opinion, the next best option for depth. He is everything McDaniels preaches in a player, and would be great as a developmental backup.
9. Sixth Round (from Lions): Adrian Taylor, Defensive Lineman, Oklahoma
Coming off of an injury, and at this point in the draft, you're looking for guys who can come into camp and compete. Taylor has intriguing size and had increased his tackles for loss total each of his first three years at Oklahoma. He's not a flashy prospect, but could be an intriguing find in the later rounds.
10. Sixth Round (from Patriots): Ryan Winterswyk, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Boise State
Winterswyk isn't flashy, but for a guy who began his collegiate career as a walk on, he's not doing half bad for himself.
Boise State fans love him, and for good reason. He's the type of hard-working, blue-collar player that you just love to have on your team. He would be a camp body and possibly a nice player to have on the practice squad or someone to have for good, solid depth.
This is a ton of picks, and probably more than we will eventually wind up with, but I think it's a decent first look at what draft day could be like for the Broncos. Much of this could/will change after free agency, so take it with a grain of salt.
These mock drafts are more than just predictions, there a chance for you to get to see some of the guys I think will be top prospects for Denver on draft day.
1. Stephen Paea, NT, Oregon State
2. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
3. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
4. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
5. Dontay Moch, DE/OLB, Nevada
6. Jaiquawn Jarrett, S, Temple
7. Joseph Barksdale, OL, LSU
8. Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama
9. Adrian Taylor, DL, Oklahoma
10. Ryan Winterswyk, DE/OLB, Boise State