I’ve mentioned this last week for the QB Big Board, but up until this point in my NFL fandom I’ve always put off deep dives into the draft prospects until I knew the Broncos were out of the playoff hunt.
If I made one big mistake since joining Mile High Report, it was the belief that I could continue to do that. Since January, I’ve done all I could to keep up with what I thought Broncos Country deserved to know as far as draft hopefuls, but I promise you I’m going to be studying the college game closer during Autumn next year.
What follows is my scheme-adjusted Broncos Big Board. This is the first time I’ve ever gone to this length with the NFL Draft, and I’ll admit it was a ton of fun. These are players that fit what I see the new coaching staff installing for the 2019 Broncos.
I made an effort to study players that I thought would A) be in reach B) make an impact, and C) look like they made sense for Elway and the front office. So if you’re upset that I didn’t look at Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, or Josh Allen, that’s why
The best way to present this list is adjusted for the Broncos current picks. So No. 1 is my No. 1 player that could be available at 10th overall. Likewise, No. 10 would be my 10th choice at 10th overall, but if he’s there at 41 he’s ranked above the players listed.
As I spent the weekend stacking and re-stacking the order, I kept thinking, “Would I take ____ over ____?” and “At what pick do I like this selection?” Again, this is my first time trying to throw it together, so I doubt you’ll agree with everything, but I hope you can understand my process.
Last, there won’t be any long explanations on QBs here. That’s what the QB Big Board was for last week. Because of positional value and the way NFL overdrafts quarterbacks, they really deserve their own ranking system, which is why I gave them their own board. Go check it out if you want to know why I like Brett Rypien more than all but three signal callers in this class.
Make sense? Alright, let’s go.
1. Ed Oliver - DEFENSIVE LINE
If the Houston nose tackle is still available at 10, I’d run to the podium. He fits the Fangio defense as a 5-technique on base running downs but would really shine when the defense goes to nickel personnel, where he’d provide the kind of interior pressure that the best defenses are made of. Oliver and Shelby Harris between Von Miller and Bradley Chubb would give the Broncos one of the best front fours in the entire league.
He has a legitimate chance at being the best player coming out of this class.
2. Devin White - LINEBACKER
I like White a lot. He was my first prospect film study of the year and it’s fun to go back to his tape as a bit of a landmark as I’ve tried to unearth Day 3 guys worth a flier. The only problem is that White’s so twitchy that there’s literally one guy who really comes close. He would give Denver serious range on the second level. I also think he’ll be able to help a ton in coverage and spying Mahomes.
3. Devin Bush - LINEBACKER
I’ve gone back and forth between White and Bush since I compared the two for GIF Horse to start the month. I think the distance between them is this close. If Elway takes Bush over White, you won’t see me complain. I think Bush is better against the run day one and will be both a coverage weapon and an asset as a blitzer.
4. T.J. Hockenson - TIGHT END
Hock will come into the league as a ready-made NFL blocker at his position and should only get better as a receiver with time to refine his route running. While his 4.7 40 isn’t what dreams are made of, it’s plenty fast and he should be threatening for the Pro Bowl early in his career.
5. Jonah Williams - OFFENSIVE LINE
If the Broncos were looking for a pure left tackle this year, I’d have spent more time studying Andre Dillard, who I’m high on. As it is, Jonah is my favorite tackle in this class but would come to the Broncos as a guard prospect. I think his ceiling inside is very high. The fact that he may serve as a potential replacement for Bolles down the road is just a bonus.
6. Jeffery Simmons - DEFENSIVE LINE
If this feels high for Simmons, you haven’t watched his 2018 tape. Prior to injury, he was considered a top 5 talent in this class and all reports suggest he’ll be healthy before the end of the 2019 season. When you stop and consider the fact that he’s just 21, plays a premium position, fits the Broncos scheme, and would be under contract for the 5 years? It isn’t a hard decision for me. He brings a lethal combination of elite quickness, strength, and versatility. Baby Suh would look dominant in the Fangio scheme. Sign me up.
7. Jerry Tillery - DEFENSIVE LINE
I’m higher on him than most and won’t be surprised if Tillery is still available at 41, but with the right coaching staff, he’ll be a steal. He isn’t the twitched up phenom Oliver or Quinnen Williams are, but Tillery is plenty quick enough.
The other thing that really jumps out when you’re watching him is how strong his moves are. He has multiple rush moves and does a great job using his hands and length to penetrate. It doesn’t always show up in sack and TFL numbers, but he’s in the backfield constantly.
Beyond that, he’s every bit as versatile as Wilkins is for the Broncos defense. He fits as a DE on base downs with the ability to slide in and own the B-gap in nickel personnel, but could play the nose at times. Promising upside.
