Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Broncos Need to Pack More 'Draft' Punch

Recent Selections Have Produced More Questions Than Answers

By Ken Pomponio

COMMENTARY | With the Scouting Combine under way, that can only mean it's officially NFL Draft season.

And now that it's draft season, Denver Broncos backers need to be expecting more from the franchise's annual college selection process.

That's more impact.

More contribution.

More immediate and future starters.

This, of course, primarily falls on the still-broad shoulders of John Elway, who earlier this month had the general manager title officially added to his duties.

Since Elway joined the front office three years ago, the Orange and Blue have aced the tests on the field (three division titles, one Super Bowl appearance) and free agency (Peyton Manning, Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker).

But the three drafts under Elway have been a mixed bag at best.

Consider these quick facts and figures:
Of the 23 players the Broncos have drafted over the past three years, less than a third (seven) have developed into primary starters. And that list includes injury-addled safety Quinton Carter, who started 10 games as a rookie in 2011 but has only seen action in all of three games the last two seasons combined.
There were no primary starters who emerged from the Broncos' seven-man draft class of this past spring, with the group combining for a total of six starts (four by first-round defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and two by third-round cornerback Kayvon Webster).
Of Denver's 10 players selected in the first, second or third rounds over the last three drafts, only three (defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and offensive tackle Orlando Franklin) started at least half of the team's 19 games in 2013.
And of the above 10 high-round picks, only two (Franklin and linebacker Nate Irving) started for the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Overall, the Broncos' 22-man Super Bowl starting lineup featured as many players who entered the league as undrafted free agents (Welker, Chris Clark, Paris Lenon, Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams) as were Bronco top-two round selections (Franklin, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Zane Beadles and Williams).

Now sure, injuries have skewed a few of the above numbers, and it would remiss not to mention the seemingly promising futures of tight end Julius Thomas (4th round, 2011) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (6th round, 2012), who have the look of mid- and late-round steals.

Overall, though, it's too early to make long-term value assessments on players who have only been pros on a short-term basis, and there still are more questions than answers at this point. The blowout loss in the Super Bowl has only added emphasis.

Will 2011 first-rounder Von Miller, the draft's second-overall pick, be able to regain his 2011 and '12 form after a decidedly rough 2013 on and off the field?

Could the rare and mysterious ailments that befell second-rounders Moore and Wolfe this past season be career-threatening?

What if 2012 second-rounder Brock Osweiler doesn't prove to be Manning's heir apparent under center?

Can 2012 third-round selection Ronnie Hillman follow Moreno's lead and overcome early-career setbacks to become a reliable and productive NFL back?

At this juncture, heading into the 2014 offseason, these questions and more need to be asked.

And when it comes to the 2014 draft in May, more will definitely be asked of Elway and the Broncos' brass.

Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.

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While that is all well and good, members of +BRONCOS CR3W will have to beg to differ in this regard. This piece is written on purely speculative and 'on paper' comparison's. When you have what many consider the best team in the +NFL the last two seasons. Well, at least, close to the best, if not. Without noting the injury impact on key draft picks Miller, Wolfe, Moore and the fact that there will be very little room for an incoming starter to play right away and make an impact on a team that has its core roster and added depth via free agency for many of the shallow spots on the team's roster, it is slightly unfair to throw that headline on this franchise's front office or youth movement.

Kayvon Webster (left) and Montee Ball (right) meet in Dove Valley
after being drafted in 2013
Especially considering the success they showed to have with their first 3 draft picks who were all drafted to establish depth and not expected to be leaned on like many early round picks. Defensive line to be exact is one of the more difficult transitions in the first year of a drafted player. When called upon, Sly Williams delivered and then some for a rookie as an interior DT. Kayvon Webster may have been the best 3rd round selection after Tyronn Mathieu and Keenan Allen. Also have to point out the 'headline' making positions are areas that the Broncos do not need to draft early or late for. Wolfe, Moore have delivered when called upon. If half of the drafted players experience health problems that is just plain bad luck and can befell any NFL franchise.

The single draft pick that we could understand, but we are still keeping a jury out on him, is Ronnie Hillman as being a disappointment for where he was drafted. He's still on the roster though. As mentioned, remember what people thought of Knowshon Moreno before the last couple years and even up into this last year. Other than that, Osweiler, future based. Von Miller, Wolfe, and Moore all could be made for the argument of very successful choices when they have been healthy.

Last but not least, the Broncos have a solid youth foundation as we are seeing some of those players go up for free agency and the development and success of these players has been solid enough, the +Denver Broncos may not be able to keep them because they cannot afford them if they intend on holding on to players that have also had success, and appear to be staying in Denver.

All in all, we disagree with this headline and don't really 'buy' into the fact the Broncos need more success or as it was called, "Punch," in the draft. The stigma that last year draft was very shallow and the Broncos got contributions from a few rookies says a lot. This year the Broncos go into this draft differently than the previous two and that is the fact that they're secondary is in need of some depth and their pass rush. What are these attributed too? Injuries. Much will be speculated, but not only did they retain

* First aspect, "More Immediate and future starters * but then goes on to say that it still has yet to be determined how their drafts over the last few years have gone or how good...? * So, what's with the headline? That was along the line of a +Bleacher Report +FanSided+RantSports or a +SB Nation article. Pointless and just to have a posted headline for the sake of online traffic * The main difference is that they are calling these published, relevant 'news' articles instead of really just a mini blog post to keep posts inside the line's of a community or fan based posts. Much like the chatter of the Broncos have new uniform designs being done with Nike, which we CHOSE not to post anything about since there was absolutely no validity to the rumor or story to be found anywhere. Although every one of the blog sites above posted something regarding it... Examples of those posts, can make a person that wants actual evidence supporting the headline or statement within the article's post, smack their head, in saying where is the relevance to this headline?? Sentiments we've discussed with readers on this blog.

Normally do not get this from Ken, but this one was along those lines. Broncos do need to pack some punch in the draft but considering the wholesale changes in FA beginning two years ago, and the fact the Clady, Champ, among others are still in Denver when many proclaimed the Broncos would not be able to keep them around. Whilst adding depth via FA & draft picks. When healthy, its completely understandable that the Broncos could actually have a headline that says they need to maintain their course with both aspects and develop youth and add depth. They've missed out on adding impact players outside of Trevathan from the Backer position and have missed adding depth to their safety positions whether it was injuries or youth. Then taken into account that they grabbed "Nacho" as a rookie FA and Rahim Moore, with the development of Chris Harris, Kayvon Webster, they've done pretty well. Julius Thomas, Trevathan, Chris Harris, CJ Anderson, Zane Beadles, and players Chris Clark is evidenced that they've made a lot out of late selections &/or rookie FA...