January 9, 2005. The Broncos had just endured another crushing loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs. The score was 35 to 3 at halftime: it wasn't pretty. Heading into offseason, the Broncos defensive front seven wasn't pretty either.
Trevor Pryce missed most of the 2004 season due to injury, and Reggie Hayward, the Broncos sack leader that season, had chased the money to Jacksonville and signed a new contract with the Jaguars. But Mike Shanahan would use his resources to rebuild the defense. He traded his 5th round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Gerard Warren. He then signed free agent Courtney Brown, also from the Browns. He then traded Rebuen Droughns to the Browns for Ebenezer Ekuban and Michael Myers. In three separate transactions, the Broncos had become the "Browncos."
But despite the lambasting from the media, this D-line group would prove to be one of the most successful in recent memory. The Broncos were ranked 2nd in the NFL against the run, and this strong defensive performance was part of the reason the Broncos were playing late in the playoffs. Shanahan would say, "It all starts up front. . .and our front has been outstanding."
How would this defense fall apart? Did anyone think at the time we would put two of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL on the field and fire two coaches in the next five years? What do we do now?
To some, the fall of the Denver D was simple. We let quality players like Trevor Pryce walk. We traded away key players, like Gerard Warren for future draft picks. Shananan even tried to trade away Al Wilson to the New York Giants. The Denver Broncos were rebuilding, and we could replace our defensive playmakers with younger, and cheaper talent. The strategy may have worked too, if that new talent had lived up to the hype. Trevor Pryce's replacement, Courtney Brown, suffered a career ending ACL injury in the preseason. Al Wilson's career was cut short on a fake field goal.
The 2007 draft may have been the worst draft ever for the Broncos. I'm glad when most people talk about the Broncos drafting Jarvis Moss, they neglect to mention that we traded up in order to grab him. Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder never lived up to their first and second round billing. Shanahan brought in Free Agents Boss Bailey and Niko Koutovides. In two years, the Denver Broncos dropped from 2nd in the NFL against the run to 30th. They also dropped Mike Shanahan.
The era of Josh McDaniels did nothing to patch the sieve of the Broncos' interior. More Free Agents came to Dove Valley with mixed results. Most expected McDaniels to use the draft to bolster a broken defense, but instead, he used the majority of the picks to build his spread offense. The 2010 season started with a challenge from Wayne Nunnely, "Nobody runs on the Denver Broncos," but by the end of the season the exact opposite happened, everybody ran on the Denver Broncos and the Denver Broncos ranked 32nd against the run.
Denver has failed in the past to draft quality players on the defensive line, but that's no reason to be afraid of drafting a defensive lineman. People who call for a defensive lineman in the 2011 draft are not be irrational, they're just aware that the Broncos have had a huge hole in the defensive front seven, and so far have done little to improve it. With Coach Fox at the helm, I think its time to develop defensive talent for the future.
1st round, #2: Marcell Dareus, DT/DE, Alabama 6'3'' 309 lbs
A closer look at Marcell Dareus
Football is a game of adversity. We're familiar with players who on the field, have struggled to prove they belong, or belong to play a certain position. They dedicate their lives as amateur athletes, training hard for the chance to live their dream as a professional football player. For others, the struggle is off the field, and a football scholarship is one of the few ways out.
In the locker room, Dareus is the happy-go-lucky charmer. He's known for his dance moves. His Nose Tackle Josh Chapman says, "He keeps us going every day (with) his jokes. Things like that get us through practice." The cheerful demeanor is not rare for a big-bodied defense lineman, but it is rare for someone who's endured the losses and hardships. Details of Dareus's upbringing are very personal and hard to come by. But these stories help round out an understanding of the player and the obstacles he has overcome.
Dareus was the sixth of seven children, born in Birmingham, Alabama, to Hatian immigrants. His father died when he was five or six years old, and his mother was left to raise Marcell, his five brothers and one sister. His mother soon became ill, however, and was regulated to life in a wheelchair. She would eventually pass of heart failure in May of 2010.
