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2009 Draft--Defensive Backs Rated for Denver Broncos




In trying to sort out which defensive backs to select for inclusion in the ranking chart, I have had to look at how McDaniels and Nolan are likely to use their DBs.  To this end the focus here is on good to great tacklers, zone over man-coverage characteristics, and physical, intimidating presences.

There are a number of quality DBs in this draft of the more "finesse" variety, especially in the CB group. Though they are very talented, for the most part they aren't included here.  Exceptions could be Malcolm Jenkins and Mike Mickens, who both have excellent man-coverage characteristics.  However, they tend to execute with a more-physical attitude than is expected from man corners, much like our own Champ Bailey, and so I have happily included them in these rankings.

What do I mean by the characteristics I have outlined for these rankings above?  Tackling should speak for itself, but I put a priority on powerful tacklers, guys with significant lower-body strength and the ability to dominate another player.  For the Physical quality, I am looking for players who aren't afraid to get dirty, are willing and happy to get involved in run support and to battle at the line of scrimmage with WRs.  DBs who can disrupt plays early by messing up receiver routes should hold more value for a D-Line and pass rush in progress, buying those parts of the team valuable seconds to establish trench superiority and get penetration. In turn, this should come back to the DBs in spades by creating up-front pressure to relieve the pressure in back.  And when it comes to zone-over-man characteristics, we are looking at less athletic reliance and more instinctual or intellectual reliance, which should help drive costs down in the draft.

Let's check out the rankings:


CB--Malcolm Jenkins 


Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State:  This guy has a little of everything.  Where he matches up best for Denver is his physical style of play around the line.  He is strong and able to dictate to receivers what kind of routes they can run, effectively dominating his side of the field.  He has excellent range on top of this, which gives him the versatility needed to cover a deep third or half, just like a free safety, something he has experience doing.  His versatility and toughness can't be beat amongst defensive backs in this year's draft, and his talent make him a rare find at any position.

CB--Vontae Davis 


Vontae Davis, Illinois:  Ideal size for the position, Davis doesn't consistently add up to the sum of his parts.  While he is an aggressive and physical tackler, he isn't nearly physical enough with receivers in their routes.  Despite his ability to find the ball, he doesn't make nearly as many plays as he gets himself in position to make.  He does have the versatility to be moved to a safety-type role, but despite his strength he isn't a sure tackler.  While many will look at his tangibles and want to lay claim to his "upside" and potential, I say Denver should be wary of his under-production, and look elsewhere early.

SS--Patrick Chung  


Patrick Chung, Oregon:  If Denver is willing to overlook deep speed in a DB, Chung could be a tremendous value to them.  With experience at corner, FS, SS and even returning kicks, he brings a consistent, well-rounded package to the table along with some of the best tackling in the nation.  While he is a bit too aggressive to step immediately into a FS role in the NFL, he still has the range to eventually be a safe bet at the position, and could perform admirably as a SS.  His sure tackling is complemented by his explosive power, which makes even solid, wrap-up tackles from him a pretty good hitting experience.  Very aggressive in coverage, fights for the ball, but too willing to put his hands on the receiver, and may need to get more disciplined in that and other areas.  Shows solid leadership characteristics and a love of the game.  An excellent prospect.

CB--Coye Francies 


Coye Francies, San Jose State:  A very thin, quick player, he lacks any kind of lower-body power or explosiveness, but is still a very consistent tackler.  He also has great vision and watches the field well, including as a kick returner, where he averaged over 22 yards per return.  Good hands and understanding of when to time his jumps and breaks.  Is successful when playing physical, tight coverages, which could make him an asset, but can't rely on getting his hands on receivers in the NFL.  Very smart about taking proper angles and breaking down before a tackle, which helps him make stops.  All in all a safe prospect who needs to add some bulk to take his game to the next level.  

FS--Louis Delmas 


Louis Delmas, Western Michigan:  Not the best size, which shows up noticeably when he is taking on and avoiding blockers.  Fails to get into blockers and discard them, and is often driven away from or out of the play in attempts to go around.  Despite this he has somewhat of the reputation as a powerful hitter.  He has leadership capability and is a very secure wrap-up tackler who knows how to take down bigger guys and smaller guys alike.  He has good range and gets himself in a good position to make plays in coverage, but can be pulled up with a play-action.  All in all a good prospect with a questionable level of competition and inconsistencies in his game.

FS--William Moore 


William Moore, Missouri:  Very athletic and physical, Moore's biggest question is whether he was a one-year-wonder.  Despite having great range, he was brought up to the line a lot and took a pounding that will require his shoulder to check out medically before the draft.  However, this does give him great experience with blitzing, and he times his moves well.  A tough player, he played through a couple of injuries as a Junior and Senior.  He is a solid tackler and has terrific lower-body strength that allows him to deliver a fair amount of pop in his hits.  He has shown tremendous playmaking ability in the past with a knack for finding the ball, but recent poor showings have scouts wondering if a position switch to LB isn't in his best interests.  Inexplicably, he doesn't seem to be able to backpedal anymore, and I have no clue why that is, whether unnamed injury or adding unneeded bulk, but it is an intriguing point that will get attention at the combine.

CB--Jairus Byrd 


Jairus Byrd, Oregon:  Another solid corner prospect who excels in being rough with receivers around the line and dictating how routes will be run.  May bite on play action, and is sometimes too aggressive with the hands, but has the quickness to mirror and stay with receivers through double moves and quick routes.  Probably doesn't have the speed to catch up consistently and will benefit from zone responsibilities, where he has demonstrated a good feel for his teammates.  Solid tackler, but not much explosive power.

