Now that the NFL Scouting Combine has come to a close, we have that much more indication as to what players could go where. For the Denver Broncos, this is expected by many fans and speculators to be a defensive draft.
Denver’s new head coach Josh McDaniels and new GM Brian Xanders have a tough task ahead of them. In a matter of two days, the new brass in the Mile High City let go of five defensive starters, and twelve players in all.
But it doesn’t end there.
Denver’s defense could possibly feature eight new defensive starters on opening day, as Dre’ Bly, Nate Webster, Ebenezer Ekuban, Jamie Winborn, Marquand Manuel, Marlon McCree, John Engelberger, Niko Koutouvides, and DeWayne Robertson have all either been cut or will be let go as free agents.
Per the DenverPost, the Broncos will be very active in free agency, on the defensive side of the ball in particular. While the free agent class is fairly deep and talented, the 2009 NFL Draft prospects offer some great talent as well.
On Monday, the defensive linemen and linebackers participated in drills at the Combine, and five linebackers stood out to me as solid prospects for Denver come late April.
1. Rey Maualuga; Middle Linebacker, USC
Maualuga was an absolute wrecking ball for the Trojans in his time at USC. At 6′2″ 249 pounds, he has been described as a bigger version of Pittsburgh Steeler and All-Pro Troy Polamalu. As it stands right now, Denver’s starting linebackers are projected to be Jarvis Moss, D.J. Williams, Elvis Dumervil, and Wesley Woodyard. Clearly, D.J. Williams is the best LB on that list, and the Broncos could look to this former USC star for a perennial Pro-Bowl selection up the middle. He didn’t participate in much of the combine due to a hamstring injury, but there is no denying his football talent and prospects. Denver would love to end up with him as the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft.
2. David Veikune; Outside Linebacker, Hawai’i
Veikune is a player that has really risen up my draft board in recent weeks. He is extremely active on the defensive side of the ball, and has the perfect size to make the transition from college defensive end to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. At times in 2008, it seemed Denver lacked any true intensity on their defense. If they are able to add both Veikune and Maualuga, those problems would be instantly rectified.
3. Kaluka Maiava; Middle Linebacker, USC
Plain and simple, Maiava is a warrior. He had the unfortunate task of trying to win a starting job over three potential first round picks in Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews, but he is a very talented prospect in his own right. He is undersized at 5′11″ 229 pounds, but he could potentially be a steal in the later rounds of this year’s draft, much like Matt Cassel of New England.
4. Jasper Brinkley; Middle Linebacker, South Carolina
Few players are of as ideal size (6′2″ 252) and strength as Brinkley. He came to South Carolina as a junior college transfer, and absolutely lit it up. He ran the forty yard dash in 4.72 seconds, put up the bench press at 225 26 times, and has a vertical leap of 35.5″. He has great power and short distance quickness, making him the ideal run-stuffing 3-4 linebacker that could compliment the quick and agile D.J. Williams.
5. Worrell Williams; Middle Linebacker, California
Williams has stated publicly his desire to suit up in the blue and orange. The reason? His brother, D.J. Williams, is currently a superstar linebacker for the Broncos already. Williams is a bit short at 5′11″, but at 240 pounds he is a bruiser of a linebacker. He has similar athleticism to his brother, but he is not quite as instinctive. He often is caught overpursuing, but he hits like a freight train.
Any of these five linebackers would be excellent fits for Denver, but if the Broncos are interested remains to be seen. Josh McDaniels is running a very tight ship in Denver, and is sticking to the Patriot way of being very discrete and quiet about who he wants to take come draft day.