- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Denver Broncos had the type of draft in 2009 that was supposed to give the team a nucleus.
Thanks to several trades (including one that sent Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago), the Broncos finagled five picks in the first two rounds. It was an impressive display of draft chip building by first-year Denver coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders.
There’s no doubt that if the Broncos become a premier team in the near future it will be because of the development of the 2009 draft class. However, it appears solid production from this class is not a foregone conclusion. The class produced very little last year for Denver, which also wheel-and-dealed this year and produced five players in the top No. 87 picks, including receiver Demaryius Thomas and quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round.
“I like how Denver has found ways to acquire picks, and it’s a good way of building a great foundation,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “I’m just not sold on the players they have taken.”
While the 2010 class prepares to begin their rookie season, the 2009 class in Denver is preparing to make progress from a disappointing NFL start. Denver also has hope fourth-round picks David Bruton and Seth Olsen (guard) and fifth-round pick Kenny McKinley (receiver) will contribute as well. But the attention is on the five picks in the first two rounds.
The following is a look at those top five picks from Denver’s 2009 class:
No. 12, Knowshon Moreno, running back
MorenoRecapping 2009: Moreno had 947 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. His production dipped terribly as the season wore on. He had 173 rushing yards in the final four games as the Broncos, who started the season 6-0, fell out of playoff contention and finished 8-8. Moreno’s 2.7-per-carry average in that time span was alarming. Overall, he didn’t show much explosiveness at all. His longest carry of the season was 27 yards.
What’s expected in 2010: The Broncos have been pleased with what they have seen from Moreno this offseason and he seems to be more prepared for the long NFL season. He will be the starter and Denver hopes that he can get in the 1,200-1,400-yard range as the Broncos move to a more traditional power-blocking scheme.
A scout’s view: “I liked Moreno as a late-first round pick but not at No. 12. You don’t take a running back that high unless he is Adrian Peterson, a superstar. I don’t think Moreno will be a superstar, but he should be better in Year 2. He’s a good player, but not an elite player.” -- Matt Williamson
No. 18, Robert Ayers, linebacker:
AyersRecapping 2009: Ayers started just one game last season, finishing with 19 tackles. He didn’t have any sacks. That was disappointing for Denver because it drafted him to be a pass-rusher. He was moved to linebacker to use his explosiveness, but he didn’t show it as a rookie. Ayers was a late draft riser after a so-so college career.
What’s expected in 2010: It hasn’t started great. After being lauded by McDaniels for much of the offseason, Ayers didn’t practice for the first two days of the mandatory minicamp earlier this month. Finally, on the third day, Ayers did some work and McDaniels said the problem had been resolved. Ayers can’t have any more setbacks. He will get a chance to start at linebacker, but he must earn his keep.
A scout’s view: “I think he’s more of a 4-3 defensive end than a 3-4 linebacker. I don’t know if he is a good fit for Denver’s scheme. I’d be reluctant to write him off because he is adjusting to a new scheme.” -- Matt Williamson
No. 37, Alphonso Smith, cornerback
SmithRecapping 2009: Smith’s rookie season was as a disaster partly because of how he was acquired. That’s not his fault, but he has to deal with it. When Smith, who was expected to be a late first-round pick, fell to No.37, Denver jumped up and traded its 2010 top pick (which turned out to be No. 14) to Seattle for him. Smith didn’t live up to the price tag. He couldn’t keep his nickel cornerback job as he was beaten out by veteran pickup Ty Law and undrafted rookie Tony Carter.
What’s expected in 2010: The Broncos expect Smith to be the nickel cornerback. If he doesn’t keep the job this year, the alarms will sound loudly.
A scout’s view: “I liked the move to get him at No. 37; I’m not so sure about giving up a first-round pick. He is tough as nails and he is a good player. I’m not sure why he had a slow start.” -- Matt Williamson
No. 48, Darcel McBath, safety
McBathRecapping 2009: McBath was decent when he played, but for now, he is just a backup safety. He was a good special-teams player, but his season was cut short because of injuries.
What’s expected in 2010: To continue to develop and help on defense when needed and be a special-teams standout. He will replace Brian Dawkins when he retires.
A scout’s view: “I thought he was a good pick and he could be a good player. But he’s backup for now.” -- Matt Williamson
No. 64, Richard Quinn, tight end:
QuinnRecapping 2009: Like Smith, Denver gave up a lot to get Quinn. He was the centerpiece of a trade in which Denver sent two third-rounds picks away in 2009. Quinn was clearly targeted. Yet, on draft day, Quinn admitted that he expected to be selected much lower in the draft. Denver took him because of his blocking. He played in 15 games and didn’t have a catch. He made noticeable mistakes in games and in training-camp practices.
What’s expected in 2010: He needs to develop. The team is using more of a power-blocking scheme so he may be on the field with Daniel Graham more in double-tight end sets.
A scout’s view: “He’s a blocking tight end. He’s not dynamic enough to use that high of a pick on. The Broncos already have Graham and Quinn is a Graham clone. It’s clear that’s what they want out of the position, but I’m not sure he’ll give them the production that’s expected because of what they gave up to get him.” -- Matt Williamson
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