Looking at the above chart it is clear that one has to do plenty of homework to get a good feel for an NFL Draft. Around 250 prospects eventually get chosen, and every one of them needs to find their home on a team's bigboard, which involves ranking the player at his position, ranking him at a team's areas of need, and ranking him against other positions talentwise. On top of that you need to know when to expect a dropoff in talent on the board, when a round might be saturated with guys you like, and where you might expect to find a falling player. It is a lot of information to keep straight.
I wanted to take the chart above, which is a compilation of player rankings by position across all seven rounds of the draft, and break it down even further to take a close look at what capabilities Denver has at the beginning of this draft, and what kind of strategy may develop. The possibility of trades is up in the air, but the tack we will take here is essentially a worst case scenario, which is that for whatever reason, Denver can find no trade partners, and will be selecting players at the picks they have. Assessing the ability to move around in the draft is a key part of any draftday strategy, but we will just have to live without that contingency in this analysis, as the situation is simply too volatile to attempt to predict.
With that said, lets jump right into breaking down the top of the 2011 draft, and what the Denver Broncos might be thinking...
You Gotta Have Goals
The first element in working out a strategy, is figuring out what point A and Point B is. Once you have that, you can start working out the best path between the two.
In Denver's case, point A is, to put it bluntly, 4-12. They are like a '68 GT390 Mustang, but up on blocks in the backyard with a tarp half covering it, half finished gaudy flames on the hood, and the original engine pulled while a used 428cubic inch behemoth sits idly on a bench in the shop . They've got the makings of something great, but it looks like it was abandoned in the middle of some teenager's fanciful overhaul. Enter the old men, Foxy and Elway. They see what it can be and they believe it is worth fixing up, but forget about that ridiculous, obese 335HP powerplant. They want to get back to the original 390cu.in. motor, lean and mean. And for heaven's sake, get those flames off the hood and get the running gear back on, this isn't Oakland...
Point B for the Broncos is getting back to their roots with a quick and deadly defense, and an offense that makes the big plays and makes the crowd jump up from its seat. EFX has framed this in the simplest terms possible, in that they want 4 starters in this draft. And by far, the most likely place where draftees can come in and start right away is on the defensive side of the ball.
So we have our goal in mind: get 4 starters.
Narrow Down the Focus
If we are after starters with our first four picks, then it makes sense to not prioritize any players that have little chance of supplanting a starter already on the roster. I know this next bit is old hat for most of you, but we'll cover it for the sake of being comprehensive here.
On Offense, what Denver could improve in is a consistent ground game, along with the ability to attack the seam in the passing game. Positionally, this opens us up to starters at RB and TE primarily, with the possibility of QB and OL, especially inside. However, as far as the OL is concerned, I personally believe that the worst part of the growing pains are over and that the current line will suit us just fine. I would worry about the Ryan Harris situation there in Free Agency, whenever that happens, since it is a problem that might not even exist. I would also rule out QB, in that we have a good running QB, who has run an option offense before, and another QB who understands the offense inside and out, so between the two, we should manage to find a starter who can help out in the run game. And neither one is the culprit in the lack of a presence in the seam, since they can both make the required throws. So a RB that can split duties as a starter, and a TE who can pressure the seam and block in the running game are possible starters on offense.
On Defense, Denver is looking for backfield pressure, which includes QB sacks and pressures, as well as penetration in the running game, so edge rushing DEs and OLBs, as well as penetrating DTs on the inside are called for. Denver also needs to get much stouter through the middle to prevent runs from reaching the second level, so stout run stuffing DTs and quick ILBs who can shed blocks are called for as well. Let's also add the need for speed and coverage ability underneath the corners, so rangy FSs and LBs with coverage ability are also called for. On top of that, we need better coverage overall on both halves of the medium and deep field, so again, a rangy FS with speed and possibly an upgrade at CB are called for as well. Is that everybody?
So a rookie could come in and reasonably start at the following positions: DT, OLB, ILB, FS, and TE. Rookies could also make a significant impact in situational roles at DE, RB and CB. And if we can nab 4 starters, over half of those problems could be alleviated in one draft. Not too shabby... For now we will prioritize the first 5 positions, with consideration for the final 3 positions.
Getting a Feel For It
Now that we have an idea about how exactly the Broncos could find help in a draft, let's work on looking at the draft and figuring out how this particular draft could help the Broncos. Let's get a feel for the first 3 rounds or so by zooming in on the top of the draft chart up above, a little bit at a time. We will get a feel for how deep certain positions are, where there is significant drop offs in talent, and where you might be able to find key prospects.
I'm not going to take up lot of space naming every prospect specifically, but as you can see, each icon on each line represents one player at that position. This particular group of players is rated high enough on the board that they can be expected to come in and start right away, with most of them being capable of supplanting existing starters.
