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2019 NFL Combine recap: Four things we learned

The 2019 NFL Combine is officially in the books. Here are several key takeaways from the event with respect to prospects and the Denver Broncos.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL Combine is officially in the books. A contingent of representatives including John Elway, Matt Russell, Vic Fangio and personnel representatives from the Denver Broncos were on hand for the week’s festivities. It always provides a tremendous opportunity to have an up close and personal look at the prospects available in this year’s draft.

Now that the week is over, the Broncos will head back to Dove Valley and start piecing together their draft board. What was learned this week will be cross-referenced with tape analysis and reports from scouts conducted over the year. Further evaluations will be completed over the next month at Pro Days across the nation and near the end of April, the Broncos’ official board and plans will be finalized.

But what are some things we have learned with respect to the Broncos? Here are some miscellaneous musings and observations from what transpired at Indianapolis.

Devin White may be out of reach for the Broncos’ at tenth overall

I’ve been on board with the White to Broncos hype since my initial mock last October and that hasn’t changed. Truth be told, that desire only strengthened when Fangio was crowned the new head coach. Everyone knows his defense requires premier athleticism at the position, which is something the Broncos are currently lacking on defense. That’s why White is a logical, plug-and-play selection for the franchise. He fits the mold as a game-changing, three-down linebacker at the next level.

Unfortunately, White had a tremendous combine and posted a blazing 4.42 40-yard dash. He was already widely-regarded as one of the top defensive prospects available and his workout numbers may have likely propelled him to a territory out of Denver’s reach, barring a trade up for his services. Whispers out of Indianapolis show that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hold the fifth overall selection, are enamored with the LSU product.

A lot can change from now until late-April when the draft rolls around, but there is no doubt that White boosted his stock tremendously. Now might be the time to start focusing on players outside of the first round that the franchise could potentially target in the event he is off the board by the time the Broncos select. Who might some of those prospects be?

Washington product Ben Burr-Kirven posted some of the best testing numbers among all off-ball linebackers in this year’s class. He’s a fiery player that was a tackling machine for the Huskies, but is a bit undersized. Regardless, he showed great athleticism and looked fluid in drills. Despite his atrocious 40-yard dash time, New Mexico State linebacker Terrill Hanks is worth noting. He is a versatile player who has played multiple positions in college and posted some of the best production of any linebacker in the country.

University of Minnesota’s Blake Cashman caught the eye of scouts after posting a blazing 4.5 40-yard dash. He is a one-year wonder that posted 104 tackles for the Gophers, but has starting caliber traits for the next level. Some even feel he did well enough to cement himself as the third best inside linebacker in this class behind White and Devin Bush, who had an impeccable performance of his own and likely solidified himself as a first-round pick. Last but not least, while he didn’t work out due to a shoulder injury, Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai is another sleeper prospect to keep your eye on. Don’t forget about NC State’s Germaine Pratt or Stanford’s Bobby Okereke.

Offensive linemen and tight ends were a key focus for the Broncos

With Mike Munchak in the fold, there is no question that the Broncos are going to be looking to upgrade their offensive line. He is arguably the most-respected offensive line guru in the National Football League and allowing him to handpick a prospect he covets would be a wise decision. This year’s class appears to be ripe with talent and offers a lot of diversity, inside and out.

The team held a handful of formal meetings with top prospects such as offensive tackles Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Washington State’s Andre Dillard, both of whom are projected to be Top 15 selections. Charlotte offensive lineman Nate Davis, as well as Penn State’s Connor McGovern and Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom were also interviewed. Of the latter three, Lindstrom is the prospect I like the most. He is a four-year starter that has plus athleticism and is a destroyer of worlds in the running game. He would be a day one starter for the Broncos on the interior offensive line and could become a Pro-Bowl caliber player under the guidance of Munchak.

In addition to giving the offensive linemen a hard look, the team was extremely diligent with respect to this year’s crop of tight ends — which may be the deepest in recent memory. While the Broncos have been consistent in drafting tight ends over the past several years, injuries have hampered the development of those players. The team certainly needs an infusion of talent at the position and it’s no surprise that they formally met with over half a dozen of prospects in Indianapolis. Those names include Noah Fant, Irv Smith Jr., Dawson Knox, Kaden Smith, Jace Sternberger, Drew Sample and Dax Raymond.

Out of the names listed above, Fant is obviously the biggest draw. He was undoubtedly the most athletic tight end of the group posting an jaw-dropping 4.51 40-yard dash and was top dog in almost every other category. I’ve been a huge fan of his throughout the process and his workout solidified first round status. The tenth overall selection is probably too high for him, but if the Broncos were to trade back and acquire him and additional picks I would be absolutely thrilled. On a final note, Smith Jr. was also impressive and caught the ball effortlessly and looked great in drills. He is a prospect to pencil in for high consideration early in the second round.

This cornerback class is deep, but highly polarizing

On tape, Georgia’s Deandre Baker and Washington’s Byron Murphy are the draft’s two most consistent players on tape, but after posting underwhelming 40-yard dash times and having up-and-down workouts their stock might take a bit of a tumble. Those were prospects I considered secondary fallback options for the Broncos early on in the first round based on their tape, but after lackluster workouts I would be more comfortable sliding them down to mid-to-late first round consideration.

On the other hand, two prospects who really stood out both physically and on the field were Auburn’s Jamel Dean and Michigan State’s Justin Layne. Both are extremely long cornerbacks with the ability to man down number one receivers at the next level. Dean’s tape was outstanding, but I was worried about his athletic testing considering he has had three ACL injuries. To my surprise, he posted an official 4.3 40-yard dash, which was the best among all combine participants. Medical checks on the aforementioned ACL tears will play a big part in his final grade, but you can consider him a rising prospect for now.

The Broncos held a formal meeting with Nittany Lion cornerback Amani Oruwariye. He posted one of the better 40-yard times out of the crop of cornerbacks with a 4.47. I believe he is a solid fit for Fangio’s defense that operates a lot of zone coverages and requires physicality in run support. Oruwariye carries a day two grade, but only has one year of starting experience.

What about the quarterbacks?

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has been the hot name at the position linked to the Broncos, but reports out of Indianapolis show that the team only held formal interviews with two prospects — Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and West Virginia’s Will Grier. Both are considered day two developmental prospects who have the chance to become quality starters in the NFL.

My biggest concern with Stidham is his ability to diagnose and play well against pressure, with Grier it’s the collegiate system he came out of and issues reading defenses. Between the two of them, Stidham looked the best during drills and displayed quality accuracy and rhythm with the receivers on hand. From my perspective, Grier struggled in those regards and seemed to be a second late on hitting receivers, especially outside the numbers on out routes.

That being said, both are fits for the West Coast Offense Rich Scangarello will be bringing back to the Mile High City and prospects worth monitoring. It’s not a question of if with respect to drafting a cornerback — merely a matter of who and when. At this point in time I feel as if the Broncos are poised to go with an impact starter who can play immediately with their first selection and will opt to roll the dice on a developmental quarterback somewhere on Day 2 or early Day 3.

So Broncos Country, what were some of your biggest observations from the 2019 NFL Combine?