AFC West: Julius Peppers
DENVER -- Sorry Charles Barkley, but this Tim Tebow thing isn’t going anywhere.
For those of you who are like Barkley and are burned out by Tebowmania, we send our deepest regrets. It has reached a new level. Yeah, we know Tebowmania trends upward weekly. That’s why it’s rivaling the 13-0 Green Bay Packers as the story of the NFL season.
And I’m getting the feeling Tebowmania may stick around for the next, oh, 10 to 12 years. After watching Tebow and the Denver Broncos score 13 points after being shut out for the first 57 minutes, 45 seconds of the game Sunday to beat the Chicago Bears 13-10 in overtime, how can anyone honestly say Tebow is nothing more than a temporary fix?
Hours after ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Denver will likely decide to move forward with Tebow as its quarterback in 2012 if he leads it into the playoffs, the Tebow train kept on moving. If we are ranking Tebow's victories, Sunday’s may have been the most stunning. But that’s like picking your favorite Rolling Stones song. There are so many classics to choose from.
The victory -- combined with a 46-16 Oakland loss at Green Bay -- gave Denver sole possession of first place in the AFC West at 8-5. The Broncos lead Oakland by one game with three games to go. Denver also owns the current tiebreaker over the Raiders. At this point, it looks like Denver may be headed to the postseason for the first time in six years either as a division winner or wild-card entry. If Denver beats Kansas City at home in Week 17, the Raiders will have to finish with a better record than the Broncos to win the division because of tiebreaker reasons.
Denver is 7-1 with Tebow as its starter and has won six straight games. It is 3-0 in overtime with Tebow as its quarterback and it has won five games late with Tebow playing. Denver has trailed in the fourth quarter in all of its past four games.
Sunday, though, was incredible.
The Bears led 10-0 until Denver scored 10 points in two frenzied drives in the final 2:15 of regulation and then won it with 8:40 remaining in overtime on a 51-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
Denver punted eight times before it scored. Tebow, who was the victim of six dropped passes in the first three quarters, completed three passes (all in the first quarter) before the fourth quarter. He had 18 of his 21 completions in the fourth quarter and overtime. He was 7-of-7 on pass attempts on the Broncos’ touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow was 4-for-4 with a touchdown pass when he threw outside of the pocket in the fourth quarter and overtime Sunday. He was 3-of-7 with an interception prior to the fourth quarter.
“His eyes light up when the pressure is on,” Denver receiver Eric Decker said of Tebow.
Still, several members of the Chicago defense were not overly impressed by Tebow, who completed 21 of 40 passes for 236 yards. He had 49 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
“He’s a good running back,” said Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher when asked his thoughts on Tebow after the game. Typically, Tebow was not bothered by the shot. “Coming from a really good player, that means a lot,” the unflappable Tebow said.
Added Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers: “It wasn’t anything special that he did.”
Despite those less-than-stellar assessments of Tebow, there is no doubt Denver is buying into Tebow.
“He’s huge,” Broncos coach John Fox said of his young quarterback.
Mortensen’s report makes complete sense. There is little chance Denver can dump what it has going with Tebow. First of all, if Denver makes the playoffs and tries to make a switch, fans will erupt.
As long as the Broncos continue to see Tebow making strides as a passer, they will be more than comfortable moving forward with him. The fact that he threw the ball 40 times Sunday is a sign the coaching staff is getting comfortable with him.
John Elway recently told Fox Sports that he plans to work with Tebow in the offseason, particularly focusing on his footwork. Remember, Tebow missed an offseason because of the lockout. This is a player who is improving quickly. An offseason of working with his coaches and Elway will help immensely.
At the present, though, the focus is on the final three games, beginning next week when Bill Belichick gets his crack at putting Tebowmania in its place. Still, Tebow and his teammates -- Denver continued to play strong defense Sunday -- have a good thing going with no signs of it slowing down.
“I think we’re rewriting the book on 'keep fighting,’” Fox said. “Our guys never blink.”
Nor does Tebowmania.
