As we await the final word on who will be starting at quarterback this week (why not make Oakland prepare for Orton and stick Tebow in last minute?), I think it's a good time to take a look at the future, which is all the Broncos really have going for them right now.
A season wounded with injury, adversity, and tragedy has been all Broncos fans can handle and then some, and 2010 is certainly a year Denver fans will wish they could forget. Being the optimist that I am, I think this is a year we will certainly want to put on the backburner, but it will be the mark of the turning point of this franchise. The Broncos are set for a fresh start, a brand new quarterback, and a likely complete overhaul of the front office.
As fans move on toward the future, we still get three more games of Denver Broncos football. Despite the fact that this season has been the ugliest in recent team history, there is a small silver lining in it all--the Broncos will have a top draft choice.
This is not something us as fans are used to, and we shouldn't be. It appears likely that the Broncos will finish this season with the highest draft selection since many of us have been fans, and if the season ended today, that pick would be third overall.
What will the Broncos do with such a high draft pick? What position will they look to?
If you follow college football, you will know many, if not all of the names I'm about to mention, as these are the premiere prospects in college football. Who could be wearing orange and blue in 2011 and beyond?
These seem pretty obvious to me at this point, but we still have not gone through free agency yet. There is a chance the Broncos could lose Champ Bailey at the cornerback position, as slapping him with the franchise tag would be very, very expensive for a 32 year old cornerback, and it doesn't seem the Broncos have much leverage at all after taking Bailey's four year deal off the table earlier this year.
In my opinion, Bailey should be retained. I don't know how they did it, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to keep Ronde Barber around during their rebuilding phase, and Denver is certainly going to need Bailey with Andre' Goodman's health an obvious concern and Perrish Cox's status in question.
Cornerback is a top need, but is it THE top need? Here are my needs for the Broncos with three games remaining:
- Pass Rush
It's clear to me that the Broncos have a majority of their needs on the defensive side of the ball, and I think it all starts with Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil creates pressure, which opens up opportunities for the defensive backs. Without Dumervil, the DB's are worse, and the defense cannot get off the field on third downs. With the Broncos having a terrible third down offense, their defense has constantly been on the field, and the equation equals disaster for Denver.
Sitting at three overall if the season were to end today, there are certainly some players that can help this team. Lucky for the Broncos, two of their top needs translate to two of the best and deepest positions in the entire draft, especially at the cornerback position (should most of the players declare).
Here are the best prospects in the draft that Denver will look at:
1. Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford
Luck is a great prospect, and there's no denying it. He has everything you look for not just in a quarterback prospect, but in an NFL player. He has been called one of the best QB prospects to ever come along, and he's certainly proven it on the field, leading Stanford to their first BCS bowl in quite some time.
The Broncos do not have a need at quarterback, though. Not any in the least. Not only that, but they will not be in a position to take Luck (1st overall) and simply cannot afford to trade the assets it will likely require to move up and snag him.
I am not in favor of trading Tim Tebow without giving him a fair chance to be this team's starter, but there are some who think that Luck is far too good to pass on, and that the Broncos should exhaust every effort to get him. In my opinion, that would be foolish. We have been down that road before as fans. Luck IS a great prospect, but the Broncos' quarterback position, at least as far as we know, is not broken. The team owes Kyle Orton $9 million next year, and with his horrid play of late, it's unlikely the team will be able to trade him for what they should get. He has significantly decreased his value, and will probably be Tebow's backup until another team gets desperate for QB help and overpays.
If Denver didn't have Tebow, I would be all on board for trading up to get Luck, but this team has a QB of the future already.
Where can you watch Luck? Watch he and the Cardinal take on the Hokies of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in January 3rd at 7:30 PM CST.
Odds of becoming a Bronco: 1% (Because you NEVER say never!)
2. Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Nick Fairley just won the Lombardi Award as the nation's most outstanding defensive player, and has been a bright spot on an otherwise dismal Auburn defense in 2010. He has terrorized quarterbacks to the point that he has gone from a relative unknown to a top five lock should he declare for the draft, which he is expected to.
Fairley has great size and could be an end in a 3-4 alignment, but in my opinion, his best fit would be in a 4-3 front where he can have an Ndamukong Suh-like impact for a team.