Like many children of urban poverty, athletics would provide both an outlet and opportunity to Dareus and his brothers. During high school, Marcell was looked after by Scott Livingston, the assistant football coach at Huffman High. The coaches would form a safety net for their players, at times offering them a place to stay or buying them dinner so they wouldn't go hungry. During Dareus's Senior year of High School, Livingston was killed in a car accident, and Dareus and six of his siblings were legally adopted by Lester Reasor, a retired military man.
Dareus's older brother, Demerius, was also awarded a scholarship to play at Alabama, but he didn't qualify academically. Reportedly, his other brothers didn't make the right decisions in life, but for whatever reason, Marcell didn't follow in the footsteps of his brothers.
Dareus had a solid Sophomore season for Alabama, playing in 14 games and leading the Crimson defense with 6.5 sacks. But it wasn't until he was named Defensive MVP of 2010 BCS National Championship, that Dareus was launched into the center stage. He knocked Colt McCoy out of the game and returned a deflected shovel pass for a touchdown. All the attention never seemed to get to him. In the 2010 season, he would tell reporters that they have, and continue to, mispronounce his last name (The Dar in Dar-e-us rhymes with "jar" not "bear"). When they asked if they should change the pronunciation for the game broadcast, he was disinterested--having his name air over TV was not that important.
When reporters later asked what impact the Championship had on him, Dareus's response was very personal. He said, "Me and my family, we came together after that. . .Me and my family, we went through a little hard times. . .After the game, I came home. We had a good time, just sat around and ate and talked. Had a good little time." Dareus's mother's health had also deteriorated and the family time was a chance to say one final good-bye. Only five months after winning the BCS Championship, his mother would pass.
To take his mind off his mother's death, his friend arranged a vacation to Miami. Marvin Austin and Dareus had become good friends when the former was his host during an official visit to North Carolina. The two had later made a bet: if one of them won the National Championship, the other would pay for a trip to anywhere of the winner's choosing. What Dareus didn't know at the time, was that Austin had an NFL agent pay for the airfare, the hotel, and a party. After an NCAA investigation, Austin and other Tar Heels would be kicked off the team indefinitely. Although Dareus would prove he received no benefit from the agents, he was still suspended for the first two games of 2010.
In his second game back, Dareus suffered a major ankle injury against Arkansas. He continued to play, and played in the following game, despite an apparent limp and the appearance of pain. But the physical pain was small compared to the emotional pain of another loss. Four games into the season, Dareus's childhood friend Nick Bell, a defensive end at Mississippi State, was killed by a rare form of cancer, synovial sarcoma. Dareus was one of the last people to talk to his friend, "He was with me all day Friday. That Friday, he stayed with me all day. He rode around with me all day. He said he wasn’t feeling good and he just wanted to ride with me. He rode with me all day. We went out later on that night. We just had a good time. I’m dedicating this game to Nick. I’m going to dedicate the rest of the season to Nick. I’m going to go out and do the best I can."
Too often we get lost in the scouting reports and statistics and forget that we're drafting a human being that has a unique personality. Players shouldn't be drafted solely on their ability to overcome adversity, but I think stories like this help paint a picture of the type of character you're drafting. Dareus has a unique story, but he's also one heck of a football player.
Dareus the Football Player:
I feel like Marcell Dareus will be an elite talent at the next level. He has a rare athleticism and a versatile skill set that creative Defensive Coordinators should appreciate. He predominantly played 3-4 Defensive End for Alabama, but during most games he would line up all across the line. 5 tech, 3 tech, 1 tech, Dareus was even effective in zone blitzes, dropping into the flat to cover Running Backs, or dropping back to cover Tight Ends 20 yards down the field. Dareus could be the perfect asset to a Denver Broncos transitioning from a 3-4 back to the 4-3. He can play as a dominating one-gap undertackle on one down, then switch to a two-gap Defensive End, to allow Dumervil to get isolated on the outside.
