Tim Tebow's first NFL start has given Broncos fans some hope, at least for the time being. Denver's defense is still in a shambles, and it is going to need to be completely gutted once again. The Broncos tried a strategy that I thought was pretty great initially, where they would sign veteran players at key positions and draft young players to learn for a year or two behind them. Well, those old guys are getting injured, and Denver apparently has no depth whatsoever.
The result has been catastrophic, as Denver has become the worst defense in the NFL, allowing more than four touchdowns per game. Perhaps even worse than than is the fact that the Broncos allowed 98 points and about 600 yards rushing to the Oakland Raiders this year. Those numbers are embarrassing, and it won't surprise me if everyone involved is looking for a job in a couple of weeks.
Much of what is going to happen in the draft depends on who the Broncos hire as general manager and head coach. I do not think the new regime is going to move forward as is, or at least I hope it doesn't. Though I have been a big supporter of guys coming in like Tim Tebow, I have certainly been skeptical of many of the picks this team has made, especially what they have given up to get them.
After the jump, we'll examine the gambles the former regime took in order to get where we are today, and a mock draft that can help get this franchise back to prominence.
When Josh McDaniels was hired, one of the first moves he made was trading away the quarterback everyone thought he was hired to mentor. Obviously, people like Jay Cutler who are hard-headed and whimpy are not wanted on most teams, but it would have been nice to see what Denver could have been had they just stuck with Jay, but we will never know, and I am excited about the future that Tim Tebow brings. Let's look at some of the moves the Broncos have made since early 2009.
- QB Jay Cutler, 5th round pick (Johnny Knox, WR) traded to Chicago Bears for 2009 1st round pick (Robert Ayers), 2010 1st round pick (traded), 2009 3rd round pick (traded), and QB Kyle Orton
- Broncos trade 2010 1st round pick to Seattle Seahawks (Earl Thomas, S) for 2009 2nd round pick (CB Alphonso Smith)
- Broncos trade two 3rd round picks (G Kraig Urbik, WR Mike Wallace) to Pittsburgh Steelers for 2009 2nd round pick (TE Richard Quinn) and 2009 4th round pick (G Seth Olsen)
- Broncos trade up in 5th and 6th rounds of 2009 NFL Draft to select WR Kenny McKinley (deceased) and QB Tom Brandstater (Miami Dolphins)
- Broncos trade late round selections in 2010 Draft for OL Russ Hochstein, DL Le Kevin Smith
- Broncos trade WR Brandon Marshall to Miami Dolphins for 2010 2nd round pick and 2011 2nd round pick
- Broncos trade TE Tony Scheffler to Detroit Lions for 2010 5th round pick (CB Perrish Cox)
- Broncos trade 11th pick in 2010 Draft (OL Anthony Davis) from Chicago to San Francisco for 13th overall pick, 4th round pick
- Broncos trade 13th pick in 2010 Draft (DE Brandon Graham) from San Francisco to Philadelphia Eagles for 24th overall pick, two 3rd round picks (one traded, one used to draft WR Eric Decker)
- Broncos trade 24th pick (traded to Dallas, who selected WR Dez Bryant) and 4th round pick (TE Aaron Hernandez) to New England Patriots for 22nd overall pick (WR Demaryius Thomas)
- Broncos trade 2nd round pick from Miami Dolphins (OLB Sergio Kindle), 3rd round pick from Philadelphia (TE Ed Dickson) and 4th round pick (TE Dennis Pitta) for 25th overall pick (QB Tim Tebow)
- Broncos trade 2011 5th round pick for two 2010 7th round picks (CB Syd'Quan Thompson, DE Jammie Kirlew)
- Broncos trade RB Peyton Hillis, 2011 6th round pick, conditional 2012 draft pick for QB Brady Quinn
- Broncos trade conditional 2012 pick for LB Joe Mays
- Broncos trade 4th round pick in 2011 to New England Patriots for RB Laurence Maroney
- Broncos trade CB Alphonso Smith and 7th round pick to Detroit Lions for TE Dan Gronkowski and a 6th round pick
I may have missed some, but you can see over just the last two years how aggressive this team has been to simply fill our temporary needs rather than use all of the picks to build for the future. Being as big a fan of the draft as I am, I love all of the wheeling and dealing. However, I think being more conservative with the picks is the best approach from here on out. The Broncos will have a high pick in the up-coming draft, and I think they can get a difference maker with this pick.