WARNING: Fairley comes with the one-year-wonder tag attached to him. He was a standout junior college player, but Fairley has only played one significant season for Auburn, and while he has tons of upside, he has not shown consistent dominance at the upper collegiate levels. He has been an absolute force, and has great potential.
Is he too big of a risk?
The Broncos do not know yet whether they will be moving to a four man front, but it will be interesting to see. Certainly Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers are both capable of making the switch to end, and Denver could easily replace their linebacker corps, where DJ Williams is a better fit for the 4-3 anyway.
It's an interesting proposition, and a front four that could possibly include Dumervil, Ayers, Fairley, and Kevin Vickerson sounds pretty great on paper. The problem is, Dumervil is not strong against the run, and in a 4-3 alignment teams could expose that side of the field.
It will be interesting to see what happens, but Fairley is probably the 2nd best prospect in this draft, and if the Bengals are picking ahead of Denver, he should be the pick for Cincinnati. If he falls, Denver will have to take a look at him.
Where can you see Fairley play? Check out the National Championship Game on January 10th as Auburn takes on Oregon on ESPN.
Odds of becoming a Bronco: 25%
3. Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU
Peterson leads a group of cornerbacks that is as deep a class as I have seen in a long time. He is the cream of the crop and has the ability to contribute in every phase of the game. He's returned punts and kicks and played wide receiver, but Peterson's true craft is taking away a half of the field at the cornerback positions. His ball skills are fantastic, and if Champ Bailey leaves, his services will be needed in the worst way.
He's big, he's fast, and he can really do it all. I like this guy a ton, and I think he could be a superstar in the NFL for years to come.
You can see Peterson in action again on January 7th against Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl at 7:00 PM CST.
Odds of becoming a Bronco: 27%
4. Prince Amukamara, Cornerback, Nebraska
In my opinion, Amukamara is the more polished cornerback between he and Peterson, but you really can't go wrong with either guy.
Amukamara will come into the NFL and have an instant impact for a defense. He has great instincs, is a good character guy, and is oozing talent. This year, he doesn't have a boat load of interceptions, but he's been the anchor for a very talented and very good pass defense, and probably has been as close to shut-down as you will find at the collegiate level.
If the Broncos have to choose between Peterson and Amukamara to replace Champ Bailey in the future, they really can't go wrong. Both are great prospects, and both would be welcome additions.
Amukamara and the Huskers will finish their season in the Holiday Bowl on December 30th in a rematch against Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies.
Odds of becoming a Bronco: 27%
5. Marcell Dareus, Defensive Lineman, Alabama
Dareus is a freakish athlete who was dominant in Alabama's National Title victory over the Texas Longhorns a year ago. He has been in a 3-4 defense under Nick Saban, but has been said to be a good prospect for the 4-3 front as well. In my opinion, Dareus is certainly capable of playing in either front. He missed a couple of games earlier this year because of suspension, but to my knowledge, it isn't anything that will keep him out of the top ten.
A guy with his size and athleticism will be extremely intriguing to teams, especially those who operate in a three man front.
Dareus and the Crimson Tide will take on Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day at noon CST.
Odds of becoming a Bronco: 20%
1. Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson
At least on Madden, the Broncos are apparently going to be a dominant 4-3 defense. Unfortunately, the linebackers in this draft are nothing close to the ones I have had in my draft classes. If the Broncos move to a four man front, the pick has to be Nick Fairley if he's available.
Then again, the Broncos could look to move Robert Ayers to one of the tackle positions and put a guy like Bowers on the outside, which is an interesting prospect. Ayers has great strength, and has a great bull rush. It will be interesting to see what develops.
2. Robert Quinn, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, North Carolina
A good athlete with solid potential, Quinn could be a nice pick as a 3-4 rush linebacker. I'm not sure the Broncos are a fit at all, but who knows?
3. Adrian Clayborn, Defensive Lineman, Iowa
Clayborn's a very versatile player, and was in consideration for the top pick overall before the season. He's still a great player, and can play in either a three or four man front. I don't want to seem biased, but I've seen this guy play a lot, and I know for a fact that he is a great four down lineman. He's a great athlete, and he's a great football player. Our pick might be a little high for him, though.