Greetings MHR. Over the weekend, Mocking the Draft (SB Nation's NFL Draft website) held a live 7 round mock draft. I was fortunate enough to play the role of the Broncos front office. Essentially, I was the head decision maker for all of the Broncos picks. Whenever the Broncos were on the clock, it was up to me to decide which players to choose. The mock draft spanned over 2 days. The rules are simple: Play the role of the GM of your team. You can trade picks from this year or next year. You can't trade players for picks. Do whatever it takes to assemble the best draft class that you can. With all that being said, I would like you take a look into my mind as I operated this live mock draft.
Pre draft Thoughts
Before we get into what specifically happened in the draft, it's important for you to understand my thought process going into the mock draft. These are my biggest areas of need in order of most important to least important: Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Linebacker, Running Back, Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Safety, Tight End, Offensive Line, Defensive End.
If you follow the Broncos as closely as I do, you know that the Broncos have a ton of needs. I had no intention of trading up in the first round unless it was a player I felt was a top 10 prospect and he fell passed the 20th pick.
My goal going into the first round was to draft DT Michael Brockers of LSU or DT Devon Still of Penn State. Both fit the need and value at the end of the first round. Brockers is an explosive, athletically gifted defensive tackle whose best football is ahead of him. Devon Still might be the best pass rushing defensive tackle in the draft, but the problem with him is he might be a little bit of a one year wonder.
Dre Kirkpatrick is a cornerback out of Alabama and is a potential lockdown corner at the next level. I would love to add him to the Broncos. Janoris Jenkins is another cornerback who has a bright future if he can keep his head straight. He's athletically gifted and excels in man coverage which would make him a great fit for the Broncos. Zach Brown is an extremely athletic linebacker who has a ton of pure upside. He would be a great addition to the Broncos linebacker core.
Other players I had my eye on going into the first round: OT Riley Reiff, OT Jonathan Martin, G David DeCastro, G Cordy Glenn, WR Kendall Wright, LB Donta Hightower, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Dontari Poe and RB Lamar Miller
As the first round started, there weren't many surprises. The first ten picks were not surprising:
3. Matt Kalil
4. Morris Claiborne
5. Trent Richardson
6. Riley Reiff
7. David DeCastro
8. Justin Blackmon
9. Jonathan Martin
10. Quinton Coples.
Following those picks, things got a little more interesting. Luke Kuechly went to Seattle at 11 followed by Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Dre Kirkpatrick and Michael Brockers to fill out the top 15. That was a tough stretch to watch as I lost 2 of my favorite prospects in Kirkpatrick and Brockers.
Nick Perry, Janoris Jenkins, Cordy Glenn, Mohammad Sanu, and Zach Brown went next to round out the top 20. Seeing Perry and Sanu was surprising, but it really hurt to see Jenkings, Glenn and Brown picked. I am very high on Zach Brown and would have given him strong consideration at 25.
As my pick approached there were still some very good prospects on my radar. I lost Brockers, but Devon Still was on the board and was my #1 target.
The 21st pick was Kendall Wright. No big deal.
The 22nd pick was Whitney Mercilus. No sweat off my back.
The 23rd pick was Michael Floyd. Still no big deal.
The 24th pick was Devon Still. It was a huge blow to my draft strategy. My #1 target was just picked as I was about to go on the clock. Now I was forced to take a look at the board and make a new pick. The best targets remaining on the board were:
WR Alshon Jeffrey, S Mark Barron, C Peter Konz, LB Donta Hightower, DT Fletcher Cox, OT Mike Adams, RB Dwayne Allen, and DT Dontari Poe.
My top 5 prospects were DT Fletcher Cox, LB Donta Hightower, DT Dontari Poe, RB Lamar Miller and C Peter Konz.
DT Fletcher Cox is a big, athletic DT who has some pass rush skills, but he's raw. He would have to be developed and would take some time before he was a big contributor.
DT Dontari Poe is a very big, very atheltic DT who might have the biggest upside of any DT. However, he is largely unproven as a pass rusher and might be best as a 3-4 NT instead of a 4-3 DT.
RB Lamar Miller is a home run hitting play maker who has definite 1st round ability. However, durability is a bit of a concern and I am not a huge fan of RB's in the 1st round.
C Peter Konz was someone I gave a hard look at. The former Wisconsin Badger is tough as nails, well coached and has a very bright future as a starting center for many years to come. Current Broncos starter J.D. Walton is entering his 3rd year and he has had many ups and downs. I thought long and hard about drafting Konz to be the rock of the offensive line while moving Walton to guard to replace Beadles. However, in the end, I went a different route:
With the 25th pick, the Denver Broncos select Donta Hightower, LB, Alabama
A bit of a surprising pick, Hightower was the highest rated player on my board at the time of my selection (Cox and Poe were very close). Hightower gives the Broncos another play maker at linebacker in back to back drafts. The question immediately becomes where does he fit in? Well, that is entirely up to the coaches. Hightower is a unique player. He plays MLB in Alabama's 3-4 scheme, but he has added value as a pass rusher. In the Broncos 4-3 scheme, he could play a 2 down MLB role before switching over to the SAM linebacker spot and potentially rush the passer. He is a player that a creative defensive coordinator would love. New Broncos DC Jack Del Rio would surely have a lot of fun using both Von Miller and Donta Hightower in his pass rush schemes.
