Jussel: Corner is biggest need in draft for Broncos

The National Football League draft, usually a mid- to late-April event, has been moved back to May 8-10.

The NFL says it was because there was a conflict in available dates for the Radio City Music Hall draft site in New York City. The real reason is the league wants another couple weeks of ink as it goes headline for headline with baseball.

The Denver Broncos made their usual huge splash in free agency, but there is plenty of unfinished business with the draft, seven selections in seven rounds starting with the 31st pick if no trades are made.

Yes, it’s mock-draft time with everyone and his or her mother having “expert” opinions on which teams will take which players. Mock drafts are interesting and occasionally make a good point or two, but they are about as silly as Warren Buffet’s perfect bracket contest in NCAA hoops: No one is going to be close to correct from start to finish.

Most mock drafts I have seen have Denver going for a middle linebacker, offensive lineman or cornerback.

Middle linebacker makes sense in that the Broncos could use an upgrade. Nate Irving and Steven Johnson are the two fellas currently listed 1-2 on the depth chart, and neither has proven he can be a quality NFL starter.

Here are several reasons the Broncos won’t pick a middle linebacker with the 31st selection:

First, Denver had several games last season in which the middle linebacker was on the field for only a dozen plays. The middle linebacker, not just in Denver but around the league and, yes, even in the college ranks, is going the way of the dodo.

Matter of fact, there are only two inside linebackers ranked among the top 100 prospects, according to ESPN’s Scouts.com: C.J. Mosley of Alabama and Chris Borland of Wisconsin.

Mosley is the ninth-ranked prospect and will be long gone. Borland is a possibility. But why spend a first-round pick on a player who may be on the field a dozen plays and may be available in the mid to late second round, maybe even the third?

Although Borland was an every-down player for Wisconsin and could be an impact player in a position of need, it makes more sense for Denver’s staff to look elsewhere.

As recently as two weeks ago, popular thinking had it that the Broncos might draft another offensive linemen, one to play at either center or guard to replace the departed Zane Beadles.

That thinking became outmoded with the signing of veteran center/guard Will Montgomery last week. Montgomery may be a starter, may be a backup, but he does assure the Broncos of enviable depth on the offensive front.

Denver will have tackles Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark, all better than average, as well as backups Winston Justice, an elderly veteran, and Vinston Painter, a second-year player who saw no action last season but is regarded highly (the 49ers tried to steal him away).

And on the interior are the afore-mentioned Montgomery, last season’s starting center Manny Ramirez (who started at right guard the season before), All-Pro guard Louis Vasquez and possibly Franklin, who was a standout left guard in his collegiate days.

One other name to throw into the interior line mix is Central High School grad Ben Garland, who has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad and moved from defense to offense. Garland is smart as his Air Force Academy days would show, has great feet and a tremendous work ethic. The coaching staff loves him.

Yes, the offensive line is stacked, and the Broncos won’t go that way with an early selection.

Where they will go is after another cornerback because you can never have enough, and standout free-agent signee Aqib Talib has never played 16 games in a season.

The Broncos have two quality corners on the roster in Talib and Chris Harris and a young up-and-comer in Kayvon Webster. They also have Tony Carter, a sometime starter who profiles as a fourth or fifth cover guy.

That’s about it.

That’s where immediate help is needed.

There are nine corners rated in the top 50, and as many as six could go in the first round.

Corners who should be gone by the time Denver picks are Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech and Jason Verrett of TCU.

Corners who could be available are Bradley Roby of Ohio State, Marcus Robertson of Florida and Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State.

And the Broncos first pick will be … Stanley Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska, a 6-3, 218-pound monster who evokes images of Seattle’s evil Richard Sherman.

A bit more nasty won’t be a bad thing in Denver’s secondary, will it?

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one. His Bronco-related columns are also published on SI.com’s “Predominantly Orange” and “Fan-sided” websites.


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