We sat down (figuratively via the interwebs) with the NFL draft lead at thefootballeducator.com, and scouting guru, Brandon Thorn, to get his thoughts on Denver's draft class this year. Brandon is also a great follow on Twitter (@VeteranScout) and regularly has some good insights on Bronco's players as well as players around the league.
So let's jump in.
Q: First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and your process for evaluating players.
A: Well I started writing for several smaller websites around 2009 while I was on active duty. I wrote off and on and between deployments until 2014 when I was able to transition into the guard. I reached out to former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist and showed him some of my scouting reports, he liked them and offered to have me as his NFL draft lead on thefootballeducator.com.
Since September of 2014 I have been contributing to Ted's website, along with doing the NFL Scouting and GM course from Sports Management Worldwide, two semester of The Scouting Academy, attending two Senior Bowls, and networking as much as possible. My sole focus is to get into the NFL with an entry level position, and work my way up from there.
My process for evaluating prospects have evolved over the last 18 months or so with the biggest influence from Ted, and The Scouting Academy. I aim to have a duplicatable, systematic, and consistent process for every player and position. I rely on diligent note taking during film breakdowns, and look at 10 individual traits for each position.
Q: What are your thoughts on Denver drafting Paxton Lynch, and trading up to get him?
A: I see a QB with prototypical size (6-7, 244, 10 1/4 hands) and athleticism for the position. I see him excelling in a system that moves his launch point around and outside of the pocket using play-action, boots, and sprint-outs. He has very good athleticism in terms of set up quicks and foot quickness, and does a very good job extending plays. Shows good competitive toughness to overcome big hits, and maintain composure in tight situations. When his lower body is in sync he has very good arm strength to hit all three levels of the field with ease, and solid accuracy, but needs work fitting the ball in tight windows on intermediate, horizontal routes such as digs, posts, and outs. Needs work on the advanced aspects of QB play such as anticipating throws quicker in the face of pressure, using touch at the appropriate times, and tightening up his mechanics in order to generate torque through his core and maximize his arm strength consistently.
There will likely be a learning curve from a mental standpoint in terms of the playbook as well, because at Memphis his plays came to him via cards on the sideline. He will have to learn to digest a more complex playbook in Denver. Overall, I think his size, arm talent, toughness, and athleticism provide a very good base to build from, and Kubiak's system fits him very well.
I feel like Elway is one of the most fearless and calculated decision makers in the NFL, and this shrewd move was a testament to that. Elway's job security in Denver is among the most fortified in the entire league, and he uses that sense of protection to make moves from a position of power rather than a position of weakness. More ownership groups around the league should take a look at what confidence in your job can do for a decision maker, because I believe it's done wonders here in Denver.
In terms of the specific trade up for Paxton Lynch, moving from pick 31 to pick 26 by throwing in pick 94 was a great move in my opinion. When you identify a player you have highly rated, specifically the QB of the future at the end of RD1, throwing in one of two 3rd round picks to get him seems like a steal.
Q: We started day 2 off by picking a guy that had a lot of fans going, "Who?" What do you see in Adam Gotsis and can he fill Malik's pass rushing shoes. What would you say to folks who call him a "reach".
A: First off, Gotsis is a player who was in high demand across the league in the third-round range. Due to the ACL Gotsis tore last October his stock was relatively low compared to his talent. Broncos GM John Elway has the job security and luxury to take a player perhaps 10-15 picks earlier than he otherwise may have went and for good reason. After having success throughout the draft, and fresh off a championship season, this pick makes sense from a 3,000 foot perspective.
The Broncos can afford to ease Gotsis in considering the depth chart boasts the likes of Derek Wolfe, Jared Crick, and Vance Walker. At 6-4/287 with 34 ⅛ arm length and 10 ¼ hand size he fits the prototypical physical profile for the 5 technique spot in Denver’s defense. Furthermore when you watch his tape he exceeds what you look for from a motor perspective, and shows good hand usage to keep his chest clean in the run game. He shows good mobility in his lower half which translates to the ability to gain the leverage advantage when engaged.
Throw in the fact that he was a team captain and has scheme/role versatility and the pick starts to make some sense. Gotsis is in the mold of current DL Derek Wolfe from a traits perspective, and can develop into a similar style of player with time. Let’s not forget that it took 4 years since Wolfe was drafted in 2012 to make a name for himself across the NFL. Gotsis may need some time to maximize his raw ability, but he is in the perfect scheme and situation to do that.
