Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Broncos Coverage Soon!

I have several deadlines converging on me all at once right now. As a result, I've not given Rocky Mountain Fever the attention it deserves. I've got plenty to say and plan to get caught up later this week. Be sure to check back soon or subscribe to the RSS feed if you haven't already.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Meet the Revamped Broncos O-Line

LT: Ryan Clady
LG: Chris Kuper
C: Kory Lichtensteiger
RG: Montrae Holland
RT: Ryan Harris

Backup: Isaac Snell, G; Erik Pears, T

There's a lot to be excited about from this group. I'm looking forward to watching this unit develop. 2009 could be a big year in the mile high city!

Draft Analysis: Day 2

#108: Kory Lichtensteiger, C: What's with all these lineman from mid-majors? Lichtensteiger probably lasts until our next pick and maybe even until round 5; however, Denver clearly coveted Kory enough to draft him a little early. Some may say this is a reach, but I am enormously happy with this selection. There's a lot to like this kid. Lichtensteiger is an incredibly likable guy with a blue-collar work ethic. He is a ferocious competitor on the field. He's among the more polished centers available in this years draft with respect to technique. He also possesses fantastic lower-body strength and is an enormously effective drive blocker in the running game.

The knock on Lichtensteiger is his poor track record defending 3-technique tackles in pass protection. This is likely the reason he made the switch from guard to center at Bowling Green. He also is a little light to play center in the NFL; however, at 298 lbs, he's already bigger than Nalen. Denver likes lineman who lack prototypical size and Lichtensteiger should therefore fit right in. There is a lot of silly discussion about Lichtensteiger's durability. He played an entire season with a torn labrum and waited until the off season to have corrective surgery. Does that sound like a guy who's not durable?

I'm a little concerned that Denver hasn't addressed the defensive tackle or middle linebacker positions as of yet. Otherwise, great pick. Grade: A

#119: Jack Williams, CB: Williams is the second MAC player Denver has drafted in a row. Frankly I'm shocked by this pick as I think Denver has a shot to fill some big needs with a player like Beau Bell or Letroy Guion, both of whom are still on the board. Williams is only 5'9" tall but has adequate bulk (185 lbs). He has excellent zone coverage skills and is a fantastic tackler. He forced six fumbles last season for Kent State to match his 10 interceptions. Williams is a hard hitting player with fantastic speed and quickness. He's also an experienced kick and punt returner.

The knock on Williams is that his size is a red zone liability. He'll have trouble matching up against bigger receivers. He's rough around the edges technically and will struggle in man-to-man and underneath coverage. He's played with some nagging injuries and missed a game or two as a result. Durability is therefore a concern but shouldn't be an overriding factor in my opinion.

With Paymah failing to reach his potential and Foxworth likely on his way out of town, Williams is a need in this year's or next year's draft. He's a physical kid who'll be a good option in nickel packages. There's also a good chance that Denver converts Williams to free safety. He's got the range to cover a lot of ground, reads the quarterback well, and delivers punishing hits. It'll be interesting to see where he fits. I'm a little surprised by this selection given our glaring needs, but overall think Williams is a solid prospect as a nickel back or free safety. Grade: B

#139: Ryan Torain, RB: Torain's pick is undoubtedly an attempt to remedy Denver's paltry power success percentage and red zone touchdown percentage from last season. Realistically, Torain is probably a fullback or short-yardage back type rather than an every-down starter. He's a north-south type runner with the strength to move the pile. He doesn't have great elusiveness or breakaway speed, so don't expect to see him much outside of the red zone. While RB's with Torain's size are few and far between in this year's draft, there are a handful of guys I like better with this pick including Cory Boyd and Jalen Parmele. But hey, the Broncos are supposed to be the best in the business at this late-round runningback thing, right? Grade: C-

#148: Carlton Powell, DT: Given that Guion, Hayden, Rubin, and Okam are all on the board, this pick astonishes me. Powell is an undersized 2-gap defender without the speed to consistently pressure the quarterback. His lateral mobility is poor and he's a terrible tackler. Defensive tackle was Denver's biggest need heading into today's draft. With the plethora of talent still available at this pick, the Broncos could have made a big splash in the 5th round. I'm terribly disappointed in this pick. Grade: D-

