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Published on 04/14/2008 at Mon Apr 14 07:00.
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[Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey]

Every weekday leading up to the draft, BroncoTalk will break down a position, and whether or not using our first round pick in that area is a good idea. We’ll break it into 3 posts each day – arguments FOR, arguments AGAINST, and then a fan poll where we let you tell us. We hope you enjoy.

The Denver Broncos were so close to the Super Bowl in 2005, but one of the team’s big struggles was putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. No player on the team had more than 4 sacks, with safety John Lynch being among those with the total. The defense used a blitz-heavy scheme to compensate for the lack of natural pass rushers, and it worked well enough until the AFC Championship game. While other factors obviously contributed to that heartbreaker, the lack of pressure was the most obvious weakness on the defensive side of the ball.

Since then, the roster has been completely overhauled at the position, including the use of three draft selections in 2006 and 2007 (effectively four if you count the third rounder used to trade up for Jarvis Moss). While the pass rush has gotten better, the Broncos still have room for improvement. With 33 sacks in 2007, the Broncos tied for a middle-of-the-pack 16th in the league.

Pass rush isn’t the only concern: obviously the Broncos run defense was abysmal in 2007, and the defensive line had a lot to do with that. It’s arguable that the Broncos don’t have anyone athletic enough to be an every-down run defender while still effectively pressuring the quarterback on sure fire passing downs. Elvis Dumervil is too small and a pass rush specialist; he was a liability against the run last year as a starter. Rookies Moss and Tim Crowder have the potential to fit that bill, but Moss’ injury leaves his situation up in the air, and Crowder may never develop into the pass rusher the Broncos would love to see.

In the end, defensive end may very well be the pick. It’s not “against the norm,” like running back or offensive tackle, which would serve as high values at 12 but would be atypical selections by the Denver Broncos in the first round. But it’s a solid choice that would help build this team’s defensive line, something that could really help the defense as we make our championship run in the next few years.

Names to Know: Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey, Phillip Merling

Most Likely at 12: Derrick Harvey. Former teammate of Moss, many scouts say that Harvey is a better athlete and football player than Jarvis. We all know Shanahan loves Gators; reuniting these DEs, who played a big part in the National Championship in January 2007, is a tempting proposition.

Gholston will certainly be gone, even possibly #1 overall. The Broncos would have to give up a first rounder next year (at least) to even consider moving up high enough to take him. Merling has the highest grade of any defensive end on some boards, but injury concerns have him falling to the later first round (he’s recovering from sports hernia surgery at this time, forcing him to miss his pro workouts). It’s not hard to imagine a situation where the Broncos pick him, though. The Broncos want to trade down. They might be hoping to grab a different player, but don’t want to pick him at 12th overall. Suppose they trade down to the late teens, but the guy they’ve been favoring gets snapped up before they’re up again. Merling would be a nice safety net and a potential stud in this league, health permitting.

In the end, defensive end is a safe, if unsexy, pick for the Broncos. In a “build through the draft” strategy, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

In a bit we’ll post arguments AGAINST drafting a defensive end, but feel free to get the conversation started in the comments.

  • E. Halsey Miles

    If you look at the abyss that is our defensive line, there’s a very clear argument that the interior has a bigger need than the exterior. Marcus Thomas can’t quite stay out of trouble (though I don’t think his last arrest is going to hurt him by itself, it’s a bad sign), and who else do we have inside? Gerard War–oh yea.