I have a confession to make. I love the draft.
To me, it's both Christmas and birthday, rolled into one. Optimally, the general manager and the head coach combine with every scout, position coach and assistant to pick out my presents for me, and I can't wait to get a chance to play with them. It's a great time to consider the issues of strategy and tactics, to review one's own way of viewing the game and the concepts of team-building. It's an opportunity to watch the front office carefully and to pick up ideas about how your own team views these same ideas. In short, it's a heck of a chance to debate, theorize, argue, bloviate and pontificate. It's two of the most enjoyable days of the NFL calender year, back to back. In many ways, there's nothing like it.
Perhaps my favorite part of the draft is one that gets relatively little press. To draft well as a team - as well as to do well in free agency - you have to have your priorities clear in terms of which positions are the most important to you. It's the game of 'How do you Rebuild' - even though few teams will use that term.
The Denver Broncos are in a unique situation. While they do not accept of the idea of 'rebuilding', and still don't believe in using the term, Josh McDaniels was comfortable saying during the 2009 training camp, "We're not a Super Bowl team". He was right, they weren't and aren't: changing that for the better is the entire point of the offseason and draft experience. MHR members like Colinski can give us chapter and verse on the concepts of draft strategy and I won't waste time echoing (poorly) their understanding. However...The simple issue here is that we have to get better and free agency and the draft are generally the ways that you do that. I'll lump the college free agency in with the draft to make this all easier. So, what's our theory on which positions are the most important in our version of 'improving' (I'll use that, since the 'R' word is verboten).
Where are the Broncos this year in their preparations? Simple - much further along. To quote Frank Schwab in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
"Denver's draft preparation will be different, McDaniels said. He said last year the front office didn't get a full opportunity to evaluate college players because he was hired in January. This year, the Broncos already have preliminary draft rankings after scouting players during the season.
"That's something that we didn't get to last year until late February or early March," McDaniels said. "We're months in advance of that. We've got a really good idea of what we want to look for and the kind of players we're looking for."
There is a deeper issue here that is a key to what players you consider and which you choose. The way that you perceive the team in football and the way that you look at how to build a better team will be reflected in your choices for drafting in each round. There are those who believe that since 'This is a quarterback driven league', the first thing that you need is a quarterback. I'm not that that school, although I will agree that you need a very good QB to win the Lombardi Trophy - I just disagree with many opinions about when you want to obtain 'the guy'. There are many factors that come into it but, for me, none is as important as this: The game is won and lost in the trenches. It always has been and it always will be. That's an area where Denver fell down during this season and they can't afford to let that happen again. so, for me, I'm going to build the offensive line as my first priority, look at the defensive ability to stop the run as my second concern, then move to the secondary. I tend to add most of the 'skill' positions the later stages. By the way - this is not carved into stone for me. If I get a chance at a guy who I feel will change the game for years, I'll make a change. However - like everyone, I do have my own feelings on the game of team-building.
The Game of Team Building
John Madden loved to play the game called 'Team Building'. It's a mental exercise in which you assume that you're starting from zero and trying to create a team - given that situation, what position(s) do you fill first, second, etc. He mentioned it several times on the air, he was said to be fond of passing time by playing it and he wrote about it on at least one occasion. He believed that you build a winner by starting by having a great offensive line and then, next, settling your cornerbacks. Everything else when from there. Obviously, if you can fix a lot of things at the same time, you do that to the best of your ability. But every fan, manager or coach will have preferences, even prejudices - carefully thought-out or not. It can be helpful to discuss and debate your own to improve your understanding of the process.
I'm without question an O-line first kind of guy. I might go with a NT and/or DEs (in a 3-4) before I went to the CBs, but in general, I don't have much to argue with Big John about. Cornerbacks are essential - in the right scheme and at the right time. If you argue that they come right behind the O-line, I don't argue much. Everyone has a theory - I've also heard the QB first theory, the linebackers theory and various others. It's a great chance to learn by arguing the different approaches. But when it comes the the #1 issue, to me it's the O-line.