#183: Spencer Larsen, ILB: We may never know whether or not Nick Hayden would've adorned a Broncos jersey had he survived two more picks. Rather than add desperately needed depth to the defensive line interior, Denver went with another need at inside linebacker. Larsen, who turns 24 this year, has the size to play the position but in almost every other way he's a project. Still, Larsen gives Denver a project ILB for a low price. He should contribute on special teams immediately. This isn't the splash at a needed position that Beau Bell or Jonathan Goff would have made, but its definitely a guy who'll have a shot to make the roster. Grade: C

#219: Joshua Barrett, S: Barrett is an absolute steal at this pick. He is a high-character player who was the leader of the Sun Devils defense in 2007. He's everything you want in a safety: great ball skills, world class speed, great size, great blitzing ability, etc. Barrett likely slipped because he red shirted his freshman year with an injury and played through a pectoral injury in 2007. At the end of last year, he missed two games with a knee sprain. Heading into the draft, Barrett projected as high as a 3rd-round pick. Denver is fortunate to grab a great player so late in the game. Grade: A+

#226: Peyton Hillis, FB: Hillis is a big kid with a lot of promise. He has the power to move the pile, great hands, and pretty good speed (4.66 40-time) for a guy his size. After playing in a tough conference, he's a proven talent. What's more, Hillis is an exceptional pass blocker. The knock on Hillis is that he's not a prototypical lead-blocking fullback. He struggles as a lead blocker in the running game. These aren't big concerns for Denver, however, because the Broncos run more of a one-back offense. Last season fullbacks were primarily used in split back formations to max protect Jay Cutler in the shotgun (a strange formation) and in the red zone. My guess is that Hillis adds an additional short-yardage back with the potential to develop into a long-term solution at fullback. Hillis also has the straight-line speed to be effective on special teams. Great pick. Grade: A

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Royal Shock

Let me preface this by saying that I am ecstatic about Denver's 12th overall pick. I have been an opponent of the "Denver must draft an offensive lineman in the first round" theory from day one. This is primarily because I don't want Denver to go the route of Jacksonville or Baltimore and reach for a player at a needed position. Clady is so athletic and such a distinctive fit for our system that this pick almost seems predestined. Broncos fans should be excited about Clady's potential and regardless of his Wonderlic score and his strange personality get behind him as the future at left tackle.

Eddie Royal at #42, however, was a total shock and largely disappointing. There is a lot about this kid to find intriguing. He's small, but bulky. He's got world class speed. He's a tough kid that's not afraid to run across the middle of the field. He's a good blocker--something Shanahan undoubtedly liked. He fills an immediate need on special teams in the return game. He has the speed to stretch the field and the hands to make the big catch. He's seemingly everything that Denver needs in a receiver to overcome the inadequacies of last year's 7-9 team.

So what's not to like? Well, you've come to the right place. I've grown up in a Hokie family my whole life and don't miss too many Hokie's games. Consequently, I've seen the veritable library of Eddie Royal footage. I know precisely what Denver's getting. Here are my two big concerns:

  • Durability. I know this has been parroted in the media and I'm not at all concerned about his toe injury or his concussion. Its these two words that terrify me: compartment syndrome. This is a vascular condition that causes your ankles to swell abnormally when your heart rate increases. Its very painful and often chronic. Correcting this condition is extremely difficult and complete correction is virtually impossible. This is based on an explanation offered by a close friend who was discharged from the military because of the same condition. I sure hope Denver has done their homework on this one.

  • Beamer Ball. VA Tech is the best in the business at special teams execution. They consistently have an explosive kick return game and punt blocking unit. Some of you may remember DeAngelo Hall was among the nations best kick returners for the Hokies before he entered the league. Understand, a lot of this has to do with the scheme and the coach. Royal has some good experience in a return specialist role, but being a serviceable kick returner for the Hokies doesn't insinuate that you're the next Devin Hester.

