NFL Nation: Brian Xanders

The next big thing: Dolphins

January, 22, 2014
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Senior Bowl Week is in full force, and the Miami Dolphins have yet to hire a general manager to replace Jeff Ireland. That is the next big thing on Miami’s agenda as the team heads into a crucial 2014 offseason.

This upcoming year is important for many members of the Dolphins’ organization. Head coach Joe Philbin is on the hot seat after going 15-17 in two seasons. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill also is entering an important third year to determine if he’s the long-term solution. The Dolphins’ decision on their next general manager is an important piece that could help bring the team together and get everyone on the same page.

The Dolphins have interviewed seven candidates so far for their opening. I am hearing Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns and former Denver Broncos general manager Brain Xanders are the early favorites. But Miami may continue to bring in additional candidates over the next several days who could change its thinking.

Either way, time is running short for Miami. Following the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine is up next. The Dolphins would be in total dysfunction not to have a GM in place by that time.

The three-man leadership structure is Denver is down to two.

General manager Brian Xanders is no longer with the team.

Denver leader John Elway and Xanders told the Denver Post that the team and Xanders have mutually parted ways. Elway told the paper the Broncos are streamlining their leadership structure and Xanders will not be replaced.

I think the move was made because Elway is comfortable in his role. The legendary quarterback became Denver’s primary football decision maker in Jan. 2011.

Elway released this statement:
“Brian deserves a tremendous amount of credit and recognition for the contributions he made to the Broncos during his four years with the organization. His hard work and dedication played a major role in the recent success of our team, most notably last season’s division title and playoff win.

“Brian and I had a very productive conversation earlier today. Although it was an extremely difficult decision, it became clear that it was best for both the Broncos and Brian to part ways. I believe a change to the structure of our football operations will be mutually beneficial, allowing the department to improve its efficiency while affording Brian the opportunity to continue his promising career with another NFL team.

“My responsibility to the Broncos and our fans is to build a championship football team. The setup we have throughout every phase of our football operations will better position us for success going forward.

“Making a change with someone of Brian’s caliber is not easy. I thank him for everything he did for the Broncos and wish him all the best as he continues his career.”

In the past year it became clear the Broncos were top heavy. Elway and coach John Fox have a terrific working relationship and there is a great comfort level between the two.

Simply put, there just wasn’t enough for Xanders to do. Elway is essentially the general manager and Xanders’ role was decreasing. After a little more than a year into the Elway-Fox relationship, the Broncos felt comfortable moving on with a smaller leadership core.

Mike Shanahan brought in Xanders in 2008 and was promoted to general manager early in the Josh McDaniels’ era in 2009. When Elway became the leader in Denver, Xanders’ future was clear.

This decision is another sign that the Broncos are Elway's team.
Denver Broncos vice president John Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox held a postseason news conference Monday. In addition to the team committing to Tim Tebow as its quarterback heading into training camp, here are some other key subjects that were discussed:

On whether the team’s commitment to Tebow as the starter affects draft plans

Elway: “Right now, as we look at it, we have two quarterbacks under contract. So, we have to, obviously, be in the market to find some more quarterbacks. Whether it be through free agency or in the draft, we’ll look at both of those options.”

My take: I could see Denver being interested in re-signing Brady Quinn to back up Tebow. Quinn may look for a chance to compete elsewhere and if he doesn’t come back, Denver will likely look for a reliable veteran and maybe draft a quarterback prospect in the late rounds.

On improvement from last season

Elway: “Really, to me, a lot of the credit goes to this guy sitting to my right, John Fox. I think he did a tremendous job. Brian [Xanders] and I talked about it a lot when we were evaluating coaches last year is really the bottom line what needed a lot last year was we needed these guys to enjoy football again. We kind of called it a football rehab, and I think the mentality, the enthusiasm, the type of coach that John is really got the most of the guys that we have. To me, that’s really the true identity and quality of a great coach is to be able to draw that out of football players. That’s why so much of this credit goes to John, because he was able to pull everything he could out of the players and the team that we have. I can’t say enough about John and the job that he did this year.”

My take: It is clear the Denver brass is thrilled with its progress this season and it feels like it is just the beginning of the team’s resurgence.

On the team’s budget

Xanders: “We have our own internal budget given by the owner. We are going to stick to that budget, and we plan to be aggressive and smart at the same time and try to get some good signings in here, some valued signings that help contribute to wins. We also have to address signing our own unrestricted free agents that are free, and we also have the free agency market. So we will have a plan for that. We have a long-term vision, too.”

My take: Denver will make some moves in free agency. It made its share of moves last year. But the days of Denver taking big free-agent chances as they did in the Mike Shanahan era are behind us. Expect Denver to pursue players at problem areas, but don’t expect it to spend money just to spend it.
The Denver Broncos received a dose of good news, according to general manager Brian Xanders.

