The draft is approaching, slowly but surely, and Senior Bowl events will kick off this week, roughly a month before the NFL's annual Scouting Combine held in Indianapolis.
The Broncos are in a pretty good position right now in terms of the draft and free agency (should a new CBA be agreed upon) with about $40 million dollars in estimated cap space and even more if you consider the potential cap casualties. Not only that, but they are armed with four picks in the top 67, and three in the first two rounds. Only the New England Patriots have more picks than the Broncos, and with a record 56 underclassmen declaring their names into the pool of players, this promises to be yet another solid group of athletes.
With the second overall pick in the draft, the Broncos cannot afford to miss. As you will see laid out below, the recent history of the second overall pick is pretty promising, though somewhat odd. After the jump, you will see my projected Broncos big board for the first two rounds of the draft. There are sure to be surprises, so strap up and get ready for the ride!First Round (Upper Tier)
1. Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU
6'1" 222 4.4
Simply put, Peterson is the best athlete in the entire draft, and I'm not so sure the Carolina Panthers aren't thinking about pulling the trigger on him with the first overall pick. If not for their complete lack of talent (save for Charles Johnson) on the defensive line, I would think he'd be almost a lock.
This is a guy who is as talented of a dual threat player as you will find. Not only is he a fantastic cover corner, but he has the ability to break the game open as a punt or kick returner. You might say that you don't want the second overall pick to be returning kicks, but at least in the beginning of his career, the Broncos can definitely use him in that regard.
Peterson is a freak athlete who has all of the skills to be a dominant cornerback at the next level. He has great straight line speed, recognition skills, he's a good tackler, but most important of all--he's confident that when he's on the field, he's the best player, almost to the point of cockiness. When Peterson was asked what other collegiate players he watched on film (as far as cornerbacks), he said, "I don't really watch any of them. They're probably all watching me."
This is a can't miss prospect in my opinion. There is no such thing as a sure thing, but at the top of the draft, I think Peterson is obviously less risky of a prospect in my mind than a guy like Da'Quan Bowers or Nick Fairley, though both will be considered for the Broncos' pick based on their great junior seasons.
Peterson is only 20 years old, and already has 30 starts at LSU under his belt. He's been one of the best prospects in the country since his junior year in high school, and was picked as ESPN the Magazine's NEXT great football player at any level.
2. Marcell Dareus, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle, Alabama
Dareus is the most consistently dominant tackle at the top end of the draft, and in my mind, he has the best chance at long-term success in the NFL. What Dareus has that many other prospects don't is a ton of experience in a 3-4 defensive scheme coming from Alabama, and he has already proven that he can not only be effective but he can be dominant in that kind of scheme.
That being said, I don't think that Dareus is going to be limited to one kind of scheme. Just because he never played in a 4-3 front doesn't mean he isn't capable, and I think he's the most complete tackle in the draft.
Dareus is a run-stuffing defensive lineman who had a fantastic sophomore campaign for the Crimson Tide statistically, and came back and had another solid but not spectacular campaign in 2010. This is a guy that is capable of disrupting the play in many different ways. The only slip-up for Dareus was a two-game suspension at the start of this season for accepting benefits that were not appropriate to the university.
If the Broncos take a defensive lineman, I am hoping it's Dareus. He has the potential to be the most complete defensive tackle in the draft, and he was born three days after me (21 years old), so he's got a lot of years ahead of him.
3. Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson
Bowers is a very interesting prospect. The Broncos do not really have a ton of talent in the pass rush department, and Bowers emerged in 2010 as one of the best in the NCAA in that regard. His 16 sacks in 2010 accompanied 24 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries.
Not only that, but Bowers' fantastic junior season was spread out pretty evenly throughout the season. Bowers showed throughout his collegiate career that he was terrific against the run, but he finally broke out of his shell as a pass rusher in 2010. He is considered a one year wonder, but really, it's only in terms of getting sacks on the stat sheet that he is.
Bowers was considered the best prospect coming out of high school in 2008, and he really didn't live up to that billing until this past year. He is a sure tackler who has long arms and exceptional athleticism and strength. He could be the most NFL-ready defensive lineman in the draft, but he's got some good competition.
In the past year or so, Bowers has lost two of the most influential people in his life to death. Former Chicago Bears defensive end Gaines Adams (a former top pick from Clemson) was a mentor to Bowers, and he sadly passed away from cardiac arrest. Bowers' father also passed away over the last year, and it seems as though ever since those two tragic events, he has really turned on his game.
