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What happens if the Broncos draft the next Justin Smith in 2020?

A.J. Epenesa is Iowa’s other superstar trench player, and could immediately upgrade the Broncos’ defense.

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NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Iowa
The best way to describe A.J. Epensa is “terrifying.”
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

So the Fangio-era starts off 0-2.

12% of all teams that have started 0-2 since 2007 have gone on to make the playoffs. Perhaps Denver can turn things around and go on a run. Stranger things have happened, and it wasn’t that long ago many in Broncos Country said this team looked far too good to finish with a lesser record than 2018.

Or maybe the 2019 murderer’s row of a schedule and the critical weaknesses are enough to sink the playoff talk. The Green Bay Packers made Kirk Cousins look like an $84 million albatross on Sunday, after all. Only 2% of all teams since 1980 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3.

This may sound crazy, but I don’t find the win-loss column near as discouraging as I did last year.

It feels like Fangio’s building towards something. There was a lot of improvement peppered throughout the Broncos heartbreaking 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. With New England comfortably running the 2019 NFL, Denver picked a decent year to rebuild.

Who knows, if the coaching staff can keep pushing the young players to develop and Elway has another good offseason, maybe they’re back in the thick of things in 2020.

Three big things before I get off and running:

  1. Yes, I know the 2019 season barely started.
  2. Denver’s needs are all projections, so if you want to argue “X will be here,” or “Y is going to breakout”, I’m not going to put up much of a fight.
  3. For this week’s projection, I followed Tankathon’s current pick order. That means for the first time since we started doing mocks Denver is picking 8th.

1st Round, Pick 8- A.J. Epenesa, Defensive Line

For those hoping for Tristian Wirfs or Andrew Thomas, blame the Bengals and Washington. Neither Justin Herbert or Tua Taigovailo were available, either. Barring a disastrous finish to their respective campaigns there’s little to no chance either falls outside of the draft’s top five.

So instead we grab the closest thing the 2020 class has to Justin Smith, a player Fangio had an incredible amount of success with during his run as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator.

Epenesa isn’t going to blow you away with his workout times or sack totals. Instead he’s the kind of world ender who spends his Saturdays creating terror. With the Broncos he’d step into the lineup in place of Adam Gotsis or Derek Wolfe as a defensive end in base personnel with the ability to slide inside and disrupt in the nickel.

P2nd Round, Pick 40 -

2nd Round, Pick 40 - Prince Tega Wanogho, Offensive Tackle

Missing out on the premier tackles at the top of the draft left me willing to reach a little if I have to at the top of the second. Fortunately, the Auburn tackle slides and I don’t have to.

Generally speaking, I prefer offensive linemen with a lot of experience so the 6’7” 305 lb Wanogho breaks a soft rule. He left Nigeria to play basketball in the United States when he was in high school and stumbled upon the game of football. An optimistic will tell you how high that means his ceiling could be, a pessimist will wonder how far he is from pro-ready.

I’m simply stating the fact that he may need Munchak to really coach him up.

On the plus side, the gifts he brings to the table are pretty incredible. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Wanogho ran a 4.64 40-yard dash without cleats in high school. As new to the game as he was that first year, he still played tight end and defensive end.

After converting to the offensive line in college, he brings that same basketball fluidity to his pass sets. He’s springy and smooth and shows natural power in his hands. TDN’s Kyle Crabbs calls him a big ball of clay, and he’s the kind of prospect I’d love to see Munchak get to refine into a future All Pro.

His health bears monitoring going forward as he missed Auburn’s game against Kent State last weekend and his status is considered day to day right now. It doesn’t sound too concerning, however, as he did dress and warm up with the team.

3rd Round, Pick 71 - Jacob Phillips, Linebacker

Going BPA with the first pick leaves me chasing needs a little farther down the board, and so long as Epensa can be difference makers out of the gate that’s a price worth paying.

Todd Davis’ status remains an open question with the way his contract is structured in 2020. If Elway moves on, linebacker is a glaring need. If he doesn’t, it’s still going to require some attention. In Phillips, Fangio would get a linebacker prospect who’s natural off the ball and looks more adept in coverage than the Josey Jewells and Corey Nelson types on the current roster.

