2011 NFL Draft Interview with MaxDenver.com’s Andrew Mason


When I was in high school, I idolized a lot of members of the media. One such guy who fit that criteria was Andrew Mason, the former Broncos TV host and current member of the Broncos media with MaxDenver.com. Mason is a southern Florida (Bucs) guy by nature, but has covered the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos in-depth, up-close, and personal–the two teams that pick at the top of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Mason is a good guy with great insights into not just the game of football, but sports in general. I recently got in contact with Andrew to talk about the NFL Draft, and I think you will be very excited about his responses. Topics were covered from the Broncos, Panthers, Bucs, to the most overrated and underrated players in the draft.

1. Test your creativity–if you were drafting for the Broncos, who would be your four picks (assuming no trade downs) to start the rebuild in Denver?

If it were my call, I’d start with Patrick Peterson for two reasons:

1. He is not only the best player available, but the one most likely to be contributing at a Pro Bowl level in eight to 10 years.  He is also ideally suited to eventually convert from cornerback to safety, where he could be even more effective in the distant future, as was the case with Ronnie Lott.

2. Since we’re dealing in hypotheticals, the defensive tackles the Broncos need will be available in the second and third rounds.

In the second round, it’ll be all about the defensive tackles.  I think Stephen Paea is even money to be gone by the time the Broncos come up, so we’ll start the second day with Marvin Austin, whose stock has risen enough to where the Broncos likely can’t count on him being available in the middle of the round.  Austin has force-of-nature potential, even though he hasn’t always sustained a high motor from one play to the next.  The risk-reward ratio on Austin is favorable here.  There are character issues, but John Fox has often done a good job channeling such problems, evidenced by the strong years he extracted from Kris Jenkins.

Jarvis Jenkins, if he’s still on the board, would be an outstanding get for the Broncos with their second-round pick.  If I’d taken Marcell Dareus at the top of the draft, I’d be tempted by Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks here, too.  Jenkins’s ceiling isn’t as high as Austin’s, but he projects as a solid, versatile three-technique who is quick enough to move around the line and play in nearly all defensive packages.

My fourth pick would be Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter, given that John Fox needs a second running back to partner with Knowshon Moreno.  I don’t expect Ryan Williams or Mikel Leshoure to be available here, although Williams is tempting at the beginning of the second round if he is on the board then.  I liked Hunter’s explosiveness during Senior Bowl practices.  Casey Matthews might get a look here, but he’s probably a reach anytime before the fourth round.  The pedigree is there, but he doesn’t look nearly as quick or instinctive as his older brother did at the same point in his development.  If the Broncos don’t get a running back by the third round, then their hopes for a solid 1-2 running back punch may rest on Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams becoming available — and being affordable — in whatever form free agency takes.

2. What are you hearing about the direction of the Broncos’ draft, specifically in the first two rounds?

Two things: 1. Don’t get hung up on specific needs.  2.  This draft meshes well with where the Broncos are weakest.  There’s a lot of rumblings about defensive tackle depth, which can be read two ways: 1) They don’t necessarily have to go DT in Round 1; 2) even if they go DT in the first round, don’t be surprised if they add another in the second round, maybe even with their first pick of that round.  DT offers excellent value this year.

3. Who is the one guy in the fearsome threesome (EFX) who has the most “say” in things come draft day?

John Elway technically has final say, but given that this is his first year in the process, I’d be shocked if he gives the call for any picks that both Brian Xanders and John Fox don’t approve.  Xanders comes with the most long-term credibility in the draft process, given his experience in the personnel department and the fact that his job description allows him to focus on the draft 12 months a year.  His work with the Falcons under Dan Reeves and Jim Mora and his year with Mike Shanahan also makes him ideal for the position because he understands how to take a coach’s specifications for skill sets at each position and extrapolate those to the draft board.  The big question is whether Fox and Xanders will mesh as well as Fox and Marty Hurney did in Carolina.  Fox and his GM had equal power with the Panthers and typically came to an agreement.  There were no football operations people above them in Carolina; even though Elway is above Fox and Xanders here, I don’t expect the executive vice president to veto any consensus Fox and Xanders reach.

4. What do you make of the Broncos’ interest in quarterbacks?

Due diligence, pure and simple.  This wouldn’t be the first time the Broncos have visited with prospects who played positions that weren’t obvious needs, but this is the first draft to take place in a complete offseason vacuum, which has helped feed the hyper-focus on player visits.  Some of the quarterbacks intrigue them; Elway’s comments on Cam Newton are evidence of that.  But taking a quarterback at No. 2 is probably a reach, and I sense the Broncos understand that.

5. Who are you hearing is going to be the Broncos’ first round pick?

I hear many things, but some are in conflict, so it becomes difficult to separate theory from fact.  I can’t help but come back to Elway’s statements in January and February about how they couldn’t afford to miss on the pick; that implies an overarching desire to avoid a bust at all costs, to get a player that can at least contribute and start for several years, even if he isn’t necessarily a star.  That’s why I think it will ultimately come down to Dareus, Peterson and Miller.  Among the players at the top of the draft, they have the least bust potential.

6. The Broncos need to hit big on this pick–7-10 years from now, who is going to be known as the best defender from this class of players?

Peterson.  The question with him is this: Is he worth making the highest cornerback ever drafted?  That would be the case if he went first or second, and you’d certainly hope he works out better than the cornerback who went No. 3 overall (Bruce Pickens to Atlanta in 1991, which was an utter bust).  Von Miller’s success depends on the system and how he is used.  Dareus won’t be a bust, but his ceiling isn’t as high as Ndamukong Suh, who played the same position and went No. 2 last year.  Nick Fairley and Cam Newton are strictly boom-or-bust guys.  Peterson is the only one of the top prospects I can securely declare as a star-to-be.

