Did Drafting Knowshon Moreno do in Josh McDaniels in Denver?
This is a list of the recent drafting history of the Denver Broncos. And it’s not pretty.
The Josh McDaniels era might be best defined by how he did in the draft. And while the very nature of the development of young players means that the two McDaniels/Brian Xanders drafts in Denver is in the hands of Xanders and John Fox now, which is going to make the results look worse than they may have under McDaniels, only four players that McDaniels drafted started for him in the 2010 season: offensive lineman J.D. Walton, outside linebacker Robert Ayers (due to injury), cornerback Perrish Cox, and running back Knowshon Moreno. Two starters per draft just isn’t that good to begin with. For a rebuilding team, it’s inexcusable.
Now, to be fair to Denver, they invested their 2010 first rounders (plural, because they were able to capitalize on trades to have 4 first round picks in two years) in high upside players WR Demaryius Thomas and QB Tim Tebow, who could be staples of the Broncos offense over the next decade if they are so inclined. But just a year later, those 2009 picks look awful. Neither Robert Ayers nor Knowshon Moreno appear likely to amount to anything beyond role players in the pros. And the other first round pick that McDaniels gave up, a 2010 first rounder for a high second rounder in 2009, which the Broncos used on CB Alphonso Smith. Smith developed into a starting caliber cover corner, but he did so for the Detroit Lions, because the Broncos waived him after just one season.
The reasons surrounding the firing of Josh McDaniels are far more complicated than the fact that he might have really struggled at making draft picks. Plenty of other teams have failed at the draft while retaining their head coaches over the years. The move that may have done McDaniels in was his first pick: Moreno. If nothing else, the inability to add defensive help via the draft simply upheld the status quo in Denver. But the Moreno pick did multiple things: it took a really high pick that most observers assumed would be a centerpiece of the defensive rebuilding project, and used it on offense. But worse, it was used previously on offense.
When you draft a running back in the top half of the first round, the player needs to be the kind of guy that makes so much sense in a teams offense that he starts from day one and is durable and challenges the league leaders in meaningful statistical categories for at least the first five years of their career. The fatal flaw in the process was that the only defense of the Moreno pick, even at the time it was made, was that he was the highest player — and highest runner — on their board. The expectations for Moreno were, had to be, that he would be the best player on the Denver offense in both 2009 and 2010. He wasn’t even the best running back on the roster when Correll Buckhalter was healthy.
This sums up the underrated job McDaniels did of compiling talent. The Broncos weren’t ever as bad a team as they were expected to be under Josh McDaniels. Kyle Orton exceeded relative expectations in 2009, nearly lost his job, and then exceeded expectations again in 2010. Buckhalter was a shrewd pickup. The team was vindicated, to an extent, in it’s trades of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. They took the focus off the offensive line after a strong OL had been a staple of Mike Shanahan’s tenure there. Brandon Lloyd found relative success as a breakout player in his eighth year in the NFL: he had a better season in 2010 than Brandon Marshall ever had in his NFL career.
The defense was the same as it ever was without Elvis Dumerville in the lineup. Champ Bailey really quietly enjoyed a great rebound 2010 season. And the production around him was horrible. That probably helped to do Josh McDaniels in. But the big thing was the draft, and where those resources were allocated, and what the Broncos got out of those picks. McDaniels’ first ever draft pick deviated from the rebuilding script. And if judged by what Knowshon Moreno brought to the Denver Broncos, here’s the lasting effect of the 2009 draft: the Broncos drafted guys who need to be replaced by free agents in 2011. That could be the biggest reason why Pat Bowlen and the Denver Bronco ownership group lost faith in Josh McDaniels as the organization’s head coach.