DENVER – The need for cornerback depth trumped Darcel McBath’s late preseason surge.
Three days after intercepting a pass in the preseason finale and just over 24 hours after he’d made the 53-man roster, McBath was waived Sunday to make room for Jonathan Willhite, an ex-New England Patriots cornerback who has started 13 games over the last three years but saw his 2010 season end three weeks early because of a hamstring injury.
By parting ways with McBath, the Broncos now have no players remaining from the three-man second-round class of 2009. Tight end Richard Quinn was placed on the waived/injured list in August, and cornerback Alphonso Smith — for whom the Broncos traded a 2010 first-round pick — was dealt to the Detroit Lions last September.
McBath’s failure to launch as a Bronco might be the most frustrating part of the poor yield from that second round. While Quinn was overdrafted given his skill set as a blocking tight end and Smith struggled with the adjustment and pressure of the pro game, McBath’s opportunities to break into the starting lineup were doomed by badly timed injuries.
The worst came last October, when he injured his ankle at Baltimore during an end-zone collision with Haloti Ngata, who was a part of the Ravens’ short-yardage lineup. Three quarters later, Brian Dawkins injured his knee, sidelining him for the next two games; had McBath remained healthy, he would have made his first career start a week later against the New York Jets.
Instead, the chance for McBath to start would wait another two months, until the Broncos played at Oakland in Week 15, when Dawkins was sidelined. It would be the only start McBath made as a Bronco.
McBath’s litany of injuries sidelined him for 12 games over the last two seasons, leaving the new administration little on which to gauge his progress. With that, and perhaps an understandable trepidation over his injury history, the Broncos targeted safety early in the draft, picking Rahim Moore in the second round and Quinton Carter in the fourth.
At that point, McBath’s status as a starting-safety-in-waiting behind Dawkins evaporated. Moore quickly became the starting free safety; Carter established himself as a strong safety behind Dawkins, leaving McBath to fight with Kyle McCarthy and 2009 draft pick David Bruton.
Bruton and McBath beat out McCarthy for a roster spot Saturday, but as it turned out, the three were fighting for one place on the 53-man roster.
With McCarthy eligible for the practice squad and Bruton described by general manager Brian Xanders as “one of the biggest mismatches on special teams,” McBath’s fate was sealed — and with it, the fate of the 2009 second round, one of the worst draft rounds relative to expectations and pick volume in recent NFL history.