In the Broncos case, it's obvious that the offensive line developed problems that could not be foreseen (although expecting another season like 2008, where every O-lineman played nearly every down was unlikely) and that after Champ Bailey, the 2008 Broncos had little at CB. Unfortunately, we also were so weak in many other areas that even starting to establish a winning team was rough. Going into this year's draft, we have another chance to play the game of 'Team Building'. I'd make the approach unusually simple. It's my own perspective that how you use the draft is an extension of how you feel about the basic idea of team-building. How you go about accumulating the pieces will vary greatly from person to person and coach to coach. But our first issues is to improve the middle - offense and defense.
Let me be clear about exactly what I mean by this: I'm not suggesting that we avoid the so-called 'skill' positions in the 2010 draft. I understand the advantages of a fast receiver as well as anyone. I also realize that the secondary is aging, for example (nice job on fixing that in the last year, but some older players must be accounted for, and that we can improve at nearly every position, but you have to establish clear priorities in order to develop a winning strategy. Free agency and the draft are your biggest methods of development.
In this case, it's probably no surprise that I think that means drafting/acquiring for the lines (on offense, especially the center - the tip of the spear, predominantly the center and guard positions). Denver wasn't strong there when it had to be. Winning, especially winning in the playoffs, requires that we improve in those areas. Following them, I have several other concerns, as do we all, I'm sure.
Josh McDaniels own way of going about this is still a comparative mystery, but let's fact it - there are things that we do know about how he'd like to build the team as well as many that we don't. What do we know? Let's look at that first, move on to life's mysteries and also look at each position.
What about the big question, that one that we will argue about right up until the end of the draft? That question is, will/should Denver draft a QB, perhaps in Round 1? I don't believe that they will, and I think that they'll be right in going in a different direction. My reasons might surprise you, though. It's not because I think that Orton is necessarily the best long-term option. I like Orton a lot, but that's not the argument. In fact, far from it.
If you want my arguments you can read them in far more interesting format by clicking on Jeremy Bolander's First Up: Quarterback, the first in his series on positional stability indexing.
There are also a couple of simple things that I think we can agree on. One is that right now, we're not a Super Bowl team. That being the case, we need to put our energies into getting ready to be one. Eventually, I want to see nearly every position bettered. There's an issue of sequence here, however. There should be a reason for the choices that goes well beyond the 'I like X player' approaches. There will be not shortage of good, even great options in this year's draft. The issue, as always, is which among them will strengthen our team the most.
An example: We know that Orton is a very good QB when he has enough time. No, he's not Tom Brady, and no, he's not Peyton Manning. Those two will probably be first ballot hall of Fame QBs and demanding that everyone else -- anyone else -- be them is a bit pointless. Orton, healthy and with good protection, is a 90+ QB rating, 65% completion rate QB. He's not the most exciting QB on the planet but he's a very qualified, smart, tough, leader of men. If he was the biggest weak link on the team, I'd be eager to look to a 1st round QB, but that's not the case by any stretch. Having a good QB will never make your O-line better. Having a better O-line will make your QB better, though. More time to throw means more completions. Equally, a better running game, via better blocking, will also improve the output from the QB position.
Equally, I think that it's important to consider that our offense does take at least two years to master. Finding a backup QB who has some familiarity with similar systems is one approach. Finding a backup who is only there until Tom Brandstater is ready to be the full-time backup is also reasonable. Those who dislike Orton or who simply feel that he is near the top of his possible improvement will argue that drafting a QB this year and starting his training is the best route to go will feel that to be the best solution. Each approach has weaknesses and each has potential strengths.
The Offensive Line
As I said, to me this is the gist of the circumstance. I think that the basis for a successful team starts, regardless of other factors, on the offensive line. You can't run the ball or protect the passer without quality players there, and with Casey Wiegmann aging and Ben Hamilton, fine man that he is and player that he was is fading, Ryan Harris gimpy and both Hochstein and Polumbus less than effective, we have to replenish the interior of the O-line while making sure that - to the best of our abilities - we also have enough tackles. It's a tall, tall order. But, it's also essential. Happily, we have both free agency and the draft to accomplish it.
We know that our O-line dropped off sharply and surprisingly in 2009 over the 2008 season. Ben Hamilton was benched for lack of production, Casey Wiegmann didn't play as well. Russ Hochstein wasn't the answer and Hamilton was also supposed to be our backup center. Tyler Polumbus didn't play as well as we needed him to and needs to be replaced if possible. There was a reversion to the mean.