Denver, Elvis Dumervil, defensive end: After dealing with several injuries early in the season, Dumervil is healthy and it's showing. He has all 3.5 of his 2011 sacks in the past three games. He is coming on strong and he is teaming with rookie Von Miller to give Denver a first-class pass-rush. The pair could do some real damage Sunday at San Diego against the Chargers’ battered offensive line.
Kansas City, Derrick Johnson, linebacker: Johnson is having a terrific season and is leading the AFC West with 83 tackles. Johnson was very active in Week 11 at New England and shined with 12 tackles despite the 31-point loss. If the Chiefs have any chance to stick with the Steelers in Week 12, Johnson will need to continue to make plays.
Oakland, Jared Veldheer, tackle: The second-year left tackle is having a strong season. He shut down Minnesota sack star Jared Allen in Week 11. Allen had a sack in 11 straight games, but Veldheer kept him in check. Now, Veldheer gets to tangle with Chicago’s Julius Peppers on Sunday. However, don’t expect Veldheer to be intimidated. He is becoming an upper-level left tackle.
San Diego, Nick Hardwick, center: He is the anchor of a battered offensive line. The Chargers have been playing without three starting offensive lineman because of injuries. Hardwick brought the unit together and found a way not to allow any sacks at Chicago in Week 11. Miller and Dumervill will pose a challenge, so Hardwick will have to rally the troops again Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Elway gave a hint to his first draft pick as the front-office savior during the NFL combine in February.
Elway said he thought the draft prospects he’d have the best handle on would be pass-rushers and cornerbacks, more than quarterbacks and receivers, as we’d naturally think. The pass-rushers and cornerbacks were the players Elway studied the most during his 16-year NFL career.
During his career, the player Elway spent the most time trying to figure out was Kansas City Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas. No player gave Elway more trouble than Thomas. He sacked Elway 26 times, more than any other quarterback in his career.
Perhaps that’s why Elway was drawn to Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, whom Denver took with the No. 2 pick of the NFL draft Thursday. Miller has drawn strong comparisons to Thomas. Recently, Miller said he has modeled his life on and off the field after Thomas, who died in 2000 from complications sustained in an auto accident.
"I watched his film and studied his film,” Miller said. “I watched all his interviews, and the point of view he had on the game is similar to the way I feel … I could never, ever play like Derrick Thomas. But he played with a fanatical effort, a relentless effort, and that's what I try to do -- to play with that same attitude."
Thomas finished with 126.5 career sacks. Elway and the rest of the Denver brass, including new coach John Fox, who is a defensive specialist, are banking on Miller becoming that type of impact player in Denver.
It was clear the Broncos were going to go defense with the choice. The Broncos were last in the NFL in total defense, points allowed and explosive plays allowed in 2010. But the betting money wasn’t on Miller until the 36 hours prior to the draft. The focus was on Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who was considered perhaps the safest defensive pick available and he fit a big need for Denver.
But Miller will also fill a need for Denver, which is particularly weak on the front seven.
Even though Miller’s name didn’t get connected to Denver until this week, the team has long been on him. Denver’s brass had a private workout with him after his pro day and he visited Denver prior to the draft.
Fox is hoping he has the same luck with his first pick in Denver as he did in Carolina nine years ago. Fox took star pass-rusher Julius Peppers at No. 2 in 2002.
Elway told ESPN’s Ed Werder Wednesday that Miller was the most dynamic pass-rusher in a class full of outstanding pass-rushers. Denver was also mesmerized by Miller’s athleticism. Denver general manager Brian Xanders told Werder that the team did a computer analysis of Miller’s athletic measurables compared to the 64 current starting wide receivers and cornerbacks, and Miller rated out above average athletically.
He is 6-foot-2, 248 pounds and was one of the fastest defenders at the combine. Miller dominated the Senior Bowl in January. But this is no Vernon Gholston. Miller looks good on the field as well. Despite being hampered by an ankle injury for much of last season, Miller had 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season as he earned consensus All-America honors.
Denver envisions Miller playing on all four downs, including on special teams. Expect him to play strongside linebacker on first and second downs and play on the edge along with 2009 NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil -- who missed all of 2010 with a pectoral injury -- on third down. That’s some pass-rushing juice.