He told media members Saturday that injured 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas has been cleared to practice. Thomas ruptured his Achilles in February. This summer, Denver football leader John Elway said he thought Thomas would miss at least half the 2011 season.

“He’s cleared to practice; he’s ready to go,” Xanders said of Thomas. “We’re excited about him … DeMaryius worked really hard to get back, so he’ll be on the 53 [-man roster].”

Xanders declined to put a timeline as to when Thomas will be ready to play.

“Our coaches are obviously going to monitor him,” Xanders said. “He’s going to be running scout team cards eventually in full pads, and we’ll see how he is. We’ve got to get him in shape leg-wise, quadriceps, hamstrings and all of that has to be working well. We’ll see how he does. Hopefully it’s sooner than later.”

Getting Thomas back will be huge for Denver. He showed great flashes last season when he was healthy. He has a chance to be a good player if he can keep healthy.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2011
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For a franchise that was accused of turning stale a few years ago, the Denver Broncos have become pros at taking fresh approaches.

For the second time in three training camps, Denver has a new head coach. John Fox takes over after the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels regime. From 1995 to 2008, the Broncos were the picture of coaching constancy. It was the Mike Shanahan show. Everyone knew it.

But the Broncos have been in flux and have gone from one of the better-run organizations in the NFL to a team that is grasping for an identity. Denver hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season. It hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.

In comes Fox, who is experiencing a rebirth himself after spending the past nine seasons in Carolina. Fox’s biggest task in Denver is to restore normalcy after the rocky McDaniels era and rebuild a winner.

“There has been instability here, good, bad or indifferent, that’s just the way it has been,” said Fox, whose team will be on its sixth defensive coordinator (former New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen) in six seasons.

“We have to build our program here. But I think it can be done. There are good pieces here.”

Many Denver players have raved about Fox. They appreciate his professionalism, his structure and his attention to detail. They believe there is a plan in place, and they trust Fox’s experience. The players also seem to appreciate the fact that Fox is simply in Denver to coach. The front office is run by legendary Denver quarterback John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. Both Shanahan and McDaniels made personnel decisions.

“I get a great feel for Coach Fox,” star cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the better coaches I’ve been around ... I like it that he is focused on coaching us on the field. That’s where he wants to be.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRookie Von Miller will need to play well right away if Denver's defense is going to improve this season.
1. Fix the defense. While the Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton competition has garnered much attention, the real key issue in Denver’s camp has been the defense. This unit was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season and was generally awful in every major statistical category. Fox and his defensive staff have taken a hands-on approach to improve this group, which is a mix of veterans and youngsters.

If the reconstructed defensive front plays well and rookie linebacker Von Miller makes an instant impact, this group has a chance to improve quickly. It seems to be working early. Denver’s defense has been capable in camp and it looked solid against Dallas in the preseason opener Thursday. Injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (who signed to a two-year, $8 million deal) and Marcus Thomas create more uncertainty at a key spot for Denver. It needs to get help there by Kevin Vickerson, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon and Derrick Harvey in the rest of the preseason. Warren could be out for a long period and Thomas will miss the rest of the preseason.

2. Clarity at quarterback: The Broncos’ camp has been about getting the first-team ready to go with Orton. There is no question Orton is the starter now. If the team struggles, Tebow could enter the picture, but players love playing with Orton and the team thinks he currently gives them the best chance to win now.

Of course, the lack of clarity was team-induced. It spent the immediate days after the lockout trying to trade Orton to Miami. After that fell through, Orton took control of the offense quickly and has given Denver no choice but to make him the starter, TebowMania be dammed.

3. Establish a ground game: Although Fox is a defensive-minded coach, he has a strict philosophy on offense. He believes in stuffing the ball down an opponent’s throat and killing the clock. Denver struggled to run the ball under McDaniels, and Fox said adding a veteran tailback was paramount.

The Broncos jumped on Willis McGahee when he was cut by the Ravens. Expect McGahee and third-year player Knowshon Moreno to combine for plenty of carries. They have worked well in camp, and they combined for 40 yards on six carries in the preseason opener at Dallas. This camp has been spent getting these two involved in the offense as much as possible.

ELVIS IS BACK IN THE BUILDING

The Broncos are raving about the play of Elvis Dumervil. After leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and getting a contract worthy of that performance, Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in early August last year and missed the entire 2010 season.

There was concern that his rust and a move back to the 4-3 under Fox could hamper the smallish Dumervil. He flourished in McDaniels’ 3-4 system after being a solid player in Shanahan’s 4-3 defense. Dumervil beefed up to more than 260 pounds, and he‘s been impressive under Fox.

The Broncos expect Dumervil and Miller to become one of the better pass-rush tandems in the league.

