Big Draft day for McDaniels
Vail, CO Colorado
Saturday will dawn as one of the most important days of Josh McDaniels’ life.
Since taking the reins of the Denver Broncos from two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan on Jan. 11, McDaniels has dismantled virtually the entire coaching staff, cut 15 players, acquired 16, and driven a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback out of town.
That’s quite a rollercoaster ride for a 32-year-old head coach who has held his position for just three-and-a-half months. While I would agree with Pat Bowlen’s decision to fire Shanahan and the compensation the Broncos received for the traded Jay Cutler was better than Denver could have hoped for, that does not lessen the pressure that has been steadily mounting on McDaniels’ shoulders.
With thousands of Broncos fans already calling for Shanahan’s return, the young offensive guru must put a successful stamp on his first NFL Draft as a head coach if he wants to gain any favor from the demanding fans of Colorado.
Lucky for him, he’s got the ammunition to do just that.
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First Round:12th overall selection
There has been plenty of buzz regarding the possibilities of Denver packaging its two first-round picks to move into the top 10 and select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, the consensus second-best quarterback in the draft. Not only is such a deal to be unlikely, but I would expect Denver to pass on Sanchez even if he somehow fell to No. 12.
Like many of the historic first-round busts at quarterback, Sanchez did not start more than a full season in college, and both Kyle Orton and Chris Simms could be serviceable starters for multiple seasons. Fortunately, with McDaniels’ past success in developing late-round gems, I expect his self-assured ego will prevail and keep the Broncos from gambling early on a quarterback.
Instead, look for McDaniels to address the defense with four, if not all five of his first day selections. The ideal situation for Denver here would be for Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji to slip all the way to No. 12.
Raji, rated on many boards as a top-five talent thanks to his massive frame and astonishing agility, was falsely rumored to have failed a drug test and has seen his stock dip slightly over the past few weeks. As the only elite defensive tackle in the draft however, there will be many suitors for his services on Draft Day, including Cleveland at No. 5, Jacksonville at No. 8, Green Bay at No. 9, and San Francisco at No. 10.
With the importance of the nose tackle position in Denver’s new 3-4 defense, I wouldn’t rule the Broncos out of trading up to the six or seven spot to snag Raji, but they would be ecstatic to see him fall to No. 12.
In the very likely situation that Raji is gone at 12, Denver’s next priority should be LSU end Tyson Jackson. Jackson’s tremendous size and athleticism at the end position would make him a perfect fit in the 3-4 defense. While this might be a bit of a reach considering other talent that will likely still be on the board, Jackson is the only elite end suited to the 3-4 in this draft, so Denver would be wise to add him to their roster.
First Round:18th overall selection
With their second pick in the first round, acquired from Chicago in the Jay Cutler megadeal, the Broncos should again address the defense.
If they somehow manage to select Raji with their first pick, Denver will look to get Jackson here and establish a powerful front for Denver’s future. Unfortunately for Denver, San Diego, who also finds itself in need of a 3-4 end, holds the 16th overall selection. The Chargers are believed to be very high on Jackson’s potential to play in their system, and will likely select him if the Broncos don’t take him at twelve.
For this reason, it is quite unlikely the Broncos will be able to acquire both of their top two targets, but they should manage to get one.
Whether they select either Raji or Jackson with their first pick, Florida State’s DE/LB Everette Brown would be a good option at No. 18. While Denver’s top choices among pass rushers, Brian Orakpo of Texas and Aaron Maybin of Penn State, should be long gone at this point, Brown would fit McDaniels’ new 3-4 very well and could develop into a Shawne Merriman type of player.
Another option to consider would be USC’s Rey Maualuga, an energetic leader who is considered the top inside linebacker prospect in the draft. This pick would make sense, as it would fill a hole in the front seven at a position that is very thin on Day 1, while pass rushers will be more than abundant throughout the early rounds as well as later in the draft.
It is rumored that Denver could look at Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells or Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno here, but with three newly-acquired running backs in free agency and three more solid backs returning from last season, McDaniels wouldn’t dare spend a first rounder on an already crowded position.
Second Round: 48th overall selection
In the event that Denver fails to come away with Raji in Round 1, this selection should be a no-brainer. Raji’s former teammate at Boston College, 330 pound Ron Brace, is the only other Day 1 prospect who is projected to play the 3-4 nose tackle in the NFL.
For this reason, if Denver feels a team such as New England, San Francisco, or Green Bay is going to select Brace, the Broncos may use one of their additional picks to move up and insure they get a true nose tackle. Again, with the extensive array of pass rushers in this draft, Denver could grab one here, especially if the rising Larry English of Northern Illinois or one-year-wonder Connor Barwin of Cincinnati falls to No. 48.
An interesting pick if English and Barwin are gone would be Georgia Tech’s Michael Johnson, an absolute physical beast with almost unlimited potential. Unfortunately, despite his incredible size and speed, Johnson is known for playing soft, which is why he’ll likely be available when the Broncos are on the clock in Round 2.
Third Round: 79th and 84th overall selections
Assuming they have filled the need at nose tackle, at least one of these two selections should be used on a hybrid DE/OLB. Expect Denver to try to stockpile as many pass rushers as it can to help smooth the transition to the 3-4. Hawaii’s David Veikune could fit well here, or Denver could look to make Texas Tech’s Brandon Williams, a defensive end in college, into an oversized linebacker.
Other options for developing a pass rusher would include Connecticut’s Cody Brown or, if he falls, Virginia’s Clint Sintim.
Denver’s other third-round pick could certainly be used on defense, such as on South Carolina’s Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley, an inside linebacker who has effective pass rushing skills, would be a slight reach on Day, 1 but could fit very well in the 3-4 defense with his athleticism and versatility. However, Denver could easily look elsewhere with its other third round pick, such as at wide receiver. With the uncertainty about whether or not Brandon Marshall will be suspended, the Broncos would be wise to add some young talent. Possibilities at No. 79 or 84 could include Florida’s Louis Murphy or Oklahoma’s Juaquin Iglesias, or Georgia’s Mohamed Massaquoi if he falls.
Davey DeChant, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, is headed to Northwestern next fall to study journalism. In the meantime, he will be watching this weekend’s NFL Draft, plotting to take over for ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.