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Paul Klee: Running back should be near top of Denver Broncos' draft list

By: Paul Klee
April 26, 2017 Updated: April 27, 2017 at 9:54 am
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Left to right: Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara (AP photos)

DENVER — The last time the "No Fly Zone" propped up a guy who's not in the "No Fly Zone?"

Um, never?

Don't know good they are? Just ask 'em. So it spoke volumes when Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib went out of their way to list the attributes they hope to see in Denver's first-round draft pick — and two of the baddest dudes in the NFL sounded as if they were reading straight from Christian McCaffrey's scouting report.

"Guys who can do multiple things," Talib said.

"We definitely need a guy that can play running back, receiver and returner," Harris added.

When someone mentioned McCaffrey by name, Talib and Harris smiled a "Bingo!" smile. Hey, it's a sweet dream. Baby Mac would sell more jerseys than Easy Ed did. But they'll have to dream on. While McCaffrey checks every box on the "needs" list for the Broncos, the Stanford stud is coming home only if the Broncos jump 8-10 teams via trade.

The Broncos still need a running back. Badly. Whether it's in the first round with the No. 20 overall pick or down the line, general manager John Elway and his merry band of talent evaluators must identify a game-changing tailback who makes Trevor Siemian's and Paxton Lynch's job easier. Shoot, the right running back can even improve an unproven offensive line. One aspect of Denver's offensive line that hasn't been considered enough: the running backs behind it haven't been good enough. Or, in C.J. Anderson's case, healthy enough.

"This is going into my fifth year," Anderson said Monday. "I didn't play my rookie year. I played half the season my second year. Then the other two years I've been nicked up."

Count me as an unabashed fan of Anderson, the man. There's no better story on the Broncos roster than the undrafted guy from Vallejo, Calif., who won Super Bowl 50 by the Bay. Now there's no denying another phrase has been added to Anderson's admirable story: injury prone. In four years he's averaged about 10 games per season. Anderson can't stay healthy.

With Anderson coming off a knee injury but "full go" in offseason workouts, Devontae Booker struggling to 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie and Kapri Bibbs with 29 carries to his name, Denver is tortilla thin in an area that coach Vance Joseph values the most.

"You have to run the football," Joseph said.

The Broncos have 10 picks. Half come in the first, second, third or fourth rounds. While their biggest need is for an offensive tackle who can protect the blindside and backside of Siemian and Lynch, reaching on an offensive tackle who isn't up to snuff could be a problem for years.

One of those lofty picks should be used on a running back. The top choices after the people's choice, McCaffrey:

- Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: In an AFC West that has employed the rap sheets of Talib, Tyreek Hill and Aldon Smith in recent years, no one can throw stones. Whichever team selects Mixon, who pleaded down to a misdemeanor after punching a woman, is in for a world of scrutiny. 

"I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with him, but I had a meeting with him. We went through the whole process and what happened," Elway said. "I'm sure he has been through it several times. But for us to hear it from him, and what happened — we went through all that."

- Dalvin Cook, Florida State: When Montee Ball arrived in Denver, he looked like a guy beaten down by 826 carries over his final three college seasons. Cook's 687 rushing attempts should give the Broncos pause. His speed around the outside will make them want to hit play.

- Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Maybe fellow Vol Woody Paige got to me. Or maybe I dig a juicy story: Alabama signee to junior college star to Tennessee standout. Kamara's is memorable.

I couldn't find one mock draft from 2015 or 2016 that pegged Shane Ray and Lynch to Denver, respectively. The draft's a guessing game. It's time the Broncos guess right on a running back.

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Twitter: @bypaulklee

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