Before: The Broncos defense could not stop anyone in 2010, ranking near the bottom of every defensive metric imaginable. They were last in total defense (6,253) and gave up more points than any team in the NFL last yr (471). The Broncos couldn’t stop the run (4.66 YPA, 29th) and couldn’t stop the pass (30th in Defensive Passer Rating). The Broncos forced just turnovers (18), tied for the league worst with Houston and Jacksonville, and dead-last league wide at pressuring the quarterback, forcing a Negative Pass Play on just 6.3 percent of dropbacks -- half the rate of the best pass-rush team in football last year, the Super Bowl champ Packers (12.2%).
That isn’t great news for the Broncos, who have turned to John Fox, the coach who led Carolina to the league’s worst record in 2010, to lead them into 2011.
However, there is precedent for John Fox and the defense. When Fox took over the Panthers in 2002, he turned a team that finished last in total defense the year before into the second-best defense in the NFL, behind only the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Fox is hoping he has the same luck with his first pick in Denver as he did in Carolina nine years ago. Fox took star pass-rusher Julius Peppers at No. 2 in 2002.
QB: Orton surprised a lot of people with the way he played last season. He put up impressive numbers and seemed to really progress as a passer, but Tebow will try to take the job from him this summer. Although Orton is far ahead as a passer, Tebow showed some skills when he started late in the season. He had a tendency to take off and run way too fast. Elway has told Tebow, "You have to realize for us to be champions, you have to be able to win it from the pocket and make all those throws from the pocket." Elway also hinted that Tebow would open the season as the starter over Kyle Orton.
RB: Knowshon Moreno was a better runner last season than he was as a rookie in 2009, but he just hasn't looked like a franchise back. He played in 13 games, rushing for 779 yards. His per-carry average went up from 3.8 to 4.3. This is a big season for him. He has the ability. For some reason, he hasn't come close to looking like the runner he was at Georgia. Lance Ball is expected to be a backup, with veterans Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney likely gone. Spencer Larson should be the fullback.
WR: The Broncos used a first-round pick on Demaryius Thomas last year. He was limited to nine games because of injuries but when he was on the field he showed big-play ability. He suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in February that might limit him the first part of the season. Eddie Royal had hip surgery in February and his status is in question for the open of the season. They do have Brandon Lloyd, one of the surprise players from the 2009 season. He went to the Pro Bowl, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Can he do it again? Jabar Gaffney is a nice complementary player to have on the roster. The team likes the potential of Eric Decker.
TE: This is a position of need. The Broncos released veteran Daniel Graham (who lead all TEs with a mere 18 receptions), which means Richard Quinn, Daniel Coats and Dan Gronkowski are the tight ends left on the roster. Quinn is more blocker than receiver, but the three combined for only 9 catches in 2010.
OL: Left tackle Ryan Clady, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2009, didn't play as well as he battled back from a serious knee injury last season. He should be back to Pro Bowl form now that he's a year removed from the injury. Right tackle Ryan Harris is a free agent who is likely gone. They need to fill that spot, and the Broncos could take a tackle early in the draft. The Broncos started rookies Zane Beadles (14 starts at guard and tackle) and J.D. Walton (16 starts at center) last season. Both flashed ability, but both were hurt by their inexperience. They should be better in 2010. The talent is there. Chris Kuper remains a solid player at right guard. The backups are Chris Clark, who will be given a chance to win the right tackle spot, and Stanley Daniels.
DL: With the team moving to the 4-3, it means Elvis Dumervil moves to end from outside linebacker. He is an explosive player when he's on the field, but he tore a chest muscle last year and he missed the season. He did lead the NFL in sacks in 2009, so he has the speed to be a pass-rush force. Robert Ayers, a first-round pick in 2009, might be given first crack at the other end spot. He needs to show more than he has shown so far if he's to win the job.Jason Hunter will likely be a backup at end. The tackle spots are wide open. The team released Jamal Williams andJustin Bannan after the season, leaving a void in the middle. Marcus Thomas might be a free agent. Kevin Vickersonand Ryan McBean are possibilities to start. It isn't good inside.
LB: D.J. Williams is their best linebacker, but he has some off-field troubles and he makes $6 million this season. He did lead the team in tackles, but there are concerns. He will likely move to weak-side linebacker. Joe Mays and Mario Haggan, two solid players, will both be back. Neither is great, but they play hard. Haggan might get first crack at the middle linebacker spot. Wesley Woodyard is a smallish outside linebacker who can run.
DB: At 32, Champ Bailey is coming off one of his best seasons. He is still capable of playing great man coverage, which few corners can do. That's why the Broncos gave him a three-year contract extension. The other side isn't as stable. Andre Goodman didn't play as well last season as he did in 2009. He was hurt most of the season. Perrish Cox, who did start nine games as a rookie is facing a possible suspension from an off-field incident. They do like young player Syd'Quan Thompson, who saw action in the nickel, and Cassius Vaughn. Nate Jones can play safety or corner. Veteran Brian Dawkins is a great player to have in the locker room, but he can't cover anymore. That showed up a bunch last season. Renaldo Hill is just OK next to him.
The Broncos are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front, which means they need help at defensive tackle. That could mean using the second overall pick on Alabama's Marcell Dareus. They could also go for a corner or a pass rusher.
2010 record: 4-12 (21.5 PPG – 29.4 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-6 (21.0 – 27.0)
Last five seasons overall: 36-44 (.450)
After: Miller, Moore, Franklin and Irving may start as rookies. Carter and Thomas may become starters in year 2.
Once the Broncos took Miller, they had to use their next pick, No. 36 overall in the second round, to trade back a bit so they could fill their gaping hole in the fourth and fifth rounds. They decided to take Rahim Moore, who was widely considered the best safety in this draft, instead of DTs Marvin Austin or Stephen Peae, taken 7 and 8 spots later.
