It’s what you have all been waiting for — my initial 2018 NFL Mock Draft. In my Future Broncos segments, I’ve done my best to discuss some of the top prospects eligible at a variety of positions in this year’s draft. With a majority of the college football season in the books, as well has half of the NFL’s season officially over — I felt it was the right time to present a mock draft for our beloved Denver Broncos. You will either love it or you are going to hate it. Let’s be honest — that’s usually how things go.
9th Overall — Lamar Jackson, QB — Louisville
The Denver Broncos offense is in desperate need of a quarterback who can actually put points on the board. I think it’s safe to say that neither Brock Osweiler or Trevor Siemian are long-term options for the team, and considering the development (or lack thereof) of former first-round selection Paxton Lynch — I’m not sure he is the future of the franchise at the position. I must admit, I am pretty high on Chad Kelly’s NFL potential, but there’s no question Denver could use a playmaker at the position.
That’s precisely why with their first pick, I have the Broncos selecting Lamar Jackson out of Louisville. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner wowed scouts with his ability to make plays on the ground last season, and hoped that this year he would make large strides in respect to his development as a passer. In that regard, Jackson hasn’t disappointed. Jackson's completion percentage has shot up four points this year (above 60 percent), and he is on pace for another 3,500 yard plus season through the air. He currently sports a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and has improved his decision-making, especially under duress on the field as a junior.
I don’t doubt that this is a risky selection, but most draft selections inherently are. If the Broncos were to select Jackson, I would expect a highly-modified playbook that helps play to his strengths. That’s something we’ve witnessed with players such as Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz whose respective teams have amalgamated what they did well in college into their pro playbooks. I’m tired of seeing a lackluster offense that can’t get anything done on the field. The franchise desperately needs something new and exciting on offense and I feel that Jackson, even though he still has a ways to go to become a great passer, would help provide that.
40th Overall — Martinas Rankin, OL — Mississippi State
Heading into this year’s college football season, Martinas Rankin’s continued development as a second-year player at collegiate football’s highest level was one I was very interested in seeing. Rankin received a second round grade from the NFL’s Draft Advisory committee last season after only one year of play in the SEC (after transferring from Junior College) and decided to return for his senior season to see if he could improve his draft stock.
Manning down the left tackle position for the Bulldogs, Rankin still occasionally struggles with power and speed off the edge, but is still a well-rounded player and has a lot of upside. In the first five games of this season, he didn’t allow a sack — which is impressive considering the big-time defensive lines he went up against. He certainly needs to add some power to his frame, but his quick feet and technique help his pass blocking efficiency, and despite concerns with core strength — Rankin has opened up some big running lanes for his team this season, which has one of the best rushing offenses in all of college football.
Mississippi State needs Martinas Rankin back to full strength if its going to compete with Alabama on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/efCPQlsTqs— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) November 8, 2017
He has battled through an ankle injury as of late, which has impacted his overall performance, but in my opinion is still a great talent and one of the best tackles available. I don’t know if Rankin will stick at left tackle in the NFL, but he has the versatility to play any position across the offensive line and would be a welcomed addition to the Broncos given the gigantic hole they have at right tackle. Last year the Broncos used their first round selection on Garett Bolles, who has played admirably as a rookie. With the addition of Rankin to the team’s offensive line, they would have two young tackles for the future to help protect whomever they choose to be their quarterback of the future.
71st Overall — Will Hernandez, G — UTEP
Raise your hand if you are tired of the Broncos rotating Max Garcia and Allen Barbre at left guard. If you are one of those people — you would probably be interested in the Broncos finding a prospect at the left guard position who can come in and be a day one starter. Everyone is raving about Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame who is arguably the top offensive lineman in this year’s draft, but I’ll give you another name to keep an eye on as the draft process continues.
Look no further than UTEP’s Will Hernandez, who has been one of college football’s best interior lineman since stepping into the Miners’ starting line-up as a freshman and has earned a ton of accolades along the way. Power, grit, determination and prowess in both pass and run blocking are all a part of his game. He is one of the most well-rounded guard prospects I’ve evaluated over the years and should be a plug-and-play starter for whatever team drafts him. Hernandez was flying under the radar earlier on in the season, but his stellar play and penchant for devastating anyone in his path recently earned him a nod for this year’s Senior Bowl festivities, which could bolster his draft stock significantly.
Absolutely thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Senior Bowl.… https://t.co/9uf56Yaa9h— Will Hernandez (@willhernandez76) November 9, 2017
It’s probably wishful thinking to believe that Hernandez will be on board in the early third round since there are some scouts and analysts believe he has early second round potential — but given the overall talent and depth at many positions in this year’s draft, him falling in this range certainly isn’t out of the question. Given the issue the Broncos have had at left guard all year long, I wouldn’t even mind seeing John Elway move up the draft boards to acquire Hernandez, who has the traits and ability to be a Pro-Bowl player.
98th Overall (via SF) -- Royce Freeman, RB — Oregon
Anyone who has been paying attention to my draft musings over the past two years knows how much I like Royce Freeman out of Oregon. Freeman took college football by storm in his first two seasons and put up eye-popping numbers, but was a disappointment as a junior season that was marred by nagging injuries. Due to that, Freeman decided to return to Eugene for his senior season in hopes of improving his overall draft stock.
