AFC West: Ndamukong Suh

There are two words that most NFL people are usually highly averse to during a football conversation.

Folks don’t often like the word "surprised," as in, "Were you surprised by [insert whatever was an issue in the previous game here]?"

And folks don’t like the word "feared." So when a selection of the Broncos were asked about the league’s most feared player, virtually all of them -- nine of 10 to be exact -- took it to mean a playmaker who was difficult to deal with down to down, not somebody who intimidated them.

So while Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got the nod as the league’s most feared player in the NFL Nation Confidential, Suh got just one of the votes from 10 Broncos who responded to the question.

The winners among the Broncos were 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, with an emphasis on his playmaking and the ability to affect games, and Suh’s teammate in Detroit, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. A lot of people agreed with the Broncos leaguewide, given Johnson finished just behind Suh in the survey and Willis was fourth.

Two of the Broncos went with quarterbacks as their most feared players because, as one of the players put it, "They take everything from you," with Peyton Manning getting one vote and Tom Brady getting one vote.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Raiders 27

December, 18, 2011
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A look at a devastating loss for the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: This defeat was absolutely crushing for the Raiders. They were poised to pull into a first-place tie with Denver, which lost by 18 at home to New England. However, a late Detroit rally kept Oakland a game behind Denver in the division. It was also a major blow for the Raiders’ wild-card chances. Oakland has now lost three straight games and is 7-7.

A man named Suh: In his first game back from a two-game NFL suspension, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got a hand on a 65-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired. Welcome back, big fella.

Late disaster: We’ve seen the Raiders’ defense collapse like this before. But this was bad. Oakland had a 27-14 lead, but the Lions scored twice in the final 4:59, including a touchdown with 49 seconds to go. It culminated a 98-yard drive that started with 2:11 remaining in the game.

Palmer mostly good: The good news for the Raiders is quarterback Carson Palmer had a bounce-back game. He couldn’t extend a late drive, but he had a real nice day. Palmer completed 32 of 40 passes for 367 yards. He did not throw an interception. He went into the game with 13 this season.

Big day for receivers: Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson (who caught the game-winning touchdown) had nine catches for 214 yards. Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey had eight catches for 155 yards. Heyward-Bey needs to be more consistent but he is capable of good things.

Penalties a plenty: We knew this was coming. Oakland came into the game leading the NFL in penalties and Detroit was fourth. Oakland committed 10 penalties for 86 yards and Detroit was flagged nine times for 72 yards.

What’s next: Oakland plays at Kansas City on Saturday. The Chiefs beat the Raiders 28-0 in Oakland in October.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 16, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Jack DempseyWill Tim Tebow lead another late-game comeback to beat the Patriots?
Tebow in the fourth quarter: The most compelling storyline of the Denver Broncos' 7-1 journey with Tim Tebow as their quarterback has been the team’s ability to overcome deficits in the fourth quarter. The Broncos have trailed in the fourth quarter in all of their past four games and won them all. They are the second team in NFL history to accomplish that feat. There’s no doubt, Tebow is a special player at the end of the game and it will be the New England Patriots' job Sunday to keep him from starring late. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow is second in passing yards in the fourth quarter and overtime with 691 yards. He is tied for fourth with five fourth-quarter touchdown passes and he is fourth in yards per pass attempt at 8.6 yards. He is also tied for second in passing first downs with 32 after the final quarter starts. Tebow is completing a league-worst 37.5 percent of his passes from inside the pocket in the first three quarters. His pocket completion percentage in the fourth quarter, you ask? A strong 64.4 percent. There is no denying Tebow is a much different, much better quarterback when it most counts.

An epic penalty battle? Ndamukong Suh’s first game back from a two-game NFL suspension highlights a battle between two of the NFL’s most penalized teams when the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders play Sunday. The Raiders are the most penalized team in the NFL and the Lions are fourth. Oakland has been penalized 130 times for 1,116 yards, Detroit 105 for 894 yards. Oakland is on pace to set records for the most penalties and most penalty yards in NFL history. The 1998 Kansas City Chiefs were penalized 158 times for 1,304 yards. Oakland is on pace for 160 penalties for 1,373 yards. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for these numbers.

Rivers is starting to click against stacked defensive backfields: San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has improved immensely the past three weeks. One area in which he has made big strides is against a stacked secondary. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions against defensive sets featuring at least five defensive backs in the past three games. In his first 10 games, Rivers had a minus-6 TD-interception differential in such defenses. Rivers has thrown 17 interceptions this season, all in the first 10 games.