Miller downplayed the fact that he is considered a better fit for 3-4 defenses. Fox is moving Denver from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. The Broncos agree that Miller is versatile enough to excel as a 4-3 strongside linebacker.
“It comes down to shedding blocks and making tackles,” Miller said. “I’m anxious to prove myself. I can show you better than I can tell you.”
If he looks like the great Derrick Thomas doing it, Elway will finally smile at that vision.
San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith says this is the strongest group available in the draft. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said that he hasn’t seen such an impressive defensive line group at the combine and in workouts.
That’s why defensive tackles Marcell Dareus of Alabama and Nick Fairley of Auburn both could be top-five picks. Defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson and Robert Quinn of North Carolina may not be far behind Dareus and Fairley. The Denver Broncos are studying defensive linemen closely and may take Dareus at No. 2.
Even though the talent is high at this position, Denver -- and every other team picking in the top five -- must beware. Taking a defensive lineman with a top-five pick is a major gamble.
Over the past 20 years, 24 defensive linemen have been taken with top-five picks -- with extremely mixed results. For every Julius Peppers (drafted No. 2 in 2002) and Ndamukong Suh (drafted No. 2 in 2010), there are busts like Dewayne Robertson (No. 4, 2003), Courtney Brown (No. 1, 2000) and Steve Emtman (No. 1, 1992).
Even though he likes this group of defensive linemen, McShay acknowledged earlier in the offseason that the bust rate for defensive linemen is “shockingly high.” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said he thinks defensive line and wide receiver are “neck-and-neck” as the riskiest positions in the first round behind quarterback, which is in a different league when it comes to draft uncertainty.
Williamson thinks one of the reasons many top defensive linemen fail is a sense of entitlement. He said top defensive linemen are rare because of their combination of size, speed and ability. They are pampered from an early age and may not work as hard as other, less-coveted players.
“I think it comes down to them just being very special people/athletes,” Williamson said. “If you notice, a high percentage of the stud DT talent comes from huge colleges. For example: When I was at Pitt, we just couldn't get great DT recruits. There are just so few people in the world with their size that can move like stud DTs need to. They are very coveted and go to massive programs. Even at the college level, they are freakish enough that they often don't have to work extremely hard to be great. When they get to the NFL, that all changes ... and they often don't adapt in terms of professionalism and work ethic.”
Williamson said he believes Dareus will buck the trend and have a strong NFL career and be worthy of a top-five pick. However, he said he has concerns about Bowers and Fairley because they were “one-year wonders [who] would disappear at times.”
Studying the history of failure at the position and trying to figure out if this year’s prospects can succeed in the NFL has been one of the Broncos’ toughest tasks. Vice president of football operations John Elway has acknowledged the risk involved in studying defensive linemen.
“It’s so hard to be able to find guys with that size that have athletic ability,” Elway said. "Whether they’re raw coming out of college or they’re polished coming out of college, people see that athletic ability with the size and the speed. You just can’t find that, it’s very difficult to find those type of athletes that are that big later in the draft. That’s why I think you see so many of those guys with the speed and the size do not go very deep in the draft.”
Perhaps last year signaled a change in the trend. Detroit took Suh at No. 2 and Tampa Bay took Gerald McCoy at No. 3. Suh was brilliant and McCoy was impressive before he was injured. Denver would love to get a player of Suh’s or McCoy’s caliber in the form of Dareus.
The decade before 2010 didn’t produce anyone great other than Peppers, although Mario Williams, who was taken No. 1 in 2006, has become a good player.
The Chiefs took defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey at No. 5 in 2008 and defensive end Tyson Jackson No. 3 in 2009. Dorsey came on strong last season and was a big part of an improved defense after a slow first two seasons. Jackson has shown some flashes, but he has yet to show he was worthy of a top-five pick. Like Dorsey, St. Louis defensive end Chris Long, taken at No. 2 in 2008, began to make strides in 2010.
