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Grading Draft Grades (a look at the 2008 NFL Draft evaluations)

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As I mentioned yesterday, we as football fans LOVE to read draft grades. It provides validation on so many levels - if we are pleased with our team's draft, we enjoy the confirmation of a positive grade from Mel Kiper or Clark Judge. On the other hand, a negative review from Dr. Z or Todd McShay obviously means they have no clue what they're talking about.

Of course, the same applies to those of us who dislike our own team's results - although a glowing draft grade may temper our feelings a bit, a negative one will just send our blood boiling - "The Broncos totally screwed up the draft - I was saying it all weekend. Peter King says the same thing, so obviously I WAS RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

This is something we've all been guilty of at some point in our Denver Broncos fandom. Some of us (Styg, HT) probably outgrew reading draft grades by age 11. For the rest of us, it's taken a little bit longer, if it's even happened for everyone (it hasn't). Look, it's understandable - these guys are paid to write about professional football; they eat, drink, talk, walk and sleep football. So, they must know what's best for the Denver Broncos, right?

In 2009, the reaction so far has been thus: those of us who love the Broncos' draft (like me, admittedly), point to the Broncos' reluctance to stray from their board, and their preference to select who they perceived to be the best player remaining at each point in the draft.

Others are infuriated by Denver's failure to emerge with more than end Robert Ayers for the defense's front seven. They see the Broncos' free-agent signings of running backs Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan, combined with the selection of Knowshon Moreno at #12 and their eyes bulge. Next, they consider the free-agent acquisitions of defensive backs Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill and Andre' Goodman, and they are perplexed by the decision to choose Alphonso Smith, Darcel McBath and David Bruton this weekend.

Look, if you feel this way, you certainly are not alone. If you prefer validation for your opinion rather than my counter-argument, you need look no further than...

Clark Judge of CBS

I'm sorry, but after one draft I have no confidence Denver knows what it's doing. All I know is that I would like to be there when Denver owner Pat Bowlen asks Josh McDaniels why it was such a good idea to spend Bowlen's money on free agents J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan when the Broncos would use their first pick on running back Knowshon Moreno.

John Clayton of ESPN

Denver rookie head coach Josh McDaniels doesn't have a grasp on how to build a team. He signed three running backs in free agency and drafted another (Knowshon Moreno). And then he sent Denver's first-round choice in 2010 to Seattle for this year's 37th overall choice, which he used to pick cornerback Alphonso Smith. That's bizarre. Mike Shanahan must be laughing at that one.

Woody Paige of the Denver Post

And what about running backs Correll Buckhalter, La-Mont Jordan, J.J. Arrington and last year's RB du jour, Ryan Torain? Peyton Hillis, 2008's leading rusher, has gone to fullback, and possibly gone. Are those running backs as disposable as diapers?
What do you think? Did the Broncos unnecessarily draft a WR last year when they took Eddie Royal? Want that choice back?

Now, here's the problem I see. Aside from Woody (who spends more time examining the national picture due to his Around the Horn responsibilities), we're talking about guys who are paid to cover the entire NFL. Quite frankly, they don't have the time or the energy to truly understand each team's needs. I don't expect them to, because were I in their shoes I couldn't do better. I believe that every MHR regular (staff, readers, everyone!) knows more about the Broncos, their roster makeup and their needs than the guys I just cited. We just have more time to devote to our beloved Broncos.

Where's my proof? Well, how about this - let's take a look at what some of the other national "experts" said about the Broncos' 2008 Draft. Just to recap, Denver added wide receivers Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson through free agency, yet still decided to draft Eddie Royal with their second-round pick. Sound familiar? Other folks saw the Broncos' defensive problems and figured they HAD to go defense in round one. Well, here was the reaction nationally...

Larry Weisman of USA Today


Denver Broncos: Happy times when need and the right player coincide. Ryan Clady can eventually step in at LT, where the Broncos lost 11-year veteran Matt Lepsis to retirement. WR Eddie Royal helps on punt returns and gives Denver wiggle room with Brandon Marshall, a question mark because of an arm injury. But why draft Royal after signing veterans Darrell Jackson and Keary Colbert and Brandon Stokley before that? Lot of money is being tied up in this position.

Patrick Luo of NFL Draft Site
Denver Broncos: (D) Ryan Clady, Eddie Royal, Kory Lichensteiger, Jack Williams, Ryan Torain, Carlton Powell, Spencer Larsen, Joshua Barrett, Peyton Hillis.

Outside the picks of Ryan Clady and Petyon Hillis, the Broncos’ draft was horrible. Javon Walker left so a receiver needed to be drafted. But was Royal really the best you could do? Malcolm Kelly, Limas Sweed, and DeSean Jackson are all on the board. Lichensteiger is an interesting pick because he’s not the best center and the Broncos don’t have an immediate need for center. Not to mention he’s a reach in the 4th round. Jack Williams was a big reach in the 4th round, and same goes for Torain in the 5th. I hope the Denver scouting teams knows something I don’t because their draft was pretty bad.
Ryan Clady can eventually step in at LT, where the Broncos lost 11-year veteran Matt Lepsis to retirement. The key word though is eventually, and Lepsis is already gone. But the real head scratcher is why draft Royal this high after signing veterans Darrell Jackson and Keary Colbert and Brandon Stokley before that? Going to be running some 6 receiver sets?

Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z) of SI
Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan feels that establishing the run (tackle Ryan Clady drafted first) is more important than stopping it, which the Broncos couldn't do last year, and far be it from me to second guess him. How about first guess?

 How about this guy? Wanna give him back?

So, would anyone out there like to give back Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal? Would the Broncos have enough wide receivers today had Mike Shanahan and Co. not selected Royal? For what it's worth, there were two defensive linemen selected in the first round after Clady's choice in 2008 - Lawrence Jackson to Seattle at #28 and Kentwan Balmer to San Francisco at #29. Jackson and Balmer combined last year to make 36 total tackles and 2 sacks. Please raise your hand if you'd prefer either of those players over Ryan Clady.

What bothers me most about the 2009 evaluations above is this: guys like Clayton and Judge make it sound like Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders signed J.J. Arrington, Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan to play running back, with the future knowledge that they were about to draft Knowshon Moreno at #12 on Saturday. Really? Sure sounded to me like Denver would've happily taken B.J. Raji, were he available. That's not how the chips fell.

What's my point here? Honestly, you and I know more about the Broncos' needs than the guys insisting on TV and across the internet that Denver didn't need another running back or defensive back. More importantly, Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders know more in that department than all of us combined. So sure, go ahead and read the post-Draft report cards. I did, and not just for the sake of Horse Tracks. I'm interested to see what people think, just like I always have been. It's just that now, I take in these grades with a grain of salt big enough to cover the Invesco playing field.