Dareus's athleticism is bolstered because he has great football awareness. Watching his tape, something that's stood out to me is that I've never seen him chopped blocked. Offensive Lineman will try a couple times a game, but he's too quick with his hands and easily protects his feet. One of the criticisms of Dareus I've heard is that he's not an intelligent guy. That simply doesn't show on tape. Whenever there's a bubble screen on his side of the field, he's quick to diagnose and disengage and is quick enough to get outside and make tackles from the Defensive End position. In the Alabama vs. Tennessee game, he completely blew up a quarterback option by getting to the outside, taking a quick step towards the QB forcing the pitch to the RB, and then bursting to the outside to tackle the running back behind the line of scrimmage.
For a team that was last in the NFL in stopping the run, the Denver Broncos should take solace in the fact that they can draft the top run stuffer in the draft with Dareus. Phrases like, "Nobody runs on the Denver Broncos," will not be enough to revamp the defense, we need to add top talent to the front seven. Dareus is strong at the line of scrimmage and can anchor against double teams, but has the lateral agility to get through the muck and find the ball carrier. He has excellent, explosive hands and upperbody that allow him to shed blocks and fill holes.
But Dareus is also an underrated pass rusher. He wasn't asked to get the QB that often in Alabama's scheme and that makes his statistics look less impressive. When he was given the chance to rush the passer, he was pretty effective Remember those explosive hands? Dareus has nasty rip and swim moves. He has an explosive first step, but too often he wastes his momentum getting too high coming out of his stance. When you compare his performance during the season with his performance in the Capitol Bowl, he was much improved in his technique. With his athletic potential, I think Coach Fox and Nunnely could turn Dareus into a strong interior pass rusher.
Wouldn't you want this guy on your defensive line?
Why not Patrick Peterson?
I wouldn't necessarily be disappointed if the Denver Broncos drafted Patrick Peterson, but there are a few reasons why I have Dareus ranked higher on my big board.
1. As long as we still have Champ Bailey, I don't think Cornerback is a top 5 need for the team. Our new DC Dennis Allen recently said that Champ is " is a piece to the puzzle. I think he can still play corner at a high level and we would love to have him back and our financial people have to figure out the best way to get that done." I couldn't agree more. I really see the situation unfolding in only three ways. A. The Broncos sign Bailey to a new contract. B. The Broncos tag Bailey and then sign him to a new contact. C. The Broncos tag Bailey and trade him to another team for a draft pick. If we keep Bailey, I really don't understand picking Peterson. If we trade Bailey, drafting Peterson would make a lot of sense, especially because we would pick up an additional pick to use on the Dline. But as long as we still have Champ on the team, I'm probably not going to mock Peterson to the Broncos.
2. I think Dareus is a better prospect than Patrick Peterson. Once you take off the once-in-a-generation tag off Peterson and turn on his game film, you see a player that could be an elite player but still is not there yet. Like every other rookie, he's an NFL prospect. He was beat pretty bad this year in a couple of games, like Alabama v. LSU. In every game I watched, he got beat by a comeback route and he doesn't have the elite burst to get to the ball. He added weight for the season because he wanted to be much more physical, but he was rarely physical this season. He's not elite coming up in support on the run and was blocked out on run plays quite often. I think his lack of physicality may be why he currently getting lean before the draft and trying to run the quickest 40 at the combine.
3. Attitude. I don't understand why Wide Receivers are considered divas when they mouth off, but when a Defensive Back does the same, he's considered to be confident and have that right kind of swagger. Patrick Peterson recently said on ESPN "The whole NFL wants Patrick Peterson." He also said he plans to run a sub 4.2 40.