There are 34 players with this rating, which is slightly more than average, and more than enough to fill the actual first round of 32 picks. So every team should be able to nab a starter in this year's first round. Let's look at some points that stand out about this group of prospects:
- There is only one TE in this group and he is on the lower end of the spectrum, far from where Denver is picking at #2. There is also only one OLB, Von Miller, and he is near Denver's pick.
- There are NO ILB in this group. There are also NO safeties in this group.
- In the first round it is expected that most positions will experience a sharp decline from the top tier to the 2nd tier players. For 2011 we see several positions that don't experience this significant drop in quality. DE is the most obvious, and along with DT there are 13 total players over a gradual pace.
- CB, RB, WR and QB all have typical "quality slopes" of a first round, but QB and CB both manage to squeeze a couple of starters onto the bottom edge of their slopes for the round. I would guess that these two positions will see some combination of starting caliber players drop down into the top of the next grouping, which already gives a piece of information for starting to formulate a strategy.
- If you look closely, you can see a basic pattern with a clump at the very top of the round, with a sparsely populated drop to the next clump, followed by another sparse drop, another heavy clump, and then a scattering of players on a gradual curve at the end. With Denver in the first clump currently, it basically indicates that there are a number of players all worth their attention, and that a trade down that doesn't quite get them to the next clump may leave them in a reaching position. This kind of "clump analysis," if you will, is primarily useful in analyzing trade movement beforehand, so we won't give it too much attention here, but in a regular draft, this pattern would be a cue for Denver to be careful where it traded down to.
In the above graphic, round 2 starts around the line labelled "9." This second group of players all have the potential to start from day one, but it is a bit more context dependent. They won't likely supplant any but the worst veterans. Typically these players require minimal development. There are only 28 players in this group, which along with the surplus from Tier 1, doesn't quite make it to the end of the round. Denver will get their choice of two of the best in this group, and they have several areas where a "tier 2" player could come in and start right away. Let's look at some highlights in this group:
- Finally a couple of ILBs show up, but at the very bottom of this group. Right with them is the top safety in the draft, Rahim Moore, but he too is on the fringe of this group of talent.
- RB WR and OL are maintaining their perfect quality slopes. These are gradual declines in talent, with good players at every level, so there isn't any pressure to reach at any point in the curve yet.
- DE and DT begin to drop off significantly, with DT being the more precipitous of the two. The steep curve jumps right over Denver's two picks in this range. These players are guys like Nevis, Ballard, Sheard and Bailey. Interesting.
- Only one CB available in this grouping, grading a ways below Denver's 2nd pick.
- There is an interesting clump of OLBs between the #36 and #46.... And then I am expecting that we will see a significant drop to the next group in the 3rd round. One of the OLBs is a solid starting SAM prospect, with coverage ability, and he looks to be falling right between Denver's picks...
Now we are looking at the Tier 3 players. These guys are likely only immediate starters in cases of extreme deficiency at a position... Good news, though! Denver has a few of those cases! There is a pretty good chance that Denver can actually nab a starter here, since they get their pick of the best in this group, possibly a borderline Tier 2 guy even. A lot of these guys will require a season or so of development before they are impact players, and if Denver is lucky, they will get that seasoning out of the way on the field. let's take a closer look:
- Finally we get to see some more TE talent. The dropoff from #1 to this group is probably the steepest of any position in the draft, but these 3 TEs are all quality players at a position where Denver has a dearth of talent.
- Not many receivers in this group, not that Denver cares, and the RB group is very strong. Offense might be a sound strategy for this pick.
- DT is going strong here, though it only really starts to show up below Denver's slot at #67... DE is only represented by one player in this group.
- OLB and CB both look really good here, with top guys near Denver's pick. These are guys like Ras-I Dowling, Dontay Moch, Curtis Brown and Chris Carter.
- A couple of safeties on the back end of this group. Looking quickly I see they are Quinton Carter and Marcus Gilchrist... Something to keep in mind as we build our strategy...
Four Picks in the Top 67 Players
So back to our 4 starters we are targeting. We really can use a DT, maybe even two. Two LBs would be nice, one SAM and one MIKE. A TE would be a smart addition and a FS would be wise as well. Additionally if we could add to our RB production, our pass rush on the end or our pass coverage from corner, we will be in much better shape. With that said, let's look at the following:
This is a modified 3 round chart that ends at the 67th player. Viewed through the lens of our newfound intimacy with the top of the draft, we can begin to formulate some points of strategy:
- ILB will be impossible to address early, and difficult to address later.
- RBs and TEs both have a natural disposition near our 3rd round pick, and they will be value picks there. We may be looking at one or the other.
- FS has "reach" feel around our #46 pick, but nowhere else is it even addressable.
- There is really only one decent SAM prospect in this group, hovering around our #46 slot.
- There is a very slight chance that a solid DT prospect from the first round drops into range at #36. that would be Paea. I am of the belief that this would be cause for wetting oneself.
- There is a slightly better chance that one or even two 1st tier CBs will be available at #36. I like options.
