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Broncos Draft Prospects: Defensive Backs

IDEAL DRAFT RANGE:For cornerbacks this year, the sweet spots appear to be the middle to the end of the first round and the first part of the third day. What cornerbacks will remain for the Broncos at the 31st pick will depend on whether there's a run on them, perhaps between the 15th and 26th overall selections.

But it also depends what a team seeks. If looking for speed without necessarily seeking size, a team should be able to satisfy its needs in the middle rounds.

At safety, there appear to be few prospects for the second day. Alabama's Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward could hear their names called on the first day, but there might not be another safety run until the draft's final day, when there will be more depth and value.

RECENT BRONCOS HISTORY: Last year's selection of cornerback Kayvon Webster gave the Broncos six consecutive drafts and 15 of the last 18 in which they have selected at least one defensive back. In seven of the last 12 drafts, they've selected multiple defensive backs, including three in 2005 and 2009.

But while the Broncos have added a high volume of defensive backs, they haven't found them atop the draft in 13 years. After selecting cornerbacks Deltha O'Neal and Willie Middlebrooks in 2000 and 2001, respectively, they haven't taken a defensive back in the first round since.

A combination of draft issues and injuries forced the Broncos to adapt last year. The Broncos' starting defensive backfield in the postseason included no draft picks; the two homegrown defensive backs who started in the playoffs were undrafted signees as rookies: Chris Harris Jr. (2011) and Duke Ihenacho (2012). Just one of the five defensive backs selected by the Broncos in 2009 and 2010 was with the team after 2011 (safety David Bruton), a poor rate of return considering that the group included two second-rounders (Alphonso Smith and Darcel McBath, both 2009).

The Broncos have gotten more from their four defensive backs taken from 2011 onward; two have been starters (safeties Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, both 2011 picks), and Webster was the Broncos' No. 3 cornerback during the second half of his rookie season, and appears in line for at least that significant of a role this year. But injuries to Carter and Moore have been a bugaboo.

Few teams have been better at finding undrafted cornerbacks than the Broncos. Harris's emergence speaks for itself; he has become one of the game's best slot cornerbacks, but also fares well playing outside. In the last decade, the Broncos got solid play from Lenny Walls and Kelly Herndon; in 2003, they were the Broncos' primary starting combination, and made up for the struggles of O'Neal and Middlebrooks. But the Broncos still needed an alpha dog cornerback, and found that in trading for Champ Bailey the following offseason.

BRONCOS OUTLOOK: Injuries to Bailey, Harris, Webster and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last year showed why the Broncos need quality, experienced depth. By the AFC Championship Game, they had Bailey back, but had lost Harris and were limited on their use of Webster, which forced Tony Carter back into extensive duty. Carter's work as the nickel back through much of 2012 gives him experience and provides value.

But planning for the future could make cornerback a priority next week. Free-agent pickup Aqib Talib will be the primary lock-down cornerback, and Webster has three seasons left on his contract. No other cornerback is under contract past 2014, since Harris signed a one-year restricted free agent deal coming off the partial tear of his anterior cruciate ligament. Talib has also missed at least one game every season of his career. Depth for 2014 is critical, as is establishing the rotation for future years. If one of the first-round-caliber cornerbacks is available at No. 31, it would be no surprise if the Broncos pounced.

At safety, any focus is likely to be on the long term. Rahim Moore, recovering from compartment syndrome, is a natural fit alongside new pickup T.J. Ward. Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton have starting experience, Omar Bolden is learning the position, and if Quinton Carter can get past the knee problems that have plagued him the last two years, he could push for the first team -- where he was before injuries derailed him.

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