  • Playing Speed. Eddie Royal showed us world class speed at the combine. If you watch him on film, however, he doesn't play as fast as that time would indicate. In fact, Eddie Royal is not a very 'quick' player on the field. Royal's straight-line speed is every bit as fast as his 4.39 40-time indicates, but he doesn't play with elite quickness when making plays.

For all these reasons, I am little weary about this pick. I sure hope Royal proves me wrong! For #42 value, I think I'd be more comfortable with Dexter or DeSean Jackson. Both players are probably purely kick return specialists, but at least you are getting a distinctive talent in a needed role. With Royal, I think Denver was trying to get a first round talent, when really there was a reason many thought he'd still be waiting to hear his number called on Sunday.

I'll be back with more draft coverage tomorrow.

2008 NFL Draft First Round

I'll be giving my thoughts on the first round as each pick develops. Be sure to check back as I'll keep updating this blog throughout the day!

#1: Jake Long, Miami: Jake Long is an interesting talent, although I don't like him as much as many of the top offensive line prospects in recent years. I'm surprised that Jake went to Miami given that they've spent a first rounder on left tackle Vernon Carney in 2004. Given that Parcell's likes to run a 3-4, I thought Gholston would be Miami's pick in a trade or Glenn Dorsey if they wanted to stay put.

#2: Chris Long, St. Louis: I was disappointed that New Orleans wasn't able to make a deal here. Getting New Orleans the top defensive tackle would have greatly increased Denver's odds of winning the Sedrick Ellis sweepstakes. St. Louis is already pretty stout along the defensive front, but I think they chose wisely here as Howie Long's son is quite possibly the best defensive end talent we've seen in years. He's got Hall of Fame potential and is easily the surest thing in this year's draft.

#3: Matt Ryan, Atlanta: I hate this pick. I don't think Matt Ryan is even the best quarterback available in this year's draft. Passing on Dorsey at this pick is a testament to the ineptitude of Falcons management. In the off season they hired an understudy to Green Bay's Ted Thompson. I don't think he's off to a good start. The Michael Vick Era has officially ended in Atlanta.

#4: Darren McFadden, Oakland: This is a typical Al Davis move. Despite having a very capable player in Justin Fargas and a budding star in Michael Bush, Davis grabbed the top skill position player at an area where no help is needed. There were plenty of other attractive options here including a trade with New Orleans. Davis will have close to $70 million guaranteed after he completes this move. He better hope he's done adding talent for a while.

#5: Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City: Great. We hadn't even finished celebrating the Jared Allen trade and now this happens. This is a tragedy for Denver. Having to line up opposite this titan for the next eight years is not very appealing. Not only does it hurt to see this freakish athlete in our division, but this officially knocks New Orleans out of the Glenn Dorsey sweepstakes. There is virtually no chance that we'll be receiving Sedrick Ellis. The probability that Denver grabs Brandon Albert at #12 just increased dramatically.

#6: Vernon Gholston, New York Jets: This is not a surprising pick. The Jets 3-4 has been atrocious since Mangini made the switch. The gutted the middle of their defense by shipping Dwayne Robertson and Jonathan Vilma out of town in the off season. After adding Kris Jenkins to line up next to Sean Ellis, Gholston should get plenty of opportunity as a hybrid end rusher/linebacker. Great pick by the Jets. Its hard to ignore the New England Patriots storyline here as well when one reflects on their off season loss of Roosevelt Colvin. My guess is that Keith Rivers is next assuming New England doesn't move down.

#7: Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans (via New England): And so Denver lost the Sedrick Ellis sweepstakes. No big surprise here. The Saints were determined to add an interior pass rusher in this year's draft and they've landed a great talent in Ellis. The terms of the trade are unclear to me so its hard for me to comment on the intelligence of this deal. If the price was high, this move may have been ill advised given the New Orleans has a need for Rivers, McKelvin, and Ellis--one of which would most certainly have been available at #10. The compensation was the swap of New Orleans early 3rd rounder for New England's late 5th rounder; that's pretty expensive to move up 3 slots...

