Congratulations, by now you have probably read or tried to read that very long post yesterday discussing who the Panthers will take with their No. 1 pick this April. If you didn’t, then congratulations go to you as well for you were smart enough to avoid all that reading and will get the very short version right now: the Panthers will take Blaine Gabbert.
Now that means that it is now time to look at the Denver Broncos and their draft needs to see who they will take on the heels of the Panthers selection.
The Broncos are in a contrasting situation as the Panthers, instead needing to really upgrade their defense. It ranked 30th overall in Football Outsiders DVOA-based defensive efficiency ratings last season. And much of that had to do with the fact that they lost Elvis Dumervil before the season to an injury, and their pass rush completely evaporated as they ended their year with only 23 sacks.
It means that the Broncos will likely be looking at any way to beef up their defense with an emphasis on the pass rush with their No. 2 selection.
In the end I think that means they will wind up selecting LSU corner Patrick Peterson with that pick. If you care to understand how I came to that conclusion, continue to read on. And I’ll try to reward your curiosity by not being as long-winded as I was previously.
The Broncos hired John Fox to be their new head coach, and he is planning on installing a 4-3 defense which will require a transition from their 3-4 ways of the past two seasons under Josh McDaniels. But fortunately for the Broncos that conversion won’t be too difficult because McDaniels & Co. didn’t necessarily do a great job of picking up the talent to make them a solid 3-4 unit. Thus their terrible play in 2010.
Most of their key personnel is suited to the 4-3 scheme, so Fox doesn’t have a ton of work to do. That starts with defensive end where Dumervil is returning from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered last summer. The team also has Robert Ayers, a disappointing first round pick from 2009. Ayers played end at Tennessee, but the Broncos tried to convert him into an outside linebacker to no avail. He is slated to be the starter opposite Dumervil. Not to mention they also picked up Jason Hunter during the season, who finished the year with 3 sacks after a 5-sack performance with the Lions in 2009.
At defensive tackle, the team currently has Justin Bannan, Ronald Fields, Louis Leonard, Marcus Thomas, Kevin Vickerson, and Jamal Williams. All but Thomas have had most of their NFL success in 3-4 schemes, and thus probably won’t be highly prized by the current regime going forward, especially when you couple that with their ages.
It all means that defensive tackle will probably be the priority of the two positions as the Broncos see it. And having two players like Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus at the top of the draft would be good fits to help improve that weakness. Fairley is the more explosive pass rusher in terms of his potential after having 11.5 sacks this past year at Auburn. That’s more sacks that Dareus has had combined (10.5) the past two years at Alabama. So if the emphasis is on pressuring the quarterback, then Fairley is the likelier of the pair for the Broncos to target. But they will also look at defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and if they really think he’s the next great defensive end, then he certainly is a possibility.
The Broncos will certainly do their due diligence at other positions. Quarterback is a potential need. It’s been no big secret that the new Broncos regime isn’t as in love with Tim Tebow as the former one was. But at the same time, the team still does have Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn on the roster, and it’s unlikely that they will feel they have a huge need at quarterback. Orton isn’t a franchise guy, but Fox had a similar stopgap-type quarterback he liked in Carolina named Jake Delhomme and had no problems with him being the starter for seven years there. So while the Broncos may not be keen on Tebow going forward, it’s doubtful they’d use their top pick on another passer. But it would be a possibility if Gabbert was still on the board at No. 2.
They will also look hard at Patrick Peterson with the second spot. Champ Bailey was recently given a contract extension, but they need an infusion of youth. Their starting secondary is poised to average over 33 years of age this season. Peterson is arguably the best cornerback prospect since Bailey came out, and having the latter tutor the former is an intriguing option for the Broncos to upgrade their weak pass defense.
With that in mind, this will probably be the first opportunity we might have for a trade. If a team is looking to move up to get a quarterback (Newton?) or one of the defensive linemen, I’m sure the Broncos would be happy to move down a few spots and still land a player like Peterson. But Top 10 trades are rare in today’s NFL, and unless something happens with the CBA between now and the draft that doesn’t seem likely to change.
The conventional wisdom suggests that the Broncos should prioritize upgrading the defensive line before a defensive back, especially with the No. 2 overall selection. But I think the fact that both John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen have their roots in coaching the secondary, as well as the fact that this is a fairly deep defensive line class means that they will spurn the conventional wisdom and take Peterson. And then hope they land their defensive lineman in the second round.