Q: Denver already has 2 starting safeties; but can Justin Simmons step into the big dime from day 1? Thoughts on this guy?
A: I think he can. Losing David Bruton from a leadership, special teams, and sub package standpoint hurt the Broncos. Replacing a guy like that is extremely important for the fabric of a team. Simmons is such a good value at pick 98 due to his elite athleticism and versatility. At 6-2/202 he ran a 4.61 40, but straight line speed isn’t where he shines, and is generally overrated.
Looking deeper into his athletic testing reveals a rare athlete. His 40 inch vertical jump was the best for a safety at the NFL Combine since 2013, his 6.58 3 cone was the best for a safety since 2014, and his 3.58 short shuttle was the best for a safety since 2006. The best part about Simmons is that the athleticism translates into "play speed" on the field. Used as a single high safety in college, and in a "joker" role he showed the versatility to play the deep half and come up in the box with excellent tackling ability. Providing both aspects of effectiveness will allow the Broncos to continue using a variety of defensive fronts and looks to confuse offenses.
I envision Simmons used as a dime linebacker, as a "robber" in cover 1, and in man to man coverage on backs, tight ends, and receivers.
This was my personal favorite pick of the draft for Denver.
Q: I'm hearing a lot of folks saying they had a 2nd round grade on Devontae Booker. What was your assessment of him, and how big of a steal did Denver get?
A: I studied Booker early in the season last year and became a big fan of his. Not many runners possess his competitive toughness, play strength, and elusiveness. Add in his very good receiving ability out of the backfield and you have a pretty special player. His straight line speed is solid, not great, and his lateral quickness is also just solid. His age (will be 24-years old May 27th) and coming off a season-ending knee injury were mitigating factors that led to his fall to the 4th round.
The zone-based scheme that Denver employs requires decisiveness, vision, and burst from their tailbacks. Booker has these traits, plus offers the toughness factor that Elway loves. I would expect Booker to challenge the depth chart for carries instantly, and likely see 10-15 carries a game on a consistent basis throughout the season. I foresee Booker being a home-run addition to the club.
Devontae Booker: elusiveness & functional strength on full display as he spins out of 2 tackles, runs through a 3rd pic.twitter.com/DP9By3qyZl— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 27, 2015
Q: I know O-line is your bread and butter, so give us the skinny on the big guy, Connor McGovern. Do you see him starting this year, or depth?
A: McGovern is a very smart player who’s mental processing stood out for me on tape. From his ability to timely release off double teams, recognize stunts, and understanding of leverage his mental fortitude is very good. From there you start to get a grasp of his immense square power in the run game, and positional versatility (he has starts at LT, RG, RT).
His technique in pass protection will need shoring up to maximize his physical ability. He tends to abandon his technique in his kick slide and chase rushers who stress his set instead of keeping his hips square until the last possible moment. This leaves him susceptible to inside counter moves. Some point this out as a reason for a move inside to guard, but I think he can play right tackle in time.
When you look at the depth chart the right guard spot is open for the taking, and is a place I can see McGovern competing for in training camp. I would not be surprised to see him starting week 1.
Q: Kubiak finally got him a fullback. What do you see in Andy Janovich, and how much will having a fullback help Denver's running game?
A: I have been rooting for the Broncos to add a fullback to the roster in order to fully employ what Gary Kubiak’s system thrives on, and that is wide zone with a fullback to lead the way. Janovich is a traditional fullback with the ability to play in a H-back role as well.
From his size (6-1/238) to his personal background and work ethic (2x state champ wrestler, 30 reps of 225) to his underrated athleticism (4.81/34 inch vertical), Janovich offers good value in a variety of aspects. Worst case, Denver added a special teams ace, and best case Janovich will clear lanes for the run game, and offer much needed receiving ability on play-action passes.
Q: I know everyone loves to throw out draft grades around this time, and while premature, they can be fun. You don't have to give a letter grade, but give us your big picture thoughts on this class as a whole.
A: Overall, I think Denver addressed needs and did so with tremendous value throughout the draft. Nabbing the future at quarterback at the end of round one while beating out other teams (Cowboys) for Paxton Lynch was a shrewd move. From there the rest of the draft consisted of taking the best player available, with a keen eye on the future.
Personally, I had similar grades to where players were taken, and it is easy to perceive what the thinking was behind each pick. Now it is simply a matter of developing these players with coaching and guidance in order to reach their full potential. If the past is any indication, Elway and the Broncos decision-makers deserve the benefit of the doubt that it will happen.
Thanks to Brandon for answering our questions and giving us his insights!