CB Mike Mickens 


Mike Mickens, Cincinnatti:  Has the quick feet and great hips to effectively mirror and play terrific man coverage, one of the few in the draft.  Very good hands, and has a receiver's instincts for running when he has the ball in his hands.  Has extensive experience in zone, where he played ball-hawk behind a great pass rush.  Marginal upper-body power, but good explosiveness from the lower body.  Has good tackling form and is willing to come up in run support and to lead vocally.  A confident player who was a favorite of his coaches for his ethic and ability to learn.

FS--Rashad Johnson 


Rashad Johnson, Alabama:  An extremely smart player with an excellent first step and deep understanding of his role and the roles of others.  I really like this kid and think he could step in as a starter right away.    Working against him are his size and the type of frame he has, where it looks like he would be sacrificing some of his speed to get bigger.  But as is, he still managed to produce, especially at critical times.  As a last line of defense he needs to work on his tackling, but overall he is a secure tackler with good power and a great instinct for getting to the play.  Not intimidating enough to warrant four stars, but if he could somehow get his strength up and become more of a hitter, he could push past three stars.  Watch his pro day results to see if he added any bulk and maintained his quickness.

CB--Cary Harris 


Cary Harris, USC:  An often-overlooked component of the USC defense, Harris may turn out to be one of its safest bets.  A great team player, with attitude in run support and the feet and range to dominate his coverage zone.  A smart player who trusts the play of those around him, and is willing to make the secure play over the spectacular play.  Unfortunately doesn't seem to have the versatility to play any significant amount of man coverage, but has enough range and athleticism to play coverage zones as a corner or safety.  A sound and consistent performer.

FS--Derek Pegues 


Derek Pegues, Mississippi State:  One of the few versatile "tweeners" at the DB position who has only limited upside for Denver.  While most of the tweeners are solid tacklers or powerful hitters, Derek is a secure tackler but lacks the power to drive opponents down, usually relying on a drag-down style.  He is tenacious though, and is excellent at finding and attacking the ball and reading receivers in his zone.  What hurts him is that he isn't physical enough around the line to effectively and consistently cover larger receivers, and would be outclassed on deep balls despite his speed.  If he were to add some upper-body strength for jamming receivers and some lower-body strength to bring some explosion to his hits, he may be able to provide some great help to a team in a zone-coverage scheme.

SS--Emanuel Cook 


Emanuel Cook, South Carolina:  A terrific zone player with very good tackling, good power, great instincts and the kind of body control needed to capitalize on the above.  Not very fast, so his value around the line of scrimmage could be had cheaply.

SS--Kevin Ellison 


Kevin Ellison, USC:  High-character player with injury issues but consistent production and steady growth.  Exceptionally physical and can intimidate players over the middle, and is a sure-handed tackler who is impressive in run support.  No straight speed to speak of, but adequate quickness.  Has a safety's attitude and is willing to sacrifice himself to make the stop.  Doesn't allow many big plays to get past him, part of playing for a defense good enough to recover and get 3-and-outs.  May be undervalued because of the players he was around.  Could possibly move to LB.

FS--Troy Nolan 


Troy Nolan, Arizona State: Medical issues and concerns about his speed drive his stock down,  but I think he has all the tools you look for in a game-changing free safety.  The medical concern is an old knee injury that didn't seem to hamper his athleticism in two full years of action, although it does seem to have cost him some speed.  Very aggressive and commits too early to the "big play" angle, leaving others to clean up the mess, but showed that he could respond to coaching by improving significantly in this area in 2008.  His best characteristics are when he is in coverage, where he tracks the ball, intimidates anyone in his area with physical hits, and attacks routes and passes with great instincts and timing.  Makes plays at the right times and often sets off a cascade effect on his team, with several examples of leading the charge in multiple-turnover games and multi-game turnover trends.  He needs to improve his 40-time to go higher, but where he is could be a great spot for solid safety depth.

FS--Chris Clemons 


Chris Clemons, Clemson:  A solid tackler with a good feel for his responsibilities and his teammates.  Was allowed to pick his spots on the field and was reliable in coverage.  Unfortunately, not overly athletic and doesn't seem to be able to push his game to the next level.  He can add size however, which could give him some much-needed power and explosiveness.

SS--Keith Fitzhugh 


Keith Fitzhugh, Mississippi State:  Another versatile tweener limited by tight hips and marginal feet.  Not quite enough range to be a lone threat in the backfield, but is a solid line of defense and a secure tackler.  His explosiveness is good, but his athleticism should limit him to a strong-safety role in run support.  His experience at corner and a solid zone background could make him a great depth target.

SS--Kevin Akins 


Kevin Akins, Boston College:  Takes versatility to a whole new level, with kick returning, offensive rushing carries, rush LB duties and standard safety/corner coverage duties in his arsenal.  His tremendous agility is at the heart of that, and as a late-round pick he is destined to be an underrated but consistently-productive player.  He is able to effectively tap into his skills, and was called on often to bring an unusual spark to games. However, he doesn't have the overall talent to be asked to do any one thing consistently and productively.  A smart player who needs a smart coach to take advantage of him.

FS--Lendy Holmes 


Lendy Holmes, Oklahoma:  Some concerns with long-range ability to pick up defensive schemes effectively, he could be a solid fill-in and safe depth player.  He is a sure tackler who understands lanes and is very disciplined, and can disrupt receivers around the line.  Has the potential to be added as an extra dime back.

SS--Terrence Moore 


Terrence Moore, Troy:  Strong, explosive player who excels at getting off blocks, is very physical at the line of scrimmage and dictates routes to receivers.  Unfortunately, not quick or fast enough to stay very long with receivers, so must rely on good initial technique and solid zone reads.  Has a good feel for the edges of his zones, and rarely over-commits to the wrong receiver.