The result was that the QB position and the running game - keys to the offense that Josh McDaniels is establishing - both took a huge hit. If you bring in another QB and leave him with the much same problems, you're going to have pretty much the same outcome. A rookie QB behind a shaky O-line is a disaster waiting to manifest. If you're going to reach for a new QB, with all the perils that such a decision entails, you want to have a line that will let the player give you the best chance to winning. It makes better sense to establish the line, see how the QB plays with that group of players and make an informed decision based on that information, rather than taking a leap of faith on the QB position and then trying to figure out how to protect him and get a running game up and moving. Doing whatever needs doing to redevelop a dominant offensive line will make almost every part of the offense better. To me, this is Job 1 for 2010.
We can see certain things about Josh McDaniels that don't match - quite - what he did in New England. For example, it's starting to be obvious that Josh McDaniels wants bigger, more powerful players (especially on the lines) and that while we will continue to run the zone blocking scheme, it won't predominate like it had. Bringing in Matt McChesney at guard (if he showed that skill level) would add a quick 30 lb to the roster. If Dustin Fry has the skills, he's also a huge man at 326. If you consider that the players they might replace (and this is only speculative - I have no idea if they have the skillsets), it would replace Casey Wiegmann at 285 and Hochstein/Hamilton at 290/305 with an additional 70-90 lb of irritable O-line. That's a fast way to get your team bigger. I don't know the level of talent - you can't really judge by practice squad time or rotation, and they may not be starter material - but that's a lot of player size.
Players in the physical mold of JD Walton and Matt Tennant at center and Mike Iupati and Vladamir Ducasse at guard are, to me, the biggest need that we have. Do I demand one of those players? No. That's just the general mold - much bigger than what we've had, quick enough to pull, strong enough to dominate. McD wants them as big as he can get and still use the gap (with a pulling guard) plays that he likes. I understand that we probably won't use our 2 highest draft picks on both a guard and a center, but we should consider at the least obtain one or the other of those positions in the first three rounds if we can't address them both in free agency or unless McD and whoever our O line coach turns out to be can agree that one of the players I just listed will fill the bill well enough to start in Year 1. Which players, exactly, is dependent on a lot of information that I don't have, as well as some that I do. I don't know enough to make a firm recommendation, not that the Broncos management is waiting for my opinion .
As an example of that kind of missing information that I'm referring to - we are moving to a different scheme of blocking than we have used in the past. While I, like anyone who watches film, can easily identify this as a weakness during the 2009 season, I'm not sure that I fully understand what the final outcome that McD has in mind might be. For that reason, grading the individual college players is a fun exercise, but ultimately flawed. That doesn't indicate that it's a useless exercise, of course - quite the opposite. The more we debate, the more everyone learns. I just don't know exactly what the tradeoff between size and agility (for example), when required, should be. We don't know exactly what the HC wants - just the general outlines. That will always make mock drafting much more difficult.
We know, for example, that Denver seems to be looking to trade in favor of some size on the lines and are willing to let some agility go if that's needed to get bigger. I'm actually in favor of this tradeoff, much as that might surprise some folks. For years, Denver has worn down late in games and late in the season. San Diego, on the other hand, has one of the best records in the NFL in November and December (there are many reasons for this, but a couple of big lines seems to help). To compete, we need a bigger, stronger line on both sides of the ball and especially on offense.
There were a few nice surprises here last season. Ryan McBean has showed that he can play in this league and was generally quite good at LDE. Ron Fields played well, despite being light for the traditional NT position. Vonnie Holliday was a nice surprise, but Le Kevin Smith wasn't as good as the fans generally seemed to expect (ditto the coaches).
I don't know if J'Vonne Parker can ever take the place at NT or challenge Ron Fields (or rotate with him) but at 338 lb, he's going to be a lot of fella to run around at the very least. Chris Baker at 326 lb? We don't know much about his skill level right now although he seemed quick and tough in his preseason stints. It will be an interesting training camp, but he's big, very quick and with Wayne Nunnely's training, he might be a very good player. Can he come on in the second year?