Wiegmann about to hit remarkable milestone: Kansas City center Casey Wiegmann is on pace to play his 11,000th consecutive snap Sunday against Green Bay. He has played 10,966 snaps in a row dating to 2001. Think about that. For Wiegmann to play that many consecutive snaps at a position where there is significant physical engagement on every play is stunning. Wiegmann, who is undersized at about 280 pounds, has started 172 straight games dating to September 2001. The streak could be coming to an end soon. There is a chance Wiegmann, 38, will retire after the season. He has considered retirement the past couple of years.

Stopping the Gronk: While so much attention has been given to Tebow, one of the main reasons Denver has won six straight games is its defensive success. If the Denver defense is going to contribute to a win over the Patriots on Sunday, it must keep star tight end Rob Gronkowski from taking over. That won’t be easy. Gronkowski has 71 catches for 1,088 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver hasn’t had to deal with intense tight end receiving play this season. Denver has faced the second-fewest tight end targets in the NFL. It has allowed 46 completions to tight ends on 67 attempts -- a completion percentage of 68.7 that is ranked 23rd in the NFL. It has allowed five touchdowns to the tight end, which is tied for 12th in the league. Stopping the tight end must be a priority Sunday.

Oakland Raiders: Moving On

December, 12, 2011
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Here are some areas the Oakland Raiders need to focus on after a 46-16 loss at the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

Recap: It’s been a tough two weeks for Oakland. It lost at the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay by a combined score of 80-30. It was completely blown out of both games. Oakland trailed, 31-0, at halftime Sunday. It was the Raiders’ worst halftime deficit ever in the regular season. Oakland is now 7-6 and it trails Oakland, 7-5, by a game in the AFC West with three games to go. If the Denver Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs 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. I wouldn’t say Oakland is facing an insurmountable playoff challenge, but it does need to start playing better.

Biggest area to fix: Take your pick. The defense was outclassed and Oakland’s penalty problem persisted as it was flagged 11 times for 89 yards. However, we’re going with quarterback Carson Palmer who has played poorly the past couple of games. Palmer has thrown 13 interceptions and nine touchdowns since joining the Raiders in October. The Raiders traded for him because they thought he was an upper-level player. It’s time for him to show it.

Biggest area to build on: Oakland ran the ball better than it did in the previous two games and had 117 yards on 29 carries. It wasn’t a great effort, but it was a step in the right direction in an area that is crucial to Oakland’s success.

What to watch for: The Raiders’ home game against the Detroit Lions will be in the spotlight since it is defensive lineman’s Ndamukong Suh's first game back after a two-game NFL suspension after he stomped a Green Bay offensive lineman on Thanksgiving.

Infractions piling up for Seymour

December, 4, 2011
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Richard Seymour’s actions Sunday were nowhere close to those of Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh's in Green Bay on Nov. 24 that resulted in a two-game suspension.

Seymour
However, because of the frequency of Seymour’s infractions, I wouldn’t be surprised the NFL may consider a short suspension for Seymour. At the very least, his history of fines will have a new, hefty chapter.

For the third time in three seasons with Oakland, the star defensive lineman was ejected from a game. In a runaway Miami rout, Seymour was tossed in the third quarter after he struck Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito on the side of the helmet.

Last year Seymour was ejected and fined $25,000 for hitting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the helmet. In 2009, Seymour was ejected for hitting Browns running back Jerome Harrison after a play was over. Seymour was fined $10,000 for that infraction.

Seymour has been fined at least $30,000 this season for illegal plays.

I’m not saying I think Seymour should be suspended for Sunday’s actions, but the reality is the NFL is not big on repeat offenders of any kind.
There were two big stories in the NFL on Tuesday that could have ramifications for the AFC West. Let’s take a look why:

Jack Del Rio fired: The Jaguars’ first game without Del Rio will be Monday night when they host San Diego. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take over on an interim basis. Playing against the Jaguars in this setting could be tough duty for the Chargers, who have lost six straight games. Expect the Jaguars to be very motivated in that game.

Suh suspended: The NFL suspended Detroit star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for the next two games for his actions against Green Bay on Thursday. Even if Suh appeals, the decision will be expedited and it will only affect these next two games. Thus, he will be eligible to play at Oakland on Dec. 18 and at home against San Diego on Dec. 24.

