Welcome back to part 2 of this 2 part post I decided to make. In case you missed it, (warning: blatant self promotion) part 1 can be found here which deals with the offense. As you probably guessed already this post will deal with the defensive side of the ball. Will it be as strong as the offensive side of the ball is shaping up to be? Take the jump to find out.
Note: If you don't care about college football or the draft and just wanna see how it all relates to the Broncos, you can skip ahead to the end where I put everything together and how I think it all relates to the Broncos.
According to most, the weakness of Denver's defense over the past couple years has been the d-line so let's start with DT.
Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) came into the year as the consensus top DT and he has the talent and potential to be a top 10 pick. The problem is that he has yet to come close to living up to that potential. His stat total is not what you wanna see out of a guy who is supposed to be a top 10 pick and some have questioned his competitiveness and drive. Now in his defense, he see's double teams every play and looks like he will be a solid plug-in and eat up space kind of guy but is that what you want with a top 10 pick. Brandon Thompson (Clemson) is seeing his stock rise dramatically and has taken the top DT spot from Worthy in some scouts eyes. Thompson does not have the potential Worthy does but does just as good a job as Worthy does. Like Worthy, his stats leaving something to be desired but he demands double teams every play and is great at eating up blockers.
Alameda Ta'amu (Washington) is normally the 3rd ranked DT and the #1 NT but he's my favorite DT. He is huge (330 lbs), highly athletic and is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves. He had been an afterthought in most scouts eyes because he plays only 1 and 0-tech in Washington's 3-4 but with the way his body is built along with his athleticism, he looks like he could be a better fit in a 4-3 and not only could he play 1-technique but 3 technique as well. He's not going to pick up the stats needed to push him to the top but I have my eyes squarely on him right now. Jared Crick (Nebraska) is the top pass rushing DT in the draft. He has averaged 9 sacks a season and has gotten off to a good start so far. The question with Crick is due to his size (285 lbs) will he be able to hold up as a 3 down DT in the NFL. My guess is no. Crick looks like a much better fit as a 5 tech in a 3-4 than a 3 tech in a 4-3. His game's against Wisconsin and Ohio State have only proved this going against the top two centers in the draft this year.
Baker Steinkuhler is the other guy out of Nebraska. He is a decent prospect but like Crick is better suited to DE in a 3-4. Kheeston Randall (Texas) does a good job pushing the pocket and getting penetration but has yet to produce good numbers. Tydreke Powell (North Carolina) is a talented player who should produce way more than he does playing beside Quinton Coples, Kareem Martin, and Dontae Paige-Moss. Kawaan Short (Purdue) has started the year off good and could be a sleeper to watch. Other players to watch are Jaye Howard (Florida), Josh Chapman (Alabama), Tony Jerod-Eddie (Texas A&M), Kendall Reyes (Connecticut), Logan Harrell (Fresno State),and Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati). Oh yeah and I forgot about Marcus Forston (Miami). Well that's because he is a guy with 1st round talent who has yet to come close to his potential. He'll could be taken high because of his talent but shouldn't unless he turns it around real soon.
Moving to DE/Rush LB, the top prospect here is a player who many also believe to be the top defensive prospect period. Quinton Coples (North Carolina) had a monstrous campaign last year producing 10 sacks and 15.5 TFL's. However this year he has not started off as well. He's managed 2.5 sacks and constantly attracts double teams but he's just not been as impressive as he was last year. What is really interesting is that while Coples is considered the top DE, he actually played DT last year. He's a weird hybrid kind of player (Broncos fans think Robert Ayers), not quick enough to play RE and not big enough to play DT. He seems like a great fit at LE and could move inside on passing downs but this is not normally a position that's filled this high in the draft. Still Coples is a great athlete and football player and these questions marks should not prevent him from being a top 10 pick.
After Coples there aren't really any guys who translate well to the 4-3 at DE projected to be picked high. Donte Paige-Moss (North Carolina) and Vinny Curry (Marshall) are really the only two who could fit in a 4-3 but at 260 lbs they'll be limited to the right end and look better suited to a 3-4. Curry has been explosive for Marshall and is currently sitting at the top of the 2nd round but I can easily see him moving up. Donte Paige-Moss had a good season last year playing DE beside DT Coples but with Coples moving to DE and the emergence of DE Kareem Martin for the Tar Heels, Paige-Moss has not seen the field much. Still he is an incredible athlete and looks like he could be a top weak-side rusher (both in a 4-3 and 3-4) if he can get over consistency issues.
Both DE Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) and Frank Alexander (Oklahoma) entered the season as a 3rd/4th round picks but have exploded on the scene this year and have pushed there stocks into the 2nd round. If they continue to play like they have, they could push themselves into the 2nd/3rd spots for top 4-3 DE's. Another guy to watch in the 2nd/3rd is Andre Branch (Clemson). Later guys are Jake Bequette (Arkansas), Brad Madison (Missouri), Adewale Ojomo (Miami) and Shea McClellin (Boise State).
