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Re-Grading Denver Broncos' Past 5 Drafts

Cecil LammeyContributor IApril 22, 2014

Re-Grading Denver Broncos' Past 5 Drafts

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    Jason DeCrow

    The Denver Broncos have built a Super Bowl contender out at Dove Valley. Under the guidance of general manager John Elway, Denver is set to make another run at the title in 2014.

    The team has been assembled in a few different ways. The Broncos use free agency to add players at positions of need. These are usually big-name players who can make an immediate impact for the Broncos on either side of the ball.

    The Broncos have drafted young players with upside under Elway’s watch. These players may or may not contribute right away, but the thought is that eventually some could be asked to play prominent roles for the team.

    In this article, we take a look back at how this team was assembled through the draft. Players have hit, players have missed, and some players have come out of nowhere to be impact players for the team.

    Here’s a review of the last five draft classes for the Broncos.

2009 NFL Draft

2 of 6

    Ed Andrieski

    1

    12

    Knowshon Moreno

    RB

    Georgia

    1

    18

    Robert Ayers

    LB

    Tennessee

    2

    37

    Alphonso Smith

    DB

    Wake Forest

    2

    48

    Darcel McBath

    DB

    Texas Tech

    2

    64

    Richard Quinn

    TE

    North Carolina

    4

    114

    David Bruton

    DB

    Notre Dame

    4

    132

    Seth Olsen

    G

    Iowa

    5

    141

    Kenny McKinley

    WR

    South Carolina

    6

    174

    Tom Brandstater

    QB

    Fresno State

    7

    225

    Blake Schlueter

    C

    Texas Christian

     

    This class is highlighted by the two first-round picks, running back Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and defensive end Robert Ayers (Tennessee). Neither is with the team anymore as both failed to make the expected impact during their time in Denver.

    Moreno had his best season as a pro in 2013 when he rushed for barely over 1,000 yards. He also became the first running back in Broncos history to go over 1,000 yards on the ground and over 500 yards as a receiver.

    Despite his productive 2013 season, the Broncos didn’t want to bring Moreno back. Almost 80 percent of his carries came against six or fewer defenders in the box last year, yet Moreno couldn’t gash a defense on the ground. His only 100-yard game in 2013 came against the Patriots—and they lost. Moreno left unceremoniously in free agency to join the Miami Dolphins with a one-year deal.

    Ayers was a decent edge-setter as a run defender, but he never developed into the pass-rushing threat some thought he would be coming out of college. A strong practice performance at the Senior Bowl against left tackle Michael Oher helped put Ayers on the map. Like Ayers, Oher hasn’t worked out as expected, so history is not kind to that practice performance.

    He was OK as a part-time player, but Ayers struggled with a larger role and larger expectations. Watching the Super Bowl, it was clear Ayers was not a starting-caliber player. On Percy Harvin’s first carry of the game, he runs around Ayers untouched. Harvin is one of the most elusive players in the NFL, but Ayers did not even see him. Ayers stared at quarterback Russell Wilson while Harvin turned the corner right next to him with the ball in his hands.

    As disappointing as Ayers and Moreno are, that is nothing compared to the disappointment of the next pick.

    The Broncos (really Josh McDaniels) traded a 2010 first-round pick to get into the second round to select cornerback Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest). A smaller corner, Smith was noted for being aggressive and having strong ball skills. Smith struggled to impress in Denver and was traded to the Lions in 2010.

    What makes this bad move even worse? The pick traded to acquire Smith ended up becoming Earl Thomas, Pro Bowl safety for the Seattle Seahawks.

    The only player left on the team from this draft is safety David Bruton (Notre Dame). He’s a valuable special teams player and reserve safety.

    This is a bad draft and the worst grade over the last five years.

    Grade: D-

2010 NFL Draft

3 of 6

    Ed Andrieski

    1

    22

    Demaryius Thomas

    WR

    Georgia Tech

    1

    25

    Tim Tebow

    QB

    Florida

    2

    45

    Zane Beadles

    G

    Utah

    3

    80

    J.D. Walton

    C

    Baylor

    3

    87

    Eric Decker

    WR

    Minnesota

    5

    137

    Perrish Cox

    CB

    Oklahoma State

    6

    183

    Eric Olsen

    G

    Notre Dame

    7

    225

    Syd'Quan Thompson

    DB

    California

    7

    232

    Jammie Kirlew

    DE

    Indiana

     

    Who could forget the pick of quarterback Tim Tebow (Florida)? Like 2009, the Broncos had two first-round picks in 2010 and actually started with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech).

    During his time in college, Thomas showcased his ability as a run-blocker. The Yellow Jackets only averaged eight (yes, only eight) passing attempts per game during Thomas’ final year. He was big and fast, but Thomas needed to refine his route running and concentration.