Bowers could easily vault himself to the top pick in the draft with a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, and I wouldn't be shocked to see it happen. The Panthers need help all over their defensive line, not just at the tackle position. Bowers is only 21 years old.
4. Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
There might not have been a school in the country that had a better season overall than the Auburn Tigers in terms of individual success with quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best defensive player.
Fairley showed this season that he is a disruptive force when he wants to be, and finished the season with more than 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. He showed great burst off the line, and always seemed to finish what he started. He showed the world what he can do in the national championship game when he single-handedly shut down the Oregon Ducks.
Still, Fairley's dominance doesn't come with any shortage of red flags. Fairley didn't qualify initially for Auburn's football program due to academics, and spent a couple of years at the junior college level. He was dominant at the FBS level, and when he came to Auburn, it took him a year to adapt to the level that is the SEC. After a pretty average to below average first year with Auburn, Fairley burst on to the scene in 2010, setting numerous school records.
While Fairley has indeed been dominant, he is labelled as "dirty" and "lazy", and has been described as "country" strong instead of putting in the necessary work in the weight room, so it comes as no surprise that he has been carrying some extra weight as a result.
This guy does not strike me as a hard worker at all, and I'd think twice about drafting him second overall.
4a. Prince Amukamara, Cornerback, Nebraska
If not for Patrick Peterson, this guy would be the top prospect at the cornerback position, and for good reason. He's an absolute technician, and like Peterson, Amukamara has been doing this for a long, long time. Unlike Peterson though, Amukamara is a converted running back, and made a seamless transition to the defensive backfield.
This is a guy who has been a starter since his sophomore season in 2008, and who has not looked back since. His breakout season came when he was a junior, and while he had some mental lapses in 2010, he still showed that he can be a shut down cornerback at the next level.
Amukamara is physically imposing as well as very gifted mentally. He is very devoted to his faith and the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and his parents are from Nigeria. He was also selected to the Big 12 Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll in 2007 as a freshman. It's obvious that Amukamara is not only gifted on the field, but he's also very involved off of it as well.
On the field, we're talking about a guy who compares pretty favorably to one Champ Bailey. If Patrick Peterson is the new Charles Woodson, Amukamara is the new Champ Bailey, but really, both are the first of their own kind. Amukamara's excellent closing speed and toughness will allow him to succeed in either press man or zone coverage. He is also a strong tackler, and has great instincts. He is a very smart player, as I have mentioned, and while he can be over-aggressive, he also takes a lot of calculated risks, and doesn't give up a ton of big plays.
It's a testament to his talent that he went from having five interceptions in 2009 and none in 2010 with 13 passes defensed. Teams simply do not throw the ball his way. He is a sleeper for the number two overall selection.
Now, as you can see, I'm not extremely high on Nick Fairley. I think if the Broncos want him, they should look to move down and acquire more picks. With the second pick in the draft, he is not worth the risk to me, and I almost considered leaving him off the board completely, but I'm not so sure the Broncos will. You will also note that since 1998, the number two selection has only been traded one time, and that was when the Arizona Cardinals moved down one spot with the San Diego Chargers who selected Ryan Leaf. The Cardinals then drafted another colossal bust in Andre Wadsworth.
Since then, the number two overall picks have been:
1999: Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles
2000: Chris Samuels, OL, Redskins
2001: Leonard Davis, OL, Cardinals
2002: Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers
2003: Charles Rogers, WR, Lions
2004: Robert Gallery, OL, Raiders
2005: Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins
2006: Reggie Bush, RB, Saints
2007: Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
2008: Chris Long, DL, Rams
2009: Jason Smith, OL, Rams
2010: Ndamukong Suh, DL, Lions
As you can see, historically, the number two pick has traditionally come on the offensive side of the ball. Only three players in the last decade that have been selected second overall have been defensive players, which equals the number of offensive guards that have been selected in the same slot over that period of time.
If the Broncos stay put, and history indicates that they will, they will certainly add to the defensive side of the ball. Which player they select remains to be seen, but I am reasonably certain that it will be one of the five players suggested above. A lot will depend on the direction of the Carolina Panthers, who likely have a similar draft board only one that also includes A.J. Green, the wide receiver from Georgia as well as possibly a quarterback or two. The Panthers were dead set on taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick if he declared, so obviously they are not afraid to put Jimmy Clausen on the back burner.
