The former San Diego Chargers star collected 69½ sacks in nine seasons with Denver’s AFC West rival, including 9½ last season. He will likely switch from outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment to defensive end in Denver’s 4-3 scheme.
The questions facing the Broncos now is how much Phillips has left — he turns 32 next month — and how fast can Smith get on the field to start offsetting the departure of Elvis Dumervil.
“I’ll be ready to go by training camp,” said Smith, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in November and missed the last two games. “I’m going through the rehab right now. I feel real good on it, confident on it, so I’m excited and I’ll be ready for training camp.”
At the time he went down, Smith was tied with Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore for the national lead with 12½ sacks and was first in sacks per game (1.25). He had a three-sack game against national champion Alabama.
“That was a big game for me, playing against Alabama,” Smith said. “I think it helped my draft stock out a lot due to the fact I couldn’t perform in the postseason, the combine and the All-Star game. So, it helped me in a big way.”
The Broncos’ other fifth-round pick, wide receiver Tavarres King from the University of Georgia, also had a monster game against the Crimson Tide, piling up 142 yards when he faced them last season.
King had 136 receptions for 2,602 yards and 21 touchdowns in his college career. He enters a crowded corps of receivers led by starters Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
“I can do it all,” said the speedy, 6-foot, 189-pounder who lacks not for confidence. “I can do anything they need me to do. Wherever I can fit in and help the team is where I’ll be. Anything that I can do to help is what I’ll do.”
Smith was the 2012 Sun Belt Player of the Year after finishing his college career with two dozen sacks.
The Broncos acquired the pick they used on Smith — 146th overall — from Green Bay when they traded out of the fourth round for the Packers’ fifth- and sixth-round selections earlier Saturday.
The Broncos came into the weekend still needing a pass-rusher following the free agency departure of Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens, a move that followed a deadline-fueled fax fiasco last month.
Denver needed the paperwork into the NFL by 1:59 p.m. on March 15 or the team would have owed Dumervil $12 million instead of the $8 million the parties had agreed to in the restructured deal. Dumervil had reportedly found a fax machine at a Fed Ex Kinkos in the Miami area and was dealing with the contract there. But with the deadline approaching and no paperwork showing up on their fax, the Broncos had no choice but to release Dumervil.
As a free agent, the defensive end looked at similar offers from the Broncos and Ravens and elected to head to Baltimore.
That changed Denver’s draft plans. When they didn’t land one of the premiere pass rushers in the early rounds, they went after Phillips and grabbed Smith.
On Friday night, Broncos Executive Vice President John Elway noted finding a gem in the later rounds wasn’t the same as 2011, when they grabbed Von Miller with the second overall pick.
“You’re always looking for pass rushers,” Elway said, “trying to find needles in the haystack that have upside. Hopefully, there will be a couple nuggets there.”
In all likelihood, Miller will still play the strong side on early downs, then take Dumervil’s old spot at weakside defensive end on third downs so he can torment left tackles.
That would leave the rotation of Ayers, Smith and Phillips to handle the strongside on third downs, something Phillips did for years in San Diego when he played with Shawne Merriman.
Elway had a half dozen picks coming into the draft and was eager to get another to fill needs, most of which were on defense, but also to add some pieces to Peyton Manning’s offense.
Elway considered trading out of the first round for a second straight season but those plans changed when North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams slipped down the draft board and the Broncos grabbed him with the 28th overall pick.
Denver followed that by filling two big needs that showed up in their playoff loss to Baltimore, selecting bruising running back Montee Ball out of Wisconsin in the second round and speedy cornerback Kayvon Webster of South Florida in the third.
Both Ball and Webster were Broncos fans long before they got the call Friday night. Ball said he patterned himself after Terrell Davis and Webster counts Champ Bailey as his lifelong idol.
Webster said he hopes to get a locker next to Bailey’s so he can pick his brain.
Asked if he had spoken with him yet, Webster said, “No, I haven’t. I’ve talked to Peyton, though. He texted me last night, told me it’s time to work. So, when Peyton texts ‘It’s time to work,’ it’s time to work.”
Ball also got a text from Manning, although he went through the long congratulatory message before realizing who the sender was.
“He texted me, ‘Congratulations. We’re really proud of what you’ve done. All the players are really glad you’re coming in our program.’ He also said, ‘We really loved your work ethic and we hope that continues when you get here,’” Ball recounted. “I didn’t know who was saying all this, obviously it was a player, until I got to the end and it said, ‘Peyton Manning.’
“I was like, ‘Whoa!’ Oh my gosh!’”
Ball hit reply — “immediately.”
“I told him, ‘Thank you, and most definitely, it’s time to go to work.’”
In the sixth round, the Broncos added athletic, versatile offensive lineman Vinston Painter of Virginia Tech. At 6-foot-6, 309 pounds, Painter can play either left or right tackle and also either guard position.
The Broncos have four starters along the offensive line who are coming off surgeries that will limit their offseason field work, including Ryan Clady (shoulder), who hasn’t signed his franchise tender while awaiting negotiations on a long-term megadeal this summer. Also rehabbing are Orlando Franklin (toe, shoulder), Chris Kuper (ankle) and J.D. Walton (knee).
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