    Thomas showed upside early in his pro career, but he really accelerated his stardom when the team added Peyton Manning. Over the last two years, Thomas is clearly one of the most dominant receivers in the game today. He can beat teams on deep routes, or he can make big plays on short passes he turns into long gains with his run-after-the-catch ability. Any question marks about his transition to the NFL game are long gone.

    Tebow was a project for head coach Josh McDaniels. Ignoring Tebow’s poor mechanics, lack of intelligence and accuracy problems, McDaniels felt like he could tap the potential of the college superstar. We never got to see that experiment come to a conclusion because McDaniels was fired with four games left in Tebow’s rookie season.

    The controversial quarterback ended up replacing Kyle Orton in 2011 as the starter, and he led the Broncos to an improbable playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. While struggling to run anything resembling a pro-style offense, Tebow did not endear himself to John Elway.

    When Elway had the chance to add Peyton Manning, he did so in a heartbeat, and Tebow was sent packing to the New York Jets. That lasted a year, then Tebow got a chance to be with McDaniels once again—this time with the Patriots. That lasted through the preseason, then Tebow was released. He spent the 2013 season out of football.

    Zane Beadles was next added by the Broncos. He spent his entire career as the starting left guard for the team, and Beadles improved as his pro career went on. Beadles became so coveted that the team lost him in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this year.

    Eric Decker, like Beadles, left in free agency this offseason. During his time with the Broncos, Decker was a standout player on and off the field. He was a good blocker with sure hands coming out of college. Catching passes from Manning, Decker became one of the best No. 2 wide receivers in the league. It will be interesting to see how he works out with his new team, the New York Jets.

    Thomas overrides the Tebow pick, and this grade reflects that.

    Grade: B+

2011 NFL Draft

4 of 6

    Ed Andrieski

    1

    2

    Von Miller

    LB

    Texas A&M

    2

    45

    Rahim Moore

    DB

    UCLA

    2

    46

    Orlando Franklin

    T

    Miami (Fla.)

    3

    67

    Nate Irving

    LB

    North Carolina State

    4

    108

    Quinton Carter

    DB

    Oklahoma

    4

    129

    Julius Thomas

    TE

    Portland State

    6

    189

    Mike Mohamed

    LB

    California

    7

    204

    Virgil Green

    TE

    Nevada-Reno

    7

    247

    Jeremy Beal

    DE

    Oklahoma

     

    After a disastrous season in 2010, the Broncos went in a new direction with a new head coach—John Fox. The Broncos had the No. 2 overall pick, and with their highest selection in franchise history, they added outside linebacker Von Miller (Texas A&M).

    He made an immediate impact for the Broncos and was quickly seen as one of the best young pass-rushers in the game today.

    However, Miller was suspended for the first six games of the 2013 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Upon his return, Miller didn’t look like his old self as he had gained 15 pounds of muscle to hold up better as a run defender. Miller then suffered an ACL injury in Week 16 against the Texans, and that puts the start of his 2014 season in doubt.

    Miller has been working hard during his recovery, and he could return in 2014 to look like his old self. If he does that, the Broncos will have to then manage a new contract for Miller.

    Rahim Moore was the next pick. He’s struggled with consistency and staying healthy as a pro. Moore is best remembered for missing the touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the 2012 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, Moore looked more confident on the field, but a lower leg injury knocked him out for about half of the season.

    Julius Thomas is a big hit here. He was a basketball star at Portland State with only one year of college football experience when he turned pro. The Broncos shocked the NFL when they selected this raw project in the fourth round. After two years lost to an ankle injury, Thomas burst onto the scene immediately in 2013. If healthy, Thomas is one of the best in the game.

    Virgil Green came out of college as the favorite target of quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Nevada. Green was known mostly as a receiver, but he’s transformed into a fine blocker as a pro.

    If Miller returns to his dominant ways, this grade will be higher.

    Grade: B

2012 NFL Draft

5 of 6

    Ed Andrieski

    2

    36

    Derek Wolfe

    DT

    Cincinnati

    2

    57

    Brock Osweiler

    QB

    Arizona State

    3

    67

    Ronnie Hillman

    RB

    San Diego State

    4

    101

    Omar Bolden

    CB

    Arizona State

    4

    108

    Philip Blake

    C

    Baylor

    5

    137

    Malik Jackson

    DE

    Tennessee

    6

    188

    Danny Trevathan

    LB

    Kentucky

     

    The Broncos originally had the 25th overall pick in the first round. A trade back to 31st overall netted them more picks. Yet another trade out of the first round netted them even more picks. With the 36th overall pick, the Broncos selected defensive end Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati).