Denver can’t afford to wait on production if it takes a defensive lineman with the No. 2 pick. The Broncos were last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010. Elway has said numerous times that the Broncos have to get this pick right. In a perfect world, the Broncos would take a defensive lineman and begin their resurrection. History, though, shows it’s not that simple.
Jason from Burbank, Calif., wants to know about new Denver coach John Fox’s draft history in Carolina, where he was the coach from 2002-2010.
Bill Williamson: It’s been solid. There wasn’t a ton of obvious horrible picks. Players like Julius Peppers, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason were all good first-round picks. The Panthers were aggressive and liked to trade for extra picks. The 2006-07 drafts were deep and resulted in some quality players who are still in Carolina. Fox’s teams took four quarterbacks during his tenure. Fox will not be making the final call in Denver -- that’s John Elway’s job -- but he will have a voice and his experience should help.
George Miley from St. Charles, Mo., wants to know if San Diego backup quarterback Billy Volek could leave as a free agent.
BW: Volek has expressed a desire to start. I think he’d jump at a chance to start elsewhere. There are several teams that could use a starting quarterback. Yet, the lockout put players like Volek in limbo. The Chargers love having Volek back up Philip Rivers and he is one of the best backups in the game. San Diego certainly wants Volek to return, but it wouldn’t be able to compete with another team offering Volek a starting job.
Nate from Portland wants to know if I think Denver could take a defensive tackle at both No. 2 and No. 36.
BW: Sure, I think it’s possible. I expect the Broncos to take Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at No. 2 if he’s available. I think Denver could still look at a defensive tackle at No. 36. I don’t know if it will be a priority, but if someone like Phil Taylor, Marvin Austin or Stephen Paea available, Fox would be tempted. Getting two stud defensive tackles who could play right away wouldn’t be a terrible way to go.
However, the Clemson defensive end didn’t perform as well as he hoped. Bowers ran a slower-than-expected 40-yard dash, putting a damper on an otherwise solid performance.
The key for Bowers, who led the nation with 15.5 sacks in 2010, was to prove his health. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in January. There have been rampant reports in the past several weeks that Bowers wasn’t recovering well and that teams were concerned. His showing Friday should quiet those concerns.
Still, it would be an upset if Denver took Bowers with the No. 2 pick at this point. Denver was previously intrigued by Bowers partly because he reminded the team of Julius Peppers, who played for new coach John Fox in Carolina. I think the only way Denver could take Bowers is if it traded down to the No. 5-7 range.
Denver’s brass wasn’t at Bowers pro day because Washington quarterback Jake Locker is visiting Denver on Friday. However, Bowers is set to visit Denver on Monday. Denver did have a small contingent led by college scouting director Matt Russell, at Clemson on Friday.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Adam Schefter writes that Bowers’ stock is dropping. It will be interesting to see how his pro day affects his stock, either positively because of his health or negatively because of his poor 40 time.
The Panthers’ brain trust was certain it had identified the player who best fit their needs. All they had to do was wait to see what direction the one team in front of them would take.
“It was stressful because we knew what we wanted, but we still had to wait,” former Panthers executive Tony Softli said. “At No. 2, you can almost control what you want to do, but not totally.”
Softli and the rest of the Carolina brass were overjoyed when the Houston Texans used the No. 1 pick to take quarterback David Carr. That left the Panthers to take their top choice, and they grabbed defensive end Julius Peppers. They survived their short wait.
That was John Fox’s first year as the Panthers’ coach. That experience of having the No. 2 pick ended happily for Fox. Will it happen again? In his first season as the Denver Broncos’ coach, Fox also has the No. 2 pick.
“Knowing John, he’ll want defense,” Softli said. “We’ll see what happens with picking at No. 2 again.”
The Broncos have been busy this offseason studying players at several positions in their attempt to get it right at No. 2. The only team in Denver’s way is Carolina, which has the No. 1 pick. No matter what the Panthers do with the No. 1 pick, the Broncos know they must get this pick right. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2005. They need an infusion of talent.
