Welcome to Draft Season

With the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl in the bag, I thought this might be a good time to review what’s been happening with the players who stood out for one reason or another. There’s still a long way to go before the draft, and anything can happen with these players between now and then, but these are the things that registered with me from the Senior Bowl.

For starters, the Broncos reportedly met with the following prospects. I just chose whichever site seemed to offer the best information on the player to link to them - most sites don’t have all their info together yet. I also noted whether they got attention from the Shrine (EW) game or the Senior Bowl (SR):

Gut Reactions from the Senior Bowl:

I had a chance to watch Winters a few times this year and saw some things to like. He pulls well, keeps his pad level fairly well, and has good hand placement. His punch is strong, and he generally shows good knee bend. I can see why Denver’s interested in him, either as a backup to Ryan Clady, a swing tackle, or even at guard. I've seen all of the players Denver reportedly interviewed, but Swope and Winters the most.

Swope is a very tough blocking receiver who seems fearless, and a good long-term pickup for someone. In 2011, Swope posted the best season, statistically, in Texas A&M football history, with 89 receptions for 1,207 yards and 11 TDs. He has excellent hands.

Washington CB Desmond Trufant is the real deal: fast, aggressive, and well worth watching; I think he’s going to have a very successful career. He helped himself greatly last week. There were a number of good plays among the defensive backs - several looked like NFL players in waiting. Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks and S Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International both caught my eye.

Khaseem Greene of Rutgers is everything that has been advertised - a remarkable athlete and an extremely talented LB. I’ve been talking about him for a few months now - he’s an exciting player to watch. Like Von Miller, he’s able to handle a variety of positions and can be moved around at will.

He is an excellent tackler, but what really interested me is that he was often the fastest guy on the defense immediately after the snap. He hits hard and shows excellent instincts diagnosing the play. He’s fast enough to handle man coverage and strong enough to handle the TEs, and thrives in both zone coverage and run support.

I can't help wondering if he could be matched up with Von and Wesley Woodyard, with Woodyard handling the mental aspects of the Mike obligations while both Greene and Miller can be used in Joker fashion. A pipe dream? Probably. Greene is likely to go in Round 1, and Denver has multiple needs.

Denver’s linebacker corps, with Miller, Woodyard and Greene, plus Danny Trevathan coming in on nickel and backing up across the three positions (not to mention Steven Johnson and Nate Irving), would be a fierce group to go up against. They’d provide Jack Del Rio with infinite options as far as how they could be used. I don't see it happening, but it's a fun exercise to consider the possibility.

Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher is impressive, playing head and shoulders above most of the players around him. He’s going early in the 1st round unless he totally tanks at Combine, which is highly unlikely. Lane Johnson is also extremely good - he’s raw, compared with Fisher. but the talent there is unmistakable. He’s got good feet and his technique is coming along well. A couple of years of NFL coaching and he’s going to be either a great RT or a very good LT. 

Purdue DT Kawann Short is as advertised or better - he might have been the best defensive lineman in the game, and there were several very good ones. I don’t know if he’ll drop to Denver’s slot, but if he somehow does they’re likely to take him. He embarrassed a number of OL players.

The Estonian discus thrower and physical freak (6-8, 280 lb, 84-inch wingspan) Margus Hunt (interview), got a break in the first quarter when a missed assignment let him knife into the backfield and bring Florida RB Mike Gillislee down from behind. It was nice backside pursuit by the SMU defensive end; he showed that on multiple plays.

His rawness still really showed, but his sheer size, strength, and athletic skill stood out. He’s a project in terms of technique, but he has a huge upside. Put some muscle weight on him and he can play DE or UT. His height can make his pad level a concern.

Brigham Young DE/OLB Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah had a heck of a game, knifing through the line repeatedly and showing off his pass rushing skills. He embarrassed the OL on multiple occasions and showed that he was at the top of the competition that was there. FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel opened a lot of eyes and took home the game's MVP award, but Ansah easily could have been the recipient. Ansah has been a one-year wonder, which will put some teams off.

