On the clock: Who will the Broncos select Thursday night to begin the NFL draft?

The National Football League draft is an interesting creature, its arrival always eagerly anticipated and its behavior as unpredictable as that of your average house fly.

Although there are times the first selection has already been signed, sealed and delivered, simply pushing the unpredictability back roughly 15 minutes to the second choice, this year’s draft has NFL freaks on the edge of their seats right from the get-go.

The St. Louis Rams have the first selection (5:30 p.m. from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, courtesy of ESPN) and are supposed to take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. But because of the relatively high price of signing a No. 1 pick, the Rams have reportedly considered trading the pick for a series of less-expensive picks.

Matter of fact, the theme of this year’s draft would be “Trade Down, Young Man,” because there is so much depth — with most of the talent stacked in the forms of beefy linemen many teams don’t consider worth the price of your average run-of-the-mill franchise quarterback or running back.

Even if the Rams do make the According to Hoyle selection and take Bradford, there has also been much talk about the Detroit Lions, in possession of the second pick, and the Tampa Bay Bucs, with the third choice, also trading down because they don’t deem defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy worthy of multi-million dollar contracts and figure they can find similar talent farther down the list for lesser money.

Making matters even goofier in this year’s draft is the new format that has the teams selecting only the first round tonight, with rounds two and three set for Friday night and the rest of the draft Saturday.

Denver coach Josh McDaniels has pointed out that this will cause plenty of scrambling after tonight’s selections — with teams having nearly 24 hours to reevaluate what they have and what is left after 32 players have been selected.

The Broncos, as it stood early today, have the 11th selection, as well as high-quality second-round picks at No. 43 and 45. To emphasize the fact that the draft is a living, breathing, moving thing, Denver’s original pick in this round, No. 14, is now in Seattle (traded in last year’s draft for cornerback Alphonso Smith), the Broncos 11th pick this year in the first round came from Chicago in the Jay Cutler trade), and the 43rd pick came from Miami in the Brandon Marshall trade.

If you are a Denver Bronco fan, this much is certain: They need plenty of help and that help is available in all of those slots. So, how can McDaniels and his staff maximize the amount of incoming talent, possibly adding help on both sides of the line, at linebacker, wide receiver and possibly safety?

There is really not much reason for them to trade up. Pick No. 11 will get them a guaranteed starter next season at:  a.) inside linebacker in Rolando McClain of Alabama;  b.) guard Mike Iupati of Idaho;  c.) wide receiver Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State;  or d.)  center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida.

Any of those four would be welcome additions and I believe at least three of the four will be available with the 11th selection.

Pouncey, 6-foot-5½ and 305 pounds, is rated by far the best center in the draft and said to be a fulltime starter in his first season. Denver needs a center after releasing veteran Casey Wiegmann. It would seem to be a marriage made in heaven — other than Pouncey will likely be available later in the first round.

Could Denver possibly take Iupati, a 6-6, 330-pounder, and put him at left guard next to 6-foot-5, 330-pound All-Pro Ryan Clady, then find a way to get Pouncey?

That would immediately upgrade the Broncos’ zone-blocking unit that McDaniels wants to blow up and turn into a huge mass of living road-grading flesh.

For the answer to that, we have to look at the NFL’s “Value Chart,” a chart teams use when trading draft choices. What if Denver wanted to trade its 43rd and 45th choices for, say, the 17th choice, one spot ahead of Pittsburgh, which reportedly also wants Pouncey.

According to the value chart, the 43rd pick is worth 470 points and the 45th choice is worth 450, totaling 920. The 17th pick is worth 950 points. We’re 30 points short. Throw in Denver’s fifth-round pick, No. 137 overall, and we’ve got a deal.

Voila! It’s Friday night and the Broncos have two starters on the offensive line for the cost of three draft picks.

Nothing to it.

All of which means the Broncos probably will take McClain to fill their defensive hole in the middle, then scramble to fix their offensive line with an assortment of free agents or other veterans who suddenly become available after the draft concludes.


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