When the Broncos move on to the second round, they should not--I repeat--they should NOT be looking to fill a position of immediate need FIRST, they should be looking for talent first, need second. That being said, this is a deep class of players at cornerback, defensive line, and running back at the top end. The Broncos should be looking for the scraps of what fall out of the first round, and I wouldn't be surprised if they consider a wide array of positions with the picks they have.
One of the keys will be what they can get for quarterback Kyle Orton. It could be nothing, or it could be a second round pick (or more), we just do not know. However, the Broncos are one of two teams with more than two picks in the first two rounds, and they have to take advantage. They are in a rare position in a very deep draft, so they should be prepared for any scenario.
My most recent full NFL mock draft had some interesting scenarios. The Broncos will obviously be making a full big board with every position and player that they have scouted, but for the purpose of keeping this list from putting you to sleep, I will not do a full on big board, rather a list of target players who the Broncos absolutely could not pass on if they were to fall to the second round, regardless of their position or character grade.
Second Round (36th overall)
1. Mark Ingram, Running Back, Alabama
We all know who Mark Ingram is. The 2009 Heisman Trophy recipient has been absolutely dominant in college football since that season, and despite the super-talented Trent Richardson knocking on the door for more playing time, Ingram was still able to put together an admirable season and lead Alabama to another bowl victory.
He has more rushing touchdowns (42) than any other back in Alabama history. He is a back that combines superb vision with quickness and power, and his frame (5'10" 215) is almost identical to that of Knowshon Moreno.
Why would the Broncos use their top second round choice on Ingram? Well, first of all, because he grades out as a mid-first round prospect, and in my most recent mock draft, he was left there in the second round without my knowledge of it. Simply put, running backs probably should not be taken in the first round. However, if you could get Mark Ingram in the second round at a low price (roughly $1-2 million per season), it would be a better alternative than signing a guy like DeAngelo Williams for maybe $5-7 million per season.
Second, the Broncos are moving to a system and philosophy offensively that is going to require two, three, or maybe even four good to solid running backs. With the addition of John Fox came the need for a running back, essentially. Knowshon Moreno has not exactly proven that he can stay healthy, and the guys behind him right now do not inspire confidence.
Running back has now been given a violent shove into the "need" category, whether we like it or not, and if we have a chance to get a guy like Mark Ingram in the second round, it might be too enticing to pass up.
2. Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame
Rudolph did not fall to the second round in my latest mock, but that doesn't mean he won't in the future. He is a supremely talented tight end prospect, but he really hurt himself this season with a leg injury. He was on pace for a fantastic junior year, and finished the first part of it with better numbers than many tight ends have in a season (probably blows Richard Quinn's college numbers out of the water).
He's a huge target, and would be Tim Tebow's new best friend. I am holding out hope that the Broncos are able to use some of their large cap space on a solid tight end in free agency (preferably Owen Daniels from Houston), but if Rudolph is there in the draft, he is a good, young option with tons of upside if he can stay healthy.
3. Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, Iowa
In my opinion, Clayborn is going to have a lot of explaining to do for missing the Senior Bowl. It seemed like a golden opportunity for him to show scouts that he still had the skills he displayed in 2009 when he had a Bowers or Fairley-like year.
However, more and more concerns are surrounding Clayborn every day, and in my mind, his value is plummeting. Can he stay in shape? Is his body NFL ready? Did he pull back in his senior year? Did he quit? Does he have substance abuse problems (namely marijuana)? Is he a character risk?
All of these questions surrounding Clayborn are troublesome at best. That does not mean that I would pass on him in the second round. Talk about having a chip on your shoulder. This is a guy who absolutely dominated any and everyone he faced in 2009, and is a guy who obviously has some talent. What he needs is to get his butt in the weight room, stay out of trouble, and show scouts what made him a projected top ten pick before the season is still there.
Like I said, the reasons he could have for not participating in the Senior Bowl are not good, necessarily, so that is a real bummer to me. But if he is still sitting there at pick 36 and I am Brian Xanders, I will think long and hard about pulling the trigger.
4. Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, Colorado
Smith is a player who combines fantastic size with great speed and ball skills. Only 11 passes have been completed on him over the last two seasons, which is a real testament to his ability. Unfortunately, he plays for a terrible team, and therefore, not many people know about him.
My guess is by the end of the Combine and other pro day workouts, Smith will be a lock for the first round, but if he is there with this pick in the second, it'd be hard to really go wrong by selecting him.
