But without the benefit of being able to swap current players due to the CBA mess, and questions about a rookie wage scale, it's not as straightforward as previous drafts.
Teams are allowed to trade future picks out to 2014 once the draft starts, but that's the extent of it. Compensation questions factor in, too, as to how aggressive teams might be wheeling and dealing up top.
"Obviously there's some uncertainty as far as if there's going to be a rookie wage scale and what-not so you know what the price of that second pick's going to be for the player," executive vice president of pro personnel John Elway said. "So obviously with the inability for us to know a wage scale for us at this time and not knowing what it's going to be, it could restrict it. But we don't know yet."
Should Denver choose to move its No. 2 pick, it's doubtful the club will go below the top-five range to acquire additional ammunition. The Broncos could be willing to forego defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, should Carolina, as expected, take quarterback Cam Newton, but the team won't let everyone from among cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Nick Fairley or possibly defensive end Robert Quinn get snapped up for extra selections.
These are among the difference-makers Denver's scouts and front office have identified.
Denver needs defensive help desperately and any one of those players would project as an immediate starter.
"We feel good about the top of the draft board. This is a strong year," general manager Brian Xanders said. "But we still have to deliberate where is the drop-off or is it more of a gradual decline? ... How far are we going to drop and still get one of those players that we still like or is it a big drop-off at that position group?"
Barring a blockbuster offer, it's more likely Denver will try to maneuver with its two second-round picks at No. 36 and 46 overall.
"We could get some calls there," Xanders said.
The biggest philosophical entity to emerge from the pre-draft planning is that the Broncos believe, no matter what, their four picks in the top 67 have to yield four starters.
The fact that future draft picks may come with their own risk, given the CBA uncertainty, is another factor to consider when thinking deal.
The Broncos will look to move down and compile extra picks, particularly owning a pair of second-rounders, but should they stay put, the team knows it has to come out with four starters with its initial four selections. Only New England has four picks in the top 67, as Denver does, and there's little room for error coming off a 4-12 season.
Expect the majority of the Broncos' picks to come on the defensive side, particularly early in the draft. The No. 2 overall selection almost certainly will come from among the group of defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Von Miller.
Denver couldn't go much past the sixth overall selection to still land one of these predicted studs. Offensive needs include a pass-catching tight end and running back depth, but it appears likely the team will use its two sixth-rounders and a seventh to attack the offensive holes and concentrate on rebuilding a defense that ranked among the worst in team history. The only exception might be if top-ranked tight end Kyle Rudolph is available in round 2, since the Broncos are particularly shallow at that position.
Defensive tackle: Denver tied a franchise-high by allowing 26 rushing touchdowns and the 2,473 yards allowed were second-most ever. The team will switch from a 3-4 back to a 4-3 front under new coach John Fox and after cutting two veterans (Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan) and likely losing two other players in free agency (Marcus Thomas, Ronald Fields), the cupboard is nearly bare. It would be something of an upset if either Alabama's Marcell Dareus or Auburn's Nick Fairley isn't Denver's first-round pick, when all is said and done.
Linebacker: The Broncos are in desperate need of someone to shore up middle linebacker. D.J. Williams has been mentioned as a possibility there but he simply hasn't demonstrated a knack for playing in the kind of traffic that position entails. Williams is best suited for weak-side linebacker. A player such as UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Washington's Mason Foster or Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal would make sense with one of the team's two second-rounders.
Safety: Brian Dawkins missed time last year with a pair of knee problems and is still as fierce and dedicated as ever. But he turns age 38, and free safety Renaldo Hill also is on the wrong side of 30. With little reliable developmental depth behind him, the team needs athletic defenders who can match up on a tight end and have the range to patrol the middle of the field. There has been a revolving door of veterans and fill-in types in Denver for several years without producing long-term, in-house options.
Tight end: Denver traded Tony Scheffler last summer and never found a replacement with sure hands that could stretch the middle of the field. The Broncos have since cut position reception leader Daniel Graham, a team captain, and the Broncos continue to wait for 2009 second-round pick Richard Quinn to emerge as a viable two-way threat. Either Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, Arkansas D.J. Williams and Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks could hear their name called by Denver at some point draft weekend.
--One of the byproducts of the NFL labor dispute is that teams will most likely be addressing roster needs through free agency after the draft rather than before.
Club executive John Elway said that actually may benefit teams, since instead of trying to force a draft pick into a position of need, clubs may actually take the best player regardless, then wait for the open market to plug deficient areas.
"There's several different opinions about that, but that's kind of my gut is that it doesn't put the pressure for us to draft a need in the draft. We now have the time in free agency if we have some holes after the draft to address those holes in free agency," Elway said.
--Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers are "one-year players" in terms of top-notch production. And while each are emerging, that lack of depth in experience is somewhat a concern.
"In general, it's a red flag," Xanders said. "But there's been players who have done it and done very well being a one-year starter, like Clay Matthews is an example of a guy who was a special teams player of the year for three years at USC and he starts at SAM one year, goes to Green Bay and has an excellent career. But there's warning flags. (Denver's) Robert Ayers was a one-year starter. It just raises awareness of why didn't they start their sophomore and junior years?"
--One of the draft prospects that Denver's front-office brass consistently has raved about publicly is Texas A&M's Miller. Elway was effusive in his praise again at his pre-draft press conference.
"Von, he's a guy that when you turn on the film, you don't even have to know what number he is. That's how dynamic he is and he's a guy that's all over the field. Obviously, he's a guy that's 250 pounds, runs under 4.5 and his production's been unbelievable. He had 17 sacks his junior year, 10 sacks last year even though he was banged up a little bit last year. But ... he's a guy that was really a pass-rusher so you've got to do some projection there. We know he can rush the passer but can he help us on first and second down and learn first and second down where he's going to have to drop in coverage and cover some running backs and tight ends?"
--Denver's draft board last year included about 100 players. It's up to 190 now.
Part of the switch has to do to the Broncos' shift in defensive scheme to the 4-3, so there aren't fewer specific projections and traits relating to who might fit 3-4 positions.
"And maybe this is just a stronger draft," Xanders added.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would say this - a franchise guy's not stood out to us yet. But that's not to say there isn't one. We're still in the process." - John Elway, on the team's study of the 2011 quarterback class, a position Denver is unlikely to delve into with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn on the roster and huge defensive needs.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
--CB Champ Bailey: Potential UFA; $43M/4 yrs, $22.5M guaranteed.
--DT Kevin Vickerson: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--OG Manny Ramirez: FA; terms unknown.
--DL Justin Bannan (released).
--TE Daniel Graham (released).
--NT Jamal Williams (released).
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