AFC West: Kawann Short

How Denver can improve in 2013

February, 16, 2013
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The winter doldrums of a football-less mid-February are taking over in the Rocky Mountains. The days are a little colder and a little darker as the Denver Broncos come to grips with what could have been.

Watching confetti fall on the jubilant Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl victory Feb. 3 had to further damage the Broncos’ collective psyche -- part of a haunting winter theme of “it could have been us.”

The Broncos saw their Super Bowl push end in a 38-35 double-overtime defeat to the visiting Ravens in the AFC divisional round. Denver was 13-3 in the regular season, had the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and entered the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak in which it won every game by at least a touchdown. Its early exit from the postseason was stunning -- and particularly painful for the Broncos because they know it was so avoidable.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesFilling a few holes, including at receiver, could give Peyton Manning and Denver a better end in 2014.
Baltimore sent the game to overtime on a 70-yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a play in which Denver safety Rahim Moore inexplicably allowed Jones to get behind him in the final seconds of regulation. Countless former players said they had never seen an NFL defensive back make that type of play. Had Moore simply done his job, Denver would have advanced.

Instead, the Broncos will try to regroup and move forward. Despite the sobering end of the season and its painful aftereffects, the Broncos should feel good about themselves heading into the 2013 season as NFL Comeback Player of the Year winner and MVP runner-up Peyton Manning prepares for his second season in Denver at age 37.

“There’s a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger,” veteran middle linebacker Keith Brooking said shortly after the season. “This is a great locker room. The Denver Broncos are really close.”

The Broncos are not alone in building high expectations for the immediate future. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Broncos the early favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl. In an Insider piece, ESPN.com pegged them as a strong early contender for next season Insider.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had this to say about the Broncos heading into next season: “I think their roster is exceptional.”

Still, it would be inaccurate to say this is the perfect roster. The Broncos, two years removed from a 4-12 season, need to upgrade at certain spots. With the No. 28 pick in the draft and expected room under the salary cap, Denver should be able to improve. Let’s take a look at some areas the Broncos should look at as they aim for a long Super Bowl run next season:

Running back: The Broncos have the making of a decent stable of running backs but could use another pair of legs. I think Denver needs to find a bigger back to help in short-yardage situations. Jacob Hester did a nice job at the end of the season, but Denver might want to find a better back. Again, with Willis McGahee, a revived Knowshon Moreno and young Ronnie Hillman, there is a lot to like in the immediate future. But another talented runner wouldn’t hurt.

Receiver: Brandon Stokley did a nice job at age 36 as the slot receiver, but I could see Denver looking for a younger, more special option. There will be some interesting options available, including Wes Welker in free agency and perhaps Percy Harvin in a trade. Denver could even try to go big and add a player such as Mike Wallace. If Denver’s brass decides it can afford to make a big splash, this could be an area where Manning can take advantage. The truth is that the future is now in Denver. Manning has only so many years left, so Denver could be intrigued by striking big at this spot.

Defensive tackle: Denver’s defense made huge strides in 2012 under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Veteran defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan were good in their roles. But both are free agents, and Denver might want to get younger. There could be some solid options in the first round at this position, such as Purdue’s Kawann Short and Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins. Denver should find a good, young run-stuffer to plug in the middle of an explosive defense.

Middle linebacker: Brooking played well last season, but he was 37 and Denver needs to find a better starting option, whether via free agency in the form of someone like Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe or in the draft if Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter is available. Denver has a lot of young pieces on defense. Adding another one at this position wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Secondary: The last time we saw the Broncos, it wasn’t a great day for Denver’s secondary. In addition to Moore’s last-second gaffe, surefire Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey was torched. But Bailey, who will turn 35 in June, had a good season and the Broncos will keep him for another year with young, promising Chris Harris and Tony Carter. As at receiver, though, Denver could be tempted to go big and try to get into the Darrelle Revis trade talks if the Jets make a move. I also could see Denver looking to upgrade at safety. Moore, a second-round pick in 2011, made strides in 2012, and the team likely will not give up on him because of the one bad play. But adding another safety might be smart.

