Lets rewind a bit, back to yesteryear circa 2013. Tell me if you remember these guys: Alec Ogletree (30), Manti Teo (38), Kevin Minter (45), Kiko Alonso (46), Jon Bostic (50) and Arthur Brown (56). Ring a bell? That's a half-dozen straight up MIKE's who were drafted between picks 30-56 in last year's draft. This year, there are two MIKE's projected to go that early, maybe three. And that's projecting some round pegs into square holes a bit.
Last year the Broncos had a need at MLB, but they ended up taking DT Sylvester Williams in the first round when he unexpectedly fell into their laps. There were some rather substantial rumors and reports indicating that Denver had its sights set on Alec Ogletree on Draft Day, but Sly trumped that player because he he had a much better grade (a true "first round" grade) than Alec, and because he also played at a position of major need. He also didn't have the character concerns that Ogletree had.
When the Broncos were nearing the clock in the second-round of that draft, there was only one left, Arthur Brown. Peter King wrote a couple times that the Ravens had "reliable" intel that the Broncos were hot on him, so after Baltimore had gotten Matt Elam to replace Ed Reed in the first round, Ozzie Newsome then traded up to leapfrog the Broncos in the 2nd round - drafting Arthur Brown to replace Ray Lewis.
Whoops, no more MIKE's. And I don't have to tell you Bronco fans that the MLB position was a thorn in the ass for the Denver defense all season long.
Now fast forward to 2014.
The Broncos are letting long tenured coverage specialist, Captain Wesley Woodyard, walk off into the sunset and they also let 2013's MLB Paris Lennon kick rocks as well. MLB is firmly back on the docket. Before even letting the seats get cold, and before free agency had even officially opened, the Broncos had already called in three-down MLB D'Qwell Jackson in for a lengthy visit. Peyton Manning even took him to lunch, apparently in an attempt to woo the man. But alas, Peyton's old team overpaid for Jackson and Denver didn't get him. On to the next one.
The offseason officially opens, and now the Broncos go after the rest of the MIKE's. As in, all of them. Jon Beason, Karlos Dansby, Daryl Smith - the Broncos had confirmed interest and/or negotiations with all of the three-down MLB's available.
Those four got paid higher salaries than expected, so Elway quickly pivoted his spending budget to allow for more money to be spent on DE and CB than what had originally been allotted. When the first couple MLB's sort of set the market, Elway pivoted from paying a smaller wage to DRC and Jared Allen, to paying a higher wage to Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware. Those two free agents basically took the MIKE money.
John Elway is a true legend in every sense of the word - a living legend. He's basically a Football God to those in the Rocky Mountains, and to suggest that he may have made a mistake is essentially blasphemy. But did he?
Elway didn't want a glaring weakness on the roster heading into the draft. But he has one, and his enemies know it. Those enemies know he wanted a MLB last year. They know he used a bandaid last year (again) and that the results weren't good. They know the Broncos then lost Woodyard, as well as the rent-a-vet-MLB from yesteryear. And then they also know Denver swung and missed on every single three-down MLB who hit the market.
Weighing the options.
The Denver Broncos have a need that's been so severely telegraphed to the world that even the people of Liberia know who Elway's going to pick if that player makes it to the #31 spot. And that's why that player will never make it to the #31 spot. First off, you cannot expect to land a guy like Ryan Shazier or CJ Mosley in the first round if you don't move up. Your enemies won't let you have him, plain and simple. Just like Baltimore last year, teams will jump in front of you. Unlike last year, the need this year is "glaring". It's not just the base-down MLB anymore, because now Denver lost its coverage linebacker, too. And unlike last year, the Broncos swung and missed on every single FA who's capable of filling that glaring weakness. You may as well have rented a giant billboard or gone on Oprah to tell her who you're looking to draft. Yes, it's that bad.
The man standing next to Danny in the nickel package, that guy isn't on this roster. I'm sure of that. But, there are a few very real options that don't require a first-round pick. They may not be optimal options, but the Broncos may not have a choice.
There are linebackers in the mid-to-late rounds who can come in and cover in sub-packages, guys such as Telvin Smith, Christian Kirksey, Kevin Pierre Louis, Marquies Flowers and Boseko Lokombo. And there are also linebackers who can come in and thump runners in base packages such as Chris Borland, Carl Bradford, Shayne Skov, Jordan Zumwalt, and Shaquil Barrett. There are a couple guys who are tough to read, linebackers such as Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Tripp.
Some of these guys can maybe be an all-around LB at some point, but most of them will surely never be. And none of them will be a three-down MLB in year-one on this team. In other words, one option is to take two of the above players to fill the two needs of base thumper and coverage linebacker. The better the player, the better your chances of success. Meaning, you can't expect to draft two 6th rounders and expect to have filled those needs.
Option number two? If the Broncos miss in the first round, they might then decide to move Danny Trevathon from WLB to MLB - drafting one of those coverage guys like Kirksey to play at WLB and/or in the subpackages.