Immediately after making my pick, I consulted my good friend Sayre Bedinger about the selection. His question to me: Do you trade DJ immediately or do you wait? It's funny because as I picked Hightower, I pondered that same question. Great minds think alike. In my opinion, we would still keep DJ Williams for another year if we picked Hightower. DJ has 2 years left on his contract. I think we would keep him around for another year as the WLB along side Von Miller (SLB) and Hightower (MLB). Nate Irving would rotate have a Woodyard type of role in 2012. The ideal situation would be Nate Irving continues to develop, gets valuable playing time in 2012, and takes over as the starter at Will linebacker at 2013. The Broncos could trade DJ in the final year of his deal and the 2013 Broncos starting linebackers would be Von Miller at SAM, Hightower at MLB and Irving at WILL.
It was a long wait before my next pick. A lot of my 2nd round targets were gone: TE Dwayne Allen, CB Chase Minnifield, CB Stephen Gilmore, DT Dontari Poe, DT Alameda Ta'amu, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Josh Norman and G Brandon Washington. However, there was one prospect who fell all the way to my pick and it took me a total of 5 seconds to announce him as my selection
With the 57th pick, the Denver Broncos select Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
That's right, the big defensive tackle from Clemson fell all the way down draft boards in our live mock draft. I was shocked as he continued to fall throughout the second round. I was so excited that I even contacted a few teams ahead of me to try and trade up and make sure I got him. However, none of those trades seemed worth it as most of them wanted my 3rd or 4th round picks. I decided to sit and hope for the best. 2 picks before my selection, the Eagles traded up and I feared the worst. I was sure that they were going to draft Thompson. I was very relieved when they picked up LB Bobby Wagner instead. As I went on the clock, Thompson was still available and it was a no brainer.
The defensive tackle from Clemson is a big boy who is excellent against the run. He is still developing as a pass rusher, but if the Broncos don't resign Broderick Bunkley, Thompson is an excellent choice to fill his shoes. He is a perfect fit as a 4-3 nose tackle.
With Donta Hightower and Brandon Thompson no a part of the Broncos, I had addressed two of the three biggest needs of the Broncos. My attention was now turned to CB, RB, WR, and S. There were several prospects I was keeping my eye on. One player I was very interested in getting was RB David Wilson. The RB from Virginia Tech has been talked about as a potential 1st round prospect and he was falling in this mock. Once again, I talked to a few teams about moving up to get him, but those trades never materialized. Unfortunately, he was chosen just 3 spots before my selection much to my dismay. As I went on the clock, I had a few good options including: DT Derek Wolfe, CB Cliff Harris, WR Marvin Jones, WR Dwight Jones, WR Juron Criner, CB Dequan McKenzie, CB Casey Heyward and RB Bernard Pierce.
I gave a hard look at CB Cliff Harris, but deemed he had too many red flags to pick him. I also took close looks at CB Dequan McKenzie and CB Casey Heyward. Both are talented corners who have good upside. WR Marvin Jones and WR Juron Criner both got good looks from me. I ended up selecting...
With the 89th pick, the Denver Broncos select LaMichael James, RB from Oregon
The Denver Broncos need play makers. It would be a struggle to find 3 pure play makers on the offensive side of the ball. LaMichael James brings a home run threat that the team is sorely lacking. James is a smaller back, but he makes up for it with pure speed and athleticism. He would be a complimentary back to McGahee and give this offense some serious fire power. He would not be the only home run hitter that would be added in this draft, but we'll get to that later.
As the 4th started, I new that I needed to pick up a CB. I was pleased with my first 3 picks, but I was failing to address one of the biggest needs. I also was looking for an explosive WR and a QB. I wanted more picks and so I started talked to teams about trading down and picking up a late round pick or two. Unfortunately, nobody bit on my 4th rounder. As I went on the clock, there were several players I considered including: WR Jarius Wright, CB Josh Robinson, CB Asa Jackson, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Coryell Judie, CB Shaun Prater, and WR Gerrell Robinson. I gave particular consideration to Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright and T.Y. Hilton. Ultimately, I decided to go another direction.
With the 121st pick, the Denver Broncos select Russel Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Getting a backup quarterback is a must for the Broncos. Of the available options, Ryan Tannehill and Nick Foles was selected early in round 2, Brandon Weeden was selected a few spots before my pick in the 3rd round and Kirk Cousins was selected before my pick in the 4th. That left me with one quarterback left, but one of my personal favorites.
