DRAFT PREVIEW – DENVER BRONCOS

Here’s a look at the Broncos heading into the 2011 NFL Draft. Denver has the 2nd pick in the first round.

REVIEW OF 2010

Record – 4-12, the Broncos worst record since the 1971 season when they went 4-9-1.

Finish – they were in fourth place in the AFC West, six games behind the division winning Chiefs and four games out of third place where Oakland went 8-8. The last time Denver finished last in the division was 1999 when they were 6-10.

OVERVIEW

For nearly two decades the Broncos were the class of the AFC West. They are the only franchise within the division to win a Super Bowl, grabbing back-to-back championships at the end of the 1997-98 seasons. Most of that was with Mike Shanahan in charge of the football operations. In Shanny’s final season (2008), Denver was 8-8.

Josh McDaniels was the new man in charge and he proved that he wasn’t ready for the chore. After going 8-8, the Broncos bottomed out last season like they’ve not done in 30 years. McDaniels got the boot and Denver has put together a duo to bring the franchise back to prosperity – Hall of Fame QB John Elway (right)  and former Carolina head coach John Fox.

They take over a team that struggled in all areas last year, but especially on defense. The Orange was crushed and finished dead last in the league in yards allowed to opposing offense. That came in the 3-4 defense, something that Fox is scrapping and going back to the 4-3. Denver was able to throw the ball some, but the once reliable running game of the Shanahan Era finished No. 26 in the league in yards gained. They must get better in the draft, where they’ve struggled for a number of seasons, even with Shanahan making the decisions.

PARTICULARS

Offense – averaged 349 yards per game (No. 13 in the league) and scored 38 touchdowns. RB Knowshon Moreno led the team in rushing, but had just 779 yards on 182 carries. No other back cracked 230 yards. Blue Springs native WR Brandon Lloyd had a career season, with 1,448 yards on 77 catches and 11 TDs. WR Jabar Gaffney (65 catches for 875 yards) and Eddie Royal (627 yards on 59 catches) give the Broncos depth at wide receiver. QB is a position that’s up in the air for Denver, as Kyle Orton was the best player for the position last year, with 20 TDs against 9 INTs, throwing for 3,653 yards and an 87.5 passer rating. Tim Tebow is in the mix there as well, throwing 5 TDs vs. 3 INTs, with an 82.1 passer rating.

Defense – struggled all season, giving up 390.8 yards per game, ranking No. 32 and last in the league and they allowed 52 touchdowns, more than any other defense in the league. The Broncos had only 10 interceptions on the season and forced 8 turnovers. They had just 23 sacks, topped by 5.5 from LB D.J. Williams. With two interceptions each were S Renaldo Hill, CB Champ Bailey and rookie CB Syd’Quan Thompson.

Special teams – K Matt Prater ended the season on the IR list but was solid through the season, missing just two of 18 FG attempts. Also solid was P Britton Colquitt, who averaged 44.6 yards per punt and the team had a 36.6-yard net average. The team has a host of return options, the best being WR Eddie Royal who averaged 11.9 yards per return. They also have Eric Decker, Perrish Cox, Cassius Vaughn and Demaryius Thomas who can all break for a big one.

DECISION MAKERS

Owner – Pat Bowlen leads the ownership group that is largely made up of members of his immediate family. Rumors persist that Bowlen is suffering from some sort of memory problem and he does not appear to be as active as he once was on club matters.

Executive vice-president/football operations – John Elway returned to the Broncos on a full-time basis on January 5, when Bowlen made room for him in the executive offices. Elway played 16 years for the Broncos, leading them to a pair of Super Bowl titles. He retired after the 1999 season. He will be 51 in June.

General Manager – Brian Xanders is heading into his third year as the Broncos GM. He joined the franchise after spending 14 seasons working for the Atlanta Falcons. He is 40 years old.

Director of College Scouting – Matt Russell has been with Denver for two seasons after spending the previous seven years with the Eagles and Patriots. He is 37 years old.

Head coach – John Fox was hired on January 13 as the 14th head coach in franchise history. He comes over from Carolina, where he spent nine years as head coach of the Panthers. His record there was 78-74, with an appearance in the Super Bowl after the 2003 season.

Who has the draft room juice? – Elway. When his hiring was announced the team reported that he would “hold final say on all football matters” and that he reports directly to Bowlen.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive tackle – McDaniels moved the Broncos to a 3-4 defense, but Fox is moving them back to a 4-3 scheme and they do not have the big bodies inside to make it work in any fashion. Last year’s nose tackle Jamal Williams was released in early March. His backup Ronald Fields is a free agent and not expected to return. Also released was DE Justin Bannan. The only DL with significant playing time that was kept on the roster was Keith Vickerson, who was signed before the lockout.

2. Defensive end – If they are going to remake the Denver defense, they need to provide a DT with some help on his outside shoulder. They will get DE Elvis Dumervil back from the injured-reserve list where he spent the ’10 season with a pectoral muscle injury. Fox has already said that ’09 first-round choice Robert Ayers will handle the strong-side DE – he’s been a disappointment in his two seasons of play. In the last five drafts, the Broncos have drafted 4 defensive ends and 2 defensive tackles and hit only on Dumervil, and the jury remains out of Ayers.

3. Middle linebacker – The last time the Broncos drafted a LB with a quality pick (rounds 1-3) was 2004, when they used a first-round choice on D.J. Williams. Eight years later, Williams remains the best LB that Denver has and he’s probably best suited to play outside in the 4-3. That would leave journeymen Mario Haggan in the middle. To improve his defense and give his offense any chance to get on the field, Fox has to strengthen the guts of his defense.

FIVE-YEAR DRAFT HISTORY

In his last five drafts with the Broncos, Shanahan struck out more often than he hit home runs. First round picks in 2001 (Willie Middlebrooks), 2002 (Ashley Lelie), 2003 (George Foster) and 2007 (Jarvis Moss) were not major contributors. He was able to get players like Clinton Portis (2nd-’02), Dumervil and WR Brandon Marshall (both 4th-’06.)

When McDaniels came in and took over the draft for two years, he left much to be desired given his trading away of QB Jay Cutler, Marshall, TE Tony Scheffler and then using a draft choice to grab CB Alphonso Smith, who they traded away a year later.

2006 – This draft was Shanahan at his best, as he surprised everyone and traded up in the first round to draft Cutler in the first round, then added Scheffler, Marshall and Dumervil, along with G Chris Kuper who is a starter at RG.

2007 – As good as the ’06 draft was is how bad the ’07 class turned out. Moss, Tim Browder, Ryan Harris and Marcus Thomas were drafted. Only Harris is starting (RT) and may be the only player left in the ’11 season.

2008 – First-round pick Ryan Clady and Royal are good picks, as was seventh-round RB Peyton Hillis. It was McDaniels who got rid of Hillis. The other six picks didn’t produce much.

2009 – With McDaniels in charge, they drafted Moreno, Ayers and Smith in the first three picks. None of the three has been sensational, and Smith is already gone. Nobody else among the seven players drafted has made a place for himself with the Broncos offense or defense.

2010 – Too early to provide much of a grade, although they got starters along the offensive line in LG Zane Beadles and C J.D. Walton. Everything on this draft will hinge on development of Tebow.

PREDICTION

Right now I think John Fox is praying that his old employer in Carolina decides to go for QB Cam Newton with the first pick. If that happens, then Fox will get Alabama DT Marcell Dareus and he will be a happy man. If the Panthers go for Dareus, then there are a lot of possibilities for the Broncos but I think it would come down to one of three defensive players – CB Patrick Peterson, LB Von Miller or DT Nick Fairley.

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