- The second Tier DTs fall at a very awkward place for any of Denver's picks... I know we all gotta have our DT's but just because it is a strong class doesn't mean there won't be a need to reach if you don't set yourself up properly. And I am NOT interested in reaching when we have this many legitimate needs....
- DE is similar to DT in that the chips aren't falling favorably for Denver's picks. Pass rush has one ideal pick that can be added, in Von Miller at #2. Most of the best pass rushers, including LBs, will fall between #2 and #36, as well as the best penetrating DTs. Pass rush will be tricky to address in a meaningful way.
I'm Not Much of a Mocker, But Here It Goes
I'm a laborious mocker, which is pretty much pointless since the draft can go a million different places. Having said that, I wanted to take the above draft strategy for a spin and see what it turned up. The proof is in the pudding as they say. So I offer up a pudding feast for the Broncos to try. I have included 6th and 7th round projections even though I didn't cover that up above. I figure in the 6th and 7th you can mostly choose whoever you like, as long as you don't have someone dropping ridiculously out of the 4th round so that you can have them...
Round 1, #2 Pick overall: DT Marcell Dareus
Run stopping force, plus some great upside for backfield pressure. I'm getting 2 major needs addressed, avoiding red flags, paying a decent wage rate for a top performer at his position, and avoiding what I feel is a significant drop in talent after Paea goes late in the first just like he is supposed to. (Also for the record, I have Peterson going #1 to Carolina.)
Round 2, #36 Overall: OLB Bruce Carter
All signs indicate that Carter is on track with his rehab, as announced formally by his surgeon (which is different from an agent--there is actually a reputation on the line here). If he is where he needs to be healthwise, Carter may be the most complete OB in this draft, and he helps us in a lot of areas, with team speed, pass coverage, and run support. If the Broncos have heard that he may lose explosiveness due to the ACL repair, they would be well advised to pass on this prospect. For now, this is how I am calling it though.
Round 2, #46 Overall: FS Rahim Moore
It is time to take the best safety in the draft. This is an immediate upgrade in pass defense, especially rangy coverage over a deep zone. What I am unsure of is whether he can move straight into a starter role, but only because we were decent, not terrible there, and Hill and Dawkins may prove more tenacious than we expect. Regardless, one way or another, our pass coverage gets better with this pick.
Round 3, #67 Overall: TE Luke Stocker
This really came down to a choice between a RB and a TE, and I liked the value at the TE position more (RBs DeMarco Murray and Kendall Hunter were under consideration here). Stocker is a big, dependable target first and foremost, who lines up in a variety of roles, but looks the part at the classic TE spot on the tackles hip. He is a good in line blocker who doesn't let go, and above all he manhandled players in the seam as a Volunteer. He can help Tebow and Orton both more than any RB might at this point, and he can help in the running game as well.
Round 6, #186 Overall: ILB Nick Bellore
Not a project, Bellore is a solid, productive player with a speed ceiling. Immediate STs help, he is from the Wesley Woodyard mold of can-do players with heart, instincts and a great work ethic. Can be developed in the background and if push comes to shove will do an adequate job of holding down the fort at ILB as long as he needs to. Love his potential to hang onto the job for good if he gets the chance.
Round 6, #189 Overall: DE Jeremy Beal
There aren't enough Jeremys on the Broncos and this directly addresses that need. Actually, this is an underrated addition to the pass rush, with one of the highest energy/motor players in this years draft. Constant effort and hustle combined with stunning college production, this is another what-you-see-is-what-you-get player for the Broncos. Can you tell I'm not too fond of projects? Put him in the DE rotation in the nickle package, and let him bang people around on STs. You will not be disappointed.
Round 7, #247 Overall: RB Anthony Allen
I was hoping to target one of the mid rated FBs here like Havili or even Sherman (wouldn't you like to call him Sherman Tank?), butafter running several sims on draftek, the good FBs were getting swallowed up, so I looked outside the regular mold. Allen was a RB in a triple spread option scheme at Georgia Tech, and often ran plays from the FB position. At 6'0" 228 he looks the part, but with 4.59 speed, he can change it up a bit. Where it really gets interesting is that he is a one cut runner with good vision, and while he doesn't have a third gear, he can get yards after contact. A real bruiser. Put him in a rotation with Knowshon on 1st and 2nd down, and let him soften up defensive fronts, with Knowshon coming back in as the all around blocking/receiving 3rd down back. His overall athleticism is very fringe for the NFL, so he may not make the transition, but again, this is no project. He had production, and he fits the scheme, so all that is left is to see if he can make it or not. A 7th rounder seems like a good resource to spend on that kind of a prospect.
Recap, and Happy Draftivus
#2 DT Marcell Dareus
#36 OLB Bruce Carter
#46 FS Rahim Moore
#67 TE Luke Stocker
#186 ILB Nick Bellore
#189 DE Jeremy Beal
#247 RB Anthony Allen