Posted Wed Feb 24th by Ian Henson
This will be a three part article humorously (or not so humorously) titled, ‘Freshman Fifteen,’ not meant to offend. Just the facts and some outlook into the next season.
Denver drafting a running back in the top 15, really? How is this guy not the next Walter Payton? Expectations were sky high for this kid, anything under 1,500 yards and rookie of the year and this pick is a bust. Most mock drafts had Denver picking a defensive lineman or a linebacker, so everyone was surprised by the Moreno pick at number 12. Then again, I’m not telling you anything that you didn’t already know.
The Broncos had just finished a season in which they’d gone through nearly every available running back, not just on their team, but who had NFL experience. Most fans had crowned Peyton Hillis heir apparent and had prepared Madden rosters accordingly, but with the signing of Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan (sorry Kyle) in free agency there was a shift in the winds around Dove Valley.
Moreno held out in training camp and though it wasn’t apparent at the time, this was the kiss of death on his freshman campaign in Denver. Though he appeared in every game he never cracked 100-yards rushing in a single one of them. It is worth noting that one-hundred yards isn’t the new measure of success however, as the year of the workhorse running back officially ended prior to 2008; Mike Shanahan’s last season in the Rocky Mountains. Running by committee, best man for the job, running backs being judged on average yards per carry, not yards per game and the Broncos had one of the better ones in the league (just wasn’t Moreno).
Moreno had a fair share of rookie of the week awards; so I’m going to use football writer speak and say that Moreno will work on his mechanics, his cuts, not falling when he turns to go, but that’s all obvious. The game at the NFL level speeds up, with a season under his belt an entire off-season to prepare will do him wonders. I don’t expect him to crack 2,000-yards, but if he is going to amount to anything in the NFL he’s going to have to start proving it in 2010. In my heart of hearts I see Moreno’s improvement being directly linked with the interior offensive line being beefed up this March and April. The easiest way to tell won’t be in OTA’s, but during preseason games. However, by then the dice will have been rolled.
Ayers was drafted and a calm fell over Denver fans, “That’s more like it, but I would have picked (insert name)…” Not the hottest of prospects, but definitely worthy of a first round draft pick. He was pegged as a “one year wonder” coming out of Tennessee, but regards were given to the fact that his best year happened to be his final season in college. A player who hasn’t been consistently good since high school. He didn’t appear to be much different in Denver in his first season, but he also doesn’t appear to have found his niche just yet. Is he a defensive end playing outside linebacker or a linebacker playing defensive end? Or was it just that he was standing in the shadow of the immaculate Elvis Dumervil who happened to be beasting in his first pro bowl season?
I’m going to go ahead and say that it was shadowing Dumervil that led to his low numbers, but it wasn’t, Ayers played opposite Dumervil in the nickel package. He didn’t record a single sack, despite being in on nearly every nickel play the Broncos had. You can’t count Josh McDaniels amongst those unsatisfied with Ayers rookie season (at least not publicly), he has stated that he felt Ayers did everything that they asked him to do last season. Though Ayers himself has said that he was not satisfied at all with his own performance.
My thinking behind the drafting of Ayers was that the linebackers had been their best since the Orange Crush under Mike Nolan (during Dan Reeves tenure). So I expected nothing less from Ayers who recorded only 19 tackles in 2009. Not having reviewed film I was baffled at that number of tackles and remember him being a bigger part of the defense last season for some reason. In 2010 teams will be doubling up on Dumervil even more, making an even greater effort to keep him out of their quarterback’s face– this can be nothing but good for Ayers who has a golden opportunity to shine instead of lay dormant in Dumervil’s shadow. With Wink Martindale heading up the defense this season Ayers has another great opportunity to work with a linebacker centric defensive coordinator. I don’t see the new regime in Denver having as much patience with Ayers as they have shown players like Jarvis Moss though.
Oh boy… Kid had five tackles in his first game and then… died out, completely. Nnamdi Asmugha had 20 tackles his rookie season (and didn’t have an interception until his fourth), but that does nothing for this analysis. Smith was labeled a bust almost by week three of 2009, besides a tackle in week two he didn’t turn in another statistic until after the bye week. This is partially because of what Denver gave up to obtain Smith’s services (what ended up being the 14th pick in the first round of the 2010 draft).
McDaniels said that he drafted Smith because he could, “start right now,” in the Broncos nickel defense and he did. Then the Broncos replaced him with 36-year old Ty Law and ultimately with undrafted rookie Tony Carter. Though cornerback isn’t one of those positions where players necessarily have an immediate impact in the NFL, there are a few every year who break out and Smith was expected by Bronco nation to be one of them. Following the late season loss to the Oakland Raiders some fans pointed to Smith’s missed tackle as the lone play that clenched the game for Oakland. Thus the most recent memory of Smith is a painful one, one that had he made the tackle instead of missing could have meant 9-7 for Denver and a playoff berth (not to mention maybe making that first round draft pick the Broncos gave up the 26th or 28th instead of 14th).
In the Shanahan regime Smith could have lasted three, maybe four seasons having below average seasons. However, under the new Brian Xanders/McDaniels era Smith probably has this off-season and the preseason to prove that he’s worth it (remember Jack Williams?). I fully expect Smith to improve, lining up against Brandon Marshall and Jabar Gaffney for six or seven weeks straight and having Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins in his ear every time he lets up. At least I hope that does the trick. There couldn’t be a better learning position for a young cornerback to be in, it’s sink or swim.
Next up will be: Darcel McBath, Richard Quinn and David Bruton.
In the meantime Nation, where do you see improvements, where were you impressed and disappointed with these three rookies?