In my opinion, the first step to getting back to prominence for the Broncos is hiring a defensive minded head coach who brings along an offensive coordinator. The Broncos need a strong influence on the defensive side of the ball, and I believe Ron Rivera could be a great candidate for the job. He has put together dominant defenses in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, most notably in his days with the Chicago Bears whose dominant defense led them to the 2006 Super Bowl.
I think the Broncos need to make a move to a 4-3 defense. They are going to need to gut their defense either way, and they simply do not have the personnel to run a 3-4 right now or next year, and it's too hard to find a nose tackle nowadays. The Broncos do not need to miss out on players just because they do not fit the typical nose tackle frame or something like that.
I like the move to the 4-3 for many reasons, but mainly because the Broncos cannot pass on the best defensive player in the draft, who we'll get to in a little bit.
The offense is pretty much set right now, save for a playmaking tight end. I am a big fan of free agent Marcedes Lewis, who has had a breakout season for the Jaguars and could easily be slapped with the franchise tag. Either way, the Broncos need a huge target like that who can be a red zone threat. Obviously Richard Quinn has not been getting involved in the passing game, and Daniel Graham has taken a huge dropoff.
The Broncos could also use another play-maker at running back to go along with Knowshon Moreno. It's pretty clear that Laurence Maroney is not going to be the answer, and while Lance Ball has shown flashes, I don't know that I'd rely on him over an extended period of time.
Defensively, the Broncos need to blow everything up and start basically from scratch. With the 2nd pick in the draft and the deepest crop of defensive linemen I have seen in a long time, the new regime is going to have a lot of ways to go.
One idea that has intrigued me is the idea of adding Albert Haynesworth. I know he's not a high character guy, and I know what he's been for the Redskins and Titans, but he's a great talent who would excel in this system. Another player who could be had on the scrap heap is Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Both are ideal fits for the 4-3 defense, and both would ease the transition.
Another idea that intrigues me is having Robert Ayers add 15 pounds to his frame. I'm not sure if he's maxed out or not, but it's clear to me that Ayers is not a pass rusher, and is better suited as a power end or defensive tackle. I've never seen what he can do at tackle, but it seems to me that he is not a good fit at rush linebacker. Perhaps he would be better as a tackle, but the Broncos have to essentially decide between Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus, and Da'Quan Bowers.
Bowers and Fairley have both been dominant this season, and both play different positions on the line. Bowers is a defensive end who has double digit sacks and more than 20 tackles for loss this season. In fact, he's second in the nation in both categories.
When I look at a successful rebuilding project, or one on its way to being successful anyway, I love what the Detroit Lions have done. They went out and got their franchise quarterback in Matt Stafford, who has been unable to stay healthy, but still, he's definitely improved. Then, this past year, they went and completely rebuilt their defensive line. They picked up Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams in the offseason and drafted Ndamukong Suh, the most dominant defensive tackle in the draft.
I hope the Broncos follow a similar path.
Elvis Dumervil may not be as complete a player as Vanden Bosch, but he is a much better pass rusher. The Broncos do have one thing the Lions do not, and that is they already have in tact the offensive line they want to move forward with. The Broncos' line obviously still needs more experience together, but that is one thing they have going for them that Detroit does not.
The Broncos also have a very capable defensive backfield, provided they keep Champ Bailey around. Re-signing him is not only a no-brainer, it should be priority number one this offseason. Bailey has always talked about how he wants to play with Tim Tebow, and now he gets his chance.
If I was general manager, this is how the draft would go if it were held today.
1. First Round, 2nd overall: Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Fairley is a massive man who is an ideal fit for the 4-3 defense. He has been compared to Trevor Pryce by some, and whether that means he simply looks like him or not is irrelevant. The Broncos need a penetrator up front, and Fairley provides them that.
He has been the most dominant tackle in college football this year, and his stock has escalated quicker than many would have ever expected. Already, a line including Dumervil, Ayers, and Fairley sounds very intriguing to me.
2. Second Round, 35th overall: Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame
I know many of you don't even want to see an offensive player here, but Rudolph or some receiving tight end of the like is the missing piece of the Broncos' offense.
Rudolph is a huge target at 6'5" 260. He is coming off of injury, but will be ready for next year, and should he declare for the draft, he will be the unquestioned top prospect at the position. He brings the Broncos a red zone presence that they have not had in some time, and a cast of characters that includes Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Lloyd, Kyle Rudolph, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, and whoever else is very appealing to me.