Through ten games this year, Freeman is sporting a tremendous 5.9 yard per carry average and has amassed 1,218 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns, along with 12 receptions for 144 yards. He is the complete package at running back and offers three-down potential in the NFL. It’s hard to argue against a player with the type of consistency and vision he displays on the field, but some teams may be weary of drafting him early due a significant amount of tread on his tires (over 900 carries.)
This is also a very deep running back class that features names like Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones II — so a minor draft day slide for Freeman could be likely. At the top of the fourth round, I’d be thrilled if the Broncos could snag Freeman — who would provide an immediate boost to a Broncos backfield that could use more long-term talent.
Fourth Round — 102nd Overall — Josey Jewell, LB — Iowa
Roquon Smith, Kendall Joseph, Malik Jefferson and Tremaine Edmunds are some of the top names to consider at inside linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft, but with the Broncos addressing major needs on offense with their first handful of selections, it’s not realistic to project any of them here. Brandon Marshall has had a down year in Denver and Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson and Corey Nelson are all scheduled to be free agents in some sort of capacity.
So this is where I stay local and select a player I’ve gotten to see plenty of over the years in the neighboring state of Iowa. Josey Jewell isn’t considered a top-tier prospect, nor was he highly-recruited out of high school where he was dubbed a two-star recruit. People still continue to doubt him, but all he has done since taking the field at Iowa is make plays. And I’m confident he’ll continue to prove his doubters wrong upon entering the NFL.
Over the course of his career, Jewell has been one of the most productive linebackers in college football. Nicknamed The Outlaw, Jewell has been a stalwart starter and leader for the Hawkeye’s defense the past three seasons. He has a non-stop motor, can play sideline-to-sideline and has the athleticism and ability to hold his own in pass coverage. He would be a welcomed addition to a Broncos linebacker unit that has struggled all year long.
Fifth Round — 138th Overall — Allen Lazard, WR — Iowa State
The Broncos have Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders locked up at the wide receiver position, but they could use some help at the position. Rookie Carlos Henderson, a third round pick in last year’s draft, has missed all season due to injury and Isaiah McKenzie, despite showing some flashes on special teams, has been slow to get acclimated to the team’s offensive plans.
I’m not as high on Jordan Taylor and Bennie Fowler as some fans are, and believe Denver would be wise to snag a collegiate receiver to help out their offense long-term. Lazard has been a standout performer since making his way into the lineup as a freshman for the Cyclones. In four seasons of play, Lazard has snagged 214 receptions for 2,945 yards and 22 touchdowns. At 6'4 and 222 pounds, he is tough to defend against and would be a great possession receiver and redzone target for the Broncos offense. I’m sure our very own Doctor of Words (Laurie) would love this selection!
Fifth Round (via ATL) — 146th Overall — Sione Teuhema, OLB — Southeastern Louisiana
Teuhema was originally recruited by LSU, but after a violation of team rules which caused him to be suspended he decided to transfer to Southeastern Louisiana and get a second chance at carving himself a football career. Since then, he hasn’t looked back and has made quite a name for himself for the Lions defense.
Just finished four game taps on Southeastern Louisiana LB Sione Teuhema. Very productive player. He needs to be in an all star game. High motor, scheme versatile, and good tools. Raw player with upside. Former LSU player.— Josh (@Joshnfldraft) November 9, 2017
In ten games this year, Teuhema has racked up 73 tackles, 16.5 for loss and 9 sacks as well as 6 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. At 6’4, 260 pounds — he is an athletic player, albeit raw who flashes potential and upside as a pass rush specialist. If you had him along with Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, things could get ugly really quick for opposing quarterbacks. This move would also allow the Broncos to take rookie DeMarcus Walker and move him back to the defensive line, as he shouldn’t be playing outside linebacker in the first place.
Sixth Round — 169th Overall — B.J. Hill, DT — N.C. State
One of the great surprises this season for the Broncos has been their miraculous turnaround in regard to rush defense. Domata Peko has been stout on the interior and second-year player Adam Gotsis has been impressive as well. It’s not a big time need for the Broncos, but getting a prospect who can play tackle inside should be worth considering.
Hill isn’t a top-level performer for the Wolfpack, but he’s a valuable player on their defensive front. He has notched 163 tackles, 21 for loss and seven sacks in his career at North Carolina State. He won’t offer much in terms of rushing the passer on a consistent basis, but as a player who can clog up running lanes and make plays in the backfield against the run — he certainly fits the bill.
Seventh Round — 200th Overall — Deon Yelder, TE — Western Kentucky
At first glance you wouldn’t consider Western Kentucky to be a major NFL pipeline, but over the past several seasons, they have produced a handful of quality prospects, in particular at the tight end position with players such as Tyler Higbee and Jack Doyle. Deon Yelder might be the next tight end from the program who has NFL potential.
Primarily used as a special teams player, Yelder has made the most of the opportunities given to him as a redshirt senior. Through eight games, he has 33 receptions for 399 yards and four touchdowns. Being a one-year wonder likely won’t be enough to skyrocket up draft boards, but if he performers well in post-season workouts, he should have a shot at getting drafted.
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