Russel Wilson is a lot like Tebow in that he is an absolute gamer. He is short, but he makes up for it with athletic ability and leadership. He's bright and could surprise a lot of people in this league. He needs development, but getting him in the 4th is good value and gives the Broncos a nice, young backup for Tebow.
The Broncos have the Rams 2nd overall pick in the 5th round thanks to the Brandon Lloyd trade. After failing to trade down in the 4th, I started talking to a few teams about trading down from my early 5th. I ended up striking a deal with the New Orleans Saints to trade my early 5th round pick for a mid 6th and early 7th round pick. I did this for a few reasons. One, I felt there would be good value in the 6th and there wasn't a "must get" prospect when I went on the clock. T.Y. Hilton, CB Shaun Prater and CB Asa Jackson were available, but I thought that they could have been available at my pick later in the 5th round.
Unfortunately, my earlier targets were not available. As I went on the clock, I had my eye on a few players including: TE David Paulson, DT Logan Harrell, RB Chris Rainey and CB Omar Bolden. Ultimately, I was conflicted between two players: Mike Martin, DT from Michigan and DaJohn Harris, DT from USC. While I had already selected a DT, Martin and Harris were terrific value at this point in the 5th round.
With the 153rd pick, the Denver Broncos select DaJohn Harris, DT from USC
Being a USC Trojan fan, I have watched a lot of DaJohn Harris. That is ultimately why I decided to pick him over Mike Martin. Harris is a player who never broke out in college. He had shining moments, but was never consistently great. His strength is his pass rush where he uses a good first step and violent hands to get after the QB. He has a good motor and looks like a under tackle with a high ceiling to compliment Brandon Thompson.
Entering the 6th round, I had drafted two defensive tackles, one linebacker, one running back and one quarterback. I was still needing a cornerback. Thankfully, my trade with the Saints paid off as there were some good value cornerbacks available when I went on the clock. I had my eye on CB Omar Bolden, CB Donnie Fletcher and CB Michah Pellerin. Some other players I was looking at included WR T.J. Graham, WR A.J. Jenkins, RB Bobby Rainey, WR Greg Childs and LB James Michael-Johnson. Ultimately, I selected a corner who fit the Broncos system the best.
With the 167th pick, the Denver Broncos select Robert Blanton, CB from Notre Dame
Blanton is a player I really like. Despite the fact that I picked him in the 6th, he is a 3-4 round prospect. He has his deficiencies like some lateral quickness issues as well as some technical weaknesses. However, he is a very physical corner with good straight line speed. He also is a solid tackler in open space. With some development, I think Blanton could be a solid #2 CB in this league. Blanton would certainly not be the cure-all problem for the Broncos issues at CB, but he would be a good step in the right direction.
Entering the final round of the draft, I had two picks and I wanted to draft players who had a chance of making the team. When my first selection came up, I was deciding between a few players including: LB Mycahl Kendricks, QB BJ Coleman, TE Chase Ford, DE Frank Alexander, and RB Tauren Poole.
It came down to RB Tauren Poole and one other player. I was extremely tempted to select Poole who is an underrated player who could have a nice career as a #2 or #3 running back. However, I decided to add some more speed and athleticism to the offense.
With the 193rd pick, the Denver Broncos select Marquis Maze, WR, Alabama
With Eddie Royal set to become a free agent, it is important for the Broncos to draft a new returner. Enter Marquis Maze. Maze is very short standing at 5 ft 8 and only weighing 180 pounds. However, he makes up for his size with great speed and elusiveness. Maze has great straight line speed which makes him a dangerous deep threat and a potential slot receiver. He also has added value as a punt and kick returner. He is great value in the 7th.
With one pick left, I was looking for any player of value. As I looked at the board, I had a few options including: QB Kellen Moore, DT Mike Daniels, TE George Bryan, DE Jack Crawford, FB Cody Johnson and DE Brandon Lindsey. I gave a heavy look at George Bryan, the tight end from North Carolina State. He is a blocking tight end who has a decent pair of hands. With Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario set to be free agents, Bryan would make a great value and need pick in the 7th. However, I went a different direction.
With the 217th pick, the Denver Broncos select Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina
The Broncos pick two wide receivers in the 7th round who will compete for spots on the team. Lewis is a player with good upside. He stands at 6 ft 3, 209 pounds. He has good speed and gets in and out of his breaks well. There are some scouts who think he could mature into a starter. If he develops properly, he could take over for Matt Willis as the #4 or #5 WR on the Broncos. He adds more depth and competition to a intriguing group of players.
When all was said and done, the Broncos drafted
25. Donta Hightower, LB, Alabama
57. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
89. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
121. Russel Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
153. DaJohn Harris, DT, USC
167. Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame
193. Marqis Maze, WR, Alabama
217. Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina
If developed correctly, there are 4 or 5 starters and the others could turn out to be valuable role players. I was pleased with how everything turned out. There will be another live mock draft after free agency and that draft will turn out drastically different then this one. What do you guys think? How did I do?