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Saturday Morning Quarterback: Broncos Take Needs-Based Approach, Come Away with Solid 2013 Draft Class.


 

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So after months of anticipation, speculation, mock draft boards and expert opinions, the 2013 NFL draft is finally in the history books. This draft class was truly a deep one with a lot of talent on the offensive line, defensive line, at wide receiver and at the linebacker position in particular. However, most of the talent in this draft was developmental and raw. While there were impact players to be found, they were few and far between. It was a good class for a solid team that needs to win now like the Denver Broncos. There weren’t a lot of players that were going to make opponents instantly better but also none that could be expected to greatly improve Denver immediately.

The Broncos did manage to grab Sylvester Williams off the board with the 28th pick overall. Williams is a 6’3, 313 pound DT with a great story to go along with lots of talent. He essentially worked his way from a $400 a week factory job following high school to garner scholarships, a college education and All-ACC honors only a few years later. Now, he is a first round draft choice and deservedly so. He has tremendous talent, a quick burst and is a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage. He is sure to bolster a defensive line that already features Kevin Vickerson and the newly signed Terrance Nighton with whom he actually shares a lot of style. Many thought the Cowboys would grab him at No. 19 so the Broncos most assuredly thought they were getting a solid value when he was still available 9 picks later. I would have to agree. This is a terrific addition.

With the 58th pick the Broncos went after the position I felt was of greatest need following the initial free agency period. They selected Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, a 5’10, 214-pound running back that just one year ago was a Heisman finalist. Ball’s numbers were astounding for a collegiate player, astounding and historic. He managed to tie Barry Sanders’ TD record scoring 39 of them in 2011 and is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career touchdowns with 83. He also ran for at least 1850 yards in both 2011 and 2012 (1923 yards in 2011).

Though many considered it a decline, 2012 was an especially impressive year considering the circumstances. He returned to Wisconsin when many thought he should have gone straight to the pros. The team floundered early after losing a considerable amount of skill players on the offensive side of the ball including Russell Wilson. Making matters worse Ball suffered an unfortunate concussion when he was attacked by three men on August 1, 2012. Despite all of this, he recovered from the attack and a very slow start to finish with 1850 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Some experts, however, are complaining that the Broncos reached. Only a couple of weeks ago I said that if Eddie Lacy was on the board at No. 28, the Broncos needed to take him no matter what. So, when Lacy was still available with the 58th pick, I thought it was a given that he would become a Bronco. Apparently, Elway and Co. already had their eye on Ball. They grabbed him about 25-35 spots earlier than most draft boards had predicted. He was a consensus third rounder. This early move speaks to the fact that  the Packers had their eyes on Ball as well. The Broncos must have thought that Ball would be taken three picks later and that it was 58 or never. As it turns out, the Packers grabbed Lacy with that pick.

These events beg the question, did the Broncos really reach if, in fact, the Packers were going to take Ball with the 61st pick? We’ll probably never know the answer but it seems that on this weekend Lacy’s stock was way down and Ball’s had been re-valued at a slightly better price.

Montee Ball is a strong and durable back who welcomes contact, falls forward on every tackle and has proven he can pick up the difficult yards that move chains and put six points on the board. If he provides little more than durability that will be a huge win for the mile high city. My concern is the future. There is a lot of tread on those tires. However, since “Win Now” is the mantra, I’m confident Ball can be a contributor in the final years of Peyton Manning. Beyond that?

 

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With the 90th pick the Broncos selected Kayvon Webster, a cornerback out of South Florida. He isn’t one of the new breed of big corners coming in at 5’10, 195 pounds, but the former track star is very fast. If you watch film or study up on Webster, you’ll notice that he is a terrific run defender and tackler, something you don’t see a lot of in the age of the “shut down” corner. Still, it’s nice to see and he definitely has strong cover abilities as well. Sometimes, however, he relies a little too much on his athletic ability and gets burned. It’s easy to see him lining up as a safety as well.

It comes down once again to reach.  Could the Broncos have gotten Webster later? Considering they traded their fourth round pick to the Packers in order to acquire a 5th and a 6th, NO. Was there a better CB on the board either at 90 or above? Again, I would argue NO. For all the talk about the Broncos needs at corner, the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this off season makes taking a shot on a player like Webster easier to accept. John Elway wasn’t looking for a starting corner but he did want the best one on the board and he wanted one in the third round. This is probably my least favorite pick of this year’s draft but I understand the move. Denver fans probably have another season before they’ll be seeing a lot of Kayvon Webster anyway. The hope is he develops and merits the pick.