    Wolfe is still developing as a pro, and his 2013 season was cut short by a scary spinal/nerve injury. If healthy, Wolfe has the tenacity to get some edge pressure while also having the strength to set the edge as a run defender.

    The next two picks are somewhat controversial in the eyes of Broncos fans.

    Quarterback Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. Some felt an impact player like middle linebacker Lavonte David (the very next pick) would have been a better choice. Currently, Osweiler is developing behind Peyton Manning as the quarterback of the future.

    His release point has been corrected, and Osweiler has better footwork now than he did coming out of college. However, his future with the team is a big question mark. Mike Klis of The Denver Post feels that Osweiler will hit free agency before Manning does. It would be a waste of a pick if the Broncos never get meaningful snaps from Osweiler and lose him in free agency.

    The next pick was third-round selection running back Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State). The Broncos traded up in the third round to get the diminutive runner. His speed made him stand out for two years with the Aztecs, but in two years with the Broncos, we’ve barely seen any big plays.

    Hillman spent most of last offseason as the team’s lead back. However, after three fumbles in the preseason, he lost the lead job to Knowshon Moreno. After a fumble against the Colts (near the goal line) in Week 7, he lost the backup job to Montee Ball. He may be the fastest player on the team, but Hillman is not guaranteed a roster spot in 2014.

    The other two players to highlight are the final two picks of the draft.

    Malik Jackson was raw as a pass-rusher coming out of college. He’s built up even more strength as a pro, and Jackson is developing more moves to get after the quarterback.

    Danny Trevathan was a steal in the sixth round. He came into the league primarily as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. Trevathan became the starting weak-side linebacker for the Broncos last year, and he was a standout player. He has the ability to make impact plays in coverage.

    The injury to Wolfe, Osweiler and Hillman really hurt this grade. All three could turn it around in 2014 (and beyond), but as of right now, the grade reflects their current status. Trevathan and Jackson help keep this grade above average.

    Grade: C+

2013 NFL Draft

6 of 6

    Ed Andrieski

    1

    28

    Sylvester Williams

    DT

    North Carolina

    2

    58

    Montee Ball

    RB

    Wisconsin

    3

    90

    Kayvon Webster

    CB

    South Florida

    5

    146

    Quanterus Smith

    DE

    Western Kentucky

    5

    161

    Tavarres King

    WR

    Georgia

    6

    173

    Vinston Painter

    OT

    Virginia Tech

    7

    234

    Zac Dysert

    QB

    Miami (Ohio)

     

    The Broncos once again were drafting near the end of the first round in 2013. A real value fell to them at 28th overall, so they selected defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (North Carolina). This move was a strong one as Williams was not expected to be on the board at the time of the Broncos' selection.

    Williams had a rough start to his rookie season. Early in the year, Williams would guess the wrong shoulder to attack after the snap. After guessing wrong, Williams would then try to run around his blocker to the play. That may have worked in college, but he was late and out of position doing that as a pro.

    After starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was lost for the season due to a hip injury in the Week 12 game against the Patriots, Williams was thrust into a larger role. As a starter next to veteran Terrance Knighton, Williams began to stand out. He learned how to anticipate plays better, was more forceful when creating interior pressure and kept his strength at the point of attack as a run defender.

    In the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Broncos added running back Montee Ball (Wisconsin). With Knowshon Moreno moving on in free agency, the Broncos are turning to Ball as their lead back.

    Like Williams, Ball started his rookie season slowly. Fumbling and pass-protection problems kept him on the bench as he split time with Ronnie Hillman as the primary back behind Moreno. After a Week 7 fumble near the goal line against the Colts, Hillman was essentially shelved for the season, and Ball got a larger role.

    He took the ball and ran with it—literally. Ball finished the season showing better determination between the tackles and better patience when bouncing a run outside.

    Another player to highlight here is third-round pick cornerback Kayvon Webster (South Florida). He is a big hitter who loves to initiate contact and intimidate an opponent. Webster worked well as a sub-package player to begin the season, but as Champ Bailey was fighting through a Lisfranc injury, Webster was asked to do more. He struggled with this larger role, and Webster was regularly targeted by opposing quarterbacks. In 2014, Webster will compete to be the team’s nickel corner behind Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.

    Other players like outside linebacker Quanterus Smith (Western Kentucky), offensive tackle Vinston Painter (Virginia Tech) and quarterback Zac Dysert (Miami, OH) will have to wait for an opportunity with the Broncos.

    It’s too early to truly put an accurate grade on this class, but at this point, it looks pretty solid.

    Grade: B+

     

    Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com. Contract information provided by Spotrac.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey. 

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