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Denver Broncos Draft Strategy Part 1b - Josh McDaniels

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Ah, the defense. That wonderful defense of ours. Kyle Orton and the offense were fan favorite scapegoats last year and into this offseason. Everyone loves to hate...the offense.

Here are some stats for you haters:

PTS YDS PASS YDS RUSH YDS

20.2

315

186.3

128.7

(12th)

(7th)

(3rd)

(26th)

No, those are not offensive statistics boys and girls. You guessed it, Kyle Orton can't be blamed here! Josh McDaniels' play calling can't be blamed here(well, maybe a little). These stats are also quite misleading, which is probably why fans are still blaming Orton. It is easy, and I mean EASY!, to rank tops against the pass when every team and their sister can run roughshod over you. If you don't believe me then look at how solid our pass defense was when it truly mattered - here is a short 26 second video that should refresh your memory.

Yes, that was JaMarcus Russell driving the length of the field for a game winning touchdown. Which will probably be the only time he does so in his likely short career. Thank you, Kyle Orton for screwing us fans over yet again! After all, we fans blame you for not scoring a touchdown on the previous drive. Yes, it is your fault JaMarcus Russell drove 80 yards in two minutes for the go ahead touchdown. Noodle arm.

Ok, all kidding aside, the defense fell apart last year and there is no blaming Kyle Orton or the offense.

Now that I am done bashing the Orton haters, let's take a look at the defense and what may be wrong with it.

Overview

Going into the 2009 season, there was little doubt that the Broncos front seven was a major liability. Going into 2010, I think the front three are the major liability. Or was. We also still have issues at the linebacker position, but nowhere near as bad as it was last offseason. The big hole resides at the three inside positions of the defensive line.

With that in mind, I've decided to start there and work my way out and back. Using the Patriots draft philosophy and comparing it to traits found in the Broncos 2009 draft class, I have again tried to logically narrow the field of prospects that McDaniels would likely target in this years draft.

Nose Tackles

While I am not a huge fan of the Jamal Williams signing, having had one too many nightmares of a giant Sam Adams beer bottle crushing me while I cringed in terror(*I* not being any running back the Broncos faced while Sam Adams played for the Broncos several years back), I can see where bringing in a former all-pro veteran could be enticing to a coaching staff desperate to stop the run.

However, all of our best free agent acquisitions were along the interior defensive line. That is something to be quite pleased about. 

Common Traits:

  • Likes big men in the middle
  • Room to add bulk on prospects
  • Will draft high for this position
  • smart, physical players
  • solid run stoppers

Analysis for 2010:

The only question that matters, in my mind, for this position is, "How does Josh McDaniels feel about Chris Baker?" If the answer is, he considers him ready to be included in the rotation, then I don't see the Broncos drafting NT in the first two rounds.  However, if the answer is, "Baker isn't ready", then look for the Broncos to go Nose Tackle in the first three rounds on draft day..

My prediction is that the Broncos may select a nose tackle within the first two/three rounds.

Potential Prospects that fit the McD mold:

Dan Williams, Terrance Cody, Cam Thomas, Torrell Troup, Linval Joseph, Brandon Deaderick, Travis Ivey

Defensive Ends

Perhaps the Broncos biggest need going into the draft is at the Defensive End position, or as Steve Nichols likes to call it, the Defensive Guard position.  Josh McDaniels needs a Richard Seymour type of player here that will be the every down pass rusher/run stopper.

Belichek liked the bigger defensive linemen.  Big 300 pounders that can solidify the front three, freeing up the linebackers to wreck havoc on quarterbacks.  I have to think that the success Belichek had here will likely transfer over the McDaniels philosophy. 

Common Traits:

  • Belichek had his top defensive ends in place early in his tenure
  • McD has shown a preference for veterans at this position so far
  • Likes DT that can convert to a 3-4 DE

Analysis for 2010:

I don't see many defensive end prospects that fit these criteria in the first round that truly fit the McDaniels mold, however, there seem to be a myriad of prospects in later rounds.  One of those will likely find their way onto the roster.

McDaniels and Xanders addressed the defensive end position rather well in free agency; otherwise, I'd see this position as the team's greatest need.

I predict a mid round selection here.  Possibly as high as the third round, but more likely in the 4th or 5th.  

Update: The news about Marcus Thomas switching to DG is quite promising.  The need at this position is downgraded some by that development, though I believe the draft is too deep at this position for the Broncos not to act.

Potential Prospects that fit the McD mold:

Jared Odrick, Alex Carrington, Tyson Alualu, Lamarr Houston, Greg Hardy, Arthur Jones, C.J. Wilson, E.J. Wilson, Vince Oghobaase, Clifton Geathers

Inside/Outside Linebackers

The Patriots place a premium on the linebacker position. They like their outside linebackers to be big(6'3"+ and 260+ pounds). Josh McDaniels has followed that philosophy by making Elvis Dumervil and Jarvis Moss OLB's and drafting Robert Ayers to become an OLB after playing defensive end in college. The need at the OLB position doesn't appear to be pressing for the Broncos for the 2010 draft, but what about the Inside Linebacker position?

Interestingly, the ILB position was where the Patriots put their smaller linebackers. Usually around 6'2" and 245 pounds. Sounds eerily like DJ Williams, doesn't it? In any case, moving Mario Haggan inside does very little to fix the major hole at this position.