One fewer team for L.A.: Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver announced he will sell the team to businessman Shadid Khan and the team will be kept in Jacksonville. The Jaguars had been considered one of the leading contenders to end up in Los Angeles. That means the chances of the Chargers moving there may have increased. There's been speculation the Raiders could be a relocation target for L.A., but the Chargers seem more likely.

Del Rio is available: If any of the AFC West teams are looking for a new defensive coordinator in the offseason -- San Diego or Oakland, perhaps -- Del Rio, who grew up in the Bay Area, could be a possibility.

Chargers' O-line still in shambles

November, 27, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- As expected, San Diego’s offensive line is a mess.

Starters Marcus McNeill (neck) and Louis Vasquez (ankle) are out for the second straight game. San Diego is also missing guard Kris Dielman, who is out for the year because of a concussion. Backup guard Tyronne Green is also out with a hand injury. Undrafted rookie Steve Schilling and newly signed Tony Moll are expected to start at guard. Brandyn Dombrowski will start for McNeill.

Receiver Malcom Floyd remains out with a hip injury. Rookie Vincent Brown will start for him. Linebacker Shaun Phillips is active for the first time in a month after being out with a foot injury.

Denver’s inactive list doesn’t feature any surprises.

In other AFC West nuggets:

Rookie receiver Denarius Moore (foot) and running back Taiwan Jones (hamstring) are among Oakland’s inactive players against Chicago. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is active. He had a neck injury.

ESPN is reporting that Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh is expected to be suspended at least two games for his actions Thursday against Green Bay. The Lions play at Oakland on Dec. 18 and they host San Diego on Dec. 24.

ESPN is reporting that the agent of receiver Terrell Owens said there is one team that is very interested in signing Owens. I don’t see any natural fits with any of the AFC West teams at this point.

ESPN Stats & Information has some keys to Sunday’s Denver-San Diego game.

Von Miller vows to adjust approach

November, 25, 2011
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While 2010 No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Ndamukong Suh is being heavily criticized for dirty play, 2011 No. 2 overall pick Von Miller is starting to pile up the fines. Unlike Suh, though, Miller is taking responsibility for his actions and he is willing to make the necessary adjustments to play within the rules of the game.

Miller -- who has 9.5 sacks and who is the leading candidate to win the defensive rookie of the year award -- was fined $25,000 for roughing the passer when he struck Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez in the chest area with his helmet in a 17-13 Denver win Nov. 17. He was fined $15,000 for a similar hit on Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer a few weeks ago. Miller was fined the large amount because he was a repeat offender.

Miller told reporters in Denver on Friday that he understands that fines are in place to promote player safety and he will do what it takes to avoid fines.

“I definitely don’t want to get fined, but its part of the game now,” Miller said. “I’ve definitely got to make those adjustments to not get fined again … I fully think that I can make those adjustments. We all get compensated in this league to play the game we love, and we get compensated to make those adjustments. I’m fully confident that I can make those adjustments … You just can’t aim up high like that. I’ve definitely got to be more conscious of the way I’m approaching the quarterback and the angles [at which] I’m approaching the quarterback and what I’m using when I’m taking them down.”

Despite making the adjustments, Miller vowed to stay aggressive.

“I’m still going to have relentless pursuit to the ball,” Miller said. "I’m still going to play with a fanatical effort to the ball, but the thing that I need to change is my approach to engage in contact with players. I think I can definitely make that adjustment, and that’s about it.”

I admire Miller’s attitude and approach. Instead of whining or complaining about being fined, Miller realizes the game is bigger than him, and he is the one who must conform and modify his approach on the field. It will be interesting to watch Miller in the coming weeks to see if his adjustments alter his game at all.

He has come into the league known as a smart, studious, team-oriented player. So, I don’t expect any major issues as he learns from his $40,000 lesson. Perhaps Suh could learn from Miller.

One player to watch

October, 24, 2011
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A key player to watch in Week 8 for each AFC West team:

Denver: J.D. Walton, center: The Broncos' second-year center will have his hands full with the Lions’ aggressive defensive line Sunday. Detroit’s pressure begins with Ndamukong Suh. He’ll be coming after Tim Tebow, and Walton will have to set the tone. Tebow was dropped seven times in Miami, so Walton and crew will have to improve quickly.

Kansas City: Brandon Flowers, cornerback: Flowers had a terrific game at Oakland in Week 7. He had two interceptions, including one for a touchdown. The Chargers’ passing game is coming off a shaky performance at the Jets in Week 7. Philip Rivers will be looking to get back on track Monday night at Kansas City, so Flowers will be in the spotlight again.

