My fellow Bronco fans, it appears we are in a bad position. And I'm not just talking about the defensive tackle position, I'm talking about the means we have to improve the defensive tackle position. I'm talking about the disabilities we have in the draft, particularly picking 25th in the first 3 rounds, and our lack of action in the free agent market thus far.
Addressing what is a "handicap" in my opinion: it seems that at least two of the Big 3 (Cox, Brockers, and Poe) will be gone before our 1st pick, and while you can argue that Still or Worthy are decent selections, will they be the best player on our board at a position of need? For example, in Don Banks's Mock 5.0, he has us taking Brockers. It seems justifiable when you look at the rest of the picks, but what really got me was that Brockers, Wright, Konz, Perry, Doug Martin, and Lamar Miller were all still up for grabs. Kirkpatrick went 4 spots ahead of us to the Bengals! In fact, between the two DTs that MHR seems to love, only Worthy went in the 1st (Pats). I know this is just one mock, and mocks are never 100% correct, but can you now see where I'm coming from? Crazier things have happened, and it's a real possibility one of those players is our 2012 1st round pick. Still and Worthy aren't exactly home run DT prospects so it could be easy to draft a better player at a different position of need, just as EFX did every round last year.
On top of that, it seems as though Mike Martin or Kendall Reyes in the late 2nd, and Derek Wolfe in the late 3rd can be viewed as hugely optimistic. As I said before, though, the draft has countless surprises every year and we can be the beneficiaries of one of them. But can we depend on waiting for one of them to fall to us? Think of your fantasy football draft last year. You've got your eyes set on Wes Welker. You see him as the sleeper of the draft. You aim to get him in the middle-late rounds because everyone has forgotten about him. Torn ACL in '09 and then a mediocre year in 2010. You'll get him! It's one pick away from you and 122 rec, 1,569 yards, and 9 tds... and your arch-nemesis snatches him out of thin air. Can we really leave our prospects to chance?
As far as free agency goes, it's hard to complain with EFX's approach. Bunk, Soliai, and Jones were some of the top names available. A common attribute between the three: they all got paid a lot of paper. If most of us were okay with not paying a one trick pony $25 mil over 5 years, I can imagine we were not disheartened by striking out on Big Paul. Jones got a 1 year $6 mil contract. I'm not sure I would have been happy with our FO signing him to the same deal. Who else did we "miss out" on? Okoye and Landri? I haven't lost hope.
The question remains: will EFX continue their DT policy from last season? We can't really know until the draft actually occurs. However, if the big suits do follow through with this, here are 8 under-the-radar acquisitions that can be had late in free agency and late in the draft (5th round or later). Cheap and filled with the potential to perform, I give you 4 possible signings and 4 late round rookies with the hopes that one, or several, can provide a Bunkley-like contribution this season and hopefully beyond.
Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit Lions, 6'4, 329 (RFA)
I truly hope we sign Hill. It makes all the sense in the world to do so. He's big, he's athletic, he's a brick wall in run defense and a bulldozer getting to the quarterback, and most importantly, he's young at age 25. Lee Hill has all the potential in the world, but he will never get to unleash any of it playing behind that monstrous defensive line in Detroit. Given the opportunity to start last year in the week 17 shootout against the Packers, this behemoth put up 4 tackles and a strip sack, fully exhibiting his talents. Most appealing in this situation is the fact that we would only have to give up one of our two 4th round picks, which many people think we will spend on a defensive tackle anyways. Will EFX sign this kid long term? Not sure. Should they? No question.
I have no idea what happened in the 2010 season, but Harris suddenly underwhelmed tremendously and went on to be cut by the Bears. He was scooped up by the Chargers and actually had a decent season as a rotational pass rusher, posting 13 tackles and 3 sacks in 13 games including one start. I think that production can be improved this year, benefitting from playing with Von and Doom.
Mike Wright, New England Patriots, 6'4, 295
Another favorite free agent of mine, Wright is a respectable 30 years old, and a 7 year veteran. He has proven over the years that he is a very good pass rusher, both lining up at end and along the interior. The peak of his career thus far was in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when he racked up 10.5 sacks during that span. A big problem is his concussion issues that he's dealt with over the last two seasons. He was shut down last season after week 1 due to these problems, and would be a risky signing, especially because he was released for failing a physical on Feb. 22. For this reason, I doubt MHR will get behind pursuing Wright, even to a 1 year deal, but I would not be disappointed if we gave him a chance.
Pressley is a young guy at age 26, who is considered "a superb athlete with solid speed and pursuit skills." He was considered the boom or bust DT prospect of the 2008 draft, and so far has been the latter. It can either be consoling or a turn off, then, when I tell you that this was primarily due to injuries. The Broncos actually claimed him last year but eventually let him go. It may seem like everything I just said was negative, but I really think Pressley has potential, and would not even take up $1 mil in cap space. Could look like a "wtf move" like Bunk, but end up being a solid addition. Not my favorite of the 4, but I wouldn't mind him.
Brett Roy, Nevada, 6'3, 275
Roy is my favorite late round prospect in the draft. During his time in Nevada, he was one of the most productive DTs in the nation, getting to the quarterback a total of 17 times the past two seasons. Roy is meant to be with the Broncos. "Why?" you ask? "In much the same way that the Indianapolis Colts built their defense around the scoring potential of a Peyton Manning-led offense, the Wolfpack defense was designed to attack offenses attempting to keep up with head coach Chris Ault's "Pistol" attack. That led to the 6-3, 263-pound Roy to start (and emerge as a star) at defensive tackle for Nevada." Well now Manning is a Bronco, and there's speculation that we'll build our defense in this manner. A tough, never give up player, Roy's athletic ability and pass rushing skills would thrive in Denver.
Tydreke Powell, North Carolina, 6'2, 311
What do you know? A talented North Carolina prospect who isn't a trouble maker. Powell is a big, athletic lineman who is well regarded for his ability to fire off the snap and be disruptive. He states that his natural position is the 3 technique, making him a good fit for the Broncos. Powell's best feature is stopping the run, but he can get to the passer on occasion. One major problem is that he is not a "natural knee bender," allowing himself to be manhandled at times when he is not off the snap before his offensive counterparts. Well worth a 5th or 6th round pick.
Logan Harrell, Fresno State, 6'2, 276
I really like Harrell, as he is virtually the same player as Roy. Insanely productive in college: 71 tackles, 17 FOR LOSS, and 6 sacks last season; this was not done against push over offensive lines, either (Cal, Nebraska, and Boise State). He earned first team all-WAC honors and rightfully so. Harrell could pan out as a disruptive force like Karl Klug or Jason Jones, and can be had in the 6th round or later.
Mike Daniels, Iowa, 6'1, 291
Because of where Daniels can be selected, I think he could be the steal of the draft. If we had a 7th rounder, he could be a perfect pick to end it for us. Instead, if EFX doesn't take him in the 6th, Daniels can be had as an undrafted free agent. He seems to fit the same mold as Roy and Harrell, and also produced like them in college. Most enticing about him is this blurb: "A coordinated athlete with a lightning quick first step and natural explosion … routinely the first defensive lineman off the ball." He has active hands and one of the best motors among defensive linemen. A talented, hard-worker that I would tickled pink to have on the team.
Those are my under-the-radar free agents/sleeper draft picks. Which two (1 from free agency and 1 from the draft) would you want? Share with everyone in the comments. Dissect the post all you'd like. Agree, disagree, agree to disagree. Appreciate the read. GO BRONCOS.