Option number three? Pull a Pull a rabbit out and draft someone who's lesser know, and plan on striking it rich. Or trade with another team for a player who might be expendable to them.
The fallback option? Play Nate Irving at MLB in base sets while using a new draftee in the coverage packages.
Best option? #SackUp #TradeUp
Ryan Shazier is an incredible prospect, and he's a guy I would support and cheer for from the windows to the walls. But who's standing next to Danny? Like, tomorrow? Ryan's athleticism and speed is truly off the charts, but he's inexperienced in coverage. Someday, he's going to be a star. But can he command the middle on the base downs from day-one? I'm not sure if he's strong enough just yet. I'm not sure he's smart enough or if he has the instincts for it. Can he stay on the field in sub packages when he has to cover actual routes? I'm not sure, depends on how quickly he can learn.
I think there is exactly one option in this draft if the Broncos want to add a three-down MLB, and the quarterback of the defense, from day-one and for as long as the mind can foresee. But it's not a conservative option, and it's not for the timid and the weak-kneed.
Alabama Linebacker C.J. Mosley.
CJ Mosley's skills aren't a secret and they're not up for debate. Sure, he "won the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (coaches) in 2013", but there's more to him than the awards.
Sure, "his 107 tackles in 2012 were the second-highest total by an Alabama linebacker in the past 25 years (DeMeco Ryans had 126 in 2003) and 48 more than the next Tide defender (that) season." But there's more to him than the obscene tackle production he's racked up over the past couple years.
He's also "outstanding in pass coverage", according to CBS Sports. In fact, CJ made his bones by playing coverage in sub-packages on the weakside earlier on. Charlie Casserly even says, "he's stronger than (Luke) Kuechly and a better athlete in coverage." Ya, he's talking about that Luke Kuechly.
Alabama Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart recognizes the changing landscape of the NFL, specifically the greater importance placed on being able to cover. "The difference is we had some really big guys, Dont'a Hightower and Rolando McClain, play linebacker at Alabama who went to the NFL. Those guys aren't athletic enough to play on third down. (Mosely) is perfect for today's NFL."
But there's still more to this guy than just being able to thump runners and cover receivers.
CBS Sports closes its scouting report on Mosley saying, "Tough and athletic, with the keenest instincts of any linebacker I've scouted since Lofa Tatupu, Mosley is constantly around the ball and is often making big plays as a result."
Instincts are good, but leadership and high football IQ are good, too. Kirby Smart compares him to Ray Lewis in that regard. Ya, that Ray Lewis.
"I had a chance to coach in the NFL and play against Ray Lewis and (Mosley) is similar in his ability to communicate, his football senses, the way he sees the field and gets everybody lined up. He's a complete football player. When we played Ray Lewis when I was in the National Football League, I just was amazed where he always seemed to be in the right position all the time, and that's what Mosley is. He's played that way consistently."
We're not talking about drafting a linebacker here boys and girls... we're talking about drafting the quarterback of the Denver Defense.
"He was an extension of Nick Saban on the football field at Alabama with his unwavering intensity and overall instincts and intelligence to know what the offense wanted to do before the ball was snapped".
"He's the leader of our team," defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. "He's like the captain of the ship. He comes out there, he gets the call, he tries to relay it to everybody else. He controls everything."
That's the Alabama Crimson Tide Defense he's out there quarterbacking, my peeps - a pro-style defense that consistently ranks among the best in the nation over the past few years.
How about "character" and duty, does he do what he's supposed to be doing even when nobody is watching?
"In this day and age of football, C.J. is the most unique person of all the first-round players we've had," Smart said. "He's not a Twitter guy. He's not a cellphone guy. He's a faith-based guy. It makes him unique, because all these guys today are about the glitz and glory. He really wants to lead by example."
"I trust C.J. to do anything," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Watch my kids, take care of my house... C.J. is just so conscientious about everything does that you know he's going to execute and do it exactly like you told him to do it..."
Will Mosley be available at #31?
No. But he'll likely last into the teens.
"He may slide. Why? He's a linebacker that doesn't rush the passer," Charlie Casserly said on NFL Network's "Path to the Draft". "However he can play all three linebacker positions and will be a pro bowl player. There isn't anything he can't do. He's smart, he's instinctive, he plays the run and he can cover.
Targeting Mosley around #18 as the sweet spot would cost a "two" in addition to the #31, although the Broncos could potentially receive some change back from the trade by way of mid- or late-round pick(s) as well.
Another player would cost less, but he won't have half the impact that Mosley would have on this "win now" team that has so little room for immediate upgrade and so few other ways to get it.
For all the improvement the Broncos have already made, and for all the talent it already has on board, it's still a revolving door at the most important position on defense. I say we've waited long enough. I want CJ to quarterback my defense. I want him standing next to Danny when we go to war against the Colts. But what about you? Is Mosley worth the price? Are you willing to sac up and pay for the immediate impact he would make?