Posted Sun Aug 31st by Christopher Hart
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!