Karl Marx hates return specialists, so let’s draft one

If you care about god, country, and apple pie, you should care about one thing in this year's NFL draft.

You better pray the Denver Broncos draft a return specialist.
You see, the NFL, just like any profession has evolved to the point of labor specialization.   While Karl Marx wasn't a big fan of specialization (he thought it turned workers into machines), it turns out that Vince Wilfork doesn't make a very good place kicker.  And Matt Prater isn't much of a strong safety.   Different guys have different skill sets and they specialize in specific situational football.  Of course, I'm telling you what you already know.
It seems, however, when it comes to kick and punt specialists, we tend to think anyone can do it.  We throw a 3rd string running back into the mix.  If that doesn't work, let's see what happens if we throw our fullback out there.  Or if that doesn't work, we can simply take a wide receiver and have them double as a return specialist.   We saw the Broncos try this with Eddie Royal last year, and the results were rather mixed.  While he did have some electrifying returns, his overall return numbers were average. Moreover, his receiving game suffered.  Concussions and touches aside, the wear and grind of returning did not help Eddie Royal the receiver.

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The Dude’s Mail Sack: Draft Sean Weatherspoon because he likes Van Halen!

Fat Man blogger TJ “The Dude” Johnson posts The Dude’s Mail Revue on Thursdays, in which he takes your questions about the state of the Denver Broncos. Got a titillating question? Put a dollar bill into the Dude’s G-String and he might answer it—after bowling practice.

TJ, how you like me now?  
--B Marsh, South Beach, Florida (kickin' it, I would add)
B Marsh:  Felicidades, my man.  I can't blame you for cashing in.  If any of us were in your position, we would have done the same thing.  Well, I'm not sure if I would have punted the football in practice like that.  And I'm guessing Rod Smith never tried it, but perhaps you were just showing McDaniels the "versatility" he likes by demonstrating you had a bigger leg than Mitch Berger.  
But seriously, congrats.  The common fan just doesn't have the capacity or appreciation for how you played this out.  It was clever, and I for one, love a good actor.  Bravo.  Don't let any fan tell you otherwise.  I expect--following your leadership--we'll see our fair share of preschool teachers pulling up lame with hamstring injuries next month in the hopes they can hold out for contract extensions from other preschools.  You've set the bar pretty high, though.  And I commend you for it.
I give you my word that I simply will  not stand idly by and watch Broncos fans take shots at you as you walk out the door.  If I see someone doing it, I'm going to take their arm and shove it right through a television screen in your honor. 
You are now the highest paid wide receiver in the history of the NFL.  I think you ought to treat yourself to some McDonald's.  
You are now richer than Jerry Rice.  But at least he has golf to fall back on.

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The state of the herd: familiarity and the defense

In Part I, I tried to look at where Denver stands right now, and to establish how a year's familiarity with the team and systems could, for most of the players and coaches, provide a noticeable benefit. In this installment, I'm going to dissect the defense and look at some strengths, weaknesses, and potential for the future.

There's a new defensive coordinator in town, and Don 'Wink' Martindale has been unabashed about his feelings on the game. He's enthusiastic, he's excited and he plans to increase the aggression level of the Denver D. There was a lot of 'read and react' during the unlamented 2008 version, and it didn't work well. You still saw some of that in 2009, but it was (thankfully) limited. What you did see a lot of was what Renaldo Hill called 'vision coverage' - the DBs watched the QB's eyes to take their cues, which is somewhat different from read and react, an approach that deals with both run and pass. Vision coverage is, according to an interview with Renaldo Hill, a little moment slower and leaves some openings that receivers can take advantage of as a result. According to  Hill, that won't be the case this year. You can expect to see the players locking harder onto the offensive players who come into their zones. Hill seemed to think that dropping this coverage and implementing the different approach would improve the secondary and the pass defense. There will also be more blitzing, and there will be an effort to avoid using eight in the box as much as is possible unless it's being done to exploit an offensive weakness. Nate Jones, the newest cornerback, is said to specialize in cornerback blitzing, so there should be some opportunity there which adds a weapon to the arsenal.

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Familiarity and the year 2010: the state of the herd report

The Denver Broncos came into 2009 on the heels of a shocking dismissal of long-time head coach Mike Shanahan. The next few months would be filled with the hiring of Josh McDaniels and his entire coaching staff, the dismissal/firing of both Jim and Jeff Goodman, the architects of the 2008 draft class, a tiff with QB Jay Cutler that resulted in his trade to Chicago, rumors of trades of Tony Scheffler (who ended 2009 in the doghouse of the new coaching regime), a very active role in free agency and a hotly debated role in the 2009 draft. Other than that, it was unusually calm in Dove Valley, unless you include redecorating and even removing some pictures, resulting in some (even more) irritated fans. Comparatively, 2010 has been very quiet. The two worst problems are trying to know if we have an interior line guy on either side of the ball and trying to understand who folks are talking about when they just say, 'Quinn'. Brady or Richard? Richard is the taller one....

