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Gazette Premium Content KLEE: As NFL combine commences, Broncos No. 1 need is clear

By Paul Klee Updated: February 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

DENVER — As a Broncos fan, aside from being awarded a playoff mulligan, this is what you want to hear.

"(13-3) is not good enough,” Denver decision-maker John Elway told reporters Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “It was nice, we won the division and had home field (advantage).

“But when you lose in the first round in the playoffs, you have to get better — whether it’s better playing not only in the regular season, but we have to learn how to play in the postseason.”

When the Broncos unloaded nearly $100 million to rent Peyton Manning for his final run, division titles and No. 1 seeds weren’t the mission statement.

It is refreshing to see their Super Bowl goal hasn’t changed.

The NFL draft is April 25-27. Here is my question when the Broncos are on the clock at No. 28: How much will their revealing loss to the Ravens in the playoffs impact their draft strategy?

Will the image of Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith clowning the secondary force an early round selection of a cornerback?

Or does Joe Flacco’s clean uniform suggest the Broncos should select another pass rusher to team with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil?

If the ultimate measuring stick of a team is the playoffs — and the Broncos didn't measure up — wouldn't it make sense to identify your needs through the playoff loss?

Feel free to chalk up the shocking defeat to the Ravens as fluke or (bad) fortune.

But it’s also fact. Their faults were exposed. One playoff game said as much about their soft spots as 16 games said about their strengths.

The defensive issues exposed by Baltimore were reason for alarm. But on draft day this is what I’d want to see above all else: a power running back. No other position can have a more immediate impact on a franchise that is operating with a sense of urgency.

For all the numbers and measurements and analytics coming out of the Indianapolis combine, there is one that turned my head:

231 — the weight, in pounds, of Alabama’s Eddie Lacy.

Dream big, Denver. Go big in the backfield.

Broncos history suggests running backs shouldn’t be a high-pick priority. Here in these parts, we are conditioned to believe a running back can be chosen late and developed.

(The NFL suggests otherwise; half of the top-10 rushers last season were selected in the first round.)

Manning’s Broncos are operating with a unique M.O. Time is not on their side; develop is a dirty word.

Friday at the combine, Lacy, who comes from Nick Saban's NFL factory at Alabama, said his favorite team is the Vikings. Last I checked, the Vikings have a capable running back.

Last I checked, Moreno underwent knee surgery, according to a report in the Denver Post. Last I checked, McGahee is 31 and coming off surgery, and Ronnie Hillman wasn’t the answer. The Broncos need a running back more than we knew.

I still believe part of the Broncos' struggles in the playoffs can be traced to their decisions way back on draft day 2012. Doug Martin was there at No. 31. Denver traded the pick.

When the Broncos were forced to finish the game without McGahee or Moreno, the Ravens could hang back, guard against the pass and let the Broncos hand off to their heart's content.

“(13-3) isn’t good enough,” Elway said.

In 1996, the 13-3 Broncos weren’t good enough. The Jaguars beat them in the playoffs.

Coach Mike Shanahan made a slight adjustment after the playoff loss, according to a player in those huddles.

“The one thing that we did was Mike (Shanahan) made a conscious decision to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to ride Terrell Davis, no matter what,'" Shannon Sharpe said recently.

The Broncos have very few holes. One is at running back. Who is their Terrell Davis?

No team has a more acute window for Super Bowl success than Denver. The Manning era is one year shorter, and the urgency meter rose as soon as Ray Lewis left the field in prayer.

That makes this draft critical to their immediate prospects.

Assuming he is still on the board when the Broncos pick, Lacy would be a fine No. 1 choice.

The bigger and badder in the backfield, the better.

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