The 2010 Draft class has yet to even strap on the pads for the Denver Broncos. What better time to take a look into the class of 2011?
As ready as we are for football to actually start, the NFL season goes year round, and the Broncos have a group of people doing some scouting already, and we fans deserve to be ahead of the curve as well.
One of the most prevalent trends with the new regime in Denver is their favoritism for east coast players. For instance, the SEC is widely considered to be the most NFL rich football conference in all of college football, so it's no coincidence that Josh McDaniels and the rest of the Broncos brass have used three out of five first round picks in two seasons on the heralded conference. But it doesn't end there.
While the Broncos have used three of their top picks on Knowshon Moreno (Georgia), Robert Ayers (Tennessee), and Tim Tebow (Florida), they have also dedicated their other two top picks on ACC standouts in Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech) and Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest).
Perhaps this is merely a coincidence, and it should definitely be taken with a grain of salt. But it's certainly no question that the east coast is a gold mine for talent, and 2011 may be the best group to come along this decade. The Broncos are assured three picks in the top 64 after the Brandon Marshall trade, so they are poised to take advantage.
One well they might like to dip into is that of Butch Davis' North Carolina Tar Heels, who boast five potential first round draft prospects. No need to read that again--the North Carolina Tar Heels can play some football, and are arguably the most talented collegiate defense we will see in the next decade.
Might one--or more--of these young studs be donning the orange and blue come 2011?
There was much talk on this site that the Broncos would draft Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams, whom they ended up passing on not once but twice. Not that Williams isn't a talented player, but this was not the right year for the Broncos to go after defensive linemen early on in the draft.
Even more prevalent than the talks of Dan Williams were those including Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, who wound up being drafted by division foe Oakland with the eighth overall pick. The Broncos didn't do a whole lot to upgrade their youth at either position in 2010, and reasonably so. The talent simply did not match the value of the picks the Broncos had.
This year--in all likelihood--it will. Two of the Broncos' top needs heading into 2011 as far as needing a potential starter could be inside linebacker and defensive line, and the North Carolina Tar Heels boast top tier talent in both areas.
1. Quan Sturdivant, Linebacker, 6'2" 235
Sturdivant may be the most underrated player of the bunch, but he's not one to be overlooked. As a junior, he led the star-studded defense with 79 tackles. As a sophomore, he led the team with a total of 122 tackles. After playing the first couple of years as a Tar Heel at the outside linebacker position, he made the switch to the inside and had a very successful junior season. Sturdivant is the leader of the defense, and he possesses great instincs. He is a phenomenal finisher and as you can see by his reported 40 yard dash times, he is extremely fast for a linebacker.
Perhaps Sturdivant will be evaluated as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense at the next level, but he has the versatility to play any linebacker position. A scouting report from FF Toolbox indicates that Sturdivant may have every asset the Broncos front office looks for in a player:
Do-it-all linebacker Quan Sturdivant did not spend any time learning on the sidelines at North Carolina. As a true freshman he played in all 12 games and earned five starts, tallying 47 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interception and even blocked a punt. That set the stage for his breakout sophomore campaign.
In 2008 Sturdivant started every game and led the team with an incredible 122 tackles, including a NCAA FBS high 87 assisted tackles.
For the 2009 season Sturdivant moved to the middle of the linebacker corps and his leadership has led to a stifling Tar Heel defense. He was not asked to do as much as far as tackling is concerned from his new position (thanks to an improving defense around him), but he still led the team with 75 tackles during the regular season and did a great job getting into the backfield -- totaling 12.0 tackles-for-loss, one sack and six quarterback hurries.
What makes Sturdivant so valuable is his versatility. He can play any linebacker position, and once he is there he can do everything one would want a linebacker to do. He can obviously use his 6-2, 232 pound frame to fight his way into the backfield, but he is also more than capable of dropping back into coverage.
2. Bruce Carter, Linebacker 6'3" 230
There is simply no reason not to like linebacker Bruce Carter as a candidate to clog holes in the NFL for the next decade plus. Like fellow linebacker Quan Sturdivant, Carter is known for his speed, strength, and versatility. Probably more impressive than anything though is his prowess on special teams, where he led the nation in 2008 with an absolutely outstanding five blocked kicks.
Five blocked kicks is an unbelievable number for an entire special teams unit over the course of a season, especially at the highest level of collegiate competition. Carter did it all on his own.
That's not to be overshadowed by his 158 career tackles, six career sacks, and two interceptions--both of which were returned for touchdowns.
NFL Draft Bible thinks he already has the inside track to the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year award:
The senior outside linebacker plays for perhaps the most talented front seven in all of college football, one that may feature, including Carter, four first-round picks in next year’s draft. Carter has to make enough big plays while staying within his defensive scheme to make sure that he is not considered the fourth wheel. Not an easy task. Quite often in the NFL the Defensive Rookie of the Year is a linebacker; athletically gifted linebackers who played in a pro-style defense in college can have a very smooth transition to the pros. The next in line for this honor may be Carter, a prototypical outside linebacker in UNC’s Butch Davis-led defense. If Carter can emerge from his senior season without being overshadowed by his teammates or pigeonholed as a cover-2 weak side linebacker due to his size, his draft stock could explode. It would not surprise the Draft Bible to see Carter end up in the top 20 of next year’s draft due to his previous game film, athleticism, instincts and sheer force of will.
3. Robert Quinn, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker 6'5" 270
Up next is a guy who had 11 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss as a sophomore for the Tar Heels, along with six forced fumbles. A guy who is expected to be the best pass rusher to come out of North Carolina since Julius Peppers in 2002. Surprised as many on this site may be, UNC junior phenom Robert Quinn has no relation to current Broncos tight end Richard Quinn, a second round pick in 2009.
Quinn is a fantastic pass rusher who has the speed, athleticism, and overall ability to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. Some outlets are saying Quinn, if he enters the draft early, has the potential to be plucked off the board within the first two picks. Quinn has elite level speed for his size, running reportedly in the mid-4.5 range. That number is definitely subject to change as Quinn's weight will likely increase as he continues to add muscle mass.
Here is a scouting report from NFL Mocks on Quinn:
Quinn is a super athletic defensive end that possesses all the physical skills to take over games in the NFL. Quinn has a rare initial burst off the line which allows him to get into the opponents backfield. Quinn’s quick burst and overall speed makes him a target for double teams. However, he has developed several pass rush moves that allow him to get around those double teams. His 6 forced fumbles last season only enhance his playmaking ability. Quinn makes his living in the offensive backfield.
4. Marvin Austin, Defensive Lineman 6'3" 305
Austin is a guy that I definitely need to see more in-game action of. Entering his junior season, Austin appeared to be arguably the best defensive line prospect in the country. When it came to his production on the field, the statistics took a significant dip, and for good reason. This is a guy who was consistently double-teamed as a junior and still managed four sacks and six tackles for loss. His lateral quickness is phenomenal, and he is extremely stout against the run.
Some have questioned his motor, but again, I'm going to need more information on him. As it stands, Austin is rated as the number one overall prospect in the entire draft by CBS Sports/NFL Draft Scout, which is my number one source come draft time.
Obviously, their list is subject to change, but Austin currently leads their group of all players, much less an extremely talented list of defensive linemen.
If you're a draft fan, the North Carolina Tar Heels are certainly a team to watch for 2010. The Broncos will most likely have a very close eye on this star studded ACC squad.