Everything seemed to be falling into place early. With every announcement that Roger Goodell made, it looked more and more like the Broncos would be able to snag a player ranked very high on their draft board.
With a hole at middle linebacker, it seemed that they had their choice between Alec Ogletree and Manti Te’o. The Broncos passed and instead opted to bolster their defensive line with Sylvester Williams.
And for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
I don’t necessarily think Williams is a bad pick, and if our experience with Derek Wolfe taught us anything, it’s that the Broncos know their defensive linemen. But with an athlete of Ogletree’s ability on the board one has to wonder why the Broncos passed on him. Was it related to his off-field issues? Were they not prepared for the possibility that he was around for the 28th pick? Or did they simply have Williams rated higher than Ogletree?
Whatever the reason, the Broncos managed to pass on a player that could easily be a difference maker on the field for someone who will more than likely be one of many guys in a rotation.
The one big thing Williams has going for him is his size. At 313 pounds, Williams weighs in as the second-heaviest defensive lineman behind the newly signed Terrance Knighton. Until 2012, the Broncos have had difficulty stopping the run. Last season under Jack Del Rio, the Broncos climbed the ranks and finished third in rushing defense. Williams’ presence could help solidify a middle pass rush that would be instrumental in leveling the playing field against a team like the New England Patriots.
But even with his size, Williams would not be the difference on the field that Ogletree would’ve been. Ogletree only played 10 games in 2012, but racked up 112 tackles. His play on the defensive side of the ball was one of the main reasons that Georgia came so close to beating Alabama in the SEC title game in December.
Ogletree’s style of play fits today’s NFL. He plays the middle linebacker position with more speed than what is typically seen at that position. That comes from Ogletree’s time as a safety. He played in the defensive backfield his freshman year before transitioning to the middle linebacker spot. Current Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard made a similar transition in college and has become one of the better defensive players in Denver.
Although fans and media alike have been calling for the Broncos to take a defensive tackle for years, linebacker should have been a bigger concern. Ogletree would’ve filled a spot that Joe Mays and Keith Brooking anchored in 2012. Mays was a disappointment and Brooking filled in admirably, but the Broncos cannot rely on that situation playing out the same way.
The loss of D.J. Williams doesn’t help either. People may not like to admit it, but Williams was a consistent force for the Broncos during his time with the team. It was nothing more than his off-field issues that prompted the Broncos to release him. Although Ogletree has had his fair share of character issues (violation of team rule that led to a four game suspension and a drunk driving arrest in February), but he hasn’t reached the level of Williams and his Dyme Lyfe yet.
The fact remains that Ogletree has the ability to be a three down middle linebacker. He flies to the ball, can tackle in the backfield and even rush the quarterback when called upon. Sylvester Williams will find himself rotating in and out with the likes of Wolfe, Knighton and Kevin Vickerson.
Ogletree has the talent and presence on the field to command respect from both his teammates and the guys lining up on the opposite side of the ball. Williams will certainly command the respect, but seldom are opposing quarterbacks pointing out defensive tackles and adjusting the blocking scheme based on where they are and what they can do.
The Broncos have now taken defensive players with their first pick in the last three drafts. Miller and Wolfe have both panned out thus far, so maybe the Broncos should get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the first guys off their board. For all we know, Williams could go on to have a hall of fame career and help lead the Broncos to multiple Super Bowls.
But for me, Alec Ogletree would have instantly changed the tone set by the defense. There is already a pass rushing threat when it comes to Von Miller, but Ogletree plays with the fierceness and speed that will have an impact on every down. Ogletree possesses the tools that made him a standout in the SEC, the next closest thing to NFL.
By playing it safe and adding some bulk to the defensive line, the Broncos did not screw up their first round selection Thursday night. But it’s going to be interesting to see what they left on the table.
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