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INDIANAPOLIS — Holding the second selection in the draft, it is widely assumed that the Broncos will select a defensive player in the first round. With the defensive-minded John Fox taking over as Denver's head coach, the philosophy in the Broncos' war room has shifted to that side of the ball. And after finishing dead last in the league in yards allowed per game in 2010 (390.8), the team has multiple needs to address.
Thankfully, this year's draft class is filled with talented defensive players, especially on the defensive line. The Broncos played a 3-4 defense last season, but after that proved to be a disaster, the team is switching to a 4-3, a scheme with which Fox is more comfortable. Denver GM Brian Xanders told the media on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine that the team has looked at a pair of elite linemen at the top of the draft and wouldn't rule out selecting either Auburn DT Nick Fairley or Alabama DE Marcell Dareus.
"Fairley and Dareus are both very good players, they're different types of players," Xanders said. "Dareus has played in a 3-4 and played left end, right end, nose tackle. Fairley is a true three-technique and he's a disruptive guy, nonstop throughout the game. He beats lineman all day, every game. Both are really good."
Outside of Elvis Dumervil, who had 17 sacks as an outside linebacker in 2009 but is moving back to defensive end, none of the other three spots on the Broncos' line are set in stone. The return of Dumervil, who missed all of last season after tearing a pectoral tendon in training camp, alone won't be enough to solidify the line. Former first-round pick Robert Ayers, who played outside ’backer last year, veteran NT Jamal Williams and DE Justin Bannan will all be competing for spots, but Fox wouldn't go out of his way to praise any of them when he addressed reporters on Thursday.
"They're under contract. They're guys we've evaluated. They're big, stout guys who'll primarily be tackles for us in the 4-3," Fox said of Williams and Bannan.
The coach said he had scouted Ayers when Fox was working for the Panthers and saw the former University of Tennessee star as a better fit at defensive end in the 4-3.
"He's played primarily as a 3-4 outside ’backer," Fox said. "So we have him pencilled in as a defensive end. I think he was a little easier to evaluate as a defensive end coming out of college because that's what he played."
The last time a Fox-coached team had the second pick was 2001, when the Panthers took North Carolina DE Julius Peppers. The coach and his GM aren't promising they'll go in that direction this year with the Broncos, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if the D-line was a top priority on Draft Day.
"We want players with instincts, which leads to production," Xanders said. "In the front seven, we want disruptive playmakers that can create negative plays in the run and pass."