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Published on 08/31/2008 at Sun Aug 31 09:49.
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The Denver Broncos cut down their roster to meet the 53 man requirement yesterday afternoon, and there were undoubtedly some surprises. 2008 seventh round selection Josh Barrett was released, but it’s likely the Broncos will attempt to retain and develop him on their practice squad. Virtual unknown Nic Clemons snagged a roster spot, and overall — the Broncos kept five defensive tackles and five defensive ends. Even more surprising is the number of linebackers kept: Eight. After his pre-season performance UDFA Wesley Woodyard earned a spot and sixth-round draft choice Spencer Larsen helped his case with a solid game against the Cardinals and the ability to play both ILB and FB.

Many are left to wonder if the excess numbers kept at the respective positions are a strong indication that the Broncos are pleased with who they have overall, or if it’s an indictment on the lack of quality and opted for quantity. It will probably take the course of the season before any Broncos faithful figure this out. For the time being, we can take a long look down the roster and plan ahead for next year’s NFL Draft – which is what I intend to do right now.

Outside a piece here and there, I believe the Broncos offense is primed much better in the long run than the Broncos defense. It wouldn’t hurt to add another receiver, back or lineman from the draft to shore up the talent on that side of the ball (and I fully expect the Broncos to do so) – but there are several glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball that deserve more attention. With that said, my focus in this entry will be positions of need at the defensive side of the ball, and the prospects who can help fill the void in this years draft. Let’s kick off the analysis, shall we?

As I gaze at this years’ line-up a common and re-occurring need still shows: A lack of quality depth at DT. The jury is still out on Dewayne Robertson and how effective he’ll be this season and the progression of second year player Marcus Thomas will be important to watch. Alvin McKinley and Kenny Peterson are decent role players, but that’s exactly what they are. Role players. Nic Clemons rounds out the bottom of the barrel at this position, and to expect anything more than a good push here and there from him would be wishful thinking.

What the Broncos are lacking at the defensive tackle is a difference maker. It’s entirely possible that Robertson and Thomas will prove to be stalwarts on the interior of our defensive line this year, but that is TBD. For the long-term interest of the team, the Broncos would be wise to invest a high selection in another defensive tackle through the draft.

Some names that pop up immediately are Southern California’s Fili Moala, Georgia Tech’s Vance Walker and Michigan’s Terrance Taylor. Georgia senior Jeff Owens was also high on my list of players to watch at the position, but he suffered a leg injury in yesterday’s win over Georgia Southern and might be out for the rest of the season. I expect the three defensive tackles listed above (outside Owens) to be gone within the first two rounds, and it’s quite possible all three go within the first 32 selections. If the Broncos are serious about getting an impact defensive tackle through the draft, they will have to pull the trigger early due to the lack of top end talent in this years’ class.

Some names to also look forward to are: Ole Miss senior Peria Jerry (who is currently sidelined after meniscus surgery) Evander Hood of Missouri, and B.J. Raji out of Boston College, who could have been a top 75 pick last year if not for being held out for academic reasons.

Top Underclassmen to Watch:
Vince Oghobaase, Duke – DeMarcus Granger, Oklahoma and Sen’Derrick Marks – Auburn.

As I mentioned earlier, rookie linebackers Woodyard and Larsen have impressed, but I am a little less optimistic about the rest of their surrounding case. D.J. Williams is undoubtedly the most talented player we have in our corps, but he is indeed a free agent at the end of the season and will garner significant interest through the market. Highlight free agent signing Boss Bailey is currently sidelined with a high ankle sprain, and his affinity for injuries casts a shadow of doubt over my mind on his ability to contribute to this team long-term. Even with the aforementioned concerns, I have yet to hit on our most glaring need – which would be a long-term solution at ILB.

Nate Webster was deemed the starter for the regular season my Head Coach Mike Shanahan last week and will be backed up by Niko Koutivides. Neither of which are something to get excited about in my honest opinion. Rookie Spencer Larsen certainly has the ability to be a two-down thumper in the middle, but will likely need more development before he sees any significant playing time this season.

With that said, we can add linebacker (in particular MIKE) to the list of significant needs heading into the 2009 Draft.

Rey Maualuga of Southern California and James Laurinaitis of Ohio State highlight this years class at ILB, but are blue-chip prospects and likely out of the range of the Broncos unless they finish in the bottom half of the league. However, I see more value down the line with the likes of Dannell Ellerbe from Georgia and Scott McKillop of Pittsburgh, who both had fantastic starts to their senior campaigns on Saturday. Dave Phillistin of Maryland will be another name to watch, as he makes the switch from SLB to ILB to replace Erin Henderson who went pro this past season. Don’t forget Darry Beckwith from LSU, who projects well on the inside and outside spots.

There’s one junior to keep your eye out for and that’s Florida’s Brandon Spikes; who will be a top fifty selection if he declares this year.

Last but not least, I see some concerns with our longevity at the safety position. Marlon McCree is a one year rental and Marquand Manuel is a decent player, but a NFL journeyman. Hamza Abdullah will have to prove he’s a long-term option for the Broncos this year, and second-year man Roderick Rogers has potential, but still has a long ways to go. As mentioned earlier, Josh Barrett is a likely candidate for the practice squad and has all the tools to be a starter in the NFL, but the Broncos are in desperate need of a long-term playmaker from their safety position.

