So yesterday, I played outside football consultant, and I remade the Broncos football organization. Today, I change gears, and become something intangible called consensus. It’s March 1, 2011, and we’re on the precipice of a talent acquisition cycle that could make this Broncos team improve very quickly. We have a new defensive scheme to work on staffing, and since it’s the Head Coach Gregg Williams’ scheme, we have some confidence that it’s there to stay for awhile, unlike the recent past. The offense will be slightly different too, under Pete Carmichael, Jr., but most of the key players are in place right now for it to be successful.
This exercise assumes that the Collective Bargaining Agreement gets figured out timely, which may or may not happen. In any case, there will eventually be a free agency period, and a Draft, and we’re going to work through all of that stuff now. Here goes.
Re-signing Broncos Players
Champ Bailey – CB - He seems to be on the fence about staying or going, but I believe that with the hiring of Gregg Williams, he’ll be excited about staying. The pressure that Williams manufactures makes CBs look better than they actually are, and Bailey is getting older, so slippage is eventually going to start happening. A 4 year, $50 million contract probably gets it done with Champ.
Ryan Harris – RT – This is the key guy to decide on. He was excellent in 2008 and 2009 (before he got hurt), and after starting slow in 2010, he’s improved to about 75% of his 2008 self lately. Is this a guy who just needs to get further away from his injuries? I say that it’s probable that that’s the case, and the Broncos should use the franchise tag on him in 2011. That pays him a lot of money for one season, and minimizes the Broncos risk if he turns out not to approach his former excellence.
Marcus Thomas – DT/DE – Thomas has had a quietly excellent season as a rotation lineman. With the return to a one-gap 40-front scheme, this is the kind of player you want to bring back. He’s a 4 year, $15 million type of player, which he should appreciate, since he’s been a league-minimum player thus far in his career.
Matt Prater – K – Prater is one of the best kickers in the NFL, and he should be signed long-term. He’ll be a restricted free agent, assuming the rules are roughly the same as they are now.
Wesley Woodyard – LB – Woodyard is a good backup LB, and a key leader on special teams. You keep this guy as long as his price doesn’t get ridiculous. Signing him for 3 years and $7 million makes sense.
Ronald Fields – NT – Fields has worked hard for the Broncos, and been a decent player. I think that with the scheme change, letting him go elsewhere is wise.
Laurence Maroney – RB – I think he goes elsewhere, and the Broncos can hopefully get a supplementary pick for him in 2012. The trade for him was a bust, and there’s no sugar-coating that.
Other Teams’ Free Agents
With the defensive scheme change, there are a few positions that need talent infusions, between Free Agency and the Draft. The Broncos will need a couple good DTs, a pass rush specialist, and 1 to 2 safeties. Offensively, they’re in pretty good shape, but they could use some better offensive line depth, and a speed RB. We’re going to make one big-ticket signing in free agency to help the process, and a couple of smaller ones too.
Eric Weddle – FS – San Diego – The Chargers probably aren’t going to break the bank for Weddle, but he’s really improved, and turned into an excellent center-field Free Safety this season. The 46 scheme that Williams uses requires a smart FS who can range from sideline to sideline, and Weddle is that guy. He’ll cost, but this Draft is fairly weak in safeties. Figure he goes for something on the order of 4 years, $25 million. With Weddle in the deep middle, the Broncos can try to get another season out of Brian Dawkins, and use him as the box safety.
Clint Session – OLB – Indianapolis Colts – I like Session, who’s quick and active, and who plays stout at the point of attack. He’s a Will, but he’s the kind of Will that sticks his nose into the running game. Session has been hurt a lot this year, and Tyjuan Hagler has done a pretty good job in his place. The Colts don’t historically pay LBs, so I think 4 years and $12 million gets Session.
Remi Ayodele - DT – New Orleans Saints – Ayodele has been a key rotation player for the Saints, and Gregg Williams has gotten a lot out of him. Ayodele is active and quick, and he gets good penetration when he’s on the field. He’s worth 3 years, $10 million.
Abram Elam – SS – Cleveland Browns – This is primarily a hedge against Dawkins breaking down, but Elam can help on special teams, and in big nickel looks. He’s not a star player, but he’s a good player, and he’s the kind of guy that strong defenses have as key backups. He could be had for something like 3 years, $7 million.
Clint Ingram - LB – New Orleans Saints – Ingram is a solid backup LB, who played for Gregg Williams in Jacksonville, and was on the roster in New Orleans, while recovering from an injury. (He started 2010 on PUP, and was released on October 20th.) Ingram would be a guy you could sign for around the minimum, but who would help with the installation of a new defense.
That group is an awful lot like Josh McDaniels’ first free agent group, in that it brings in some solid guys to fill specific roles in a new scheme. Weddle, Ayodele, and Session are instant starters, and Elam is a key reserve who can play a lot.
2011 NFL Draft
We have to make a few assumptions here. We’ll assume that the Broncos have the 3rd pick in the Draft, as they currently do. I used Walter Football’s current mock draft order, because their guess is as good as mine on how the final records will be, and it saved me some work. I’m not generally too big on mock drafting this far ahead of time, but to get an accurate sense of who might be on the board for the Broncos 4 picks in the first 3 rounds, I did one.
1st Round, Pick 3 – Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn – This is the key guy that the Broncos can draft to make the Gregg Williams 46 scheme. One of the problems with staffing 30 fronts is that very, very few college teams run those schemes. Because of that, when you’re looking for defensive linemen and pass-rushing OLBs, you’re projecting guys to do different things than what you have film on. You pick a 4-3 DE like Robert Ayers thinking he can play Sam LB in a 3-4, and hopefully he can.
