Once or twice a week, without fail, people have been asking me the same question — with almost exactly the same follow-up comment. "So, what did you think about the Super Bowl?" they want to know, which invariably leads into a discussion of how memorable it was, whether the power outage was orchestrated to give San Francisco a better chance for a comeback, that kind of stuff.
Then, invariably, the conversations end, almost verbatim, with a wrapup thought.
"Of course, Denver should have been there. Damn defense."
It's happened just like that more than a dozen times now, often with more expletives about the Broncos' defense giving up so many huge plays to Baltimore in that excruciating playoff loss to the Ravens.
But a new theme is emerging: How should Denver approach the upcoming NFL Draft (April 25-27), with the pre-draft combine reviving interest in the past week?
First, you should know that this draft won't have anywhere close to the star power of recent years'. Just look at a typical mock draft of projected top picks: Luke Joeckel, offensive lineman, Texas A&M; Star Lotulelei, defensive lineman, Utah; Dee Milliner, cornerback, Alabama; Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, linebackers, Georgia; Damontre Moore, defensive lineman, Texas A&M; Bjoern Werner, defensive lineman, Florida State; Jonathan Cooper, offensive lineman, North Carolina; Dion Jordan, outside linebacker, Oregon; and Barkevious Mingo, defensive end, LSU.
All of them more might go before the first "skilled" position player (quarterback, runner or receiver) is taken. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper is forecasting only two prospects from those positions in the first 25 picks, and chances are good that you don't know them, either: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Stanford tight end Zach Ertz.
This draft is light on marquee players, but deep with standouts who will go in the first three or four rounds. For example, the Broncos need more at running back, with Willis McGahee now 31 and uncertain, Knowshon Moreno still unproven over the long haul, and Ronnie Hillman not having made a real impact as a rookie. But Denver could find another promising runner, and not a no-name. We're talking about the likes of Montee Ball of Wisconsin, Johnathan Franklin of UCLA, Knile Davis of Arkansas, Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State or Rex Burkhead of Nebraska.
Of course, some would say that if the Broncos could get Alabama runner Eddie Lacy with the 27th choice late in the first round, they should jump on him.
My guess is, that won't happen. Damn defense, remember? More likely, Denver will want someone who could help now at inside linebacker, cornerback or safety, such as Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, Florida safety Matt Elam, linebacker Kevin Minter of LSU or, if he slips, safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas.
Then again, there's another intriguing possibility. What if Denver's turn arrives, and one of the draft's top celebrities is there?
We're talking about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who had a remarkable season and finished second for the Heisman Trophy. In mid-December, Te'o looked like a certain Top 10 pick. After revelations of him being the victim of that strange relationship hoax, followed by his weak performance against Alabama in the national title game, Te'o's stock has fallen — but nobody knows how much.
It's true that Te'o might have a better shot in Denver, with friendlier fans and a less-searing media glare. The question is, can he mature emotionally and become a great NFL player? Or, more bluntly, would Te'o be worth the gamble?
We won't know that answer for two months. But don't be surprised if it comes down to Denver having that choice.
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