Before I get into the prospects, I will say that safety is an area in the draft where the Broncos have not placed much of an important emphasis on in quite some time. Safety is one of the positions where rookies can play at right away, and at an extremely high level. This years’ crop of safeties is much better than last years, and if the top juniors declare – the Broncos should have the opportunity to find some very good players with their top selections. I’ll start with the seniors.

William Moore out of Missouri is definitely the top senior in this class. Can play either spots, has great size, great speed and has a knack for forcing turnovers. Moore would be a wise first-round selection for the Broncos if they’re picking in the 20s. Strong safety prospects Michael Hamlin of Clemson, Patrick Chung of Oregon, Nic Harris of Oklahoma and Kevin Ellison of Southern California would be good options in round two if the Broncos are interested in a strong safety. Another versatile player is Courtney Greene out of Rutgers; who would be a nice pick early on day two. My senior sleeper at safety is Chip Vaughn out of Wake Forest who has excellent size and is always around the ball.

As you can tell, there are definitely quality options prior to even mentioning underclassmen at the position. Bring up sure-fire first round juniors in Taylor Mays of Southern California and Myron Rolle of Florida State University and the potential 2009 class at the safety position might be one of the best in years.

And for now, that’s a wrap. As the college season progresses, I will be putting up scouting reports of some of the top prospects in this years’ class – and in particular at the positions of need listed above. I know I didn’t include any offensive players in this entry, but I will do so in the near future. Thanks again and I hope you are excited about my future draft related entries.

College football has started, and the Broncos are just days away from marching into Oakland and massacring the Raiders. Could things get any better? We’ll see!

  • kerry

    seriously if the draft was tomorrow i think Shanahan would go with Rey MAualuga or James Laurinitis. i think MLB is our weak position this year. andneeds to be addressed. unless Spencer Larsen can get a shot early and show he can start the MLB is the way to go.

  • Aerobroncos

    A little out of subject but did you hear the Pats released John Lynch? I’m still bummed how he left. I was looking forward to one more year with him. He’s one of my favorites. Such a leader.

  • HogBlog

    I agree with some of your comments…HOWEVER;

    Your stating we have a solution w/Larsen. I agree! I think he will be the MLB next year. He has pedigree, maturity and rated higher than Mauluga from USC last year? His stats surpassed previous LB’s from arizona, and some damn good ones. Right? Think Bears/Patriots. He finished 2nd to Sedrick Ellis as PAC 1o def. player of the year. Were it not for his religion, do you think we would’ve got him @6th round?

    Now on to safety. Again you say we have concerns at safety and that Josh Barrett is a solid NFL safety. I completely agree, but at what safety position? Frankly, Barrett has better skills all around than any of the safety’s you mentioned. He’s a big, fast, hard hitting Strong Safety, who I feel could be a reincarnation of Steve Atwater, John Lynch. And…he’s much faster than both. So unless your talking Weak Side Safety or Cover safety, I find your comments confusing, but entertaining. We’re looking at next years LB corp right now. It would be DJ, Spencer, Wesley. Believe that for sure!

    We need to find a superior DL, WR, DB in the higher draft levels. I truly think Jack Williams will beat Bly out by end of year. Next year, we have to look for Champs replacement. Deltha O’neal is available again? He might be a great back-up over Foxworth…for sure?

  • HogBlog

    Regarding Practice Squad…This comes from ESPN:
    Posted by’ s Bill Williamson

    The Broncos and the Raiders have announced practice squad additions. The Raiders filled their eight-man practice squad and the Broncos added half of the squad.

    Here is Oakland’s practice squad that features running backs Louis Rankin and Marcel Reece. Rankin had a fine preseason and Reese is a fullback who the team has long-term plans for.

    Courtesy of Denver’s PR staff, here is a look at their practice squad additions:

    Josh Barrett (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) is a rookie from Arizona State University who was selected by the Broncos in the seventh round (220th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. He played in all four Denver preseason games in 2008, ranking fourth on the club in defensive tackles (11) and tying for third in special-teams stops (2). A two-year starter at Arizona State, Barrett attended Reno High School in Reno, Nev., and was born on Nov. 22, 1984.

    Mitch Erickson (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) is a rookie from South Dakota State University who entered the NFL with the Broncos as a college free agent on April 28. He appeared in all four preseason games for Denver in 2008 following a collegiate career in which he received first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press as a senior at SDSU. Erickson attended Hutchinson High School in Hutchinson, Minn., and was born on May 14, 1985.

    Darrell Hackney (6-foot-0, 248 pounds) is a second-year player from the University of Alabama-Birmingham who spent the final eight games in 2007 on Denver’s 53-man roster after beginning that season on its practice squad. In four games (1 start) with the Broncos in the 2008 preseason, Hackney completed 24-of-38 (63.2%) passes for 285 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (94.7 rtg.). A first-team All-Conference USA selection at UAB as a senior, Hackney attended Douglass High School in Atlanta and was born on Aug. 7, 1983.

    Steven Harris (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) is a second-year player from the University of Florida who entered the NFL with the Broncos as a college free agent on May 2, 2007. Harris, who saw time in all four preseason contests for Denver in 2008, played four games for the Broncos in 2007 and totaled six tackles (all solo). A member of the Gators’ National Championship team in 2006, Harris attended Coral Gables High School in Coral Gables, Fla., and was born on Aug. 14, 1984.