End Zone: Guessing about Broncos' draft 

The late, great Bob Martin, who endeared himself to a generation of Denver Broncos fans with his concise, authoritative radio play-by-play work, shared a little secret one April morning in the late 1980s.

Martin had spent nearly 25 years as voice of the Broncos, along with covering every other pro and college sport in Colorado, and he had worked everything from Super Bowls to high school state championships and even state elections, all with equal enthusiasm and command.

"But my favorite day of every year, without a doubt, is now — the NFL Draft," Martin said. "There's simply nothing else like it."

Sadly, Martin died in 1990 and didn't live to see the Broncos win those two consecutive Super Bowls after the 1997 and 1998 seasons. But his memory comes back now, because the longtime KOA radio sports director would have loved this particular NFL Draft, perhaps more than any other.

The only year that vaguely compares to now for the Broncos would be 1981, when Edgar Kaiser was the new owner, Dan Reeves was the rookie head coach and everybody knew quarterback Craig Morton was close to the end. Reeves had come from the Dallas Cowboys, so he was identified as much with that system (sound familiar?) as for his credentials as a bright offensive mind.

Denver's first pick that year was Dennis Smith, the Southern Cal safety who would become a defensive fixture through three Super Bowl appearances. That draft also included offensive tackle Ken Lanier, who helped protect John Elway for much of No. 7's career. Otherwise, though, that 1981 draft didn't produce a deep crop of long-lasting veterans.

The pressure feels much greater now, with new head coach Josh McDaniels, general manager Brian Xanders and a revamped operation. There's also the matter of replacing quarterback Jay Cutler, traded to Chicago for draft picks. Pat Bowlen remains the owner, but his willingness to turn the franchise upside-down has fans wondering what the future will bring — and how quickly McDaniels can rebuild the Broncos.

Also, nobody knows how the team's new brain trust will handle this first draft, with two picks (Nos. 12 and 18) in the opening round. Will the Broncos try to make a splash, which probably would mean trading up to grab someone like Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez? Or will they sit tight, make their picks and address specific needs, such as defensive line?

The guess here is that after being quickly impressed by new quarterback Kyle Orton, Denver might look lower in the draft for what would be a backup to Orton and Chris Simms. That certainly could be somebody like West Virginia's Pat White, a superior athlete, or perhaps Mike Teel of Rutgers.

That still allows McDaniels and Xanders the chance to move up if necessary to pluck a real difference-maker, such as defensive lineman B.J. Raji of Boston College. He would fit perfectly in Denver's new 3-4 defense, but he likely won't last until the 12th pick. Raji might be a temptation for Denver, and understandably so.

As for that 18th pick, the possibilities are endless. But as weak as the Broncos have been at linebacker in recent years, my hunch would be Denver jumping on somebody like Rey Maualuga of Southern Cal, a first-team All-American coming out of the nation's best 3-4 college defense, or Ohio State's James Laurinaitis, a classic Big Ten inside linebacker.

Let's throw in one other possible strategy: Denver might trade up for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, a potential superstar, and look for a lineman at No. 18, perhaps Peria Jerry of Mississippi, who stood out in the Southeastern Conference, always a good sign.

So much for guesswork based on defense first, offense later. Another rumor suggests the Broncos would love to grab Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno at No. 18. New England tried that in 2006, taking runner Laurence Maroney late in the first round, but injuries have stopped him short of expectations. So one might wonder if McDaniels would do that now with other holes to fill.

Regardless, after this weekend we'll know much more about the Broncos and their new management team.

Bob Martin would love every minute of it.



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