#8: Derrick Harvey, Jacksonville (via Baltimore): After shelling out a ton of cash for speed rusher Reggie Hayward, it is clear that Jacksonville needed a player like Harvey. Hayward has lost 2 tenths of a second on his 40-time and is now a mediocre talent headed for the sidelines. In Harvey, Jacksonville got one of the most unheralded pass rushers in the draft. This was a dark horse candidate at #12 by Denver in my opinion. Very good pick. With Harvey off the board I'm guessing that Buffalo is now aggressively trying to move down. If they can't, McKelvin should be there guy assuming New England doesn't take him at #10. UPDATE: Jacksonville parted with a pair of 3rd rounders and a 4th rounder to make this deal. This is an enormously expensive, arguably short-sighted move by a team who seemingly has a sense of urgency to win in 2008 at all costs.

#9: Keith Rivers, Cincinnati: I've long maintained that Rivers is easily one of the top 10 overall players in this year's draft. He's a great consolation prize for Cincinnati who was reportedly hoping to land Sedrick Ellis. Cincinnati needs an upgrade at most positions, so I think they settled for the best player available. Great pick.

NOTE: It is now mathematically impossible for Denver to not have at least one of Brandon Albert, Ryan Clady, or Rashard Mendenhall. There is likely at least one team trying to swap picks with New England or Buffalo to move ahead of Denver to take the top tackle or running back on the board.

#10: Jerod Mayo, New England: Many will say this pick is a reach. I'm not sure I agree. This year's linebacker class isn't very deep and Mayo is among the best available. He projects as an impact-level WLB and many believe he can play ILB in the NFL. New England's youngest starting linebacker is Adalius Thomas at 31 years old. This is a desperate need for them in the draft. This year's cornerback class is extremely deep. The 3rd round pick they received from New Orleans will enable them to get a player like Brandon Flowers or Antoine Caison to fill this need. As much as I hate the Patriots, I think they made a good move here.

NOTE: There is no question in my mind that Denver is trying to move down right now. If they covet a tackle, they can swap with Detroit and still have a 100% chance of getting either Albert, Mendenhall, Stewart, or Clady. Expect Denver to move down for an extra first day pick.

#11: Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo: My complaint about this pick is that McKelvin doesn't give them a player with the size to play the Nickel. Make no mistake, Jabari Greer is a starting quality CB in the NFL. While McKelvin fills out a thin unit, he doesn't add great chemistry like a Mike Kelly would have. Also, McKelvin is among the better return men in the draft. The Bills already have among the best in the business in McGee. That doesn't make this a bad pick, but I think Buffalo could have secured a lot more value by moving down.

#12: Ryan Clady, Denver: I predicted earlier that Denver would take Clady at #12 if he was somehow still on the board. In Clady, they've got an fantastic athlete who is ready to step in to a zone blocking scheme that normally takes at least a year to learn. I would have liked to see Denver make a trade with Detroit here, but this is overall a solid pick.

#13: Jonathan Stewart, Carolina: With Derrick Harvey off the board I think that Carolina felt a little handcuffed with this pick. They have spent a number of high picks on running backs in recent years with lackluster results. If Carolina doesn't beef up their run blocking Stewart's talent is wasted. I'm a little surprised that an offensive lineman didn't get the nod here.

NOTE: With all these offensive line prospects slipping, what are the odds that Cherilus is available at #42? Cherilus and Clady would be a home run! Imagine:

Clady, LT
Cherilus, LG
?, C
Kuper, RG
Harris, RT

#14: Chris Williams, Chicago: Todd McShay quote: "Chicago doesn't really need a runningback." Oh really, Todd? Did you see Cedric Benson last year? Apparently not. Apparently Chicago didn't either! In my opinion, this is a big reach. Not only were there far better players available at this pick, there were far better offensive line talents available. I don't get it. There's about a 99.9% chance that Matt Millen takes yet another skill position player here.

I have a sixth sense that Detroit is about to make an embarrassing pick.

#15: Brandon Albert, Kansas City: Kansas City hit a home run here. Albert has the versatility to play guard or tackle. Many people thought he'd be gone in the top 10. Kansas City seems to be using the damage-control compensation they received for Brandon Albert wisely.

