This has been a historically trying year for us fans of the Denver Broncos, capping off the most tumultuous time for the franchise that I can recall. I must admit to being personally beaten down by it - which accounts for my prolonged silence this season - but now that we're onto the next chapter of our shared history, I hope you'll allow me to leave all that in the past as we move on together. What better way to do just that than to set our eyes on the upcoming NFL Draft; remember, even the darkest storm clouds have their silver linings!
It has been a rare instance in which this franchise has had the opportunity to secure as much impact talent as they are currently in position to acquire and it could not have come at a better time. Despite the uncertain nature of our future administration, we can look to the cream of the crop for reinforcements that fit myriad schemes.
I realize that one of my fellow draftniks on staff here at Mile High Report, Sayre Bedinger, has already kicked off the Draftivus festivities - going so far as to produce multiple in-depth mock drafts before the end of either the NFL or NCAA seasons - and we are all greatly appreciative of his efforts. Though I won't match his thoroughness or preciseness just yet, I will be adding my voice to the ongoing conversation as we approach the most important draft for the Broncos in decades.
While the professional and college football seasons wind down, I'll be publishing posts discussing three draft prospects a piece: a consensus top pick, a personal favorite, and a sleeper. As the draft order becomes solidified and the bowl season draws to a close, I'll be adding more definition to this series. Finally, as word comes in on the specific direction of the franchise and the draft class fills out, I'll shift gears into mock drafts and full draft talk. This is my favorite time of the year, my friends, and I hope you'll come along for the ride with us here at MHR!
Top Prospect: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Why not begin this series by adding my two cents to the ongoing debate about perhaps the most controversial prospect in this draft, at least as far as the Denver Broncos are concerned? First of all, you'd have to go all the way back to Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 NFL Draft to find a quarterback that I liked as much as I like Andrew Luck this year. That said, I firmly believe that Denver drafted a capable franchise QB just last year and I have to think that our new management will be compelled to agree. To be perfectly honest, I wish Luck hadn't attended Stanford University, a fact that I feel is unduly swaying the opinions of far too many nostalgic Broncos fans. In the end, I think his best value to us would be his availability at our time on the clock, making our pick an extremely attractive commodity in the trade market.
While I have a hard time seeing him escaping the Carolina Panthers with the first choice in the draft, we could find ourselves in the aforementioned fortuitous position should they be wholly uninterested in him and unable to find a trade more to their liking than the selection of an alternate prospect. With the Cincinnati Bengals - a franchise in desperate need of new blood at the QB position - currently sitting in the #3 slot, all roads to Andrew Luck would then go through Denver, and that's not a bad spot to be in when you're a team with multiple and dire other needs.
Personal Favorite: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
Though certainly not as dark as the Broncos current campaign, the 2010 season was not a fun experience for Florida fans such as myself. That said, the Gators were not without their standout performers and two of them are potential fits for the Denver Broncos in this year's draft. Though it's not yet certain that he'll enter the 2011 NFL Draft, Janoris Jenkins might be wise to do just that.
After breaking on to the scene in 2008 as an impressive true freshman starter opposite future top ten pick and current Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Jenkins suffered a bit of a sophomore slump that had onlookers concerned going into his junior season when he would be thrust into the spotlight as Florida's top corner. Whatever questions were being asked of Janoris prior to 2010, however, were answered resoundingly. Stud wide receivers like Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Julio Jones and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey have two things in common: they're all future first round picks and they each had arguably their worst games of the season last year against Janoris Jenkins.
Though Jenkins has just average size for a CB at 5'11 and 184 lbs., he plays bigger than his measurements due to incredible athletic ability and refined technique. Janoris is an explosive playmaker that's a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and that's actually quite often given his style. He doesn't shy away from contact and is even a capable blitzer off the corner. He's a complete football player, forged in the white-hot heat of SEC football and polished by coaches with a proven track record of producing quality NFL prospects.
At present, Jenkins is rapidly rising up draft boards around the Internet. Though further scrutiny may belie that Janoris is actually slightly smaller than his already marginal listed size, his other physical tests will reveal a finely-tuned athlete. Moreover, you can't argue results, and he's shutdown the best, brightest and biggest, all on the grandest stages. In today's NFL, multiple top-flight corners are a necessity, not a luxury. Whether or not the Broncos keep Champ Bailey (and I hope they do), Jenkins would be a fine addition to the defensive backfield. Most have LSU's Patrick Peterson at the top of the potential CB class in this draft, but for my money, Janoris deserves that acclaim.
Sleeper: Ahmad Black, S, Florida
Speaking of production, there may not be a more underrated prospect than Ahmad Black in the 2011 NFL Draft. Easily the Florida Gators most valuable player in 2010, the senior added a new dimension to his already impressive college resume this year.
Though Black was recruited to Gainesville as a cornerback and even played the 2007 season at that position, he was switched over to safety with astounding results. Ahmad started every game in 2008, claiming a share of the national lead with 7 interceptions and even returned two of them for touchdowns. Though he was not allowed to live up to that astronomical standard in 2009 due to a crowded secondary for the Gators - he even considered going pro prematurely to get out of that situation - he decided to return when fellow safety Major Wright (currently of the Chicago Bears) unexpectedly declared for the 2010 draft. His renewed playing time yielded yet another spectacular season, but in a wholly different way: he notched an incredible 103 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and a sack. As a firsthand observer, I can tell you that many of them were absolutely critical plays.
Like Jenkins, Black may have his size - or lack thereof - held against him, but such negatives pale in comparison to his performance, production and other positives. At just 5'9" and 190 lbs., Ahmad was still plenty big enough to direct the defense, diagnose plays, dole out plenty of big hits, and put up even bigger plays otherwise. His leadership is unquestioned, his awareness unparalleled and his ability simply amazing. Currently viewed as a third round pick by most, I think he'd be the steal of the draft in that range. With the safety position in Denver ripe for some turnover, Ahmad Black would be an ideal addition to the roster at this point.
I obviously concur with those of you who feel that the defensive side of the ball should be the focus of the Broncos draft strategy. While the defensive backfield may not be the most pressing need at the moment, talent is talent and we should focus on getting the best players available. I promise that future iterations of this series won't be so Gator-centric and will look at other positions of need, but I thought I should share my thoughts on two guys that I've followed closely for a long time who I think are great fits in Denver. And so, without further ado, I yield the floor to you and look forward to our continued conversation in the comments below. As always, I'll do my best to respond to as many of you as possible, but I trust that you'll do quite well without me if necessary. I've missed you, Mile High Report, the single best fan community in te world; go Broncos - past, present AND future!