RELYING ON THE ROOKIES

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will also be looking to rookie Rahim Moore to shore up Denver's secondary.
One of the most exciting aspects of this camp for Denver has been the play of its rookies. The Broncos thought they drafted well in April, and after three weeks, they are thrilled with what they see.

“I think we had an excellent draft,” Fox said.

Added Dumervil: “This is the best group of rookies I’ve seen here in awhile.”

Leading the way is Miller, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Texas A&M product has been as advertised. Teammates rave about his speed, explosiveness and his ability to make plays. They expect instant success.

Second-round pick Rahim Moore is vying for a starting spot with Kyle McCarthy at safety and has shown he is ready for NFL play. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, middle linebacker Nate Irving, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Quentin Carter are all expected to be major contributors. This is exactly what this 4-12 team needed -- a solid group of youngsters to build around after a couple of shaky years of drafting by McDaniels.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Safety Brian Dawkins may be turning 38 this year, but the Broncos are still getting a lot out of him. He works well with Fox’s staff, and his leadership has been uncanny during camp.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has been getting chances to break out in camp, but he has been slow to show progress. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been slowed by swelling in his knee. Still, the team expects him to contribute. Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010 -- 77 catches for 1,448 yards.
  • The second-round draft class of 2009 has been a bust. Tight end Richard Quinn is hurt and could be the odd man out. Safety Darcel McBath has yet to develop, and cornerback Alphonso Smith (who Denver traded its 20101 first-round pick for) was shipped out to Detroit last year. This was supposed to be the nucleus of future success, and Denver hasn’t seen results.
  • The Broncos’ passing game struggled in red-zone and third-down situations. That has been a point of emphasis during this camp.
  • Veterans Joe Mays and Mario Haggan are competing to hold off Irving at middle linebacker.
  • Franklin has struggled in pass projection. Still, the team is committed to him.
  • Denver is excited about second-year receiver Eric Decker. Expect Decker to get a chance to contribute a lot.
  • The Broncos like what they have in new tight end Daniel Fells. He is solid as a receiver and as a blocker. He should help in both phases of the game.
  • Right cornerback Andre' Goodman has been steady, and the team is confident he can play well in 2011.
  • Second-year center J.D. Walton continues to improve, and he has shown strong leadership for a young player.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that linebacker Brandon Siler has reached a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A source close to the situation told me that Siler will take a physical with the Chiefs and is expected to sign if he passes. Siler will likely compete for a starting job at inside linebacker. If he doesn’t unseat the solid Jovan Belcher, he will likely be a solid special-teams player.

This is an interesting move. The Chargers didn’t put a premium on Siler, but he can help the Chiefs if he signs.

Meanwhile, the Union-Tribune reports there is a ”slim chance” that the Chargers will bring back receiver Malcom Floyd. His market has been slow to develop.

The Broncos are visiting with former No. 8 overall pick Jamaal Anderson. Denver general manager Brian Xanders was with the Falcons when they took the defensive lineman in 2007.

I still wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers make a run at San Francisco’s Manny Lawson. They have added former 49ers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy. New San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky came over from San Francisco.

The Rams kept defensive tackle Danny Muir. He was connected to the Broncos.

The Union-Tribune reports former Charger linebacker Antwan Applewhite has agreed to terms with the 49ers. He was cut last week.
» AFC Future Stars: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at the players I expect to be the most dominant in the AFC West from 2014 to 2016.

The future looks bright in the AFC West. There are several promising young players in the division, and all four teams have hope for the future. Let’s look at the players I expect to have the most success in the middle of this decade.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Dave EinselVon Miller finished his college career with 33 sacks.
Von Miller, Broncos linebacker: If the Broncos are going to rebound from their recent drought, it could start with Miller. He is an important figure in Denver and was the first pick of the John Elway/John Fox/Brian Xanders regime. The trio studied several players before deciding on the powerful Texas A&M linebacker for the No. 2 overall pick. Elway said that Miller was the most explosive player in the draft and that he reminds many NFL scouts of former Kansas City great linebacker Derrick Thomas. Miller is smart, extremely fast and athletically gifted. He seems like a can’t-miss prospect. The Broncos need him to be.

Eric Berry, Chiefs safety: Berry is going to be a special player. He is the centerpiece on a roster full of young, exciting talent. Berry was the No. 5 overall pick last year and was an immediate success. Berry was always on the field and made a huge impact. He instantly legitimized a defense that played a major role in a division title. He is a smart player who has a chance to be the NFL’s next great safety. I also considered the spectacular Jamaal Charles, but he will be 30 at the end of the 2016 season. Durability is a question mark about the speedster, so I went with Berry. Still, I expect Charles to be one of the NFL’s best running backs for the foreseeable future.

Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive lineman: I’m taking Matt Williamson’s lead here. The Scouts Inc. brainiac is extremely high on the Raiders’ second-season defensive lineman. In fact, Williamson believes Houston could be one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen soon. He thinks Houston, a second-round pick from Texas, has no ceiling. Houston has the look of an impact player who plays with a mean streak. He was easy to notice in the preseason last year, and he made one big play after another as a rookie. He looks like he’ll be in the NFL for the next dozen years. He is versatile and can play in virtually every defensive situation. The Raiders have a host of young, intriguing players, including Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Matt Shaughnessy, Rolando McClain and Tyvon Branch. But Houston seems like he can be special.

Ryan Mathews, Chargers running back: Mathews wasn’t spectacular as a rookie in 2010. But he showed enough flashes to make the Chargers excited about his future. Mathews was the No. 12 overall pick after the Chargers sent a huge package to Miami to move up 16 spots to take the Fresno State star. Mathews had injury and fumbling issues in 2010, but when he was healthy, he made several big plays and ran hard. He finished the season strong. The Chargers like the way he works and thinks he will be ready to take the next step soon. I was tempted to go with cornerback Antoine Cason or first-round pick Corey Liuget, but I think Mathews has the ability to have a long, productive career in San Diego.

Best of NFL: AFC West coaches

June, 29, 2011
6/29/11
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» Best of NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC West:

[+] EnlargeTodd Haley
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelTodd Haley is an in-your-face coach which has allowed him to keep the Chiefs in check.
Best ego manager: Kansas City's Todd Haley is an in-your-face coach. He is scared of no one. His demeanor has led Haley to clash with players, and player-coach sideline disagreements are not rare. But his style works. Players respond to Haley and he gets their respect. When he became the head coach in Kansas City in 2009, Haley wasn’t looking for any friends, and he broke down several players, including former first-round picks Dwayne Bowe and Derrick Johnson. Both players responded well and played at a high level in 2010. Haley has dealt with several high-profile receivers in his career, such as Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens. He survived them both. That is one of the reasons the Chiefs had no reservations about taking Pittsburgh receiver Jon Baldwin, who has a reputation as a diva, in the first round this year. Haley is prepared for Baldwin.

Best motivator: We’re taking a leap here because the Raiders' Hue Jackson has never been a head coach, but I’m confident he will be a premier motivator. He surely was as the Raiders’ offensive coordinator last season. He is very positive and often talks up his players. He is very vocal on the practice field. He also produced instant results last season -- Oakland’s offense was leaps and bounds ahead of the 2009 version. Jackson’s players always speak well of him, and he has them believing the Raiders are on the doorstep of big things. Something must be working.

Best coach-GM tandem: This is a potentially strong group of front-office types and coaches. In San Diego, GM A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner work well together. Jackson and Oakland owner Al Davis appear to be very chummy and work well together. The early vibe on the John Elway-Brian Xanders-John Fox trio in Denver appears to be strong. But we’re going to give the nod to Kansas City’s tandem of Haley and GM Scott Pioli. The two have a strong working relationship, and they have turned the Chiefs around quickly. In their second season in Kansas City, Pioli and Haley built a division winner. The Chiefs are set up well for the future, and this tandem is the primary reason why.

Best delegator: The ability of Turner to to delegate in San Diego is one of his strengths. Smith has complimented Turner’s in that area in multiple discussions with this blogger. Turner is a premier play caller and quarterbacks coach. He knows his role, and he allows his coaches to work and coach. He is not a dictator or the type who needs to have his thumbprints on every minor detail. He lets his coaches do their jobs, and trusts they will get things done.

Best X's and O's: I’m going to give the nod to Fox, the new head man in Denver. Don’t be swayed by the fact that the Carolina Panthers were awful in 2010. Fox earned a strong reputation as fine coach in his nine seasons with the Panthers. He is a defensive specialist who is aggressive and detailed-oriented. On offense, Fox is a big believer in running the ball down opponents’ throats. He sticks to his plan and is very organized. The Broncos will be well-coached in 2011.
Von Miller Brett Davis/US PresswireVon Miller had 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season as an All-American at Texas A&M.

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.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Thomas and John Elway
AP Photo,fileFormer Chief Derrick Thomas gave John Elway fits during his career. Elway hopes Von Miller can do the same to AFC West quarterbacks.
“He’s a big playmaker and a leader who is explosive,” Fox said shortly after the selection. “It’s crucial in this league to be able to rush the passer and Von adds that dimension to our defense. He’s also able to drop back into pass coverage. There’s no doubt that his versatility is going to make us a better football team.”

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.

No. 2 pick update

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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ESPN’s Ed Werder just reported on “NFL Live” that Denver Broncos' general manager Brian Xanders said he has no current trade talks going on about the No. 2 pick.

