There is a great chance to remake the bottom half of the roster.
The Broncos' roster currently lacks team speed, and I think it is very important that this is addressed in the Draft. Not coincidentally, the special teams play has been terrible the past few years. It's been a long time since I've watched a Broncos game and thought to myself, we're really winning the field position game here.
I'm a believer that field position is more important in a game than any variable except maybe turnovers. The thesis of this post is that with every pick, the Broncos should be thinking about improving the special teams during this Draft.
Who plays special teams, and how do you draft guys to contribute there? Mostly, teams guys are faster players, and come from the S, CB, LB, TE, WR, and RB positions. If you look at the current roster we have, not too many of the backups at these positions jump out as speedy special teams kind of guys.
At Safety, you're looking at Hamza and Cargile, and possibly Manuel, who isn't really known for his speed. At Corner, Foxworth and Paymah fit the bill. Among the LBs, I would have only named Winborn a couple months ago, but add K2 and Boss Bailey to that mix now. Nate Jackson might work at TE. At WR, let's say Glenn Martinez is a possibility, and at RB we'll call Andre Hall and Mike Bell possibilities. Offensive players are iffier on special teams, because of tackling concerns.
Now, it's Draft weekend. Let's assume there is a trade down to 17 or so in Round 1, to pick from among the group of Offensive Tackles, and it nets our old 3rd Round Pick (#73) from Minnesota. Let's also assume that the Dewayne Robertson pick goes through, and it costs the earlier 5th round pick (#139) and the 6th round pick (#183.)
So, we take Chris Williams at #17, which is a good pick. He doesn't play special teams, but there is a need at LT. In Round 2, with DT improved by the addition of Robinson, you're looking at the best S or WR. I think there's a lot of WR value likely to be there, and you may see Mario Manningham, Jordy Nelson, and Andre Caldwell sitting there. I named them in order of my opinion of the quality of their prospects at WR, but I think Nelson (PR) and Caldwell (KR) can play coverage teams, especially Nelson, who used to be a Safety. I know a lot of MHR people like Earl Bennett, but I believe all of these guys to be better players than him, and I really like Nelson in Round 2. The rumor is, he's on the rise, and I expect him to be going in the 40s.
In round 3, it's Safety or Defensive Tackle. Since this is a special teams post, I want a Safety here. Let's go with Thomas DeCoud from California, who used to be a CB. He's the kind of coverage free safety I think we need going forward. He'd be lights out on teams also.
With the first of two 4th round picks, I want a Kickoff Returner. How about Steve Slaton, from West Virginia? He's small to be a starting RB in the NFL, but he'd be a dynamic kickoff return man and chage of pace back. With the second 4th round pick, I want Durant Brooks, the Punter from Georgia Tech, who is ready to be a top 10 punter in the NFL right now. With the 148th pick in the 5th round, I like the best placekicker available, which I think will be Taylor Mehlhaff from Wisconsin.
I can already hear the protestations. Not to use the raiders as an example of anything good, but do you think they regret taking Janikowksi and Lechler 1 & 2 in 2000? Do you regret our selection of Jason Elam in the 3rd round in 1993? Of course not, those kind of choices shore up kicking games for a decade. Brooks is close to the Lechler level as a talent, and Mehlhaff is a good kickoff man who can hit FGs from 50+ now. Trust me, we do not want to be the team that is losing games because of bad kicking. There's one every year who does. Witness Champ's recent comments about the 2000 Redskins.
With the two 7th round picks, give me a CB and a LB. Name-wise, let's say CB-S Jonathan Hefney from Tennessee and J Leman from Illinois. Hefney is small, and Leman isn't fast, but both were big-time playmakers in college in top conferences. Hefney has return ability too.
We started with 12 guys who had coverage teams profiles. We just added Nelson, DeCoud, Slaton, Hefney, and Leman to that mix. Prater and Paulescu now have big-time competition from Brooks and Mehlhaff. Slaton, Hefney, and Nelson are in the mix as returners. Nelson competes with Colbert and Stokley from day 1 as a possible #2 receiver. DeCoud is in the mix at FS, and is probably starting by year 2.
We just hit a bunch of singles and doubles, and didn't strike out swinging for the fences. The overall team speed has improved, and Scott O'Brien now has a lot more to work with for the coverage units. It also helps that we don't see the Bears this year, but maybe the lesson is learned when we see Josh Cribbs and the Browns, and we're really careful about kicking him the ball. In any case, with better kicking, punting, coverage, and returning, we move from last in the league in field position management to the top 10, or so, and it wins us a minimum of two extra games.