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The Dude’s Mail Sack: ┬íViva Los Broncos!

Fat Man blogger TJ “The Dude” Johnson posts The Dude’s Mail Revue on Thursdays, in which he takes your questions about the state of the Denver Broncos. Got a titillating question? Put a dollar bill into the Dude’s G-String and he might answer it—after bowling practice.

Dear Thaddeus Jarlath Johnson,
I just felt I should warn you that I plan on dominating the MHR Draftivus contest with my most recent theoretical work, based on the writings of Von Nuemann and Morgenstern. Your little MHR game should make for a simple test case for proving some of my more advanced game theory equations, and I just felt that I should mention this, since there will be no reason for anyone else to enter the contest once my entry has been submitted. My calculations will be so awesomely accurate that they will eliminate the possibility that anyone could even come in second. It will be too awe-inspiring.
I hope I have saved your membership a lot of hard work and toil with this announcement.
J.F.Nash, Princeton, N.J.


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Uncertainty plagues ILB for Denver

When I was asked for a piece on Mario Haggan and the inside linebacker position, I went through the three research files on Haggan that I had already developed and quickly realized that there was a lot more to the situation than just a story on Mario. Since I've covered him a few times already, I felt it best to deal more directly with the question, "What options do the Broncos have for ILB this year?" Since getting it all done solo wasn't an option right now, I gave a call to the Dude, admired the way his rug pulled the room together and enticed him into the project. Never one to miss out on some play time, TJ tossed in with gusto. At this point, you hopefully can't tell where one of us stops and the other begins, in a literary sense. We both hope that you enjoy the offering. - Doc and TJ

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The Dude’s Mail Sack: Jason Elam is Bon Jovi

Fat Man blogger TJ “The Dude” Johnson posts The Dude’s Mail Revue on Thursdays, in which he takes your questions about the state of the Denver Broncos. Got a titillating question? Put a dollar bill into the Dude’s G-String and he might answer it—after bowling practice.

Heya, TJ, I'm the biggest fan you've ever seen down here! I'm almost coming undone with excitement for this upcoming season.  I wonder sometimes if you are giving away too much critical information in your mail sack. Couldn't some other team use your sack to their advantage?  I'd certainly use your sack if I thought it useful.  Have you ever heard of another team getting unintended Broncos data from your sack and using it?
--Jenna J., BraSwell, Georgia

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A stop watch, a scale, and a prayer - drafting a running back

Give me a running back with the power of Walter Payton and the speed of Eric Dickerson.  Now you've got a guy who can take you to the promised land.  But, unfortunately, a guy like that only comes along every 50 years.   And we've already seen in our lifetime a guy named Bo Jackson.

--TJ Johnson
In the last several weeks, I've become MHR's version of a big-bad-bangin'-cold bucket of water.  I've compared the draft to a crapshoot. I've compared it to blackjack.  I've even railed against drafting the most talented wide receiver this year, Dez Bryant, because he was late for practice, games, and most recently, forgot his cleats for his pro day. It's gotten to the point where I am sure that Jeremy Bolander, E.J. Ruiz, and Sayre Bedinger would rather me retreat to my statistical cave and churn out a few more articles on Expected Points Value.  In NFL fandom (not to be confused with fandago, hombre), the NFL draft has become second fiddle to only Tom Brady's girlfriend/fiancé/wife and the annual Oakland Raiders coaching change.  Better to leave the draft analysis to the professionals...and Mel Kiper, Jr.

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The Tale of Dustin Fry

We've been talking for weeks now about the nose tackles in this league, on this team and in this draft. It seems that every time I turn around, some other NFL team has decided that the intelligent answer to the short passing-based attack that has been sweeping the NFL is to move to the versatility of the 3-4 formation. As more and more teams use this attack as their primary or secondary weapon (in the case of some of the hybrids formations, another commonality in the NFL right now), there is a growing demand for nose tackles. Big ones and shorter ones, faster and slower ones, nose tackles are becoming one of the talks of the league.

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The NFL Draft: A little less crapshoot, a little more blackjack

Several weeks ago, I compared the draft to a crapshoot, in which luck was as important as skill in determining success in the NFL draft.  While I still believe this to be the case, I also believe there are teams that do gamble better than others. So maybe I should change my analogy to Blackjack.  Even though you might demonstrate more skill than the other guys, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win.

Part of this change in perspective is due to a recent study by Pro Football Weekly (PFW).  In their 2010 Draft Guide, the magazine took at look at each team's drafts during the 5-year period of 2004-2008.  It looked at several benchmarks for success, but the benchmark that was the most interesting and useful was each team's breakdown for all 7 rounds of the draft in the following 3 categories:

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