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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Broncos draft needs: Elway Era to begin with defense?


The two-year run of dictator Josh McDaniels is over for the Denver Broncos, replaced by the new feel-good ways of John Elway.

Elway, the former great Broncos quarterback, takes over as the team's decision maker. So far, he has taken a complete plunge, far from being a token figurehead to appease fans.

Elway has been involved in every aspect of the operation, from hiring coach John Fox to sitting in on draft meetings and traveling to pro-day workouts.

Elway also has opened things up a lot from where they were under McDaniels. Where McDaniels operated in the Bill Belichick style of secretive ways, Elway actually sends out information instantaneously on Twitter.

The new openness won't be what turns the Broncos around, but it is a nice change, and change is what's needed after a 4-12 record last season that capped off two bad years of decision making for McDaniels.

Elway knows a thing or two about quarterback play, so he has to decide if either Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow is the long-term answer for the franchise. If not, the Broncos could take a quarterback with the second overall pick, even though McDaniels traded up to pick Tebow in the first round last year.

The more likely scenario for the Broncos would be to take a defensive player to try to improve on a unit that finished last in both yards and points allowed in 2010.

The Broncos are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front, which means they need help at defensive tackle. That could mean using the second overall pick on Alabama's Marcell Dareus. They could also go for a corner or a pass rusher.

Five possibilities: Broncos
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: He might be one of the cleanest players on the board, a 10-year starter and a potential Pro Bowl player early in his career.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Champ Bailey turns 33 this summer, and Peterson has a chance to be the same type of shutdown corner as Bailey.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: If they go for a potential franchise passer, it will likely be Gabbert.
Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: If they pass on a corner in the first round, they might take a chance on Dowling in the second.
Allen Bailey, DE-DT, Miami: He was considered a potential first-round pick before the season, so he is worth a look in the second.
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Elway will make the decision. It will be his first draft pick and if his early work is any indication, it should be a good one.

Let's face it. If he's half as good as a personnel man as he was a as quarterback, the Broncos will be a winner in a year or two.

QB: Orton surprised a lot of people with the way he played last season. He put up impressive numbers and seemed to really progress as a passer. Elway has already said he will be the top guy, but Tebow will try to take the job from him this summer. Orton is far ahead as a passer. That has to be a big edge in this battle. Tebow showed some skills when he started late in the season, but he is raw. He had a tendency to take off and run way too fast. That has to change. He's still a work in progress.

RB: Knowshon Moreno was a better runner last season than he was as a rookie in 2009, but he just hasn't looked like a franchise back. He played in 13 games, rushing for 779 yards. His per-carry average went up from 3.8 to 4.3. This is a big season for him. He has the ability. For some reason, he hasn't come close to looking like the runner he was at Georgia. Lance Ball is expected to be a backup, with veterans Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney likely gone. Spencer Larson should be the fullback.

WR: The Broncos used a first-round pick on Demaryius Thomas last year. He was limited to nine games because of injuries but when he was on the field he showed big-play ability. He suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in February that might limit him the first part of the season. Eddie Royal had hip surgery in February and his status is in question for the open of the season. They do have Brandon Lloyd, one of the surprise players from the 2009 season. He went to the Pro Bowl, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Can he do it again? Jabar Gaffney is a nice complementary player to have on the roster. The team likes the potential of Eric Decker.

TE: This is a position of need. The Broncos released veteran Daniel Graham, which means Richard Quinn, Daniel Coats and Dan Gronkowski are the tight ends left on the roster. Who? Quinn is more blocker than receiver, but there is hope that Gronkowski can emerge as a receiving tight end.

OL: Left tackle Ryan Clady, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2009, didn't play as well as he battled back from a serious knee injury last season. He should be back to Pro Bowl form now that he's a year removed from the injury. Right tackle Ryan Harris is a free agent who is likely gone. They need to fill that spot, and the Broncos could take a tackle early in the draft. The Broncos started rookies Zane Beadles (14 starts at guard and tackle) and J.D. Walton (16 starts at center) last season. Both flashed ability, but both were hurt by their inexperience. They should be better in 2010. The talent is there. Chris Kuper remains a solid player at right guard. The backups are Chris Clark, who will be given a chance to win the right tackle spot, and Stanley Daniels.

DL: With the team moving to the 4-3, it means Elvis Dumervil moves to end from outside linebacker. He is an explosive player when he's on the field, but he tore a chest muscle last year and he missed the season. He did lead the NFL in sacks in 2009, so he has the speed to be a pass-rush force. Robert Ayers, a first-round pick in 2009, might be given first crack at the other end spot. He needs to show more than he has shown so far if he's to win the job. Jason Hunter will likely be a backup at end. The tackle spots are wide open. The team released Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan after the season, leaving a void in the middle. Marcus Thomas might be a free agent. Kevin Vickerson and Ryan McBean are possibilities to start. It isn't good inside.

LB: D.J. Williams is their best linebacker, but he has some off-field troubles and he makes $6 million this season. He did lead the team in tackles, but there are concerns. He will likely move to weak-side linebacker. Joe Mays and Mario Haggan, two solid players, will both be back. Neither is great, but they play hard. Haggan might get first crack at the middle linebacker spot. Wesley Woodyard is a smallish outside linebacker who can run.

DB: At 32, Champ Bailey is coming off one of his best seasons. He is still capable of playing great man coverage, which few corners can do. That's why the Broncos gave him a three-year contract extension. The other side isn't as stable. Andre Goodman didn't play as well last season as he did in 2009. He was hurt most of the season. Perrish Cox, who did start nine games as a rookie is facing a possible suspension from an off-field incident. They do like young player Syd'Quan Thompson, who saw action in the nickel, and Cassius Vaughn. Nate Jones can play safety or corner. Veteran Brian Dawkins is a great player to have in the locker room, but he can't cover anymore. That showed up a bunch last season. Renaldo Hill is just OK next to him. Both those veterans could be gone. Darcel McBath is a player they think can become a quality starter, but he hasn't stayed healthy.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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