John Elway said he thought the draft prospects he’d have the best handle on would be pass-rushers and cornerbacks, more than quarterbacks and receivers, as we’d naturally think. The pass-rushers and cornerbacks were the players Elway studied the most during his 16-year NFL career. During his career, the player Elway spent the most time trying to figure out was Kansas City Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas. No player gave Elway more trouble than Thomas. He sacked Elway 26 times, more than any other quarterback in his career.
Perhaps that’s why Elway was drawn to Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller,
As a college senior, Texas A&M created a "joker" position outside the right or left tackle for Miller that was a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, helping prepare him for his pass-rushing duties in the NFL.
Miller could find himself in a similar spot with the Broncos. Denver will align Dumervil at right defensive end and 2009 first-rounder Robert Ayers at left end. Putting Miller on the same side as Dumervil would create defensive headaches for opposing coordinators. Miller also could help take some of the pressure off Ayers, who played outside linebacker last year and to date hasn't flashed much of a pass rush.
1st round #2 OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M : One of new coach John Fox's favorite expressions is "the best pass defense is a pass rush." What is interesting is that they are making the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and now have two undersized pass-rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Miller. Look for Miller to play OLB on first and second down because he can drop into coverage, but his best attribute may be in the Broncos' nickel package as an upfield rusher off the edge. Physically, Miller is NFL ready. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at his pro day. He has a 37-inch vertical at 6-2 1/2, 246 pounds. He gained nine pounds prior to the scouting combine after dropping to 237 to end his senior season
2nd round #45 FS Rahim Moore, Denver: 5-11.5/202, 40 Time: 4.58: Safety was a huge need for the Broncos entering the draft. The Broncos take the hard-working, ball-hawking former Bruin to fill their hole at the safety position. Moore is the prototypical centerfield safety with the elite ball skills to make plays. He is a student of the game with superb instincts and the change of direction skills to cover man-to-man if need be.
2nd round #46 OL Orlando Franklin, Miami: 6-51/2, 316: Three-year starter who played both left tackle and left guard for the Hurricanes. John Fox prefers a physical offensive line, a departure from the more finesse units that Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels previously employed. Franklin brings more physicality to the ground game and could potentially replace free agent RT Ryan Harris. At nearly 320 pounds, Franklin is a powerful blocker who can play both guard and right tackle, but he was exposed at times by quicker rushers off the edge because of a lack of elite athleticism.
3rd round #67 ILB Nate Irving, North Carolina State: 6-1/240, 40 Time=4.65: Projected by most as a 3rd or 4th round pick, Bill Parcells in a TV special had Irving as the draft's top inside linebacker with a first-round grade. Denver's brass saw many of the same qualities, in fact Bronco's GM Xanders said Irving was Denver's No. 1-rated inside 'backer in the entire draft. Irving showed courage and mental toughness bouncing back from a near-fatal car accident two years ago, but is not the same player he was before the accident.
4th round #108 S Quinton Carter, Oklahoma: 6 1/2 208, 40 Time=4.57 Carter is a two year starter who was named All-American last season. The intimidating defender played both the strong and free safety positions in college. He specialized in stopping the run, but needs to do a better job of reading the offense in pass coverage. This was another great pick by John Elway and company, as the former Sooner perfectly complements ball-hawking second-round pick Rahim Moore. Denver desperately needed to inject some youth into an old and vulnerable secondary.
4th round #129 TE Julius Thomas, Portland State, 6-5/246, 40 Time=4.64: Denver adds a much-needed pass-catching tight end to the mix with the raw, but explosive Thomas. The rookie’s body control, ability to snatch the ball out of the air and basketball background are reminiscent of Antonio Gates. A walk-on in 2010, after four years playing college basketball, the small school project will need to improve his strength.
6th round #189 LB Mike Mohamed, California, A big, versatile, three-position linebacker with special-teams ability. Mohamed is an overachiever who uses instincts, technique, toughness and effort to make up for his lack of good physical tools.
7th round #204 TE Virgil Green, Nevada -- Fell into the laps of the Denver Broncos with the first selection of the 7th round. Entering the draft, Green was expected to be a 4th round pick whose freakish Combine workout could’ve even catapulted him into day two. So it was a surprise he went so late. Green fell for medical reasons related to four-year-old microfracture surgery on his knee. But he never missed a single practice or game in the ensuing four seasons.
7th round #247 DE Jeramy Beal, Oklahoma, 6-2/252, 40 Time=5.17: Productive college defensive end with poor size/speed numbers for the next level.
Peter King: The need at defensive tackle was far greater, especially with Elvis Dumervil coming back as an outside pass-rusher. But John Fox simply isn't going to pass on a pass-rusher, and he didn't in picking up Von Miller. Pass-rushers are rarer than defensive tackles ... unless we're talking Ndamukong Suh-quality at defensive tackle. And Marcell Dareus is not Suh.
Rob Rang: (B-) Had the Denver Broncos not been lacking defensive tackles on their roster and their draft class, their efforts over the three days of the 2011 Draft would rank higher. The addition of pass rusher Von Miller -- an immediate candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors -- certainly boosts their grade. So does the fact the Broncos were able land UCLA free safety Rahim Moore in the in the second round. Moore, the top-rated free safety by NFLDraftScout.com, should be aided by the assistance of veteran Brian Dawkins. The Broncos could see an immediate impact from big, burly offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, their third-round choice. Of the Broncos' late-round selections, Portland State tight end Julius Thomas is the most intriguing. Thomas is the latest former basketball player to attempt the conversion to the gridiron.