Werder reported that Xanders said he wouldn’t expect any trade talks -- if at all -- until the hour before the first round starts at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. At this point, it would be an upset if the Broncos trade the pick. Trades will be difficult this year because of all of the lockout limbo. The No. 2 pick hasn’t been traded since 2000, anyway.

If I had to guess at this moment, I’d expect Denver to keep the pick.

Denver brass talks about draft

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
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Denver vice president of football operations John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders conducted a pre-draft news briefing. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJohn Elway is preparing for his first draft as Denver's vice president of football operations.
On whether Denver has been contacted by teams wanting to trade for the No. 2 overall pick

Elway: “We’ve had no contact yet on any of the possible trades. We’ve had no contact with anybody yet.”

Xanders: “Most of those calls will likely occur the day of the draft. It starts at 6 p.m., Mountain Time, so those hours preceding we could get calls or we might not get any calls.”

My take: I think Xanders is right. Trade talks would likely heat up during the draft. I’m sure Denver knows what it wants and is prepared if the situation presents itself.

On how the uncertainty of there being a rookie wage scale in a new CBA affects the draft process

Elway: “I think we’re going to find out. I don’t know that we can predict that just yet. Obviously there is some uncertainty if there is going to be a rookie wage scale and what the price of the second pick is going to be for the player. With the inability for us to know wage scale at this point in time and not really knowing what it’s going to be, it could restrict (the process) but we don’t know yet.”

My take: It’s the only view to take with the uncertainty of the situation.

On how the draft process is different for Xanders than in previous years with the Broncos

Xanders: “This year has been a lot more inclusive, a lot more meetings, group meetings. It’s been a great process with everybody contributing. The scouts all had their cases stated in February, all of their research -- personal and football character. With this process we had more pro guys brought in because there are no UFA’s, no free agency. So we have Keith Kidd, Matt Russell, Lenny McGill, Champ Kelly (and) other scouts all voicing their cross-check positions. I’ve done 90 percent of the board, and so we go around the room and the position coach gets to speak first and state his case of where he thinks he is and how (the prospect) fits with the Broncos and then anybody else in the room that has evaluated him gets to state their case. Then we watch a lot of tape, usually over 150 plays and then we roll into the All-Star games, watch that and then we watch the Combine and then we compare the numbers. So it’s more of an intensive meeting. It’s more inclusive and it’s been very positive.”

My take: Former coach Josh McDaniels was in charge of the draft the past two years and it is a big reason why he is no longer in Denver. So switching it up this year was a good idea. After having a single-minded organization in the Mike Shanahan and McDaniels eras, this is a refreshing approach.

On if taking a foundation player with an early pick trumps multiple value picks to build a roster

Elway: “I would like to get four really, really, really good players. I think we’d all like to do that. The better players we have at each position the better off we are. That’s where we have to look at it as a group and say ‘At the two position we’re going to get a dynamite (player).’ We feel like we’re going to get a dynamic player at that position.

My take: Denver needs as many quality players as possible. That’s why a trade down could be appealing.

On who breaks a tie if there is not a consensus on a player?

Elway: “Maybe he’s not the right guy. I think we’ve looked at it and I think mine, Brian and John’s relationship is so good that we’ll come to an agreement that we all feel good about and I think that with the amount of picks that we have and the experience that we have in that room we’re going to find the right guy to pick.”

My take: It seems like this group is prepared. Let’s see if it works.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:07
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft philosophy.

Denver Broncos

This is the one mystery team in the division. There is a new regime in Denver, led by the Broncos’ legendary quarterback John Elway, who is the team’s vice president of football operations. In his first year in an NFL front office, Elway has the final say. Yet, he does work closely with general manager Brian Xanders, who is a holdover from the last regime, and new coach John Fox. Xanders is expected to have more of a say now, and Fox has been in draft rooms as a head coach for the past nine years in Carolina. They all said Denver will be open minded in the draft. The brass has been at several pro-day workouts and has brought in several players for pre-draft visits. Denver needs defense, but it won’t shy away from taking the best player available. I expect this group to be willing to trade and do what it takes to bring as much talent as possible to Denver as it begins the rebuilding process.