3-4 Rush LB is real good but I won't take to much time since most of you are not interested in 3-4 players. I have already mentioned Curry and Paige-Moss who are both best suited to a 3-4. There are two players however that I have ranked higher at rush LB. Brandon Jenkins (Florida State) had 13.5 sacks last year and seems to be picking up where he left off. Courtney Upshaw IMO is the best player on the Alabama defense. Considering that Alabama has better defense than some NFL teams, that should say a lot. He reminds me a ton of Clay Matthews. Others to mention are Devin Taylor (South Carolina), Brandon Lindsay (Pittsburgh), Chase Thomas (Stanford) and Nick Perry (USC).
This year boasts two top end OLB's in Zach Brown (North Carolina) and Travis Lewis (Oklahoma). Brown is an insane athlete who led the Tar Heels in production last year. Lewis isn't as strong an athlete but he is still really good and has had over 100 tackles every year for the Sooners. I have read about some character issues with Lewis but nothing has surfaced yet that is worth noting. The only real negatives for both are that they could use some more weight and right now are only suited to play WILL.
Keenan Robinson (Texas) and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma) are the top rated SAM's and both are sitting with a 2nd round status on them. Lavonte David (Nebraska) produced huge for the Cornhuskers last year and has been an impact player for them this year but at 216 lbs he is not a fit for a lot teams in the NFL. Sean Spence (Miami) is another undersized WILL who is constantly around the ball. Nico Johnson (Alabama), Emmanuel Acho (Texas), Nigel Bradham (Florida State), Bobby Wagner (Utah State), and Danny Trevathan (Kentucky) are other players to watch.
Everyone knows the top 3 ILB LB'ers in the draft. Vontaze Burflict (Arizona State) is a physical freak with a nose for the big play. Some call him a dirty player due to his aggressive nature but at this point he is clearly the #1 prospect at ILB and will most likely be selected in the top 15. If defensive players could be taken in fantasy football, Luke Keuchly (Boston College) would be an absolute stud. He is not as athletic as Burflict but has great instincts, football IQ and is always in the right place at the right time to make a play. Manti T'eo (Notre Dame) is the other 1st round MIKE prospect. Big, physical and strong against the run, T'eo is a physical threat. He was my favorite prospect going into this year however he has yet to live up to the high expectations a lot of people had for him and has fallen to 3rd. Still he is a great prospect and will be drafted in the 1st guaranteed.
Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) would probably be getting a lot of hype if it wasn't for the 3 guys before him. Often the forgotten man of the Crimson Tide defense, he is a physical in-the-box defender and the leader and signal caller of Alabama's defense. The one negative for him is that he is best suited to a 3-4 due to his lack of range. While he probably won't see a lot of love from fan draft sites, he'll be high on pretty much every teams draft board. Tank Carder (TCU) got a lot of buzz before the year started but has been somewhat of a disappointment so far. Korey Williams (Southern Mississippi) is my player to watch later in the draft.
Jerry Franklin (Arkansas) is an interesting name due to the fact he can and has played multiple positions for Arkansas and produced at every one. He's good at rushing the passer and not a liability in pass coverage. He can play both SAM and MIKE in a 4-3 or all 4 positions in a 3-4. A team looking for a Kameron Wimbley/Von Miller type hybrid 4-3 LB should look no further than this guy. Great football player.
We will see at least 5 CB's drafted in the 1st round with the potential for at least 4 more. CB is definitely the strength of the defensive side this year so where to start. Why not with physical beast known as Dre Kirkpatrick. Anyone who said Patrick Peterson was a once in lifetime speciman at CB paid no attention to Kirkpatrick. Just as big and just as fast, Kirkpatrick (Alabama) is the definition of an athlete. Due to injuries early in his college career he didn't see any quality playing time until last year and because of that, isn't as technically sound and could definitely use some more development and seasoning. The bust potential for Kirkpatrick is higher than it is for Peterson but their ceilings are the exact same. The one thing I really like about Kirkpatrick is he is physical. I hate CB's who don't play physical and Kirkpatrick is not afraid of it, he loves hitting.
While Kirkpatrick currently sits at #1 on most peoples boards, it's going to be a battle for him to stay there. Right now Morris Claiborne (LSU) is #2 on most experts boards but if they don't have him at 2, it's because they have him at 1. He has been playmaker and is proving to be a shutdown corner. Though not as gifted as Kirkpatrick, he's no slouch and is more technically sound. He tackles well, can run with all receivers, great ball skills, and can create big plays. He looks like a sure thing at the next level. Stephen Gilmore (South Carolina) has the potential to be a very special player and at times is. He has shown plenty of times the skill that could make him a top 15 pick but he isn't as consistent as you would like him to be. If he can reach his full potential watch out, he'll be great. The question with him is that he hasn't even come close to that potential and will he ever?
Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska) has missed most the season so far with an injury but coming into the season was ranked 2nd among CB's. He showed what he needed to last year playing opposite Prince Amukamara and holding up extremely well. He might not have as high a ceiling as the guys above him but he seems to be a very safe 1st round pick. Jayron Hosley (Virgina Tech) is a ballhawking playmaker with great instincts and is also a threat on kick returns. If he doesn't add some weight (172 lbs) he could see his stock plummet on draft day. If that happens and someone takes him in the 2nd or 3rd round to play nickel, they just got a steal. Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt) had a great year last year and has been playing even better this year. He is currently sitting with a 2nd round status but if he continues to play like he does, we could see him go in the 1st. Cliff Harris (Oregon) is another playmaking CB and someone who was considered a top prospect last year but will probably drop due to the amount of talent in the draft. If he does fall, some one is getting a steal.
And that was just the players with the potential to go in the 1st so lets look at the 2nd round now. Chase Minnifield (Virgina) is a guy who will suffer due to the amount of talent ahead of him. He has shown talent and potential but will probably get chosen late in the 2nd, maybe early in the 3rd. Desmond Trufant (Washington) is another solid corner to watch in the 2nd/3rd. Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama) was at one point considered a 1st round prospect this year but due to character issues (multiple arrests) which saw him get kicked out of Florida, he has seen his draft stock plummet. However a team not concerned with his issues will draft him high and hope he pans out. Other players to watch out for in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are Micah Hyde (Iowa), Coryell Judie (Texas A&M), and Brandon Boykin (Georgia). Other players to watch later on are Keith Tandy (West Virginia), Leonard Johnson (Iowa State), and DeQuan Menzie (Alabama).
There are two wildcats to remember. Omar Bolden (Arizona State), at one point he was considered a 1st round talent but due to an ACL tear, he will miss the entire season. He has already said he will not return for his senior year so his stock will rely almost entirely on how he does at the combine. Another player to watch is Xavier Rhodes (Florida State). If he declares, he will probably be taken high in the 2nd round. However most people believe that if he stays in school one more year, he will be the top corner taken in the 2013 draft. I don't expect him to declare but he's someone to keep in mind.
And finally... Safety comes down to FS TJ McDonald (USC), SS Ray Ray Armstrong (Miami) and the two from Alabama, FS Robert Lester and SS Mark Barron. All 4 have 2nd round written all over them and in a weaker draft could've even gone in the 1st. FS Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State) is the 5th ranked safety and is presence in the Cowboys backfield. SS Kenny Tate (Maryland) is an interesting prospect because he's a talented football player who doesn't really fit anywhere. He currently plays LB but is too small to play LB in the NFL. He is best served at SS but might be too big seeing as big safeties are going out of style. Others to watch are Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech), Winston Guy Jr. (Kentucky), Trumaine Johnson (Montana), and Brandon Taylor (LSU).
There, finally done. Now combining this knowledge with everything we talked about in my 1st part involving the offense, how does this all relate to the Broncos.
In my last post I stated that offensively, the Broncos will focus on the o-line and RB. However I said that neither of those were my #1 concern for the Broncos and after the Green Bay game it is blatantly obvious what our top need is going into the draft. Our secondary but seeing how we drafted our future safeties last year, CB more specifically. After listening to Elway say that CB is one of the four crucial positions on a football field, I'm extremely confident saying that the Broncos are gonna draft a CB in the 1st round. The only other real option I see is RB Trent Richardson but QB, DT, and LB will also be considered. We could possibly see an OT drafted with the thought of moving Franklin inside but at this point I think it's a long shot that will happen. In the 2nd round the broncos will most likely go DT, RB, or OL if a CB is drafted in the 1st. If one isn't, I'd be shocked (even more shocked than us not taking a DT last year) if a CB isn't sitting at the top of our board in the 2nd and we don't take him. In the 3rd and 4th round I see QB, OL, and DL.
And you know what screw it just for fun... MOCK DRAFT
1st round: CB Morris Claiborne, LSU (he'll emerge as the top CB)
2nd round: RB Chris Polk, Washington (not the most talented RB available but he's the type of RB Fox loves)
3rd round: QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (there's a chance he'll drop on draft day and the broncos will scoop him up if he does)
Before anyone attacks me about having us draft Tannehill let me explain. Like last year, the Broncos will look at every QB available, only this year I think we will draft one regardless of how well Tebow does. The question will be, are we drafting our franchise guy, a QB to compete with Tebow for the starting spot, or a young backup to develop with Tebow as the franchise. I don't think Tebow will show us that he is definitely the future but I also don't think he'll show us that he absolutely isn't either. My guess is that we'll go into next year with Tebow as the starter and it will be his job to lose but we'll have a young prospect that we drafted this year (probably in the 3rd or 4th) competing with him. So please don't jump at me and say I'm not giving Tebow a chance. These are just my predictions on how everything will go down.
So we have finally reached the end and if you made it this far with me I thank you. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I love the draft and can't wait till April, only this year I hope the Broncos are drafting 32nd overall and not 2nd again :p
Go Broncos... Orange Crush FTW!!!!