San Diego: Antoine Cason, cornerback: Cason struggled against the Jets’ Plaxico Burress on Sunday as he gave upon three touchdowns to Burress. The Chiefs’ passing offense has been coming on strong, so I’m sure Cason will be challenged again Monday night. He needs to answer the challenge.

Oakland is on a bye.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 16, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

1. Brady is no McNabb: I hope the San Diego Chargers enjoyed their defensive romp against the pass in Week 1, when Donovan McNabb completed only seven passes for 39 yards. The party is over. San Diego’s pass defense needs to ramp it up against New England and Tom Brady. He threw for 517 yards at Miami in Week 1. The Chargers won't be able to simply pin back their ears and try to stop the run. This week, they must stop the pass first.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Denis PoroyPhilip Rivers passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 against Minnesota.
2. Attack New England’s DBs: The good news for San Diego, though, is that Philip Rivers is no Chad Henne. The Miami quarterback shredded the New England secondary, which has been in flux this season, for 416 yards Monday night. That has to entice the Chargers. It all starts with the pass in San Diego’s offense. Seeing a lesser quarterback than Rivers succeed against New England certainly will give the Chargers confidence going into the game.

3. Stop Suh: Kansas City center Casey Wiegmann has the fourth-longest active starting streak in the NFL. He has started 160 straight games. This week is no time for him to take a break. Wiegmann, the anchor of the Chiefs’ offensive line, will be in charge of finding a way to stop Lions star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. In just his second season, Suh is considered one of the best all-around defensive players in the NFL. The Chiefs’ offensive line had its troubles against Buffalo last week in a 34-point loss. It will be up to Wiegmann to find a way to keep Suh from disrupting the Chiefs’ entire offensive scheme.

4. Oakland needs energy boost: We should find out early Sunday whether the Oakland Raiders have a chance to start the season 2-0. It’s been a short, hard week for the Raiders. They played a game at Denver on Monday night that ended after midnight and arrived home in the wee California hours. Then, they practiced at 10 a.m. PT during the week to adjust to the East Coast start time Sunday. The Raiders are flying cross-country Friday to get settled in Western New York. That is a lot of air travel in a short time for an NFL team. If the Raiders come out sluggish, in what should be an energetic home opener for the Bills after their big win against the Chiefs, we’ll know why.

5. Can the John Fox way get rolling against the Bengals? The John Fox era in Denver didn’t begin the way he wanted. Fox wants to cram the ball down opponents' throats, and he wants to stop the run on defense. Neither happened against Oakland. The Broncos had just 39 yards rushing and allowed 190 yards on the ground. It might not get easier in Week 2, either. Cincinnati did well running the ball and stopping the run in its win over the Browns. The Bengals ran for 139 yards, which was the ninth best in the NFL. On defense, the Bengals allowed 83 yards rushing, which was 14th best. Those are solid numbers. Somehow, Fox has to find a way to play his way, or he could be danger of going 0-2 in his first two games in Denver.
Von Miller doesn’t plan on being a holdout.

Miller met with Denver media Tuesday and in comments released by the team, Miller made it clear he wants to be with the team when it reports to camp Wednesday. The Broncos will hold their first camp practice Thursday.

“I plan on being signed,” Miller said. “Me and my agent, we hadn’t really discussed (holding out). I plan on starting the first day, right on time.”

Miler, a pass-rushing linebacker from Texas A&M, was the No. 2 overall pick in April. As part of the new rookie pay scale that is part of the new CBA, Miller will not get as much as recent No.2 picks, but he is still expected to be paid very well. He’ll likely get in the $20 million range for four years. Miller seems at peace with the new format. He presented the rookie class. He was the only rookie who were the 10 name plaintiffs in the original lawsuit against the NFL that was filed in March.

“You really can’t be possessive over something that you didn’t have,” Miller said. “ You hear about what [Detroit DT Ndamukong] Suh made last year and all that stuff, but I’ve been playing football all my life for free, so whatever it is, whatever my contract may be, I’m good with whatever.”

Known for his work ethic and for his zeal, Miller made it clear he fully expects to cash in later in his career.

“I plan on getting three, four, five contracts,” Miller said. “I don’t plan on just getting this one, so whatever the future contracts may be, I’m happy with those, too. I just want to play football. I’m not really worried about all that other stuff.”