Kansas City Chiefs

One of the reasons Scott Pioli is effective as a general manager is that he is a careful drafter. He was part of a strong drafting team in New England, and his second effort in Kansas City was one of the league’s best. Pioli believes in taking low-risk players. He usually doesn’t pursue players with character issues. He’d rather get a solid player who is a good citizen than a terrific player who is an off-field risk. The Chiefs haven’t been aggressive in draft trades in the Pioli era. I get the feeling he’d rather trade down than up. Pioli is fond of players from the SEC. Both of his first-round picks are from the SEC, and the Chiefs’ first three picks from last year’s draft are from the conference. The reasoning is that if players can excel at the highest level of collegiate play, they have a chance to succeed in the NFL.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have one of the most famous draft philosophies in the history the NFL. It’s All Al Davis. And right now, that’s not such a bad thing. After whiffing on several first-round picks, Davis put together one of the most complete drafts in the NFL in 2010. Davis had a draft resurgence by sticking to the basics. He drafted good college players who also tested well at the combine in the offseason. In recent years, Davis seemed more fixated on combine scores and measurables than college production. He took several chances on players who looked the part but didn’t necessarily have the college résumé to back it up. Last year, he drafted proven college players. If Davis can continue that trend, the Raiders will be in good shape. Davis has never worried about the size of the school the player has come from, so he is willing to draft anyone. That worked in the third round last year, when he drafted tackle Jared Veldheer from tiny Hillsdale College. As far as trades go, Davis has been known for trading picks for veteran players such as Randy Moss, DeAngelo Hall, Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley and Jason Campbell in recent years. If the lockout continues, trading picks for veterans won’t be an option. It will be interesting to see whether Davis tries to deal to trade up and recoup the first-round pick that was surrendered in the Seymour deal.

San Diego Chargers

A.J. Smith’s philosophy is to be ready for anything. Smith prepares for any scenario. The San Diego general manager is feeling particularly powerful this year because he has an extra pick in the second and third rounds thanks to the 2010 trades of cornerback Antonio Cromartie and third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Smith is looking for the best scenario, whether that means keeping the five picks in the first three rounds, trading up for a big score or trading down for several picks. In recent years, Smith has traded up to get players such as running backs Ryan Mathews and Jacob Hester. I can see that being the case this year. The key to Smith’s philosophy is college production. He goes for high-effort, high-production players. He doesn’t go for many projects in the early rounds.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Denver

This is the only place in the AFC West where there is major change in the decision-making process this year. Denver will be closely watched during this draft for reasons that extend beyond the fact that it owns the No. 2 pick. This will be the first draft since legendary former Broncos quarterback John Elway took over as the team’s vice president of football operations. He was hired in January.

The Broncos have a three-way leadership format, with Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox. Elway has the final say on all decisions. However, Elway will rely on Xanders and Fox. Fox is the key. This is his 10th straight draft as a head coach. But this is an opportunity for Xanders to spread his wings too. He was the general manager the past two years with former coach Josh McDaniels. But McDaniels had final say and he used it. The Broncos had several questionable draft decisions the past two years and have privately made it clear it was McDaniels who was driving the draft ship. This new crew has been busy this offseason preparing for the draft. The Broncos’ brass has been at several pro days and the team has scheduled many workouts and visits with players at many positions. Elway has preached the importance of preparation as the Broncos try to rebuild.

Kansas City

This is Scott Pioli’s show. Pioli is in his third season as Kansas City's general manager. He has final say in all draft decisions. Pioli was part of many successful drafts in New England prior to joining the Chiefs in 2009. Pioli has fit this role well in Kansas City. He is a strong, confident leader. After a so-so first draft in Kansas City, Pioli struck gold in 2010. Several rookies made instant impacts and the class was a big reason why the Chiefs went from four wins to a 10-6 team that won the AFC West. Pioli works well with coach Todd Haley, whom Pioli hired. They seem to have the same draft vision and it seems to be a working well.

Oakland

There is no doubt here -- this is Al Davis’ show. No owner in the NFL is as involved in his team’s day-to-day operations as Davis. That includes the draft. Davis, 81, enters this draft with a hot hand. Oakland had one of the best drafts in the NFL last year and if the Raiders become a playoff team soon, the success of the 2010 class will play a major role. Davis bragged about the class in January and he deserves to boast. Suddenly, the calls from fans for Davis to hire a general manager have quieted. One of the biggest reasons Oakland floundered from 2003-09 was poor drafting, especially in the first round. But Davis proved he can still be effective in the draft room. He still watches countless hours of film and keeps in close contact with the team’s scouts.

San Diego

As in Kansas City, this is a classic leadership arrangement. A.J. Smith is the general manger in San Diego. He has been responsible for making all football-related decisions since he took over in San Diego in 2003. He prides himself in his film study and has been immersed in draft preparation for months. Smith is a strong leader who is known around the league for his willingness to strike a draft-day deal. He’ll move up or down. There’s no insecurity here. He’s in charge and he’s not afraid to use his power.
John ElwayRon Chenoy/US PresswireJohn Elway is trying to recapture the same magic in a business suit that he had in a jersey.
Two vehicles sat in an otherwise empty employee parking lot on a quiet Sunday in February at the Broncos’ suburban Denver headquarters. One of the cars belonged to the most recognized person in the state of Colorado.

It was fitting. John Elway became famous for his Sunday work for the Denver Broncos over the course of a 16-year Hall of Fame career. Now, 12 years after retiring as one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, Elway is embarking on another career, aimed at making the Broncos relevant and showing that legends can make the transition from the field to the front office.

