Never question The Mastermind
When the Denver Broncos went on the clock last Saturday with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, it was obvious they were going to pick Oregon State running back Steven Jackson.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knew it. Denver Post Broncos beat writer Adam Schefter knew it. Hell, I knew it.
The Broncos had moved up from No. 24 to No. 17 by trading former first round pick Deltha O’Neal to Cincy. All of their big offseason moves had been to strengthen a defense – namely a shaky secondary – that gave up 41 points to Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs last December.
And, even though 11-year veteran running back Garrison Hearst had been acquired from the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent following the blockbuster Clinton Portis-Champ Bailey trade to complement Quentin Griffen, it was obvious that the Broncos were still looking running back or wide receiver with their top pick.
It was so obvious in fact, that Schefter wrote in last Saturday’s Post pre-draft analysis that if Jackson was still on the board at 17, there was absolutely, positively no way Mike Shanahan and the Broncos’ brass could pass him up.
“Just look at it,” said Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe to Schefter in The Post. “Mike Shanahan had his opportunity in the free-agent market to address the defensive side of the football. Now, knowing Mike the way I know him, he’s going to address the offensive side of the football in the draft.”
Yep, it seemed that everyone knew what Shanahan was thinking, especially those like Sharpe who know him best.
Jackson himself was probably perched by the phone, waiting for the assured call and daydreaming about future All-Pro seasons running behind the league’s best offensive line.
“Who cares about slipping all the way to 17,” he probably thought. “I’m going to be the next Clinton Portis.”
Then, Paul Tagliabue stepped to the mic and said what everyone – including my mom – had already foreseen.
“With the 17th pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select D.J. Williams, linebacker from the University of Miami.”
See, they don’t call Mike Shanahan The Mastermind for nothing.
Master, because he is the master of all that he oversees in Denver Broncoland.
Mind, because he won two Super Bowls with a sixth-round running back, a non-drafted receiver, another receiver who was a no-name before he came to Denver and an offensive line that averaged 298 pounds.
Five years removed from two Super Bowl wins, the Broncos may no longer be considered one of the NFL’s elite teams – if there is such a thing in the cap-strapped, parity ridden league – but there’s still no doubting Shanahan’s genius when it comes to personnel.
Or, at least his genius in befuddling scouts, draftniks, fantasy football geeks and SportsCenter junkies when it comes to personnel.
Was Steven Jackson the best choice for the Broncos this year? If you’re Kiper, yes. But, then again it’s draft dorks like Kiper who told you that Ryan Leaf would be the next Dan Marino.
The Broncos have never taken a running back in the first round under Shanahan, and they weren’t going to start this year.
There was also no denying the team could use a linebacker. Strong side backer John Mobley is facing jail time for two DUI charges and weakside backer Ian Gold is now in Tampa.
So, the Broncos took their highest ranked linebacker in the draft in Williams, picked up little-known Oklahoma State running back Tatum Bell with their second pick, and then nabbed Marshall receiver Darius Watts 13 picks later.
They got their running back and receiver, just like everybody thought they would, but then again not the way everybody thought they would.
Hopefully it will work. Aside from a bad first pick in Tennessee receiver Marcus Nash in 1998, Shanahan has shown a proclivity for first-round success.
Mobley has been a stalwart ever since arriving from little Kutztown as a first round pick in 1996 – one that was highly questioned – and middle linebacker Al Wilson, who was knocked for his height, has proven his worth in gold after being taken with the first pick in ’99.
O’Neal also went to one Pro Bowl before he found his way into Shanahan’s doghouse and earned himself a trip out of town.
Wideout Ashley Lelie (’02) and tackle George Foster (’03) look to be good first round picks as well, even though Foster didn’t play last year and Lelie was inconsistent at points.
Foster will most likely take over for Ephraim Salaam at left tackle and be responsible for protecting Jake Plummer’s blindside, while Lelie will hopefully make Broncos’ fans forget about the loss of Ed McCaffrey.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t healthily question The Mastermind’s moves, especially if Clinton Portis goes on to win a Super Bowl in Washington.
At least for now, though, it’s safe to assume the Mastermind knows best.
There’s a reason why he’s the one of the most coveted coaches in the NFL, and why Mel Kiper Jr. is a glorified fantasy football geek.
And, trust me, it’s not the hair.
Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608 or via e-mail at npetersonvaildaily.com