3. Second Round, 48th overall (from Miami): Greg Jones, Linebacker, Michigan State
If the Broncos are going to make the transition to a 4-3 like I'm projecting, they are going to need to draft some new linebackers. Jones has been the heart and soul of the Spartains' defensive unit for a couple of years now, and offers similar upside at this point in the draft to that of DeMeco Ryans in Houston.
I think Jones can be either an inside linebacker or outside in the 4-3, so he offers that versatility.
Trade: Kyle Orton traded to Arizona for a third round pick
4. Third Round, 66th overall: Bruce Carter, Linebacker, North Carolina
Once considered a first round prospect, Carter is poised to take a huge plummet on draft weekend because of a recent knee injury. An excellent 4-3 linebacker prospect, Carter falls to the Broncos who get a gem at this point in the draft, and a likely starter from day one. His knee will take some time to heal though, and it's not a guarantee that he will be ready by the start of offseason workouts.
Trade: Broncos trade 3rd round pick acquired from Washington for DT Albert Haynesworth and a 5th round pick
Obviously, the Redskins do not want Haynesworth anymore, and Haynesworth does not want the Redskins. Based on what has happened, we have no reason to believe he won't be released, but with what Washington invested in him, it's likely he will go to the highest bidder.
Haynesworth is not a high character guy by any means, but he's a good defensive tackle and playing alongside Nick Fairley, Elvis Dumervil, and Robert Ayers could be a very dangerous combination. I think this combination would give the Broncos one of the best fronts in the NFL, and would be a great help for their young group of linebackers which I have selected here.
5. Fifth Round (from Washington): Greg Romeus, Defensive End, Pittsburgh
The revamping of the defensive line continues. Romeus was considered a top prospect before the year, but has fallen way off the radar because of an injury that derailed his season. Romeus has a great frame and can get pressure on the quarterback, but he's also very capable against the run.
This is a value pick just like Perrish Cox, and would be a great addition at this point in the draft for Denver.
6. Sixth Round (from Detroit): Eric Hagg, Safety, Nebraska
Simply put, Hagg is a playmaker, and I seriously doubt if by the time the draft rolls around that Hagg is falling this far. He has had a monster senior season for the Huskers, and could have some upside in the later rounds of the draft.
He's been a starter since he was a sophomore, and has never missed a game due to injury. Durability is not an issue here, and he could really be a late round steal.
7. Sixth Round (from New England): Allen Reisner, Tight End/Fullback, Iowa
The Broncos need a punishing fullback, one who did not formerly play linebacker. I love Spencer Larsen and what he brings to the table, but I think he is a much better linebacker than he is a fullback. The Broncos need someone who can be a reliable blocker and reliable out of the backfield. They can line up Reisner in two tight end sets, use him as a fullback to be a lead blocker, or use him as a receiver out of the backfield.
So there you have it, mock draft number three. As for how to fill out the rest of the roster, I really like the free agents swg777 laid out in his post about the rebuilding of the team. I really like the addition of Eric Weddle to the defensive backfield, and Dustin Maul pointed out my favorite addition to the running back position--DeAngelo Williams.
If I were to project the ideal Broncos' offseason, the depth chart might look something like this:
QB: Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn, FA
RB: Knowshon Moreno, DeAngelo Williams, LenDale White
FB: Allen Reisner
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker, Matthew Willis
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Jabar Gaffney
WR: Eddie Royal
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Richard Quinn, Reisner
LT: Ryan Clady, FA
LG: Zane Beadles, Eric Olsen
C: JD Walton, FA
RG: Chris Kuper, FA
RT: Ryan Harris, FA
DE: Elvis Dumervil, Jason Hunter
DT: Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Vickerson
DT: Nick Fairley, Justin Bannan, Marcus Thomas
DE: Robert Ayers, Greg Romeus
LB: DJ Williams, Wesley Woodyard
LB: Greg Jones, Joe Mays, Spencer Larsen
LB: Bruce Carter, Mario Haggan
CB: Champ Bailey, Perrish Cox, Cassius Vaughn
CB: Andre Goodman, Syd'Quan Thompson
S: Brian Dawkins, Darcel McBath, Eric Hagg
S: Eric Weddle, David Bruton
K: Matt Prater
P: Britton Colquitt
LS: Lonie Paxton
The biggest holes I see here are at the two return positions. The Broncos should look to bring in someone specifically to return kicks, preferably a running back or backup defensive back. I do not see anyone currently on the roster who I would want doing double duty, so a rookie free agent running back who can return kicks would be the ideal scenario, or maybe a free agent find like Brandon Banks would be ideal.