For this week’s installment of Future Broncos, I will be outlining my top (tentative) draft needs for the Denver Broncos. I say tentative because a lot can happen between now and the 2018 NFL Draft. There’s little doubt that the franchise will address several of their biggest needs in the free agency period, so their draft plans will heavily be influenced by what they are able to do prior to April. These rankings reflect what I believe are the team’s biggest needs this offseason and positions that should be upgraded via draft eligible prospects. Along with each position, I’ll also give the names of several prospects the team should consider and will link back to prior articles in this series as a reference for you all.
Before I begin, I’d just like to thank everyone who has sent me messages via e-mail or given me props in the comments section about this series. I know it’s been a tough season to endure, so I’m glad that many of you are happy that Mile High Report is providing early NFL Draft coverage to help get you through this nightmare 2018 campaign. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter as well if you have any draft related questions, comments or things you would like to see myself and my colleagues cover in respect to the draft down the road.
Without question, finding a quarterback of the future will certainly be the priority for John Elway and the Broncos this offseason. If the team wants to experience a quick turnaround, finding a quarterback such as Kirk Cousins in free agency seems like the best bet to ensure that happens. If they are willing to be patient in a prospect’s development and save a lot of money in comparison to a top flight free agent, using their high first round pick on a collegiate signal caller seems like the best bet.
We will know exactly where Denver is slated to pick in the first round in a month’s time, but for now I’ll pencil them in for a top ten selection. With the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants in arguably worse shape than the Broncos, I assume Denver would have to make a trade that would include significant draft or player compensation for them to move up and get the prospect they covet at the quarterback position. I have sincere doubts that prospects like Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold will fall to wherever the Broncos end up selecting and I’d bet my bottom dollar both are off the board in the draft’s first three selections.
If Denver wants to get their guy at quarterback in the draft (if it isn’t addressed in free agency), they are likely going to have to move up and get him. Unless you believe that Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson would be worth considering if available at their top selection if Rosen and Darnold are off the board within the first several picks.
The Broncos used their first round selection last year on rookie left tackle Garret Bolles and signed Ronald Leary in free agency, but outside of those two and potentially Matthew Paradis (who is a free agent) — the team could use significant upgrades at left guard and right tackle for the future. Picking high in the first round would give Denver the ability to snag one of the best offensive lineman available in this year’s NFL Draft. The question is — which position would they end up addressing first — tackle or guard?
According to Matt Miller, the Broncos have Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson as the top offensive lineman on their board. While he isn’t a tackle, Nelson would be an immediate upgrade at left guard and be a plug-and-play starter upon entering the NFL. The Fighting Irish have been a factory in recent years and have birthed many top-flight offensive lineman. Nelson is likely to follow in his fellow Irish predecessor’s footsteps and become a Pro-Bowl caliber player himself. Some may be adverse to the Broncos using their top pick on a guard, but Nelson is a special player who would be provide an instantaneous upgrade at the left guard position where the Broncos have been rotating Allen Barbre and Max Garcia for a majority of the season.
Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson allowed just 3 pressures this season, on 436 pass blocking snaps. That's the fourth-fewest of any guard with at least 183 snaps in pass protection. pic.twitter.com/bfDVCArOgB— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 5, 2017
If Nelson were to somehow be off the board, the Broncos could turn their attention to finding a highly-touted offensive tackle to pair with Garret Bolles, which would be a great idea for the long-term efficacy of the team’s offensive trench. Names would include respected prospects such as Connor Williams, Mike McGlinchey, Tre Adams or Orlando Brown as first round candidates. Odds are that at least one of the better tackles will be off the board when Denver picks, but any of the aforementioned would be better options than keeping Menelik Watson or Donald Stephenson around in 2018.
In my opinion, the best case scenario for Denver would be them selecting two offensive lineman for the future with two of their top five selections.
Since the departure of Al Wilson from the Broncos a decade ago, it seems as if the team has always been looking for the next best thing on the inside who could replace the passion and tenacity he brought on the gridiron. John Elway rewarded current inside linebacker Brandon Marshall with a lucrative contract several seasons ago (and let Danny Trevathan walk), but it’s safe to say based on his play this season that Denver hasn’t gotten the best bang for their buck with Marshall and perhaps not this coming offseason, but next, could end up being a salary cap casualty.
In addition to questions surrounding Marshall’s long-term future with the team, Todd Davis, Zaire Anderson and Corey Nelson are all scheduled to hit free agency in some sort of capacity this season. The team has several undrafted linebackers on their roster and practice squad, but it’s unlikely that they will become good starters or impact players in the pros. When you put all the aforementioned together, it’s imperative that Denver finds another long-term solution at inside linebacker.
There are some who may feel drafting inside linebacker in the first or second round would be overkill, citing Denver’s extensive use of an extra defensive back in defensive formations as a reason to drop the need down, but I simply disagree. Having a stud three-down linebacker is essential for any defense looking to stay in top form. Luckily for the Broncos, the 2018 NFL Draft has a handful of great prospects on the inside. Roquon Smith, Tremaine Edmunds and Josh Allen (ILB/OLB) are three prospects who should get early first round attention. If the Broncos don’t consider them in the first round, there will still be plenty of options availablesuch as Malik Jefferson, Kendall Joseph, Josey Jewell, Darius Leonard, Owen Burks and Matthew Thomas, who could all find their future homes on the draft’s second day.
In arguably one of the deepest inside linebacker drafts in recent memory, the Broncos would be foolish to ignore drafting a playmaker at the position if the opportunity presents itself — and it should multiple times, given the plethora of selections they have at their disposal.
Other Top Needs
Quarterback, the offensive line and linebacker are the top three needs for the team to address this offseason, but the team should also consider adding another running back, wide receiver and tight end through this year’s draft class as well. The offense has been absolutely terrible this season, and the team should use a majority of their selections to bolster one of the league’s most dreadful units. The draft has a lot of great running backs. While they don’t have to use a high pick to address the position, using a late third or early fourth round selection (and they have two of those) wouldn’t be a bad idea at all.
The NFL draft this year is gonna be filled with talent. Especially running backs (which the NFL needs)— The Pigskin FF (@pigskinFF) December 3, 2017
Last but not least, with the age of Domata Peko and the injury history of Derek Wolfe (who was recently placed on IR), I believe the Broncos would be wise to add a defensive lineman somewhere in the draft. Even though Shelby Harris and Adam Gotsis have impressed to date, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add another quality prospect through the draft to keep Denver’s defensive line play at a high level. A day three selection in this regard would be just fine, but if one of this year’s most talented names somehow slips into the draft’s second day — I wouldn’t be against Elway pulling the trigger on a big man to hold down the middle of their defense.
As always, thank you for reading. Feel free to discuss what you feel are the Broncos’ biggest draft needs for 2018 and don’t be shy about mentioning some of the prospects you love at those positions. Cheers!