How about Carton Powell? After one year on IR and one on the practice squad, is it finally time for him to make a move to DE? He's smaller, compared to a lot of our potential players - only 312 lb, but that's about as big as Marcus Thomas, whose name always comes up in discussions of who might play DE. I thought that Kenny Peterson was giving great effort, but I think that he's just a little small (6'3", 295) for where this team is going. Le Kevin Smith was, frankly, a disappointment and Vonnie Holliday was usually very good. I hope that he'll be back, but the skill level of the players that we didn't see much of this year - Baker, Powell and of course, IRPS player Everette Pedescleaux are all possibles with a little training and experience, at least on the scout team.
So, will we also go to the draft and/or FA for more DL players? I'm not taking a simple out, but that will depend on two things - how well our aforementioned players are coming along and who is available at what value. One thing is sure - it's nice to have options, and we certainly have them. Getting those long, late-season runs stopped is essential.
The Inside Linebacker
I believe that the ILB can roughly be considered as part of the defensive 'line' in the 3-4/5-2 variation that Denver ran during the 2009 season. In other words, since the NT and DEs are doing a lot of clogging and taking up O-line players, the ILBs have to be stout at the point of attack and effective at penetration in order for the scheme to work (while the OLB's set the edges, attack the QB and grab any running backs). Andra Davis as an ILB came out of the chute as if he was on fire and yet he seemed to have leveled out to some extent after the bye week. I love the man's humility, willingness to work, strength of character and powerful leadership, but he isn't the kind of ILB that we need to have starting to make the next step. That's going to be high on the list. We don't have much on the PS or IR that that position. Our only PS player at LB is Kelley Braxton, a 230 lb LB. Still - if you look at what Dannell Ellerbe is doing at LB in Baltimore, Braxton could a possible at ILB. He wouldn't be playing next to Ray Lewis in Denver, though, and he's pretty light. Time will tell.
I don't even know what to think about DJ, and I consider him to be one of the most promising and yet confusing players that we have. Was it that questionable change to a read-and-react defense during the losses that made him look bad? Was he really that far out of position that often? Sadly - yes, at times he was. I don't think that he is in the 'must replace' group, but we should also be looking at how to deal with the fact that in two seasons in a row, DJ has ended up by under-performing. It may simply be a factor of changing positions and responsibilities too often, but this wasn't a great year for him, despite leading the team in tackles. Again - after a great start, he seemed to fade for a series of games, and so did our chances.
What to do? One obvious option is to bring on the best young ILB that we can afford, given our other issues - we like them bigger than the norm, too, so getting one with speed on his feet and within his head is also essential. Roland McCain and Brandon Spike are the ones that come to mind, but there are other good options that will come to light. They appear to be of similar size, McClain has a better track record as far as behavior. As I say - there are other good ones out there. It's too easy to just list the top players and to assume that we didn't have a good draft if we don't have a nice share of them. That's never been true. Whoever we go with, FA or draft, we need to upgrade this position. To me, it's one of the big priorities.
I'd be interested to see if Spencer Larsen could be that player, but he seems fixed at fullback and special teams. He does an excellent job in both roles and that may to be something to mess with. He hasn't had the time on the field for me to feel like I can determine that, although I'm impressed with his special teams play. Larsen is a unique talent: he seems like someone who will be good in nearly any capacity but who may not be 'great' in any one. You want a lot of guys like him on your team. We have needed to improve our special teams play and he's one player who can help us out there. Can he help at ILB? Perhaps - but we need someone full time or at least in a full time rotation.
How about our outside linebackers? It's always helpful to upgrade, but I don't see this as the same level of need. Robert Ayers will, in my opinion, continue to progress. Watching him on film, I thought that he did a far better job than some other folks did. Darrell Reid has had one 'fair to good' season for us: Elvis Dumervil and Mario Haggan were a lot better than that. D. Reid has never played at this position before and seemed to make an impact reasonably often. Perhaps he's improved enough to keep him there - that's something for someone who has the time and setup to follow him on every play, week 1 to week 17 and to see what the improvement is like. Ayers, overall did a nice job for a rookie year, contrary to some who want more highlights from him. My impression is that he learned visibly over the season and will be even better next year. I'd still love more upgrades, though. Haggan was a good player - whoever can come in an fight for a slot in the rotation will have to beat someone out. I like that. Over the years I've noticed that when you have a few players who are locks at their positions, sometimes you don't have that much behind them. We need both stars and depth.