2nd Round, #36 Mikel Leshoure RB, Illinois 6'1'' 230 lbs
Surprise! You don't really think John Fox is going to install a new offensive scheme and not add any offensive players, do ya? I once thought the only offensive position we would look to draft early would be Tight End, but with the hiring of Fox that changes things. If the Broncos are going to be running the ball more, they need a bigger stable of running backs. Fox isn't alien from spending a high draft pick on a running back either. I think Knowshon Moreno will benefit from a zone-blocking system, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two years.
I think taking another defensive line prospect this early might be somewhat of a waste. Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson, while not elite, could handle the responsibilities of manning the 1 tech position. There really isn't a Defensive End, Linebacker, or Safety prospect worth picking at this spot unless somebody drops from the first round. I think adding a Running Back and moving to a ball control offense will ultimately improve the defense, by keeping them off the field.
If Leshoure drops to #36, I think the Broncos would take him. I think the fact that he only started one season at Illinois might make him drop that far. He fits the mold of a John Fox Running Back: a quick, physical down-hill runner who has the vision to find the cutback lanes. A duo of Moreno and Leshoure would make a formidable offensive attack, no matter who is handing off the football.
2nd Round #46, Bruce Carter OLB North Carolina 6'3" 235 lbs
If the Broncos switch to a 4-3, linebacker probably becomes the weakest position both in terms of starters and depth. Dumervil, Ayers, and Hunter would move back to defensive end leaving Williams, Haggan, Woodyard, and Mays to fill three positions. DJ Williams's best position is at the Weakside, but moving him there would require bringing in more talent.
At the start of the 2010 season, some scouts thought Carter had the athleticism to be considered a top 10 pick in the draft. Has the explosive strength to shed blockers and the agility to move laterally to make plays at the line of scrimmage or follow a Tight End in coverage. I can see him starting at linebacker on the strongside. Saw his production dip in 2010, but he was playing without starters Austin, Quinn, and Sturdivant. He also blocked eight kicks on special teams.
Carter was still a first round pick before his season ended with a torn ACL and he will now probably drop into the second round. Most fans might shy away from drafting a player with a serious injury this offseason, but Xanders showed last year he wasn't afraid to gamble on injured players. His nickname is "Bruuuuuuce" and his favorite dessert is red velvet cake. . .
3rd Round, #67 Colin McCarthy MLB, Miami 6'2" 240 lbs
In the switch to the 4-3, the Broncos don't really have a solid solution at MLB. Joe Mays flashed some potential, and he has experience at MLB from his days in Philly, but even if he starts, we don't have anyone to back him up. We could pick up a Safety here, but I'd rather add a free agent Safety and give McBath the opportunity to prove he can stay healthy.
Outside of Von Miller, no linebacker was as impressive as Collin McCarthy at the Senior Bowl. McCarthy may not be able to fill the MLB role immediately, but he has the potential to be a long term starter. Physical, aggressive, big-hitter, high-motor, competitor, he showed some speed attacking the line of scrimmage at the Senior Bowl that most scouts didn't think he possessed. He may not have all the physical tools, but he plays beyond his ability with great linebacker instincts. He played both outside and inside linebacker at Miami and was also a Special Teams ace.
Round 6 Charles Clay FB, Tulsa 6'3" 239 lbs
If the past eight years are any indication, John Fox likes undersized Fullbacks. Spencer Larsen has been serviceable but I think Fox will look for a different type of player. Fox's Fullbacks are involved in the passing game just as much as his Tight Ends. Enter Charles Clay. Is he a FB, a TE, a WR, a H-Back? He played all over the field at Tulsa. He will need to improve on his blocking technique but his receiving and route running skills out of the backfield would bring another weapon to the Bronco's run first offense.
Round 7 Willie Smith OT, East Carolina 6'6" 290 lbs
Getting jiggy with it. A late round pick on a depth/development tackle. Smith played defense his Freshman year, tight end is Sophmore year, and started at left tackle his Junior and Senior year. Has the athletic ability to play in the NFL but is still very raw as a tackle.
So a little long. . .but what do you all think?