#16: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona: Arizona is desperate for talent at defensive back. If Cromartie is anything like his cousin in San Diego, he figures to be a great solution. Additionally, Rodgers-Cromartie gives Arizona an option in the return game they've not had since Josh Scobey left town in 2004. I'm a little surprised to see Mendenhall last this long. I'm guessing Detroit takes them next.

#17: Gosder Cherilus, Detroit: Detroit landed themselves a fantastic player here albeit not one at a coveted position. Still, this makes a lot of sense as he can immediately fill in at guard in the zone blocking scheme (adopted in 2008). He's ultimately a right tackle prospect which makes a lot of sense for Detroit who is already set on the left side with Jeff Backus. This guy was marginally a 1st rounder and this is easily the biggest reach of the draft so far. Classic Matt Millen.

#18: Joe Flacco, Baltimore: This doesn't really impact Denver much because Baltimore picked ahead of Denver in round 2 anyway. We knew they'd add a quarterback at some point today. Flacco at this pick is clearly a need-based pick and he isn't anywhere near the 18th best player in the draft. Still, there's no shortage of pro bowlers who've projected as 2nd rounders, so maybe Baltimore knows something that we don't.

#19: Jeff Otah, Carolina (via Philadelphia): This is a huge positional need and a redeeming pick after taking Stewart at #13. I'm not sure what the compensation is for this pick, but they are addressing a huge need with this selection.

#20: Aqib Talib , Tampa Bay: I'm a little surprised that Mike Kelly didn't come off the board here. Talib arguably is a little better fit because he immediately upgrades the kick return game after Tampa Bay used a half dozen different players in this role last season. Talib is a good value here if his character concerns don't come back to haunt him. Good pick.

#21: Sam Baker, Atlanta (via Washington): Huh? This trade seems desperate. The rookie GM in Atlanta is either establishing a draft legacy for himself or he's showing his experience. This is a shocking reach.

#22: Felix Jones, Dallas: Strange that Rashard Mendenhall, more of a workhorse back, isn't here instead. Jones figures to be a change-of-pace back. With Marion Barber on the roster Dallas has the luxury to grab this style of runner, however. Jones will likely work only outside of the red zone and he has the quickness to exploit a seam. Is he an upgrade over Julius Jones? Time will tell.

#23: Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh: This is the steal of the draft (after maybe Albert Brandon at #15). Tomlin was obviously unimpressed with Fast Willie last year after taking red zone duties away from him in favor of Najeh Davenport. In Mendenhall, Pittsburgh is getting a 300-carry power running who is a much better fit in Tomlin's one-back system. He should immediately upgrade their rushing attack in the red zone. Great pick. Willie Parker is officially on the trading block.

#24: Chris Johnson, Tennessee: Huge reach here. Given the high first day picks invested in RB's over the last several years, you've got to wonder what Tennessee is thinking here. Lendale White was effective last year and Chris Henry looks ready to carry a big load. Chris Brown was a huge bust several years ago. Chris Johnson does fit some distinctive needs for Tennessee, however. Now that Pacman Jones is in Dallas, Tennessee can use a great return man. Chris Johnson is an explosive kick returner with world class speed. He is undersized to be more than a change-of-pace back, however. As a third-down back and kick returner, he's not a horrible pick, but this is a huge reach as Johnson is firmly a second rounder in my opinion.

#25: Mike Jenkins, Dallas: This is a home run for Dallas. Not only are they desperate for talent at cornerback, Mike Jenkins is among the best in the draft. There's no question that Jenkins is the most physical cornerback in the draft. He's an instant upgrade in the nickel and could blossom into a pro bowl athlete.

#26: Duane Brown, Houston: I'm astonished that this many offensive lineman have come off the board thus far. Still, Brown isn't a huge reach this late in the first and he's a big need for Houston. Houston's had a quite day and is a team who should be on the playoff bubble this year. I'm shocked they didn't move on Mendenhall.