Added Fox: "There'll be a player there who's worth that pick in this draft. Some years you don't want to be there, but there's a lot of players there in this draft.”
Softli knows plenty about picking at No. 2. In addition to being in Carolina in 2002, Softli was an executive with the St. Louis Rams in 2008 and 2009 when they had the No. 2 pick.
“Picking No. 2 is a great place to be if there are multiple players to pick from at the spot,” Softli said. “This is a good year to be at No. 2. There are a number of high-quality players. Denver can’t go wrong.”
Softli said it will help the Broncos that there is a chance the Panthers will take a quarterback at No. 1. The Panthers have been linked to Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.
The Broncos finished last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed. The draft is stacked with top defensive prospects. If the Panthers take a quarterback, Denver would have its pick of any defensive player on the board.
“I think a great spot to be in is No. 2 and not need a quarterback if there is a top quarterback available,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “The stud quarterback is going No. 1. If you pick No. 2 and you really need a quarterback, you probably aren’t going to get him. But otherwise, it’s a solid place to be.”
There haven’t been many quarterbacks taken at No. 2 in recent history. Since 1990, only three quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 2 pick. Each time, a quarterback was taken No. 1. The last time it has happened was 1999, when Philadelphia took Donovan McNabb at No. 2 after Cleveland took Tim Couch No. 1. In the same time span, a quarterback has been picked at No. 1 12 times.
“Usually, there aren’t two quarterbacks worthy of the first two picks,” Softli said. “So, the presence of a quarterback can really make a difference between one and two. If you pick No. 1 and you need a quarterback, you usually take one. That can help the team picking No. 2.”
While the failures of the team picking No. 1 are most remembered, success at No. 2 has been far from guaranteed. There have been epic failures at No. 2 in the past 20 years. Ryan Leaf, taken by the Chargers in 1998, is considered one of the greatest draft busts in NFL history. The Colts took Peyton Manning at No. 1 that year. Other major busts since 1990 at No. 2 include Jets running back Blair Thomas (1990), Seattle quarterback Rick Mirer (1993, taken after New England drafted Drew Bledsoe) and Detroit receiver Charles Rogers (2003).
There have been plenty of draft hits at No. 2 in the time span. Some of the solid picks in that spot include running back Marshall Faulk (Colts, 1994), McNabb, Peppers, receiver Calvin Johnson (Lions, 2007) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Lions, 2010).
Softli was with the Rams last year when they picked No. 1. Softli said he feels there is nearly as much pressure drafting No. 2 as there is at No. 1.
“It’s almost as hard,” Softli said. “I know everyone concentrates on the No. 1 pick, but an owner will look at you funny if you mess up the No. 2 pick, too.”
Fox said the Broncos are totally open with their No. 2 pick. He said the team will take the best available player. Still, defense is expected to be the area Denver pursues with the pick.
Fox said he hasn’t studied Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers enough to compare him to former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers. That comparison has often been made. The Panthers took Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft, Fox’s first draft in Carolina.
Fox said Denver will use parts of both the zone-blocking and traditional power-blocking schemes this season. Denver moved to the power-blocking scheme last year after using the zone-blocking scheme for 15 years.
Fox said he envisions Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers as defensive ends in the 4-3 defense. Fox said D.J. Williams will either be a middle linebacker or weakside linebacker in the 4-3.
Fox said the primary reason he is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is personnel.
Fox was very complimentary of new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who will be Denver’s sixth defensive coordinator in six seasons. Fox said he can see Allen, who was New Orleans’ secondary coach, becoming a future head coach in the NFL.
Fox said he is hopeful receiver Demaryius Thomas can return at some point early in the season. Thomas ruptured his Achilles earlier this month. The team expects Eddie Royal to return in May from hip surgery. Fox said he doesn’t expect the two injuries to change Denver’s draft needs at receiver.
Fox would not rule out the return of right tackle Ryan Harris.
