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Character's fine, but Broncos still look shaky 

As the Denver Broncos' portion of the National Football League draft unfolded last weekend, the words of Max McGee came to mind.

McGee, a former Green Bay Packers receiver who scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl I, was known as much for his carousing as his playing and he was a fine player. McGee, who went on to much success in the business world before dying unexpectedly last year at 75, had strong views about the definition of character in football.

"When it's third and 10," McGee said on more than one occasion, "you can take the milk drinkers and I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time."

It was obvious that Denver head coach Mike Shanahan decided, at least for this draft, that he would choose Borden's over Jack Daniel's.

As a result, Shanahan put together the best Bible-study group he could. Perhaps the Broncos could adopt a new motto: Praise the Lord, pass the apple pie and let's beat those evil Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers, beginning with the season opener at Oakland.

From start to finish, we heard story after story about the newest Broncos being devoted to family and religion, emotionally mature and dedicated to hard work and impeccable values.

That's all fine, but when it was over and Mel Kiper, the Ultimate Draft Guru, made his assessments for espn.com, he didn't consult First Corinthians to come up with Denver's grade.

Kiper gave the Broncos a C-plus. And, to be totally blunt, it seemed he was being nice, especially when comparing Denver's picks with those of the rest of the AFC West.

Throughout the draft, we heard repeatedly about how shrewd Kansas City was in grabbing players who could be instant starters and contributors. Check around online, and you'll see various analysts saying the Chiefs "won" the draft meaning they rated No. 1 in the 32-team league.

We also heard how smart Oakland was to jump on runner Darren McFadden when he was available at No. 4, and how San Diego (already the class of the division) could have two gems in cornerback Antoine Cason of Arizona and tough runner Jacob Hester of LSU.

We definitely didn't hear as many platitudes about Denver, aside from Shanahan's glowing comments about what great people he was picking.

Certainly, it's OK to have players who won't ever make it onto the police blotter. But it would be one thing if the Broncos were more like the Chargers, entrenched as division contenders and needing only a few upgrades to make a serious run toward the Super Bowl. Such is not the case for Denver and Shanahan, who should have been as aggressive as Kansas City whose front-office types reportedly told media they were looking to find at least six instant starters in this draft. (By the way, the Chiefs succeeded.)

Meanwhile, the Broncos came out of the draft with exactly one likely starter, left tackle Ryan Clady of Boise State. Shanahan gushed about Clady's "great feet," apparently referring to his agility. Yet he's considered by neutral observers as raw and unproven, more of a gamble than other linemen from power conferences who went shortly thereafter in the first round. There's no question Clady is a fine young man who has endured the unexpected death of his mother. But was he worth the No. 12 pick in the first round?

If you ask me, Denver could have traded down and still could have gotten a comparably talented tackle, perhaps even Clady.

Then there was the second-round pick, receiver-returner Eddie Royal of Virginia Tech. Shanahan talked mostly about Royal returning kicks, which is not worth taking somebody that early. Royal has a great attitude, but he's injury-prone and only 5-foot-9. Also, the Broncos picked him when Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and Texas' Limas Sweed were still available (and were considered steals when they were chosen later in the second round).

Denver's almost-blas attitude was most apparent in the third round. One could argue that was the strongest area of the draft, with player after player being labeled with phrases such as "projected much higher" and "lucky for (insert team) that he was still there." It was an opportune moment for plugging some holes, but the Broncos didn't have a selection in that round and chose not to do anything about it.

Instead, in the fourth round, Shanahan jumped on two little-known players from the Mid-American Conference, and it's quite possible that neither Bowling Green center Kory Lichtensteiger or Kent cornerback Jack Williams will ever be starters.

To be fair, Arizona State running back Ryan Torain, whom Denver chose in the fifth round, could turn into a jewel if he's truly recovered from major foot problems. That's more like the kind of risk Shanahan can take in a later round and perhaps look like a genius later. (Terrell Davis comes to mind, picked in the sixth round of 1995.)

Denver made one other choice that could pay off, grabbing Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis (6-foot-1, 240) in the seventh and final round with the 227th pick of the draft. Yes, he's another of those high-character guys. But he also was widely respected in the talent-filled Southeastern Conference as a dependable third-down back who also was a good blocker and an effective receiver out of the backfield. He also was Arkansas' leading rusher as a freshman, until that guy McFadden arrived.

At the end, though, here we are, making a bigger deal out of two guys who might not even make the team than most of the others Denver selected in higher rounds.

Mike Shanahan has no complaints. He clearly thinks the class of 2008 will help the Broncos improve on their 7-9 record from last year.

Something tells me Max McGee would have a different opinion.

routon@csindy.com


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  • Mike Shanahan tried to put together the best Bible-study group he could.

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