8. Christian Wilkins - DEFENSIVE LINE
Wilkins isn’t sexy the same way Oliver, Q, Simmons, or Tillery are. Instead he’s just a versatile culture guy that will slot into the defense for the next decade. He has the kind of skillset Fangio would get a ton of use out of, so don’t be shocked if he’s higher on Denver’s board than mine.
9. Garrett Bradbury - OFFENSIVE LINE
If it weren’t for his age, I’d have Bradbury higher than this. I think he’s a pick-and-forget guy on the line. You grab him and a position stops being a concern until he’s done. Denver could use one of those on the offensive line.
10. Noah Fant - TIGHT END
If Hock is the complete tight end, Fant is the exciting mismatch weapon. He’s a better blocker than he gets credit for and would give the Broncos’ quarterback of the future a receiver who can split seams down the middle of the field for the next decade.
11. Byron Murphy - CORNERBACK
Amani and Greedy have done a better job in the pre-draft process, and there’s legitimate questions about his athleticism for a first round corner, but Murphy is a scheme fit in Fangio and Donatell’s defense.
12. N’Keal Harry - X / Slot Receiver
Have to think he’s the No. 1 receiver on the Broncos board. He has the size and physicality you look for at the X receiver spot, but would fit beautifully into a Z/Big slot role where he can abuse defenses on the kind of routes he excelled at in college. Remember what Larry Fitzgerald did with Bruce Arians? That’s what the Broncos could do with Harry.
I’d get all giddy if he winds up in orange and blue.
13. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson - SAFETY
Chances are Mr. Versatile goes in the first. If he somehow slides, the Broncos need to pounce, as he’s the kind of Swiss Army knife that can serve as the glue for the secondary going forward. Does Denver need a slot defender? CGJ can do it. Do they want a single high stud? He can grow into it. Insanely valuable skill set in the modern NFL.
14. Chris Lindstrom - OFFENSIVE LINE
Most Broncos’ mocks treat Lindstrom as the second choice behind Risner, but he’s probably a better fit for the outside zone scheme Scangarello will install. He looks better in space, is a better lateral mover, and he’s a better second-level blocker. That said, Lindstrom is almost certainly a guard at the next level whereas Risner could pinch hit at right tackle or even center if needed. If you’re adamant I got this wrong, I’m not about to fight you. I’d say the distance between the two guards is second only to the Devins at linebacker. Both look like 10-year players and potential late first-round choices.
Still Grazin’? My thoughts on a certain omission
Deandre Baker - CORNERBACK
I’ll admit that Baker had fallen completely off my radar until Saturday. In fact I only added him here because of Mike Klis’ list over the weekend. I stand by my initial reaction.
If Elway passes on Ed Oliver for Deandre Baker I'm going to pound Jack Daniels @GrindingTheTape style.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) April 20, 2019
I shared my thoughts on Baker with the gang at Mile High Report and it led to an argument between Christopher Hart and I. After a bit of heat, I decided to double back on the Georgia corner’s tape. It’s certainly decent. He only allowed one touchdown through 4 seasons in the SEC, after all.
One argument in Baker’s favor is that Fangio’s D will run a lot of Cover 2. If this were true, it would fit Baker’s physical press style pretty well and hide some of his weaknesses. It isn’t though, at least not entirely.
I spoke with MHR’s Jeff Essary, who’s looked extensively at Fangio’s pass defense for the film study he’s done on Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan. (If you haven’t read these pieces go here and here!) He plans on going more in depth with an upcoming piece, but here’s the gist.
The majority of what Fangio runs is called match quarters, and he’ll rotate between Cover 3 and Cover 4 coverage shells. It’s a big reason why I’m so high on Murphy, who played a ton of off C3 at Washington. It’s also one reason why Kareem Jackson to safety makes a lot of sense.
Admittedly, some of Fangio’s Cover 3 looks are cloud coverage, so the field side corner plays cover 2 technique. Theoretically that should fit Baker, but depending on the side of the field, the corner in C2 tech will also need to function as the #1 corner, isolated on his man. This could lead to struggles if Baker can’t carry his receiver deep.
All this is to say that I still don’t like Baker very much, but I’m also aware that I have a pretty strong bias against guys that don’t seem athletic enough. Baker’s Combine numbers are pretty uninspiring. His short shuttle and 3 cone times of 4.27 and 6.95 at Georgia’s pro day did alleviate some concern, but I’m still dubious.
I don’t feel comfortable enough to rank him because I don’t really prefer him to anyone I have placed. Maybe this is one where I’m the lone crazy on the hill, and I don’t know if I’m willing to die on it, but I think he’s risky in the Broncos D.
If Fangio feels good enough about his ability to run and cover, so be it. He’s got a pretty good track record so I’ll hope for the best.