Josh Barrett and Wesley Woodyard are good special teams/nickel LB players, with Barrett able to play an acceptable SS/LB hybrid for nickel and dime packages. That doesn't scream out to me as much as I'd like. I saw Woodyard getting beaten in coverage too often - he's very young and should continue to improve, but it was a worry. I'd like to see Barrett more against the TEs - he's done a heck of a job at times, he and Woodyard are nearly the same size and Barrett was a little faster with better coverage skills.
The same thing is true for the DL in general - I'd love to see upgrades, but we will make some of them 'in house', perhaps some in free agency and should make the rest, if possible, in the draft. We have a lot of players in Ryan McBean who was better than I expected, Ron Fields who I liked from the get-go and Kenny Peterson who I think can be improved. Vonnie Holliday certainly was a step up, but Le Kevin Smith was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because it looked like McDaniels really felt that he would be an upgrade. I didn't think that he was - actually, I thought that he was a dropoff, and one that the Broncos could not afford. But hiding in the wings are Chris Baker, Marcus Thomas if we shift him to DE, Carlton Powell and J'Vonne Parker. Everette Pedescleaux is on PSIR if he can get up to playing shape. With the exception of Powell, all of them are bigger men, so we have a lot of potential in-house.
If your economic model is similar to the New England Pats, a direction that ours seems to be going, that's something to consider. You don't want to overpay for veterans. You want to create a situation where everyone does their job and where you get quality players rather than superstars. Remember the JAG acronym - Just a Guy? You want to get good people at decent costs and to upgrade by drafting well over several consecutive seasons. That's what keeps NE in the playoffs, and it works about the same in Pittsburgh. It isn't a fast process, but it will work. Yet, it takes time, and that's tough to come by in the NFL.
As a total aside - I was very surprised when Dannell Ellerbe sat on the board during the last few rounds before heading to Baltimore as an undrafted rookie. Congratulations to him for making an impact in his first postseason game - he's been a very good addition for them over the past two months. While he was victimized last spring as being undersized and having suspect skills as a pass rusher, he's shown all and sundry that he's got the skills to handle the position - especially when playing next to All-Everything Ray Lewis. Very good in coverage, too. Ellerbe is much stronger than his size would suggest at his speed is between 4.5 and 4.6, depending on who holds the stopwatch. Congratulations to the young man.
The defensive secondary is an area that we will have to continue to build. Jack Williams didn't make it this year and while I'm disappointed, I have to admit that I'm not that surprised. John felt that his dismissal was premature, and he may have been right. At the same time, what I saw on film from last season just didn't improve greatly during the early season. Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are both approaching their ninth years in the league. I like Alphonso Smith and I recognize that rookies usually have to develop - he has his work cut out for him. I'm not concerned about him at this point, but we need at least one and preferably two more CBs. Cornerback is certainly one area where I can see us picking up and developing a player or two.
I suspect that safety is fine for now. Brian Dawkins will continue to injury more easily as time goes past and we will have to replace him eventually (2023 sounds about right) , but Darcel McBath has impressed me. He's a different kind of player than Dawkins - nearly everyone is - but he's a talented young man who will contribute on STs and at safety for year's to come. In many ways, McBath reminds me more of Renaldo Hill. David Bruton is becoming a fan favorite and he's got the build and speed to develop into a heck of a player for us. He was considered raw coming out of school, so that may take a few seasons, but his history of special teams work, leadership in college, intelligence, drive and effort as well as his physical gifts could make him an excellent SS.
Sure, I'd love to see Joe Haden back there, but there are a lot of talents that could help us. I wouldn't be surprised to see a younger veteran picked up with the Xanders/McD Brain Trust and wouldn't be shocked at a FA pickup either. The point has been made that we go into each week with a smaller number of corners than most teams.