Common Traits:

  • Natural Leaders
  • Great Awareness
  • Physical/Players through injury
  • Film Freaks
  • Well built frames with thick bone structure, long arms, large hands, & bulky
  • Pass rushers at OLB
  • Solid Tacklers

Analysis for 2010:

The hole inside is bigger than many realize, myself included. After re-watching a few of the games from late last year, I have begun to change my mind on which position may be the biggest need on the team. Mario Haggan didn't do much better than Andra Davis at ILB for the Broncos late last year, which means McDaniels needs to be absolutely sure of the draft pick he makes to fill this position.

The lack of visits thus far of linebackers leaves me wondering just how big a hole McD thinks he has at this position.  I cannot confidently predict if or where the Broncos will target a linebacker later this month.

Potential Prospects that fit the McD mold:

ILB - Rolando McClain, Donald Butler, Brandon Spikes, Jamar Chaney, Phillip Dillard, Micah Johnson

OLB - Brandon Graham, Jerry Hughes, Ricky Sapp, Jason Worilds

Cornerbacks

Bill Belicheck likes undersized speedsters at this position. Under 5'10", 190 pounds.

Josh McDaniels followed this creed last year when he selected Alphonso Smith in the second around. An important note here is that New England was quite successful in the second round when drafting for this position.

It was plain to all that Alphonso Smith was not ready for significant action during his rookie year, but the experience should prove useful in the future as he continues to transition into a starting nickelback. He could potentially even start outside in the future if he improves enough.

Common Traits:

  • Ball hawks who play with aggression
  • Tough and physical at the line
  • Solid tacklers
  • Strengths in zone coverage typical over man coverage skills
  • Injury histories not a huge concern
  • Prefers smart players

Analysis for 2010:

The jury is out on whether or not Alphonso Smith will make the transition from college to the NFL. He has said all the right things and appears to be dedicated to improving in 2010, but I doubt McDaniels can take the chance.

However, with so many other pressing needs, there is little indication that a high round pick is forthcoming at this position.

I just don't see a cornerback being selected any higher than the fourth round. If Alphonso Smith fails to carry his draft weight in 2010, look for the Broncos to reassess their needs accordingly going into the 2011 draft.

Potential Prospects that fit the McD mold:

Joe Haden, Kyle Wilson, Kareem Jackson, Patrick Robinson, Devin McCourty, Brandon Ghee, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Kevin Thomas, Walter McFadden, A.J. Jefferson, David Pender, Nolan Carroll, Chris Hawkins, Crezdon Butler

Safety/Defensive Backs

The Patriots preferred veterans at this position during much of their dynastic years, until taking Brandon Merriweather. They like average height(5'10"), big athletic players in the 210+ pound range with the ability to cover and run support.  Consequently, the Patriots tended to reach for this position - especially in the second to fourth rounds.

McDaniels showed us last year that he would do the same. With an impressive offseason in 2009 that saw a complete revamping of the defensive backfield, McDaniels followed the Patriot Way exactly - Bringing in veterans Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill that immediately upgraded the unit, while also drafting Darcel McBath and David Bruton in the second and fourth rounds. He also retained a potential star in Josh Barrett.

To sum it up, he brought in a couple of veterans for the here and now, while drafting or keeping several young players that could develop into future starters for this defense.

Common Traits:

  • Tough, physical players
  • Solid tacklers
  • Leaders/strong character
  • Injury histories not a concern
  • Will reach for the right player
  • Solid zone coverage skills

Analysis for 2010:

I believe that Josh McDaniels considers this position set for years to come. Once Brian Dawkins is ready to hang up his cleats, McD will have groomed one of his three youngsters to succeed him as the starter.

Therefore, I don't see the Broncos taking a single safety in the 2010 draft.

In case I am wrong, Potential Prospects that fit the McD mold:

Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Taylor Mays, Nate Allen, Morgan Burnett, Kam Chancellor, Reshad Jones, Myron Rolle, Darrell Stuckey, Kyle McCarthy

Conclusion

It is obvious to me that the fate of the 2010 Broncos rests upon the performance of the defense. The current needs are quite unmistakable. Priority number one are inside linebacker and defensive end, though nose tackle ranks high as well. The Jamal Williams signing may have been a "time-buying" tactic.

The 2010 draft is a deep one for defensive end, which will allow the Broncos to look at a wide array of prospects to fill the gaps at this position.

Despite the horrific collapse of the 2009 defensive unit, I really think that this team is close to a 180-degree turnaround. It all depends on the outcome of this years' draft.

If I learned anything from this experience, it is that the Patriots were able to build a dynasty because they did not miss on prospects taken in the first round and rarely missed on prospects in the second round.

The Patriots overall draft success was fairly mediocre, so it was their ability to pick up starters in the first two rounds that set them apart from the rest of the league. Hopefully Josh McDaniels can duplicate that kind of success in Denver.

Each year we will attempt improve our view of the McX draft strategy. This exercise is quite susceptible to error with only one McX draft in the books, but hopefully it is close to the reality that will come later this month.

Tomorrow I will examine Brian Xanders' draft experience and tendencies while he was with the Atlanta Falcons.