Elway was hired as vice president of football operations by long-time friend and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen days after Denver ended a disastrous 2010 season in which it went 4-12. It was Denver’s lowest win total since it went 2-7 in a strike-shortened 1982 season the year before Elway came to town.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Broncos won the Super Bowl in John Elway's final season. A year later, they were 6-10.
Many league observers thought the Elway hiring was a publicity stunt to help draw attention away from the disastrous two-year Josh McDaniels era that alienated much of the team’s deep-rooted fan base. Elway, however, has been working to get into this position for years, including a successful tenure as the leader of Denver’s championship Arena League team that he and Bowlen ran.

In the two months since Elway has been in charge, he has led the way on the hiring of respected new coach John Fox, led the team’s scouting contingent at both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine and spearheaded the key re-signing of star cornerback Champ Bailey. In between, Elway’s face has been pressed against a television screen, watching film of Denver’s roster as well as free agent and draft prospects.

“He is all in. This is not a public relations move,” Fox said. “He is burning the midnight oil, he is working hard and he is very willing to learn … He understands what a football player looks like. Standing in the huddle and doing the things that he did as a team leader, as a football player at the quarterback position -- I think he understands what a football player looks like. I have been very impressed. He has a great willingness to learn the things he does not know, but he knows football and I am confident.”

One of the primary reasons the McDaniels regime ended quickly was because the young coach often acted alone in key decisions, many of which ended up being mistakes. Elway has the final say on all decisions. He is quarterbacking a three-man group that includes Fox and general manager Brian Xanders. Elway is trying to do what many former superstars have tried and failed at -- recapturing the same magic in a business suit that he had while wearing a jersey. Elway said he’d like to pave the way for future stars in the front office by having success in this new endeavor.

“I would hope so,” a relaxed, still in-playing-shape Elway said at the combine last week. “I think it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time and also having the qualifications to be able to do it. I think that if I had not been -- obviously, [I was] a little bit inexperienced -- but if I had not been through the Arena Football League for six years, I am not sure that I would be standing here. Looking back through what I have been through in the month and a half that I have been back, what I learned in the Arena Football League has been invaluable. I am glad I did that and the experience I gained there has helped me tremendously so far.”

This job is in Elway’s blood. He is not the son of a Hall of Fame quarterback, but the son of a respected talent evaluator. Elway’s father Jack was a respected Broncos scout after he retired as the head coach at San José State and Stanford. In the time between Elway’s 1999 retirement and his father’s death in the spring of 2001, the two often talked about prospects and the art of scouting. Elway said he has felt his father’s influence this winter.

[+] EnlargeDenver's John Elway
AP Photo/Darron CummingsJohn Elway was in Indianapolis for the scouting combine.
“It was good for me just to be able to see him watch different guys and get his opinion on different guys and see if I was seeing the same types of things that he was seeing,” Elway said. “There are guys that are still playing that back then -- he was a big Drew Brees fan back then -- those types of things that stick in my mind and different guys that he was talking about. And, I would ask him, ‘What did you see?’ And the thing was the competitiveness [of the player], and that is what I remember him saying about guys that are competitors -- especially about Drew. So, that is one thing that stuck in my mind.”

Elway realizes people expect him to be a great evaluator of quarterback talent. But he said he is actually more comfortable scouting defensive players, especially pass-rushers and defensive backs. Those were the players that Elway studied as a player and he knows what he is looking for in those positions. That’s a lucky break for the Broncos, who have the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft. Denver, which was last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010, is expected to draft mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

Elway said he will lean heavily on his staff, but his influence will be felt. Xanders said the arrangement is working well so far.

“We all communicate well,” Xanders said. “John knows what he doesn’t know.”

Elway’s last boss in Denver thinks the Stanford graduate, who was known for being one of the most clutch players in NFL history, is the right man to lead the Broncos in this desperate time.

“John is a football person, obviously his dad was a great football coach,” said Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who won Super Bowls with Elway in Elway's final two seasons as a player. “I had a chance to be with John a lot of years both as an assistant and a head football coach. Obviously he’s very passionate, very bright, very organized. I know he’s biting at the bit to prove to people that he can get the Broncos back to where they used to be and I know he can get the job done.”

Whether or not Elway is successful, it won’t be because of lack of effort. The first two months of Elway’s new foray have shown he’s willing to work at his new trade.

“It’s a lot of work,” Elway said. “But it’s fun and it’s going to be worth it.”

Here's looking at No. 2

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
12:00
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Denver Broncos have the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. The Broncos were was last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010 and are expected to take a defensive player with the pick.

Denver has been examining the top defensive players at the NFL combine for the past several days. Here is a look at the players who could be considered with the choice:

Da'Quan Bowers, defensive end, Clemson

Known for: He is a pure pass-rusher and led the nation with 15.5 sacks in 2010.