#27: Antoine Cason, San Diego: This is a guy I've liberally mentioned as among the most underrated players available in this year's draft. Clearly A.J. Smith feels the same way. Many will consider this a reach, but I saw plenty of Antoine Cason this year--including his single-handed victory over 2nd ranked OSU--and I can tell you this kid is NFL ready. I'm terrified of Cason in the Nickel for a unit that is already very talented in San Diego. Great pick.

#28: Lawrence Jackson, Seattle: I thought there were 3 or 4 guys better than Jackson available at this position. This is a huge reach. Seattle doesn't really have a distinctive need for a pass rusher, either. I don't get it. Terrible pick.

#29: Kentwan Balmer, San Francisco: I expect that Balmer will play end in San Francisco's 3-4 defense. Balmer lacks the size to be an NT type and has plenty of experience at DE and DT. He's versatile enough that he gives San Francisco a lot of versatility at a critical need. What's more, Balmer--a risky albeit talented prospect--is a great value here. Solid pick.

NOTE: San Francisco is among the teams reportedly interested in grabbing ILB Curtis Lofton to play alongside Patrick Willis. Assuming that Denver has an interest in the Al Wilson clone, this is an encouraging pick; however, don't stop holding your breath as San Francisco will be back on the clock shortly.

#30: Dustin Keller, New York: Keller adds a formidable offensive weapon to a team that will benefit from the extra playmaker. Keller should fit in nicely with a fierce group of young offensive talents such as Jerricho Cotchery, Leon Washington, and Brad Smith. Great pick. This is another near-miss at the ILB position improving Denver's chance of grabbing Conner or Lofton in 13 picks.

#31: Kenny Phillips, New York Giants: Shanahan is undoubtedly none too happy about this one. Ultimately, I think this is fortuitous as I don't think any player in this year's safety class is worth a 2nd rounder. The giants lost Gibril Wilson in the off season and have reloaded in their zone-heavy scheme.

NOTE: Denver is likely thinking Curtis Lofton, Dan Conner, DeJuan Morgan, Zuttah, or a receiver. No DeSean Jackson yet? I guess more were concerned about is 170lb frame than the "experts" thought. There's been enough surprises that Denver should get a first-round quality talent with that pick. I'd be happy with Lofton, Zuttah, or Jackson.

That's the end of the first round! Thanks for tuning in. I'll be sure to post my comments on #42 and the two 4th rounders later tonight!

Final Draft Thoughts

As the 2008 NFL draft rapidly approaches, here are some final thoughts.

First, I want to talk about needs. Here is my list of draft needs by position, in order of priority:

  1. Defensive Tackle: This morning I was surprised to see that Todd McShay had removed defensive tackle from his list of "needs" in this year's draft. Certainly adding D-Rob helps, but I still don't see a good argument for a bigger need than defensive tackle. For one, there isn't a true 2-gap defender on our thin roster. We have zero injury insurance at the position and certainly won't have any kind of a rotation with the roster as is. Finally, there is no guarantee that Thomas will (a) stay out of jail and (b) play anywhere near his potential in 2008. Take his name out of the hat, and Denver is in terrible shape at a critical position.

  2. Offensive Line: Pick a position. Holland is probably the surest thing on our lines to produce for 3-5 years. Hamilton is likely to retire after this year as is future Hall of Fame center Tom Nalen. Chris Kuper is an outstanding talent but ultimately may be a best fit at guard. Harris, last year's 68th overall pick, could very well be the future of our franchise at left or right tackle. Fortunately, first-day options along the offensive line are plentiful. Ultimately, a guy who can play all along the line like Williams, Albert, or Cherilus may be the best fit. Although there are some intriguing left tackle prospects to be had early on draft day. Ryan Clady, who looks like a distinctive fit for the zone-blocking scheme, is chief among them.