After foregoing a fourth round selection the Broncos took defensive end Quanterus Smith out of Western Kentucky. He clearly has the size defensive coordinators want to see on their roster standing 6’5 and weighing in at 250 pounds. His arms measure in at 33 ¼” and his hands are 10 3/8”. Those can come in handy in many a defensive situation. You would probably expect him to carry a little more weight but that is something the Broncos will look to provide Smith with as he develops.

The problem is he tore his ACL in November of 2012. That is the primary reason he finds himself available this deep in the draft. The book on Smith is that he has tremendous hands and a skill set that is second to none compared to the the other pass rushers in this class. He is intelligent, known for his hustle and has terrific football instincts. Also, prior to his ACL injury his durability was unquestioned. He’s a kid who thrived in the 4-3 defense thanks to his time as a Hilltopper, something that certainly enhanced his value to Elway and company.

Before his injury he even managed a three sack performance versus arguably the best offensive line in all of college football, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Smith is still recovering from his knee surgery and is definitely a project from a rehabilitation standpoint. Once he is back at full speed though he is sure to provide exceptional performance. This was a fantastic value pick for Denver considering the talent level here and the fact that Smith was expected to come off the board in the fourth round.

With their second pick of the fifth round the Broncos added talent to their already stocked receiving corps. Tavarres King is a 6-foot, 189 pound wide receiver out of Georgia and was simply the best player on the board when the 161st pick came around. He’s a Torrey Smith type only his hands are less reliable. In fact, his size and his hands have been the biggest question marks surrounding him. Still this is a smart pick. He runs solid routes and certainly makes the running look effortless. He should easily win the fourth receiver spot on the Broncos roster and in certain packages may see action. Certainly, if something were to happen to the big three, King stands to be a big part part of picking up the pieces.

With the second pick they acquired from the Packers, the Broncos snatched up offensive tackle Vinston Painter at the beginning of the sixth round. At 6’4, 306 pounds, Painter is still a lean specimen and the Denver coaching staff has room to add some mass should they choose to do so. Painter looks light on his feet and actually ran the forty in under 5 seconds which is dangerously quick for an offensive lineman. He is a powerful player with a sturdy base (he squatted a ridiculous 500 pounds at his West Virginia pro day) and his outstanding athleticism had many thinking he might go sooner than previously projected.

It’s notable that early in his career with the Hokies he was a DT but made a successful move to offensive tackle and guard. It speaks to his football aptitude and raw ability. While he isn’t going to see much action next year with some of the additions the Broncos have made in free agency, he was an absolute steal in round six and should contribute in 2014. He really might be that late round diamond in the  rough teams covet.

Finally, the Broncos rounded out their 2013 picks on offense again grabbing Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert. Dysert is a big QB at 6’3, 231 pounds and he holds the distinction of breaking Ben Roethlisberger’s college record for passing attempts, completions and yardage. That’s certainly something that looks good on a resume. When you have Peyton Manning at the helm it’s a luxury to be able to grab a value player like Dysert whom you can work with for a year or two.

He is far from perfect, of course. His footwork still needs lots of improvement, he tends to stare down targets and miss check downs and he has been known to leave the pocket a little early when the pressure comes. Still, much like Roethlisberger before him he moves well for a big guy, he’s exceptionally tough and he makes something out of nothing with his legs. Put simply, he moves the chains. He’s got the look of a professional quarterback and now he just needs to work on habits and technique. It should be fun to watch him battle it out for Peyton’s chair when the time comes.

The Broncos finished off the draft and then proceeded to grab an additional 15 Undrafted Free Agents including running back C.J. Anderson out of California and 6’2 corner Aaron Hester from UCLA. The Broncos certainly drafted to fill needs which is exactly what any good organization should be doing. Five of those seven players that came off the board for the Broncos represent value plays and two of these picks, Smith and Painter may prove to be absolute bargains. Only time will tell.

Montee Ball and Kayvon Webster represent the two picks that seem to be creating the most controversy. In the Peyton Manning lead offense that Denver has assembled, Ball’s durability and toughness are the real assets. The question is will this pick stand the test of time? As for Webster, timing and need combined to put him in a Bronco uniform. Fans will need to have patience. He has the tools to make an impact long term.

At the start of the off season I wrote that this was a draft that really shouldn’t help or hurt the Broncos too much and it appears that was the case. The defensive line looks slightly improved, the backfield looks a little more reliable and with time and coaching some late round additions may be major contributors. In addition, none of Denver’s division rivals seem to have put together drafts that will change their immediate future. All in all you’d have to give the Bronco brass another very solid grade.

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Tags: John Elway Montee Ball Sylvester Williams Zac Dysert