Why he should be the pick: He would give Denver a dominant, classic defensive end and would form a good pass-rushing pair with Elvis Dumervil.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: Bowers is not considered a sure thing. He had only one productive year of college football.

Deciding factor: Bowers, along with Nick Fairley and quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, could be taken by Carolina with the No. 1 pick. If he gets past Carolina, Bowers could be the choice in Denver. I think the Broncos will seriously consider taking Bowers, who reminds many of Julius Peppers. Peppers was the first pick taken by new Denver coach John Fox in Carolina.

Quotable: “I think I can bring a lot of good things to the team. You can get a pass-rushing defensive end, a humble guy, a guy with great character, a guy who is going to work hard, a guy that is going to go about things the right way and a guy who is willing to compete with anyone anywhere.” -- Bowers

Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama

Known for: He is a stout 4-3 defensive tackle who is coming from a winning program.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMarcell Dareus is expected to be a top-10 pick in April's NFL draft.
Why he should be the pick: Some scouts feel like he is more of sure thing than Fairley. He seems like he will be a productive player for 10-12 years.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He may not be the most spectacular player available and could potentially slip to the 5-6 range.

Deciding factor: If Denver decides to take a defensive tackle, it will come down to Dareus or Fairley. So, he must grade out higher on Denver’s board than Fairley.

Quotable: “I look at it like, if you go back in the history of watching football, before the game was started, it started up front. Some people were scared and backed up off the ball, but the real bulls stayed up front and played the game." -- Dareus

Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn

Known for: He was a dominant force for a national championship winner.

Why he should be the pick: Fairley has a chance to be the best player in the draft and would be an immediate impact player.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: There are questions about Fairley’s ability to transition to the NFL and he may have the riskiest character of all the potential picks.

Deciding factor: If Denver falls in love with Fairley, he’ll be the pick. I think he’ll be one of the top players on Denver’s board. There’s a chance Denver will be too intrigued with his ability if he gets past Carolina.

Quotable: “Fairley is really a true three-technique and he is a disrupting guy nonstop throughout the game. He beats linemen all day, every game.” -- Broncos general manager Brian Xanders

Von Miller, linebacker, Texas A&M

Known for: He has the most potential of any player on the board and is a natural pass-rusher. His stock has been rising lately.

Why he should be the pick: He could possibly be a perennial All-Pro who could become the face of the franchise.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He might be available a few spots lower and he may not be the highest value pick.

Deciding factor: If Miller -- who owned the Senior Bowl -- blows away scouts at the combine and his pro day, he may be too tempting to pass up.

Quotable: “First and foremost, I’m going to be a great teammate. I’m a team guy. That’s how I play football. That’s how we were able to win the games that we won at Texas A&M. We didn’t have all the talent in the world, but we had a great team. We had great chemistry in the locker room. I’ll be a rookie, whatever those guys want me to do, I’ll be happy to do it. Just find my way, find my role. Whatever it takes to get on the field, that’s what I’ll do.” -- Miller

Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Icon SMIWill Denver forsake its needs on the defensive line and draft Patrick Peterson to bolster the secondary?
Known for: The big, strong, fast Peterson is considered one of the best cornerback prospects in years. He could be the next Champ Bailey.

Why he should be the pick: Peterson and Bailey, who just signed a four-year contract extension, would be one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL right away.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: Denver has greater needs on the defensive line. Taking Peterson wouldn’t help Denver’s most pressing issue.

Deciding factor: I think it would take a lot for Denver to take Peterson because of the reality of the team’s needs. The only way Peterson is the pick is if Denver decides he is far and away the best player on the board.

Quotable: “He is a great athlete and not only as a [defensive] player, but as a returner. He is special as a returner. He is a guy that can do a lot of different things for you. Athletically, he is as good as anybody in the draft. He can run and he has good size for a corner -- he is 205, 210 pounds. He has good size and is a guy that can make some big plays. I think especially at the cornerback position, you like those guys that can make those plays, because those are game-changers.” -- Broncos vice president John Elway

Robert Quinn, defensive end, North Carolina

Known for: He could be the best player on the board, but he missed the entire 2010 season because he accepted gifts from an agent.

Why he should be the pick: He may be the highest value pick. In five years, he could be dominant.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He is only 265 pounds and missed valuable playing time in 2010.

Deciding factor: It’s all in Quinn’s hands. If Quinn has an unbelievable combine and pro day, the Broncos may have no choice but to take him. Still, that may be a long shot.

Quotable: “I feel like I've got a never-ending motor. I feel like I'm the fastest guy on the field and I try not to let nobody's hands get on me. A weakness, a 6 technique within the tight end, sometimes my eyes get to going back and forward and [I] take a bad step that may hurt me. I try to do little things to make sure I take straight steps every time.” -- Quinn

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