  3. Halfback: Gone are the days of roll outs and bootlegs to get Plummer out in space where he works best. For all of Plummer's shortcomings, his playing style sure had a knack for keeping blitzers off balance. With Cutler in town, we are going to have to get serious about pass protection in the pocket. A running back capable of sustaining a block in the passing game is a critical. Last year, Denver allowed 8.5 sacks to blitzing safeties and linebackers. What's more, Denver's power run success percentage was the worst its been in years under Shanahan. This was undoubtedly a culprit behind our paltry touchdown percentage in the red zone. A powerful back with 300-carry potential and pass blocking skills would solve a lot of problems. Unfortunately, there aren't that many 215-pound plus running backs with the elusiveness, vision, speed, and pass blocking skills to reconcile all these issues. To solidly address these needs, Denver will seriously consider grabbing Rashard Mendenhall in the first round.

  4. Safety: Denver has retained Abdullah and Lynch for one more year. Last season, one injury forced Denver to move Dominique Foxworth out of position to play some safety. Nick Ferguson left Denver while two fresh faces, Manuel and McCree, were signed and will compete for a roster slot. We have adequate depth at the position to survive in 2008 without adding a rookie; however, this unit is incredibly average if not downright terrible. When Abdullah and Lynch leave town next season, someone will have to be signed. Ideally, Denver will take a safety sometime this weekend. Being that the class is not very deep, it may be hard to find a good value. Don't be surprised if a defensive back isn't added until day 2.

  5. Middle Linebacker: What Niko Koutouvides buys us is time at the position. My suspicion is that Koutouvides is a stopgap option who could potentially provide great depth and be a special teams standout for years to come. While the MLB class is not deep, there are some intriguing prospects available on the first day. Among the, Curtis Lofton is my favorite. I'd also be happy with Jerod Mayo (who arguably is more of a WLB type) if he slipped to us at #42. Beau Bell is a good value in round 4. Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff is an absolute steal in round 6. I expect Denver will take one of these four players at some point in the draft.

  6. Kick Return Specialist: Since Reuben Droughns won the starting job in 2004, Denver hasn't had a respectable return game. Attempts at a quality return man have been fruitless. It is believed Denver will target a RB, CB, or WR with return skills at some point this weekend to improve our lousy 2007 field position. Even though its not among our most critical needs, don't be surprised to see a high pick spent on a wide receiver or cornerback who can excel in this role. Brandon Flowers and Chris Johnson are two candidates for this role who've been mentioned liberally in the media.

  7. Wide Receiver: Denver added a trio of wide receivers in free agency. One of them, Samie Parker, is considered a long shot to make the roster. Another, Keary Colbert, has been the apple of Shanahan's eye since being drafted in 2004. Drawing comparisons to Eddie McCaffrey, Colbert seems the heir apparent at split end heading into 2008. Darrell Jackson, a formidable red zone weapon who's scored 50 touchdowns in 8 seasons, is only with Denver for a year and has had a lot of problems staying on the field since 2004. Brandon Stokley's is also close to the end of his career and will likely retire in the next two seasons. I expect Denver to draft a project player at Wide Receiver anywhere from round 2 to round 7.

  8. Defensive End: Ekuban will probably leave the team next year. Engelberger should give us at least another 3 years and is great blue-collar depth. Dumervil is a pure pass rush specialist who will work some from defensive tackle on passing downs. That leaves the unproven Crowder and Moss. Both have shown a lot of promise but should they fail to reach their potential Denver may find themselves shorthanded in 2009. I don't consider this to be a critical need but wouldn't be surprised to see a defensive end with run-stopping ability come off the board for a good value. Some have even speculated the Denver will take Moss's teammate Derrick Harvey at #12. I think Harvey is quietly among the most coveted players in the draft and expect Buffalo to take him at #11. If he drops to Denver, it will be interesting to see if they pass on him.

  9. Cornerback: Shanahan requires his corners to play an extremely physical style of football. For this reason, cornerbacks in Denver tend to spend the regular season pretty banged up. Bly and Bailey have both played through injuries the last several seasons. What's more, Foxworth will test the free agent market next season. After Foxworth leaves town, Denver will be talented but not deep at an important position. This year's cornerback class is so deep that great talents like Antoine Caison can be had as late as round 4. There is also a possibility that McKelvin drops to Denver at #12. If the right player is available at the right pick, I don't think Denver will hesitate to add some depth to the secondary.

