By now, almost every pro football analyst in America has fired shots at the Denver Broncos, in particular new head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders, for some of their unexpected, almost shocking decisions around the NFL Draft.
Omigod, Knowshon Moreno with the 12th pick overall? Why not defensive lineman Brian Orakpo of Texas? Why not wait until the 18th pick and get Moreno then?
It didn't end there. Holy Shanahan, trading a first-round pick next year for a No. 2 now? And using that to take a small cornerback from Wake Forest instead of linebacker Rey Maualuga of Southern Cal?
Trading into the end of the second round — to get a tight end who might've lasted until the fifth round? Choosing two safeties and no linebackers? Dealing away another pick for next year, just to get Fresno State's quarterback in the sixth round?
Questions, doubts, second-guesses, criticism.
Yes, it was an unpredictable draft. We knew that ahead of time. And yes, Denver still has to be concerned about the defense, especially at linebacker. But instead of condemning the Broncos' front-office performance last weekend, how about chewing on a different set of conclusions:
• Moreno might be the steal of the draft. Nobody is arguing that he was the best running back available, and he built that reputation at Georgia against the Southeastern Conference's fierce, super-quick defenses. Moreno could have an impact comparable to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson in 2007. But even with a more modest rookie season, providing a steady presence and a constant threat, Moreno can give Denver its best offensive balance in years. No other college runner could provide that, and the Broncos weren't willing to gamble on him lasting until No. 18.
• There's a different message in using 2010 picks now. If cornerback Alphonso Smith can improve Denver's pass defense, as it appears he can, nobody will miss Dré Bly. Furthermore, trading a first-round pick next year for a gifted defender now means McDaniels and Xanders aren't taking a slow, patient path toward creating a playoff team. They want to win now, in 2009. And they still have Chicago's No. 1 pick for next year, thanks to a certain trade.
• Tom Brandstater might be a great fit. Certainly, Denver had to have another quarterback, so rest assured the coaches and management evaluated everyone, and the Broncos had their pick of many excellent quarterbacks who led their teams to bowls last year (such as Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Michigan State's Brian Hoyer, Clemson's Cullen Harper and Alabama's John Parker Wilson). At 6-foot-5, Brandstater fits the long-and-lean physical mold of Denver's Kyle Orton and Chris Simms, both 6-foot-4 as is McDaniels' prize pupil, Tom Brady at New England. You'll see a lot of Brandstater in the preseason, and then he'll carry a clipboard. Someday, he could do much more.
• Having a top-notch blocking tight end will help. Granted, Denver could have waited and still nabbed North Carolina's Richard Quinn. But again, if the staff felt he filled a definite need — fans will remember the Broncos' red-zone and short-yardage troubles last year — why not?
• The coaches must like some defensive guys already on the roster, such as linebacker Andra Davis (a proven starter at Cleveland), and perhaps they see Elvis Dumervil and Tim Crowder as outside linebackers (where they've already taken offseason snaps) in the 3-4 defense. My guess is Denver will still look for another veteran inside linebacker, someone who could start now and, with luck, also be a team leader.
• Denver kicked butt inside the AFC West. No other team in the division came close to drafting as many players capable of making an instant difference. Oakland was a complete joke, Kansas City will regret taking LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson instead of Wake Forest's super linebacker Aaron Curry, and San Diego made some surprisingly strange picks with the notable exception of Colorado State runner Gartrell Johnson.
Does this mean the Broncos will be the NFL's surprise team of 2009? Probably not against their killer schedule.
But after this draft, they have a much better chance than they did.
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