Let's pretend for a moment that the NFL hasn't ground to a halt like a train rusted to the tracks. Let's pretend as well that the season will start on time, that free agency will at some point get underway and that all these roster voids can at some point be addressed. Got it? Well, with those rose-colored glasses on, let's audit all the divisions in the NFL. Like last year, I'll hit on three things:
• Help added: What has the team done so far this offseason to improve its prospects. (Obviously, minus free agency, this is mainly limited to the draft.)
• Questions that remain: Consider it a guide to free agency (when it happens). What must still be addressed?
• Next year's help, now: With an eye toward next year's draft class, what player from 2012 could seemingly help the team in 2011? Meant to be extremely hypothetical.
Here is the version for the AFC West:
Help added: It says a lot about No. 2 overall pick Von Miller that in the lead-up to the 2011 NFL draft, a lot of the talk about where he'd land was based on systems. Ron Rivera would take his defensive mentalities to Carolina after years as a coordinator. The Bills had said they'd be running something of a hybrid, between a 3-4 and a 4-3, based on personnel. Denver was switching from a 3-4 under previous head coach Josh McDaniels to a 4-3 under new coach John Fox. And yet for every conceivable system, the word from evaluators was, "You can use a guy like this." And Denver will. Miller should prove to be a very nice fit as a strongside 'backer in the 4-3.
I expect him to have a similar impact as Brian Orakpo had in this base as a rookie in Washington. His pass-rush skills and presence will keep offensive coordinators from being able to focus all of their attention on neutralizing the charge of Elvis Dumervil. Elsewhere, I like the value Denver got in Rahim Moore, who, if he can revert to the form he showed as a sophomore at UCLA, could become a steady cover safety. And Orlando Franklin from Miami could play several positions for the Broncos as a rookie, but my guess is he starts pretty quickly at right tackle. With Richard Quinn their only proven commodity at tight end and very limited in the passing game, the Broncos added two tight ends in the draft that could help soon.
Questions that remain: Forget the quarterback situation for a moment. One glaring omission from the draft class is a defensive tackle. The Broncos were lacking a good starter at the position prior to the draft and that remains the case as we speak. You have to believe they'll scour the free agent crop for help at that position once those floodgates open, but because it's that position, you have to know they'll face competition. Denver was last in the NFL in total defense, and that starts up front, where they ranked 31st in the league in rush defense. Dumervil and Miller can get to quarterbacks, but it won't matter if the Broncos can't stop the run. From there, obvious questions about whether the team will trade Kyle Orton remain, but I don't get the sense it will. Fox won't want another year lost because of quarterback play.