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Monday, August 30, 2010
The Alphonso Smith problem in Denver

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

There is a very interesting development occurring in Denver.

Alphonso Smith is falling behind the curve, and he is in danger of being cut when Denver cuts down to the 53-man roster Saturday. He is probably sixth on Dever's cornerback depth chart behind starters Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, rookies Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson and veteran addition Nate Jones. However, Jones can also play safety, and that could potentially save Smith if the Broncos keep nine defensive backs.

The issue is, could Denver really cut Smith? It would be like cutting the No. 14 pick of the April draft. Does Denver have the nerve to do it?

During the 2009 draft, Denver shipped its 2010 first-round pick (which turned out to be the No. 14 overall pick) to Seattle to take Smith at No. 37. Smith was considered to be a late-first-round pick. When the dynamic Wake Forest performer fell into the second round, Denver couldn’t resist, because it had him highly ranked. In college, Smith was a terrific cover man who had nice punt return skills.

However, he struggled as a rookie. He was beaten in coverage routinely. He was twice replaced, including once by an undrafted rookie.

Denver added Jones and drafted the two rookies this year. All of them have outplayed Smith. Cox, a fifth-round pick, has been terrific and is expected have a major role on both defense and as a returner. Thompson has also had his moments. It would be very difficult to try to sneak Thompson onto the practice squad, because he would likely be claimed elsewhere. He had a big game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, including scoring on an interception return. He prompted Denver coach Josh McDaniels to say this after the game: "Every time he gets an opportunity, he makes the most of it, and I think that's what you want a rookie to do.”

It’s clear that Smith has been outplayed and overshadowed in Denver. Denver might opt to give him a pass and put him on scholarship because of the price it paid for him. But that could come at the expense of a player who has outplayed Smith. It’s highly doubtful Denver will keep six cornerbacks. If so, Smith will buried deep on the roster.

Something is going to have to give. Will it be at the expense of a player Denver gave up a first-round pick to acquire? We’ll see soon.