Based on these needs, here's how I see the first couple of rounds shaking out:

    12th Overall Pick: Most interesting to me is what happens with New Orleans in round 1. If they move up to grab Dorsey, I think there is a window of opportunity for Denver to land Sedrick Ellis in the first round. Assuming that they stay put, here are my expectations:
    • Mendenhall or Clady? Both are franchise-player quality talents at positions which are distinctive needs. Clady may not be available. If he's not, my best guess is that Denver grabs Mendenhall.

    • Wildcards: Don't be surprised to see an unexpected pick here. I've already argued that Denver may have a hard time passing on McKelvin. Keith Rivers could also be picked here in a move that would most certainly result in a D.J. Williams trade at some point this year or next. Derrick Harvey is another player Denver is undoubtedly intrigued by and would be a palatable choice.

    • Dumbest Possible Move: Reaching for Chris Williams, Kentwan Balmer, Jerod Mayo, or Kenny Phillips. None of these guys are 12th-pick value. Denver could move down ten picks or more and still rest assured one of these guys are available. In other words, if you must take a DT or OT, move down.

  • 42nd Overall Pick: Here are my thoughts on this pick:
    • Most Likely Scenario: Kenny Phillips or DeJuan Morgan. If Denver is going to address their needs at the safety position, it will have to happen early as the class is miserably thin (Reggie Nelson, anyone?).

    • I'd like to see... If I had my choice, Denver would walk away from this pick with either Curtis Lofton or Gosder Cherilus. Cherilus would immediately add depth at guard and has the run blocking ability to blossom into a fantastic right tackle. Of all the offensive lineman in the draft short of Ryan Clady, Cherilus seems to be the best fit for our team. That said, Cherilus is likely not available at this pick. If we must grab an offensive lineman, the surly Zuttah would be my next choice.

    • Dumbest Pick Possible: A reach at defensive tackle would be a disaster here. All the true 2-gap options available figure as late 3rd-rounders to early 5th-rounders. Dre Moore, Patrick Sims, and DeMario Pressley are 3-technique guys who aren't going to take pressure off the LB/S positions in the running game. If Denver can't get Ellis, they need to wait patiently until round 4.

  • A Pair of Fourth Rounders: Here's my thoughts:
    • Most Likely Scenario: I would be astonished if Denver didn't take at least one defensive tackle with this pick given the crop of talents available in this round. My stone-cold lock pick for this year's draft is Letroy Guion in round 4. If not a pair of defensive tackles, Denver could also use this pick to take a safety, wide reciever (Dexter Jackson?), cornerback (Antoine Caison?), or runningback (Michael Forte/Cory Boyd?)--preferably with return skills. Beau Bell is also a dark horse candidate to get picked here at MLB.

    • I'd like to see... I would be elated to see Denver grab Athyba Rubin at the top of round 4. Most draft boards figure him to be a late 3rd rounder, so this probably doesn't happen. After that, I'd grab Letroy Guion based purely on upside and versatility. Red Bryant is another guy I like but he's a pure 2-gap defender like Rubin. Any combination of the three would ultimately make me very happy.

That's all I have for now! I'll discuss day 2 strategies after day 1 is finished! I'll be posting throughout the draft today and will give you a postmortem this evening. Enjoy the draft!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Saints Selling their Soul for Dorsey

A Pete Prisco article this morning has probably left Saints fans a bit shell shocked. In it, Prisco claims that New Orleans is so desperate to move up and grab Dorsey, that they are shopping left tackle Jammal Brown. A 2006 Pro Bowler, Jammal Brown is largely considered to be one of the premier tackles in the game today at only 27 years of age. Prisco notes that Jammal's production "dropped off" in 2007, a fact not supported by Drew Brees' sack rate of 1 per 40 pass attempts--far and away the best in the NFL. If Saints management makes this move, they better be prepared to declare marshal law in New Orleans.

What, you may be wondering, does all this have to do with Denver? As I noted last week, a New Orleans deal for Glenn Dorsey leaves Cincinnati as the only possible roadblock to a deal for Sedrick Ellis. If the Saints move up, don't be surprised to see Denver trade up with the Bengals, Ravens, or Patriots.