Draft Strategy: Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are a team going through a pretty big transition as the leadership and hierarchy of the team and front office has changed. McDaniels is out which opened up spots of power in the GM and head coaching positions. To fill these, owner Pat Bowlen tapped former quarterback and Bronco great John Elway to run the day to day operations of the team. Elway gave GM Brian Xanders more power in making personnel moves that were limited under Josh McDaniels. Earlier this week, Elway hired former Carolina head coach John Fox, who turned around a franchise in North Carolina from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in two years. Why is this all important? Because the Broncos are coming off a 4-12 season and have a high draft pick to start their new journey towards the big game.

There are bound to be lots of little changes in how decisions are made on all levels of the organization, but we are going to attempt to pinpoint the direction they may head by looking at the past of the guys making the ultimate decisions. A lot has been made on John Elway‘s comments on Denver QB Tim Tebow, but like most things concerning Tebow, they were blown out of proportion by fans. Elway continued later in the quoted story (and tweets) to say how much he does like Tim and hopes he can mature in the quarterback for the Broncos. What could possibly make this more of a non story is this quote from Elway when he was being courted for the position he now holds:

“Football is what I know the best,” Elway said. “I’m not interested in being a head coach. I’m not interested in being a general manager. I don’t have that kind of experience to be able to pick those players day in and day out and such.” – quoted from ESPN story by the Associated Press

So it would seem that even John Elway doesn’t think he should be involved in the player personnel decisions, so his thoughts on players may not have that much influence on who will be picked by the Broncos in the draft. So lets look at the two men he hired to make those decisions.

Brian Xanders started his career in the NFL front office in 1994 with the Atlanta Falcons. From 1994 to 2008, Xanders held the title of Director of Football Administration and Player Personnel Analyst. Its easy to assume from his title that he had his say in Falcon drafts during that time period so lets look at the first round picks made by Atlanta during that time:

1995 – Devin Bush DB Florida State                1999 – Patrick Kearney DE Virgina

1996 – Shannon Brown DT Alabama               2000 – Travis Calridge OT USC

1997 – Michael Booker DB Nebraska                2001 – Michael Vick QB Virgina Tech

1998 – Keith Brooking LB Georgia Tech         2002 – T.J. Duckett RB Michigan State

2004 – DeAngelo Hall DB Virgina Tech & Michael Jenkins WR Ohio State

I think it is safe so say that Mr. Xanders is comfortable with taking defensive players, taking defense with 6 of 10 first round picks. Its also worth noting that half of those picks were defensive backs. He may also be unafraid to take risks with the picks of DeAngelo Hall, who had a history of being a hot head and free lancing in coverage, and Michael Vick. With Vick it is important to remember him now in the context from when he was drafted and not necessarily how risky he turned up being off the field. Everyone knew Vick was an elite athlete, but there were questions on how he would translate to the NFL and if it was possible to be successful as a running quarterback in the league. That’s a lot of risk to take with the first overall pick. When Thomas Dimitrof was hired by the Falcons in 2008, Xanders was hired by the Broncos to assist McDaniels with player personnel.

John Fox also has a defensive connection in that he played and coached defensive backs before becoming a head coach. Fox started in Pittsburgh with Chuck Noll and went from there to San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis before settling in as defensive coordinator under Jim Fassel with the New York Giants. While in New York, he helped guide the Giants to a Super Bowl vs the Ravens in 2001. After that loss he spent two years in Jacksonville under Jack Del Rio before spending nine years as the Carolina Panthers head coach.

Considering their history with defense, holding the number two pick, and needing to improve a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL, one would think they will go defense early. Lucky for them, there will be plenty of defensive talent to mine from at the top of the draft. Of course, it will all depend on who Carolina takes with the first overall pick, but it likely will come down to two players: Patrick Peterson out of LSU and Nick Fairly out of Auburn. Peterson has long been considered the top overall talent in the draft and Fairly is coming off a monstrous year that ended with a National Championship. Defensive line is a position where you can never have enough talent, especially pass rushers, and corner back is always important in a league that is geared towards the pass and stopping the quarterback. It will probably come down to who they are more comfortable with and Fairly comes with more red flags character wise and as a one year producer than Peterson who has played at a high level since he step on campus. Both Xanders and Fox are comfortable with not only taking DBs early, but developing them too which could have them leading more towards Peterson in that regard too. Add all that to the need to find someone who could play opposite Champ Bailey and then replace him when he decides to retire. There is some young talent in the Denver secondary, but none at the talent level of Peterson and some with question of when they will get to play again (Google Perrish Cox, Denver Broncos). There is going to be a lot of depth in the 2011 draft on the defensive side of the ball and it is likely the Broncos will take advantage of that.

Tags: AFC West Auburn Brian Xanders Carolina Panthers Chuck Noll DeAngelo Hall Denver Broncos Devin Bush Falcons Giants Jack Del Rio Jacksonville John Elway John Fox LSU Michael Booker Michael Jenkins Michael Vick New York NFL Nick Fairly Oakland Parick Kearney Pat Bowlen Perrish Cox Pittsburgh Ravens San Diego Shannon Brown St. Louis Super Bowl Thomas Dimitrof Tim Tebow Patrick Peterson Travis Calridge

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