Fox said he thinks nose tackle Jamal Williams can transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3. Still, the team will have to decide whether to bring back Williams.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With the NFL combine kicking off, let’s take a look at several of the potential storylines involving the AFC West during the draft-preparation event:
It all starts at No. 2: The draft epicenter of the AFC West this year is in Denver. That’s the reward for going 4-12 and taking a major step backward. The Broncos will be looking for defensive help, and every move made by Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and several others will be scrutinized by the defense-hungry Broncos in the next several days.
Scouting Wisniewski II: The Raiders don’t have a first-round draft pick (New England gets the No. 17 pick from the 2009 Richard Seymour trade). The Raiders don’t pick until No. 48. One player Oakland will likely look at closely is center/guard Stefen Wisniewski. He is the nephew of former Raiders offensive line great and new assistant line coach Steve Wisniewski. That combine player-coaching staff meeting would be fun to watch. Wisniewski, who followed his famous uncle to Penn State, would fill a need in Oakland. I can see the Raiders taking a long look at him.
Pass-rushers galore: This is a strong class for pass-rushers and that should benefit both the Chargers and Chiefs. San Diego picks No. 18 and the Chiefs pick No. 21. I could see both teams taking a pass-rusher with their top picks. The better the pass-rushers do in Indianapolis, the larger the range of prospects for the Chiefs and Chargers. That group should include Missouri’s Aldon Smith, UCLA’s Akeem Ayers and Cal’s Cameron Jordan.
What about Julio? In addition to pass-rushers, I could see the Chiefs and Chargers considering a receiver early. One player who would fit both teams is Alabama’s Julio Jones. If Jones performs well, there is likely little chance either team will be able to snare him. It will be difficult to imagine Jones falling below the Rams at No. 14 if he stays the course. So, he could require moving up to get.
Will A.J. fall in love again? The Jones’ situation brings us to San Diego general manager A.J. Smith. Last year, he moved up 16 spots to take Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews at No. 12. Smith admitted that he fell for Mathews early and that moving up to get him was long his plan. Will it happen again at the combine this year? If so, Smith is prepared to move up. The Chargers have extra picks in the second and third rounds. So, he is prepared for anything.
Williamson High feeding the AFC West? If Denver takes Fairley, it will mark the second time a player from Mobile, Alabama’s Williamson High School will be taken with a high pick in four years. In 2007, Oakland took Williamson product JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 pick.
Does Bowers have a dash of Peppers? Bowers will be very popular with teams. He is a top pass-rusher and he has been compared to Julius Peppers. I’m sure new Denver coach John Fox can’t wait to spend some time with Bowers to further examine the Peppers’ comparison. Fox drafted Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2002. It was Fox’s first year in Carolina. If Fox takes Bowers with the No. 2 overall pick in his first season in Denver, the Peppers’ comparison will only heighten.
Will Newton help Denver? If Auburn quarterback Cam Newton impresses the Carolina Panthers, he could be the No. 1 overall pick. The Broncos are hoping for Newton to wow the Panthers. If so, that means every defensive player in the draft will be on the board for Denver at No. 2. Denver is looking defense all the way after being last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010.
The Chiefs and the SEC: Who are the Chiefs going to take? Well, I think we have to look at the SEC first. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli has a history of taking players from the SEC early. Both of the players the Chiefs have taken in the first round under Pioli, Tyson Jackson and Eric Berry, are SEC alums. Overall, the Chiefs have taken SEC players in the first round in the past four years.
Casey Matthews' time? The Oregon middle linebacker could be popular. He is the younger brother of Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who blossomed into one of the NFL’s better defenders in his second season. Teams could be swayed by Mathews’ potential and look at him as high as the second round. I could see Denver, San Diego and Kansas City all taking a look at him.
The Robert Quinn factor: The former North Carolina defensive end could be an X factor. He didn’t play in 2010 because he made contact with an agent. He was considered a top prospect. If he has a great combine, he could work his way into the conversation for Denver.
Oakland and the stop watch: Whoever posts the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine has to be considered an Oakland prospect. The Raiders covet speed as much as any team in the league. Last year’s fastest man at the combine was Jacoby Ford. Oakland grabbed him in the fourth round and he looks like a future star.
