Work in Sports
Drafting some insurance
Broncos pick Cal's O'Neal with Carter's uncertainty
Posted: Sunday April 16, 2000 12:10 AM
DENVER (AP) -- Faced with the impending suspension of cornerback Dale Carter, the Denver Broncos on Saturday drafted a player who might eventually be his replacement, cornerback and return specialist Deltha O'Neal of California.
O'Neal was the 15th pick in the first round and the first cornerback claimed.
Originally, the Broncos had the 10th selection, but they traded that pick to Baltimore on Wednesday in exchange for the Ravens' pick at No. 15 and the Ravens' pick in the second round at No. 45. The Broncos still had their own second-round choice, the 40th overall.
"We were hoping O'Neal was going to be there at 15," coach Mike Shanahan said. "At the 10th position, we thought it might be a little soon to take him."
Referring to the trade, Shanahan said, "We had a couple of other guys targeted at 10 and thought about waiting to see if they were available. They weren't, so it turned out to be a pretty good decision for us."
With their two choices in the second round, the Broncos went for more defense, taking Michigan linebacker Ian Gold and Arkansas safety Kenoy Kennedy.
In the third round, Denver addressed another area of need -- a fast wide receiver -- by selecting Chris Cole of Texas A&M.
Shanahan said the Broncos (6-10 last season) believe O'Neal "will help us immediately on punt returns and kickoff returns, and he'll get a chance to compete for a starting position.
"A former running back, he's got some great skills catching the ball, playing the ball in the air. We feel he has the size and speed to help us."
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound O'Neal, who has been clocked at 4.4 in the 40, tied for the lead nationally with nine interceptions last season and set an NCAA record by returning four of them for touchdowns. He also returned one punt and one kickoff for touchdowns.
Because of O'Neal's elusiveness and cutting ability, Shanahan anointed him immediately as the team's No. 1 punt returner and kickoff returner, ahead of Chris Watson.
"I like Chris Watson," Shanahan said. "He's got great speed, but he cannot cut like Deltha. Deltha does some things that are quite unusual for a punt returner or a kickoff returner."
If the Broncos lose Carter to what could be a year-long suspension for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, their only returning cornerbacks are Ray Crockett, a starter, and Watson, a backup. They also signed three free-agent cornerbacks in the off-season - Jeremy Lincoln, Darryl Pounds and Jimmy Spencer.
"Obviously, [Carter's situation] was a concern of ours," Shanahan said. "Any time you have a player facing a possible suspension for a year, that's a very strong factor. We should find out one way or the other [about Carter's fate] in the next couple of days."
O'Neal, contacted at his home in California, said he didn't expect to be drafted by Denver.
"It's a shocker to me," he said breathlessly. "I'm pacing back and forth, I'm so nervous. It's a blessing to be with Denver. I know they went to the Super Bowl, I know they've got Terrell [Davis] and I know they're kind of hurting for corners right now and on special teams.
"When I heard the news, tears came to my eyes. Tears came to my mom's eyes. This has been my childhood dream since I was knee high."
Shanahan compared the 6-1, 220-pound Gold to Broncos linebacker John Mobley. "He's almost exactly the same size, same speed and same vertical jump," Shanahan said. "With his speed, he also can help us on special teams."
The 6-1, 215-pound Kennedy also drew comparisons to a Denver defender, safety Eric Brown.
"Kennedy, other than Eric Brown, is probably the most physical player I've seen," Shanahan said. "He packs a wallop."
As the Broncos head into the final four rounds of the draft on Sunday, Shanahan said it's only natural that teams take more chances, trying to match their needs with unproven players.
"We took a chance with Cole," he admitted. "He's not a polished wide receiver, but he's got a big upside. He possesses great speed and he makes big plays. We look forward to seeing how he develops."