5. Corey Liuget, Defensive Tackle, Illinois
After the Combine, expect Liuget's value to skyrocket, likely into the top 15 picks. Should he stay under the radar, the Broncos would be extremely lucky to find him falling into their laps in the second round. He combines great power with quickness and intensity, and he's just a terror for teams to deal with. He's got good overall size and in a 4-3 scheme, he has the potential to be very disruptive. He's a sure tackler and is very hard to contain in one-on-one battles on the inside.
Honorable mention: Stephen Paea, DT; J.J. Watt, DL; Martez Wilson, ILB; Mikel LeShoure, RB
Second Round (46th overall)
1. Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive Tackle, Temple
Wilkerson might be as complete a tackle as will come from the draft, and right now, he's flying very far under the radar. As you can see, he's got great size and he is very athletic. Over the last two seasons, he has 131 tackles, 23.5 for loss, and 16.5 sacks. He was twice named first team All-MAC, and found himself being considered one of the top defensive linemen in the country by season's end.
At 46 overall, this is a guy who is not only my top target, but I wouldn't even hesitate to take him. I think he immediately upgrades our rotation on the interior defensive front, and I think he would be a fantastic addition to our team.
2. Marvin Austin, Defensive Tackle, North Carolina
Austin has a great build for a defensive tackle, and was considered one of the top prospects in the country before being dismissed from UNC for accepting gifts from an agent. In 2006, he was considered the top high school recruit at his position, and he had a solid career at North Carolina including a dominant junior season that saw him record career highs in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks.
While Austin never had the kind of year a guy like Fairley or Bowers had, he still has potential to be disruptive at the next level, but he should fall to the second round because he not only did not play football in 2009, but he obviously has some dark clouds surrounding him.
That is why I love that the Broncos kept a coach like Wayne Nunnely, who has worked with character guys before and gotten the best out of them (see Jamal Williams).
3. Drake Nevis, Defensive Tackle, LSU
Nevis might not be a huge defensive tackle, but he more than makes up for it with production and energy. Despite not starting in 2009, Nevis led the LSU defensive line with 48 tackles, 10 for loss, and four sacks. He was named a first team All-American by various media outlets in 2010 as well as first team All-SEC for his fantastic senior season. He finished the year with 56 tackles, 13 for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Simply put, this guy is a ball of energy, and he seems like the kind of player this organization would love to have. He's been discussed as a first round choice, but I think this is the point in the draft where he could eventually wind up, and I would not be disappointed in the least if the Broncos took him.
4. Rahim Moore, Safety, UCLA
I would love to see Rahim Moore check into the scouting combine at about 210 pounds. In fact, I think that should be a goal of his from now until late February is to add to his frame, because right now he's just got a really slim build. That does not mean that the man cannot play football, however. Moore started for the Bruins as a freshman, and had three picks. As a sophomore, he had an astounding ten INT's. As a junior...He only had one.
Still, one cannot deny the full body of work that Moore has put out there, and he is still worthy of a mid-second round selection. He obviously has superb ball skills and athleticism, but he reminds me so much of Darcel McBath that it's almost scary. I would love to see Moore add some weight and become a better tackler, but in terms of forcing turnovers, this guy could be "our guy".
5. Mason Foster, Linebacker, Washington
I might hold out a bit of hope that Foster would fall to the third round, but he will probably be under consideration for this pick here. Foster is absolutely a tackling machine, and it's really hard not to love watching this guy. He's a ball of energy, and could really provide a spark to whatever defense he winds up going to. For the Broncos, he would likely play on the outside, and would give us a solid starter should we press onward with the move to the 4-3. If we stick to a 3-4, he could definitely play on the inside next to DJ Williams or Joe Mays.
If the Broncos are able to swing a trade of Kyle Orton for a second round pick, say to the Minnesota Vikings, they would have a ton of assets in this draft and would likely get a lot of good players. In my full NFL mock draft, using this board, I had us taking the following players:
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
2. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
3. Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple
4. Marvin Austin, DL, North Carolina
5. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia
We must realize that the Broncos are not going to want to nor are they hopefully going to need to satisfy all of their needs in this one draft, so taking the best player available with their first two picks is not a bad option at all. I'm not necessarily campaigning for these players, though there are some I like more than others, but I really think the Broncos are in a great position here. They have some talent on the roster right now, and with a lot of cap space and a good arsenal of draft picks, they could be primed to make a quick comeback.