7. You also covered Carolina — who should/will be the number one pick in the draft and why?

What they should do is trade the pick, even if they don’t necessarily receive fair value.  Two second-round picks (one this year and one next year) and a top-five first-round pick (from Buffalo, Cincinnati or Arizona) wouldn’t be as much as the Panthers could get for the No. 1 in other years, but it would keep them from reaching too far on a quarterback and could give them ammunition to make another deal that either moves them back to the mid first or back up into the end of the first, where they could find a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker or Andy Dalton.  Or they could stand pat with whatever second-round pick they would receive this year (they don’t have their own because of the foolish, shortsighted trade of this year’s second-round pick for the Patriots’ third-rounder last year) and hope that one of those quarterbacks is still on the board early in the second round.

The pick will be Newton, because the organization looks around its division and sees franchise quarterbacks in every huddle: Drew Brees in New Orleans, Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Josh Freeman in Tampa.  The Panthers feel overwhelming pressure — maybe even bordering on panic — to find a franchise QB of their own, knowing that they will face Brees twice a year for perhaps the next seven years and Ryan and Freeman for another decade or more.  But I think that will lead to a reach in Newton.

8. Does Jimmy Clausen get too much blame, and should he get a second chance?

He should get a second chance, but not without another potential quarterback waiting in the wings.  It would be a mistake for the Panthers to emerge from this draft process without another possibility there.

He got too much blame, because with Carolina unable to stop the run and down to a cast of receivers that consisted of mid-to-late-round rookies and other teams’ cast-offs (e.g. Devin Thomas), he was left to fight from behind and lacked the weapons to try and play catch-up.  That being said, he showed little pocket presence or situational awareness.  One play encapsulated his season: a third-quarter sack in a Dec. 12 loss to Atlanta.  The Panthers had fourth-and-4 at the Atlanta 38, and trailing 17-7, opted to go for it.  Clausen rolled out and didn’t even get the football away, fading back into a 12-yard loss.  Had it been his first start, it would have been one thing, but nearly three months into his starting career, he looked as timid and indecisive as he did his first timeout.

It was the opposite of Tim Tebow.  Clausen has the measurables and prototypical skills but looked hesitant and uncertain on his feet; Tebow has none of the typical quarterback attributes but was decisive and confident.   It was telling that by the end of the season, Tebow — the supposed long-term project — looked light-years ahead of Clausen, who was supposed to be more ready-made to contribute immediately.

9. You also follow the Bucs–obviously DE is a big need for them, so who should they target in round one?

I think Adrian Clayborn would be the best fit for their defense, although if Da’Quan Bowers is still on the board, they’re going to take a long look at him.  Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris aren’t afraid to take calculated risks (see Josh Freeman and Mike Williams), and the last time the Bucs looked this promising, they had taken some equally well-measured risks (Warren Sapp’s alleged marijuana tests; Derrick Brooks’ less-than-ideal size; Mike Alstott’s hard-to-project skill set).  Bowers could fit as well in that scheme as Simeon Rice did during his salad days, and if healthy — and that is a tyrannosaur-sized “if” — would be a bargain pick.  The risk-reward ratio might be right at the 20th pick.

10. What do you hear are some likely trade scenarios for this year’s draft?

I can see Washington moving up, but I don’t think they can move up enough to get Newton or Blaine Gabbert unless active players can be dealt.  Their best shot to ascend in the draft might be to gain two to four slots and jump on Jake Locker, which might be necessary if Gabbert goes off the board quickly, causing panic among teams with obvious quarterback needs.

For the Broncos, it would be a trade of one to six slots down from the No. 2 position, but this is less likely than in other years.  The inability to include active players and the haziness of future drafts and a potential salary-slotting system makes the possibility of such deals murky at best.  For the Broncos to get true value for the No. 2 pick with selections in this year’s draft, a team trading up from the fifth pick and further back would likely have to incorporate a third team into the deal.  Given the complications involved with such a trade and the time needed to consummate it, it would appear unlikely the Broncos could pull this off.

Carolina almost certainly won’t trade the No. 1 pick, although as mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be a bad move, even though the trade value isn’t what it usually would be.

11. Most overrated/underrated player in the draft?

Overrated? Newton.  I could also say this about most of the quarterbacks in general.  The overwhelming prominence of the position means they’re naturally overvalued, but even with that in mind, there isn’t a quarterback in this draft class that would rank among the top 15 overall prospects.  Tampa Bay and Denver got it right in recent years with Josh Freeman at No. 17 in 2008 and Tebow at No. 25 last year.  They took imperfect prospects with generally correctable flaws, and 15-32 is where you can reasonably take quarterbacks that need refinement.  Alex Smith is a prime example here; in 2005 he would have been a justifiable gamble at, say, No. 20.  At No. 1 — or even No. 5 — it was a bridge too far.  The same is true for Newton and Gabbert; as quarterback prospects, they are not as complete as recent top-five quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford.

Underrated? Hawai’i WR Greg Salas.  He looks smooth and polished beyond his years; if the labor issues can be resolved in time for OTAs, he can step in and contribute as a starter in his first year with the right team.   WR isn’t a Broncos need, but tight end is, and I like the value of Kendricks, who’s a good pass-catcher, a nice physical presence and is a fundamentally sound, powerful run blocker.  He wouldn’t have played much for the Badgers without being a force in the run game.

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