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Broncos full of surprises on draft’s first day

Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels talks about the team's two first round NFL Draft picks at the team's headquarters in Englewood, Colo., on Saturday, April 25, 2009. The Broncos selected Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno with the 12th pick and Robert Ayers a defensive end from Tennessee with the 18th pick.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
AP | AP

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. ” Josh McDaniels pulled a few big surprises in his first draft as coach of the Denver Broncos.

McDaniels selected Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno at No. 12 on Saturday and then started addressing his many defensive holes with the addition of versatile pass-rusher Robert Ayers of Tennessee at No. 18.

Taking Moreno ahead of Ayers raised some eyebrows, as did the Broncos’ maneuvering in Round 2. The Broncos drafted Alphonso Smith, a 5-foot-9 cornerback from Wake Forest with the 37th pick, which they acquired from Seattle in exchange for their first-round pick in 2010.

The Broncos still have a first-rounder next year, which they received from Chicago in the Jay Cutler trade.

Asked why he didn’t make the draft pick conditional, sending the Seahawks the lesser of the two first-round selections next year, McDaniels said: “We had a conversation about it, but we felt good about it and they did, too.”

So, if Denver has a bad season, they potentially sent a Top 10 pick to the Seahawks.

Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell said the Broncos called earlier in the day about possibly trading up to Seattle’s fourth overall pick in the first round, so a communication line was already open.

Asked if he ever thought he’d pick up a No. 1 pick Saturday, though, Ruskell said, “No, I absolutely did not. Yeah, that kind of came out of the blue.”

“Obviously, with two ones, you can do a lot of things. You can go just about anywhere you want to go in the round. That’s a nice option to have,” Ruskell said.

The Broncos decided Smith was more valuable to them than that extra selection.

McDaniels went for another defensive back with the 48th overall pick, selecting Texas Tech safety Darcel McBath.

The Broncos had been expected to focus more on their thin front seven Saturday after adding veteran defensive backs Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill and Andre’ Goodman in free agency.

McDaniels had one more surprise up his sleeve when he traded both of his third-round picks to Pittsburgh for the final pick of Round 2, which he used to select North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn, a blocker in the mold of incumbent Daniel Graham, and a fourth-rounder.

Perhaps the person most surprised that he was selected in the second round was Quinn himself.

“Honestly, when the process first came along I thought maybe I’d be (an undrafted) free agent and be blessed to have the opportunity to come to a team and maybe try out,” Quinn said. “It was a big shock. I’m thankful for the people that believe in me.”

Few expected McDaniels to go after a running back in the first round.

McDaniels said he thought about taking Ayers at 12 but feared that Moreno would be gone by the time the Broncos selected again six spots later, with the other first-round pick they got from the Bears for Cutler.

“Taking Knowshon first and Robert second paid off and worked the way we thought it would,” McDaniels said.

This was the first draft for the 33-year-old McDaniels and 37-year-old rookie general manager Brian Xanders, who signed an NFL-high 16 free agents this spring, including three running backs in J.J. Arrington, LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter to compete with holdovers Peyton Hillis, Selvin Young and Ryan Torain.

However, only three of them were healthy enough to participate in the new regime’s first minicamp a week ago ” Jordan, Buckhalter and Hillis ” and now Moreno comes in as the potential workhorse.

“I’m going to fit in where I can, learn from the guys that are there, and compete and work hard to make my team better and make myself better,” Moreno said.

Moreno and Ayers played against each other in college.

“We always thought he was the best back in the country by far,” Ayers said. “He’s the first back selected. He’s a hard runner. He’s one of the hardest runners I’ve ever played against.”

Although he only started one year for the Vols, Ayers is among the bevy of hybrid defenders in the draft who can play defensive end and outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme like Denver is installing.

“Maybe both. Certainly capable,” McDaniels said. “That’s where were going to put him. He’s a guy that can stand up or put his hand on the ground. … He’s a player we’re looking forward to trying to maneuver around and well see where he fits best.”

Unlike his predecessor, Mike Shanahan, who always found backfield diamonds in the lower rounds of the draft, McDaniels went for the marquee tailback in this one.

Moreno is the highest drafted running back the Broncos have selected since Otis Armstrong in 1973 and the first one they’ve grabbed in the first round since Steve Sewell in 1985.

Moreno, a third-year sophomore known not only for his nifty moves but his premiere pass protection, had 1,400 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns last season to join Herschel Walker as the only players in school history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.


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