Shortly after Denver selected him, Miller decided to honor his favorite player, former Chiefs’ star linebacker Derrick Thomas. Miller will wear the late Thomas’ No. 58 in Denver. Ironically, one of the reasons that attracted Denver to Miller was the comparisons to Thomas. No player sacked new Denver leader John Elway when he was a player in Denver than Thomas.

“I just felt like that was the number to go with,” Miller said Tuesday. “I’m a big fan of Derrick Thomas, and hopefully I can get some inspiration from that. He’s my favorite player, and I’m number 58.”

And it appears Denver’s new No. 58 doesn’t want to miss a minute of training camp.
The NFL and players have made strides toward finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement. Let’s look at some key recent developments that affect the AFC West:

Earlier Monday on "SportsCenter," ESPN’s Adam Schefter said San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson and New England guard Logan Mankins will likely play a key role in the talks this week. Jackson and Mankins are among the 10 players who are plaintiffs against the NFL in the lockout lawsuit. Both players have been franchised by their respective teams. Schefter reported both players could balk at that and try to become free agents.

It seems unlikely that Jackson will end up being an unrestricted free agent, although he’d love to be one. It’s a fluid situation that could be settled this week. Still, I expect Jackson to be in San Diego this season unless there is a dramatic turn of events.

Last week, ESPN’s John Clayton reported the salary cap will be at $120 million in 2011. The Raiders will be about $11.7 million over that. The number would rise when restricted free-agency tender numbers are counted.

The Raiders may be forced to cut a few players, including guard Cooper Carlisle. They will also have to restructure contracts to get under the cap. It may be unrealistic to think Oakland will be overly active in free agency unless it gets creative. Still, Oakland did a good job of tying up some key players before the lockout started.

Some fans may have been disappointed to see the NFL scuttle its proposal for teams to have the right of first refusal for up to three unrestricted free agents. The proposal would have given teams a better chance of keeping their own key players, but there wasn’t a strong chance that proposal was ever going to fly.

As part of the new rookie scale, 2011 No. 2 overall pick Von Miller will get a lot less money than Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh received last year. Suh, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, signed a deal for five years and $60 million. Miller’s first NFL deal will likely be for four years and in the $20 million range.

It’s still good work if you can get it.

Scout: Houston has no ceiling

June, 23, 2011
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Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has been high on Oakland second-year defensive lineman Lamarr Houston for some time. Williamson made Houston his Raiders’ recipient in his “soon to be stars” feature in May.

Houston
Houston
I wanted to pick Williamson’s brain more on why he is so high on Houston. The following are reasons why Williamson thinks so highly of Houston, a second-round 2010 pick from Texas. He had 39 tackles and five sacks as a rookie.

Limitless future: “One of the best things about Houston is how good he can be. I think there is no ceiling for him. I think he can be one of, if not, the best defensive lineman in football.”

Versatile: “He can play anywhere on the line. That’s another beautiful thing about Houston. He can play in a 3-4 or in a 4-3; he can do anything you ask.”

Top youngsters: “I wouldn’t take him over Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, but those guys were the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the draft. But Houston is not too far behind those guys. It’s closer than the average fan thinks.”

Great help: “I love that he gets to work with Richard Seymour. Seymour can really help Houston early in his career. That’s a big thing for him to learn from a great player like Seymour.”

Comparison: “I can see him being like Tommie Harris in his prime. He can dominate like that … I’ve watched a lot of film of Houston and I really expect big things from him. The Raiders have a star.”

The argument for Nick Fairley

April, 25, 2011
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There has been speculation the draft stock of Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley is falling.

Earlier in the offseason, Fairley was considered a top-three prospect and a potential target of Denver at No. 2. But because of potential red flags of character, Fairley’s stock may have dipped. Many draft followers believe Fairley will not be a top-five pick. Fairley is tabbed for Tennessee at No. 8 in our bloggers’ mock draft.

However, in an ESPN.com Insider piece, KC Joyner believes Fairley should be a top pick. Joyner has evidence that suggests Fairley doesn’t take plays off. Joyner compares him to Detroit stud defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was the No. 2 overall choice last year.

I think Denver may be leaning toward taking Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at No. 2. But there is a chance it could pick Fairley. He was incredibly productive and dominant last year and Denver may be intrigued by Fairley.

Joyner clearly thinks that’s a good idea.

What do you think? Would you take Fairley over Dareus? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.
Marcell Dareus, Nick FairleyAP Photos, Getty ImagesMarcell Dareus (left) and Nick Fairley are two of the top-ranked defensive tackles in the draft.
There are high expectations for this defensive line draft class.

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.

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