Offense - Wide Receiver
On the offensive side, what needs changing besides the O-line? We could make good use of a wide receiver, and one with substantial speed would be helpful. We have the 'possession' receivers that we need, but we need to improve our speed level. On the other hand, we have both Brandon Lloyd and Kenny McKinley waiting in the wings at WR. Brandon Stokley will, at some point, show his age, but it wasn't this year. Brandon Marshall hasn't shown enough of his emotional age this year, but the back and forth between the Broncos and Marshall is far beyond my ability to comprehend. and for all I know, he'll be back. What does concern me is this - Marshall is brilliant with his face to the QB, but he really isn't as comfortable catching over his shoulder while running and that's a weakness that he needs to improve. We need a player - and it may end up being McKinley - he has a skill for that. It's important to have a fast guy, a go route guy, but equally so to have one that can catch while in stride.
There's another consideration. Very few wide receivers traditionally are big contributors in their first year. The move to a league where everyone is faster, where everyone is athletic, where press coverage is more widely used and where the level of mental and film work has to be vastly higher has made life tough for a lot of very good young receivers. If the Broncos do choose one in the draft, it's not likely (although hopeful) that he will contribute during his first year. We need to plan accordingly. As noted - I'm oping for Kenny McKinley to come into his own. He could be a huge help. His Combine-timed 40 was a 4.44 average and he received raves for his route-running. His 37 inch vertical leap didn't hurt any either. The Sporting News War Room noted:
Uses instincts and quick footwork to get a good jump off the snap and accelerate to full speed. Shows agility changing directions quickly to gain separation from defenders. Shows excellent hands and the concentration and body control to catch nearly every pass he is thrown. Adjusts to catch off-target throws. Shows toughness running routes into traffic. Goes up for high throws and holds on to the ball while absorbing hard hits.
A new coach at running back? It's been a long time since the Broncos had to deal with that. Moreno will hopefully be with Denver for years, but Buckhalter will eventually deal with injuries and age. Hillis hasn't excited McDaniels yet and may not - he's kind of a tweener in several ways. A man of his size should block better, a skill that would get him on the field more. Some systems use a fullback as an extra running back/receiver - some don't. When Spencer Larsen is on the field, for example, the Broncos don't. Hillis should be able to create some flexibility, but for whatever reasons, that just hasn't been a big part of the plan. Will they get another RB? Among free agency, the draft and the CFA crop, I'd guess that they'll pick up 2-3. Hillis may or may not stay.
Why 2-3 more even if Hillis stays? Attrition. You will lose a RB or two (or more) during almost any season. LaMont Jordan didn't overly excite anyone (except for those who were cussing and throwing their beer cups at the screen when he was on the field, which is a different type of excitement), so I'm fairly sure that adding to Lance Ball, Peyton Hillis, Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter and L. Jordan will be a priority. And that's a good thing
What is it that McDaniels Wants?
The basic litany is well known - smart, tough physical players, right?. It makes perfect sense, but other than telling us that he'd like some bigger smart guys who don't fall apart when the game's on the line, it doesn't tell us a lot. The schemes are complex and Denver need players who can learn, learn quickly and produce in multiple ways, it's not a ton of information. But there do seem to be some patterns emerging, despite this being McD's first season ass a head coach.
First and foremost, I tend to suspect that McDaniels wants a great big old offensive line. I like that idea, too. I love the zone blocking approach, but the rest of the league seems to be moving to it and it never hurts to get above the curve. We are playing in a division where SD and KC are 3-4 teams and OAK plays much like one- being able to run the ball up the middle is essential against those teams, and we haven't gotten that done in a while. That's 6 of your games each year. About 12 teams are mostly or full time 3-4 defensive teams now, so we'll also see plenty of that during the rest of the year as well. McDaniels wants to overpower a lot of people and that starts with a big, strong offensive line. He wants to control the ball, both on the ground and through the short passing game. If Orton is your QB next year, as is likely, he needs time to set and throw. That's also going to require a big, strong line.
Why else go the big line route? Opening holes that Moreno is more used to is much in our favor. A lot of folks seemed to forget that Morneno, like a lot of RBs, had never seen anything quite like the Turner/Dennison approach which is now a thing of the past. I talkied before the draft about my concerns with it for Moreno - it wasn't that he couldn't learn the system, simply that I thought it would take him longer. I think that it did, and I suspect that if the Xanders/McD group can give him a big, tough line, his numbers could be half again and more what they were this year.