Baylor's Terrence Williams was a terror at WR last year, averaging 140.92 receiving yards per game and dominating the play when he was on the field. He improved his already excellent draft stock dramatically last week.

The best performance by a WR who didn’t register a reception came via Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech. Patton won the WR practice award during the week and was a force blocking for the running game. While he didn’t get to show off his hands during the game, the scouts took notice of how well he played in practice and how enthusiastically he blocked.

AP All-American Larry Warford out of Kentucky has been talked about as a mid- to late-round guard. He showed good technique on several plays and has the feet and phone booth power to make a difference at the NFL level. I saw him work with Cal center Brian Schwenke to turn a NT easily - freeing up the back Gillislee - and his technique was admirable. Nice footwork, good hands. I watched him several times this season - he can be erratic at times, but the core talent is substantial. He didn't allow a sack last season.

One thing that Denver has to look at this offseason - Chris Kuper may or may not be able to play at his former level. The reinjury of his ankle has me concerned. Much as I like Kuper (and I do), he’s limited physically already, and the interior of the line created some problems for the team. Manny Ramirez improved nicely, but if the team wants to go deep into the playoffs, the OL has to play better than they did against the Ravens.

The difference Baltimore's Marshal Yanda at guard made in the playoff game against Denver should give us a clue as to how the team needs to look. With Zane Beadles playing at a high level, Denver should look seriously at the right guard position to bring it up to the same standard.

Travis Frederick of Wisconsin is also of interest - he’s a load at 6-4 and 338 lb, a great run blocker, and surprisingly agile for a man his size. But he might struggle in a zone scheme.

Orlando Franklin had an excellent year at right tackle and I really don’t see a reason to move him. Good tackles are hard to find, despite the Denver Post’s suggestion that the team is still looking at him for guard. He’d be an excellent right guard - but given his vast improvement at RT, he’s earned the position. Another OT taken early might indicate concerns with Clady’s situation or just an upgrade for the position (Chris Clark is only a big TE in most respects).

Warford is a potential solution at RG - he’s huge, at 6-3 and 333 lb, and showed flashes of real talent during the game. You would want to get his weight down to 320 - 325 lb or so - his conditioning isn’t NFL level right now, and I’d want to know what his work habits are like. It’s hard for a lot of the dancing bears to keep their weight under control.  He might still be there in the mid rounds, too.

At 310 pounds, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper might be worth a look as well - he has the ability to play center or guard, which can come in handy.

It was a great game for the running backs, and Stepfan Taylor out of Stanford, Johnathan Franklin from UCLA, and Florida's Gillislee all excelled. The RBs this year in general are a bit smaller than last year, but there’s a ton of talent there.

San Jose State tackle David Quessenberry spent the week showing that he has the ability to play every position along the line. He was talked about as a mid- to late-round prospect, but after last week, if he has a decent Combine he’s more likely to go on Day 2. His versatility is unusual, and he spent the week getting noticeably better at each practice. He's still a long way from being an NFL starter, though.

There were a number of other notable players - Duke WR Conner Vernon (good routes and hands), UCLA DE Datone Jones, and several others. This draft has some positions - notably the DL - that are quite deep, and others (including the interior line) where the overall prospects seem less exciting. There are always good players that go begging, though, much as Chris Harris did a couple of years back. When someone says that it’s a thin draft, (and I’ve already heard that) it reminds me that I rarely have heard anything else prior to a draft. The gems are always in there - the trick is of finding and polishing them.

I’ll be following up on a number of these and other players between now and the draft. When I cover a particular player, it’s not necessarily that I see them as a clear option for Denver - sometimes, they’ve got a great story to tell or some other aspect that draws me. The odds of getting any draft choice right at this point are minute. I’m interested in finding player options who might fit into Denver’s scheme or who simply have unusual skills or great back stories.

There’s nothing quite like draft season!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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