AFC West mock draft: Take II

January, 28, 2013
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Here is my second AFC West mock draft for the teams' first-round picks. We will periodically update as we move closer to the April draft:

1. Kansas City Chiefs: DL, Star Lotulelei, Utah: He could excel as a 3-4 defensive end. This is a tough spot for the Chiefs. There are no great positional fits, particularly since no quarterbacks have yet shown they are worthy of being the top pick. There has been a lot of chatter that Texas A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel could be the Chiefs’ choice. But the Chiefs want to re-sign left tackle Branden Albert. I expect them to give Albert an offer early next month. If Albert leaves in free agency, Joeckel then becomes the likely pick. If that is the scenario, the Chiefs better use the money that would have went to Albert on a premium free agent. A simple Albert-Joeckel swap would not be the greatest use of the top choice.

Previous pick: Lotulelei

3. Oakland Raiders: DE, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: The Raiders are in a position of strength. They need defensive help across the board. The draft is defensive-heavy at the top. While the choices are plentiful, Moore’s high ceiling makes him the choice right now.

Previous pick: Moore

11. San Diego Chargers: OT, Lane Johnson, Oklahoma: Johnson had a great week at the Senior Bowl. If he continues to have a good draft season, he will be very worthy of the No. 11 pick. Left tackle is the Chargers’ greatest need. There isn’t a ton of top level left tackle talent this year. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher also had a great week at the Senior Bowl, but he may be off the board when the Chargers pick. Johnson could be a fine consolation prize.

Previous pick: CB, Dee Milliner, Alabama

28. Denver Broncos: CB, Xavier Rhodes, Florida State: Denver will likely take the best available player. If Rhodes is on the board, he may fit that description. He is a solid talent and the Broncos can use more youth at this position.

Previous pick: DT, Kawann Short, Purdue.

AFC West mock draft: Take I

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
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Now that every team in AFC West is done with their 2012 season, here is my first AFC West mock draft for the teams' first-round picks. We will periodically update as we move closer to the April draft:

1. Kansas City Chiefs: DL, Star Lotulelei, Utah: It’s been well documented that there are no great position fits for the Chiefs at this spot. This is a top player who would add even more young talent to this defense.

3. Oakland Raiders: DE, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: The Raiders will fill a big defensive need no matter where they go, and right now I think Dennis Allen gets a fellow Aggie. The ceiling is high for Moore.

11. San Diego Chargers: CB, Dee Milliner, Alabama: The Chargers’ top need is tackle, but some key players went back to school so I don’t know if there is a fit here. Milliner can be a dynamic player and the Chargers will have a need. San Diego will have options, but I like Milliner here.

28. Denver Broncos: DT, Kawann Short, Purdue: The Broncos will likely take the best available defensive player. Right now, I think it is Short. Denver has gotten better at this position, but it could use some more help.

Early draft look: Broncos

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
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With the Denver Broncos’ season over, let’s take an early look at where the team might be heading in the draft.

First pick: No. 28

Top draft needs: Linebacker, safety, defensive tackle, receiver, cornerback.

Possible first-round picks: Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Intangibles: The Broncos have drafted well in the John Elway-John Fox era. They are smart and they play the board well. They seem to have a good plan and they maneuver around when needed. I think they will be patient and select the best available defensive player that falls to them.

Breaking down McShay's mock

December, 12, 2012
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The draft is going to be a big deal in the AFC West with three teams on pace to pick in the top 10.

Yes, it is very early, but I do think Todd McShay’s mock first-round draft is definitely worth looking at. Yes, the drafting order is very far from being determined and the players are far from being solidified as first-round prospects, but this is a good taste of how things may look as the draft talk develops:

1. Kansas City: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

My take: We all know the Chiefs need a quarterback badly and we all know there are no great quarterback choices available at the top of the draft. So, this pick works. He would be another fine player on a potentially good defense. Perhaps the Chiefs could find a bridge veteran quarterback and take someone like North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon in the second round.

3. Oakland: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

My take: The Raiders can’t go wrong here. They need defensive help badly. It will come down to who the Raiders think is the best defensive player available. There are a lot of fine choices and Werner is one of them.

9. San Diego: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

My take: The offensive line is the Chargers’ greatest need area, so it could come down to the best tackle available. But if the board falls as McShay has it, San Diego could look for value and take Alabama guard Chance Warmack or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o here.

28. Denver: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

My take: This is a good starting point. But the Broncos believe in taking the best player available, so I could see them taking a receiver, tight end or even an offensive lineman if they think they are getting a bargain.

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