As far as the defensive line, we could use ore beef up there as well. We talked about some ways to do that - there are many more, but we'll be looking to do it, regardless of how. More beef but also more talent on the defense - particularly the front 7 - is something that I'd bet on as well.
Who Belongs as a Bronco?
If we want to understand our upcoming picks -- not predict them, but understand them -- these are the things that we, as amateurs, should consider looking at. I'm going to suggest that we look at a few categories of analysis that will make a lot more of a difference when the Broncos consider a player. Feel free to disagree, debate and enlighten me, please, but this is how I see it. Here are my reasons, in no particular order.
Depth. Just to use this as an example, we're surprisingly deep at nose tackle. Ronald Fields has been very good. I've been happily surprised by Marcus Thomas' play as the #2. Chris Baker is in the wings (and by the way, he, or Thomas, can also play a heck of a 34DE). Whatever positions we draft for will be positions that we either need now or will soon. In rare cases, we will take a difference-maker that is simply an upgrade on a good group of players that we already have, but that's not the Pats system and it doesn't match what I know of McD/Xanders so far. We're going to go looking at the places where we need the most help.
Conditioning. It's very hard for a man to get into the kind of condition that our schemes require. It's not impossible, but if we are looking at a player, his practice habits and desire to train, to work, to run, to get in Broncos shape had better be very high. If he's got a heck of a drive, works out constantly and continues to get in better and better shape, it's a maybe. The Broncos work harder on conditioning than most teams, and the players will have to do so at altitude. I've done it - it's tough.
Intellect. I do know this - Josh McD will not compromise on Tough, Smart and Physical. You can tattoo TSP on the walls of Dover Valley. That's how important it is. If he doesn't have both a good IQ and a high IPS, we won't take him.
Leadership/Character. Is the player you're looking at a leader of his college team? Does he play that role? If not - he's probably not our guy. You can put character here as well. I'm saying that we should be far more interested in this than in simple metrics.
Metric Obsession. People are often swayed by how big, fat, strong or fast a player is. Many of those kinds are of the greatest draft busts in history. It's not that it's not important - for example, Josh and Xanders are unlikely to choose an outside linebacker who is under 260 - but it's not a simple issue. TSP. Add Character/Leadership to it and you've got the formula. Finally - and probably the most important:
Scheme Appropriate. Tell me exactly why this player fits our particular scheme perfectly. Explosion? Tenacity? Intellect? How does he play when it's a tough game? Big plays? Does he make the difference when the game is on the line?
These are among the things that we will want to be looking at as we start talking about the draft. We're going to be swayed by emotion, school allegiances, personal attachment and generalities, but I'm fairly certain that Xanders/McD won't be. If we look as closely as possible through their eyes, we'll see a lot more.
Was 2009 a Failure?
That's something about this year that we can easily lose sight of: Josh McDaniels inherited a lot of problems. He brought in some very good coaches and he brought in a lot of players who did well for us early on. the coaches did a good job of getting players ready for the early season. We won some games.
As the season progressed, all teams make adjustments based on the film. Our opponents did so, the weaknesses that we have don't lend themselves to quick fixes. The depth of the team doesn't currently include a lot of star talent and hence we are starting to talk about the draft early on. This is where the folks who claim that it's a talent based league are right - it is, but that has to include a certain amount of stars and a certain level of strength among the backups as well as a lot of star power on the coaching staff. There is not perfect formula for that - your 'mix' changes each year, in degree. The Broncos just didn't hold up. I wasn't that surprised - at the beginning of the year, I wrote:
"The true test of an organization is not how it fares one year. It's building a competitive team year after year and competing for championships...I suspect that the Broncos fans may go ballistic if it (losing) happens. I won't. I know that creating long term change is difficult. It's messy. You're going to be questioned, disliked, hated and reviled, but that if you're the head of a team, you can't listen. You have to look within yourself and make the decisions, accept that some will be right and some wrong and move forward. If you're a fan, seeing that will make this process less painful."
That's still true today.