One of the unsung aspects of Elway’s trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers is the fact that the Denver Broncos had an opportunity to take the consensus second best linebacker in this Draft Class and passed. Where do they go from here?
1st & 10: Who is the top linebacker you still have on your board?
Joe: I got Blake Cashman as LB3, with Mack Wilson from Alabama close behind. Both give the second level range and could start early on.
I think Cashman is a trash collector and is quick to diagnose which is what separated him for me. Wilson is coming out a year early, I think. If he had stayed with the Tide another year he could have been a first rounder. As it is, he declined down the stretch last year and needs to get better at fighting through blocks.
Hart: When the Broncos opted to move down from the tenth selection, they did that knowing it may be a while before they even select a linebacker. Why? Because the drop off in talent from Devin White and Devin Bush is incredibly steep.
Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai is my highest-rated overall linebacker on the board at #62 overall. I love his versatility and the fact he played all over their defense but he is still recovering from a shoulder injury that ended his season. It also made him miss most of the draft workout process. I believe he is an ascending player with the tools to be a formidable force as a pro and would be fine with the Broncos selecting him somewhere in the second round based on need, though it would be a reach at either of the two selections they currently have in the round.
2nd & 6: Do you think Elway will use one of his second round selections on a linebacker?
Hart: Only if they believe that a linebacker is the best player available at their selection and I’m not so sure they do. With those two picks, they can’t afford to reach on a player. Too much value is available on the board in my eyes. They are in prime position to get a highly-coveted talent at multiple positions outside of linebacker. Considering Fangio’s track record of finding guys later on who can contribute, I am operating under the assumption they will wait until the third round or later to address that need.
Joe: I sure hope not. I had Cashman as one of my favorite players for 71, but with the way the 1st round went 41 will be a gold mine if Denver’s stays there. 52 could be too. Moves like L.J. Collier, Daniel Jones, Tytus Howard, and Dexter Lawrence going so high pushes some serious talent down the board.
I do think Cashman could be a day 1 starter over Josey Jewell in the Fangio D. He may be the last backer I can confidently speak for there. I think Wilson will need to adjust to the physicality of the NFL game, though he’s more adept in space.
3rd and 3: Would it shock you if the Broncos don’t wind up with a new starting linebacker from this class?
Joe: It wouldn’t. I know Broncos Country has believed it to be a pressing need for months now and even I would like a better coverage player next to Todd Davis. I just also think that the Fangio scheme will help hide the backers limitations some. Denver won’t be running so much man coverage anymore, and will instead move to more Cover 3 and Cover 4 with some match zones on the perimeter that do look like man. Inside it will be a lot more spot drops and that should help hide Davis and Jewell’s sub-par speed. Both are heady players that do a great job anticipating, they just can’t keep up at times.
Hart: I’d honestly be shocked if they didn’t address the position. That being said, I don’t think there are many linebackers left on the board who are plug-and-play starters. I think Tavai and say someone like Germaine Pratt will take at least a year to learn the ropes before they are ready to be starters at a high level. Too much from the mental side (diagnosing plays, learning the defense, etc.) has to be done before that can happen.
4th and 1: Do you have any sleeper backers you think the Broncos could grab?
Hart: Tyrel Dodson out of Texas A&M and Sione Takitaki from Brigham Young are names to keep your eye on. I think both will find homes early on the draft’s third day and have the potential to be starters at the next level. I also believe Bobby Okereke from Stanford would fit Fangio’s defense.
Joe: Ben Burr-Kirven. If Denver is specifically looking for a role player to help in nickel personnel there’s noone left in the draft that is better. He may always be locked into such a role because he’s undersized, but could surprise. He’s slippery off of blocks, fast as a water bug and always around the ball. I have him as a 4th round talent on my adjusted board but he’ll probably slide into round 5 or later.
I also like Bobby Okereke as a developmental prospect, though he’s not the same kind of second nature chaos player Burr-Kirven is.