Will the Chiefs find a backup QB? I would be surprised if the Chiefs brought back backup Brodie Croyle in 2011. So, the team could be interested in looking for a young backup. I could see Kansas City studying prospects in the third and fourth rounds.
The Duke works the combine: New Denver VP of football operations John Elway will be at the combine. This is his first season as a football personnel man and he will be a big part of Denver’s process at the combine.
The pass-rushing Clemson defensive end is expected to be one of the players Denver seriously considers drafting. He has been compared to Julius Peppers. He played in Carolina for several years under new Denver coach John Fox.
Bowers is only lifting weights at the combine because he is mending from a minor knee surgery. He is expected to conduct his pro day workout sometime in late March. Bowers is expected to thrill NFL teams in his workout because he has the capability of doing 225 bench press in the 30-35 repetition range and run in the 40-yard dash around 4.5 seconds. He is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds.
So, the fact that Bowers will not do a full workout in Indianapolis should not hurt his draft status.
Let’s take a look at his AFC West choices:
No. 2, Denver
Da’Quan Bowers , DE, Clemson
My thoughts: Kiper has Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley going to Carolina at No. 1. The Broncos would be happy with Fairley, Bowers or LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. I’ve been hearing Denver is excited about Bowers. He has been compared to Julius Peppers, who played for new Denver coach John Fox in Carolina.
No. 18, San Diego
Tyron Smith, tackle, USC
My thoughts: I’d be surprised if the Chargers really wanted to take a tackle in this spot. On Kiper’s board, some top pass-rushing talent leaves the board right before San Diego picks. So, in that scenario, Smith could be an interesting choice.
No. 21, Kansas City
Akeem Ayers, linebacker, UCLA
My thoughts: Todd McShay made this same pick last week. Ayers is a top pass-rusher and could be a terrific complement to Tamba Hali.
Oakland traded the No. 17 pick to New England for defensive lineman Richard Seymour in 2009.
“I don’t get a chance to talk about left-handed quarterbacks much,” Huard said. "You don’t see it much. I go to a lot of youth football camps and the quarterbacks are almost always right-handed. It seems all the lefties are playing baseball. ... I’m interested to see Tim Tebow because we lefties are hard to come by.”
Huard, now a college football analyst for ESPN, is a member of a rare club. He was a southpaw gunslinger as a backup in Seattle and Indianapolis from 1999-2004. The NFL is a right-handed quarterback’s game. Only 12 left-handed quarterback have started more than 50 NFL games.
The only lefty currently slated to be a starter in 2010 is Arizona’s Matt Leinart and his status is far from solid. The only other left-handed quarterbacks currently in the NFL are backups Mark Brunell, Michael Vick, Chris Simms, Pat White and Tyler Palko.
Besides Brunell and Vick, the last truly successful left-handed quarterbacks were Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young and Boomer Esiason. Other successful left-handed quarterbacks throughout the years include Ken Stabler, Jim Zorn, Bobby Douglass and Frankie Albert.
Being left-handed is one of the reasons Tebow enters the NFL with such intense interest. The intrigue is not just whether the former Florida quarterback can prove he simply wasn’t a Saturday star with an awkward delivery. People are eager to see if Tebow can become the next lefty to succeed in the league.
“I have no doubt that he can,” said Houston quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp. "I know it can happen."
Knapp would know. He coached Young in San Francisco and Vick in Atlanta.
“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Knapp said. "Don’t tell me left-handed quarterbacks can’t make it in this league. I know it can be done.”
I was watching ESPN’s "NFL Live" earlier Tuesday and senior writer John Clayton was running down what he believes will be among the biggest stories in the NFL this offseason. Yes, the AFC West played had some major roles in Clayton’s segment.
Clayton addressed six potential storylines. The AFC West could play a role in as many as five of them. Let’s recap Clayton’s story lines that could/will affect the AFC West:
Richard Seymour: This is Clayton’s No.5 story of the offseason. Seymour is an unrestricted free agent. Oakland may have to give him the franchise tag to keep him. If a long-term deal (Seymour said preliminary talks have begun) can’t be finalized, the Raiders will likely have to give Seymour the franchise tag. Oakland gave up a first-round pick in 2011 to get Seymour. It doesn’t have a choice but to keep him.
