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Paul Klee: CU's Chidobe Awuzie should join Christian McCaffrey on Broncos wish list

By: Paul Klee
April 17, 2017 Updated: April 18, 2017 at 6:42 am
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Colorado defensive back Chidobe Awuzie runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, March 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

ENGLEWOOD — When I asked Chris Harris Jr. what type of player he would draft with the Broncos' first pick, the All-Pro cornerback and resident voice of reason shifted into GM mode.

"Oooh. (As in) what position?"

Yes, sir. What pick would send Chris Harris into applause from his man-cave couch?

"I like playmakers, man. I want some playmakers, on defense or on offense," he said. "A guy that's going to put up some points or a guy that's going to be able to change the game. We definitely need a guy who can play running back, receiver or returner.

"Any guy that can do that, I would definitely love him."

Someone in the room suggested Harris was describing Stanford handyman and native son Christian McCaffrey. And Harris? His wide smile and eyes screamed, Bingo, that's my guy.

That makes two at Dove Valley. One week after Vance Joseph issued a veiled public plea to move up and draft McCaffrey — teams must "go find those guys, because they won't fall to you," Joseph said, if you listened closely — Harris reserved his seat, next to Joseph's, on the C-Mac Attack bandwagon.

Problem is, McCaffrey won't be around when the Broncos are called to the front of the class with the 20th pick of the first round on April 27. By then, McCaffrey will be going, going, gone.

McCaffrey would be the pick here, too. And I say he's worth the gluttonous trade package it would take for the Broncos to slide up and score the most exciting prospect in the draft. John Elway likes to move up; he did so in the past two drafts, for Shane Ray and Paxton Lynch.

But if they don't? Scrap the list of needs. Forget about the offensive linemen who, in normal drafts, would be had in the second or third rounds. Ignore the 2017 Broncos and focus on the future Broncos. Do what Elway's done when Elway's had his best drafts: Take the best guy.

Yes, that means pass rusher. Or wide receiver. Or cornerback, even.

In fact, the late-first prospect I dig the most is what Denver has the most of: Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback from the University of Colorado. Little-known fact about Awuzie: His last name translates to "one bad dude." If he wasn't turning one side of a Pac-12 field into his personal "No Fly Zone," Awuzie was hustling his backside off to chase down Utah returnman Kyle Fulks for a tackle that saved CU's storybook season and put the Buffs in the Pac-12 championship game. The best player on CU's best team in a decade has earned a spot somewhere in the first round of the draft. Why not right here at altitude?

"Another corner?" Harris said when asked for his reaction if the Broncos add another stud to a secondary that already features him, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby. "We draft a corner every year. We'll welcome him in. We'll welcome him right in."

Awuzie would fit right in — during his rookie year as he learns from the first secondary to feature a pair of first-team All-Pros; and for many years after 2017, when Talib is scheduled to make $11 million. Whenever I had the good fortune to watch Awuzie shine at Folsom Field, the guy who came to mind was none other than the Broncos' aspiring GM, Harris. Neither is a physical specimen born to draw an NFL paycheck. But both attack each snap as if the ballcarrier made a move on their lady. If you ask the Buffs coaching staff, it was Awuzie's practice habits and competitive streak that turned him from afterthought into all-league. Sounds familiar.

"I think our run defense is going to be so much better now," Harris said. "They're going to have to throw the ball to us now."

While it's true the Broncos have more corners than a Rubik's cube, snagging another blue-chip defender is never a bad idea. Strengthening your strength keeps the strength strong. Hate to ruin the party, but the Broncos probably aren't going to fix what ails them in this draft. They needs an offensive lineman or three, and more than one draftnik has called this one the worst class in a decade. Reaching on a lineman can lead to years of quarterback trouble.

McCaffrey is Colorado's dream. But the Broncos could do far worse than another proud defender who brings Mile High to its feet. Can't you hear it now? Chi-do, Chi-do, Chi-do.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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