Fairley doesn’t need any projection. He’s a dominant one-gap DT, and he’s at least as much of a reason for Auburn’s presence in the National Championship game as Cameron Newton is. The rest of Auburn’s defense is bad, but every time the team has needed a big defensive play, Fairley has delivered. Fairley is extraordinarily quick off the ball, and he’s been dominant against both the run and the pass. At 6-5, and 300 pounds, he’s not a bad-bodied fat guy. I don’t think Fairley is quite as good a prospect as Ndamukong Suh, (he’s not as powerful), but I consider him to be a better one than Gerald McCoy. If Fairley went #1 or #2, which is possible, especially if Andrew Luck stays in school, the fallback plan would probably be Marcel Dareus from Alabama. Interestingly, he has been playing in a 30 front, but several draft pundits think he’s more of a natural one-gap 40-front guy.
2nd Round, Pick 36 – Jeremy Beal, DE/OLB, Oklahoma – If they’re going to be playing a pressure scheme, the Broncos can’t be caught short of pass rushers again, if Elvis Dumervil gets hurt. Beal could be a pass rush specialist as a rookie, playing on 3rd downs and pushing Robert Ayers inside on those downs. Williams’ scheme is about hitting the QB, and if an opposing offensive line has to block Beal, Ayers, Fairley, and Dumervil, and a free runner like Brian Dawkins on every 3rd down, I don’t like their chances of holding up for a whole game.
2nd Round, Pick 49 – DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma – As I was thinking over needs, I considered RB and the OL here. Both could have better quality depth. I went RB, because backup Offensive Linemen are a contingency plan, meaning that you’d never play any besides your starting 5 unless you had to. Like QBs, there’s generally no rotation there, and the backups don’t do anything but some special teams. Multiple RBs, on the other hand, are used throughout football games. Knowshon Moreno has emerged as an excellent RB late in this season, and Murray would make a nice complement to him. He’s faster than Moreno, and he has an advanced feel for the passing game. He’s not Reggie Bush, but he can do some of the same stuff as Bush does for New Orleans, in terms of running a full route tree. The Saints like to motion Bush out wide of the outside WR, often Marques Colston. That causes a CB in zone to widen out pre-snap, and treat Bush as the outside WR. It ends up looking like this pre-snap.
The Flanker is on the numbers, and the CB is on his outside shoulder. In Cover-2, his job is to get a good jam on the Flanker, and force him to take an inside release, into where the help is in the zone. The Strong Safety is aligned even with the TE, and 12 yards off the line of scrimmage. This all changes when a threatening RB motions outside the Flanker. Note the change in alignment.
The primary receiver is the Flanker, let’s say it’s Demaryius Thomas. Defenses have to account for the fact that Murray can run a full route tree when he flanks out. Very few RBs can do so; Reggie Bush is about the only one in the present-day NFL who can, which is where his value comes from. Murray is less dynamic in the open-field than Bush, but he’s much more of a concern as a between-the-tackles runner, so he’s problematic for defenses in a different way.
In this example play, Murray motions out to the sideline, and runs a go route, with an outside release. The TE also runs a go route, to influence either the SS or the Sam LB (or both). Some defenses will check to a man look against this, and some will still run cover-2. That’s the read for the QB, and for Thomas. More often than not, it’ll be man-to-man, and we’re guaranteeing that Thomas isn’t going to be jammed, and that he’ll be able to run either the slant or the out, depending on the leverage of the guy covering him. If the defense plays Thomas too hard, you can get them with the TE or the RB.
Like the Saints do with Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory, the drafting of Murray to go along with Moreno, and a guy like Lendale White, gives the Broncos a lot of versatility with their backfield, and thereby, an excellent way to threaten defenses.
3rd Round, Jabaal Sheard – DE – Pittsburgh – I believe in duplication as a hedge against underperformance. A lot of media people criticized the Broncos for acquiring a lot of RBs and secondary players when Josh McDaniels was first hired, but doing so never served them badly. Especially with pass rushers, there’s a lot of hit and miss, and you can never have too many of them. With a team that wants to play pressure schemes, the defensive line needs to be the most competitive position group on the team. Think about how the Giants approach things. Beal would be Ayers’ backup, and Sheard would be Dumervil’s, if he could beat out Jason Hunter. The Broncos could then have defensive personnel groups for long yardage where they’re rushing with 4 or 5 DEs, like the Giants do.
I didn’t feel like it was worth my time to project past 3 rounds, but the Broncos would presumably add some depth and competition at the bottom of the roster in the late rounds.
The Aftermath – A Conceptual Depth Chart
That’s where this exercise has left us. The talent on the roster has improved, and a good balance was struck between valuing the Draft and signing some right-now Free Agent help. Incidentally, that’s what the McDaniels regime was doing the last two offseasons, and I had a certain un-knowledgeable person on Twitter tell me that signing free agents means you’re not rebuilding, because you’re trying to win now. Of course, that’s nonsense. You’re always TRYING to win now, if you can. Some people are really black-and-white, thought, and it is what it is, I guess.
I’d be happy with the offseason I’ve detailed the last couple days. It seems a lot of people who think like me would be too. Now, it remains to be seen how these many variables play out, and we can only hope they work out well. What do you think?
Originally posted at One Man Football