Brandon Marshall: This is Clayton’s No. 4 story of the offseason. Marshall will probably be a restricted free agent. Denver will probably trade him.
Julius Peppers: This is Clayton’s No. 3 story. The Carolina pass-rusher will likely hit the open market. Denver and Kansas City -- and perhaps San Diego -- could make a run at him.
Donovan McNabb: This is Clayton’s No. 2 story. ESPN has reported Denver has had multiple talks with Philadelphia about McNabb. That would be a blockbuster.
LaDainian Tomlinson: Clayton also touched on Tomlinson’s situation. San Diego is expected to cut him soon. Clayton said Denver may be one of two (along with Houston) landing spots for Tomlinson. It would kill San Diego fans to see Tomlinson end his career in Denver.
We look forward to monitoring these stories in what is shaping up to be a busy offseason in the division.
Denver: Peppers is open to being a linebacker in a 3-4 defense. If Denver doesn’t keep likely restricted free agent Elvis Dumervil, there will be a big need for a pass rusher. But Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks in 2009 with 17, is in his prime and is four years younger than the 30-year-old Peppers.
Kansas City: This could be a good fit. But I’m not sure Peppers would be interested in being part of a rebuilding project. Still, the Chiefs may have the money to make it work. Kansas City stayed away from high-profile free agents last season in Scott Pioli’s first year in town. But Peppers could create havoc as part of Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense and he’d take pressure off the Chiefs’ young defensive front. He’d make this team better in a hurry.
Oakland: The Raiders are the only defense in the division not to run a 3-4. While Peppers can play in any scheme, I don’t really see this being a great fit since Oakland has some solid, young pass rushers. This is the least likely spot in the division for Peppers.
San Diego: The Chargers do not have a recent history of pursuing big-ticket free agents and the team has a lot of pass rushers. Larry English was drafted last year in case Shawne Merriman leaves. Peppers would flourish if he were to end up in San Diego, but a lot would have to happen for that scenario to play out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The questions are pouring in so let's tackle the Jay Cutler saga:
Brian from St. Louis: Hey Bill, I'm just curious as to why St. Louis wouldn't be in the mix for Cutler? They have a "seasoned" QB who is getting older, plus the 2nd overall pick, and it would put Cutler in the NFC. As a Bronco fan who lives in St. Louis, I really wouldn't want Bulger in Denver, but he has had some success. I really wouldn't mind watching Cutler play here though. Just a thought...
BW: I could see the Rams getting in on the mix, but they have so many other needs that a new quarterback may not be St. Louis' top priority.
Tom Howe from Greensboro, NC: Bill, Love the blog man!! I am a huge Raiders fan and obviously know the history between them and the Broncos. I also know that a QB like Jay Cutler could totally change the face of our franchise and instantly make us a contender. Any chance it happens?
BW: OK, you want to see the Broncos trade the franchise quarterback to their most hated rival? Denver traded defensive tackle Gerard Warren to the Raiders for a fifth-round draft choice a couple of years ago, which was surprising enough. I can't see Cutler being traded to Oakland in any scenario. But it would be a crazy ending to a crazy story.
Matt from Denver: Bill, huge fan of the blog. With Bowlen coming right out and saying they will trade Cutler, what does that do to the asking price? Would they have been better served to keep things quiet? If they don't get a satisfactory offer, what happens then?
BW: Some people think the public announcement would hurt Denver's chances, but I don't think so. There are too many teams interested. Teams will be bidding against each other and the Broncos will get a package they want. This is a seller's market because of all of the interest.
Hancock from Charlotte, NC: No chance Carolina in the cutler sweepstakes???...Julius Peppers needs a 3-4.
BW: Yes, I can see the Panthers being in the Cutler mix. The Peppers connection certainly fits. He'd help Denver. But it probably would take more than just Peppers to get Cutler. If Carolina gets Cutler, it will become one nasty team. It would be an instant Super Bowl contender.