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 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.
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And few expected them to go after a running back in the first round, either.
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.”
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.
Massaquoi to Browns
With Braylon Edwards’ future in Cleveland uncertain, the Browns picked Georgia wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the second round of Saturday’s NFL draft.
It was the second wideout taken by Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, who has had talks with the New York Giants about Edwards.
With the first of three second-round picks, the Browns took Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie, who spent three summers as a ball boy with the team when his father, Terry, was an assistant coach. Mangini also began his football career as a ball boy with the club.
The Browns made three trades in the first round before selecting California center Alex Mack at No. 21.