3rd Round, Pick Pick 72 - Jaylon Johnson, Cornerback

Isaac Yiadom’s missed tackle on Adam Shaheen Sunday made it clear why Vic Fangio considers tackling non-negotiable in all his defenders. That shouldn’t be an issue with this Utah corner. He’s a physical defensive back who brings the length and strength to be a reliable defender after the catch.

Johnson also mixes the ability to play within himself and read the passer to come up with big plays. An intriguing combination.

Day 3

I was a little torn between Grant Delpit with my first pick but chose Epenesa as the BPA here assuming Justin Simmons is resigned. The decision left me chasing need a little more than I’d normally like farther down the board and that would continue a little into the last rounds of the draft, where I’d keep an eye out for a playmaking receiver and interior line help.

I’d also look for opportunities to grab sliding talent at halfback, defensive back, and quarterback.


What grade would you give this draft?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    A - I love it!
    (57 votes)
  • 40%
    B - I like it.
    (193 votes)
  • 30%
    C - I’m dead inside.
    (149 votes)
  • 9%
    D - You blew it.
    (45 votes)
  • 7%
    F - Grabbing a pitchfork!
    (38 votes)
482 votes total Vote Now

Your Broncos Links

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NFL Draft News

OU football: The evolution of Jalen Hurts from ‘thrower’ to ‘passer’ — a knee, an inch and a little Lincoln Riley | Sports |

“He looks like a guy that could play in the NFL.”

Crabbs’ 2020 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 | The Draft Network


Denver experienced some heartbreak in bidding farewell to LB Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft -- remember, they traded out of the 10th pick to pick up extra picks. They’ll get quite the linebacker at 10 this time around in Isaiah Simmons. Imagine Simmons prowling on the second level in nickel packages! Is he coming, going, covering tight ends? Scientists don’t even know. I’d love to see Fangio get his hands on Simmons in 2020.

College football’s star wide receivers match what NFL teams want at the position

We look at what some successful NFL teams are seeking at wide receiver and how there are some 2020 NFL draft prospects who absolutely fit that profile.

QB KlassRoom: QB Klassroom: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence - Fantasy Columns

Everyone is worried about Trevor Lawrence. The sacred son of every college football fan, the messiah for any number of NFL fan bases yearning for the No.1 pick in 2021, the next evolution of Clipboard Jesus — Lawrence came into the year with expectations rivaled only by Andrew Luck at Stanford, but he’s not been the clear star he was ticketed to be. At least not by the numbers.

Looking ahead to the Green Bay Packers

Darnell Savage in walking boot after Packers win – ProFootballTalk

The Packers got a win on Sunday afternoon, but all the news from the day wasn’t positive for Green Bay. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that first-round pick Darnell Savage was in a walking boot after the game.

Packers safety Raven Greene injures ankle, leaves week 2 game on a cart - Acme Packing Company

Early in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, safety Raven Greene landed awkwardly after a run by Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Greene laid on the field for a few minutes before a cart came on to take him to the locker room.

Packers 21 Vikings 16: Game Balls & Lame Calls

Putting up 21 early points is a very good thing. Expecting your defense to hold it for three quarters is not. Between poor play calls, lackluster routes by the recievers and indecision by Aaron Rodgers, this offense looked very pedestrian for the second week in a row. Minnesota’s defense is very good but the Packers were facing a depleted secondary and back up’s on the offensive line. A win is a win, but eventually the inability to move the ball and score is going to cost this team a game.

NFL: Aaron Rodgers takes blame for getting wrong down, killing drive

“It looked,” Rodgers explained, “from my vantage point that it might have been a positive, questionable spot for us, and under two minutes that’s a booth review. So I just wanted to get us on the ball quickly.”

A look around the rest of the AFC West

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the loss to the Lions - Bolts From The Blue

The Ugly

The Referees On one drive, the Chargers scored two fantastic touchdowns, and both times the referees called them back on phantom penalties. Neither penalty was remotely defensible and the fact that they were eventually followed by a turnover was arguably the difference in the outcome of the game.

Rivers on Chargers’ errors in loss: ‘We’re asking for it’ -

The list of boneheaded mistakes that cost the Chargers is lengthy: Two missed field goals by replacement kicker Ty Long, two TDs called back by penalties, another penalty wipes out a turnover, Austin Ekeler fumbles at the 1-yard-line, Philip Rivers throws INT with 1:10 remaining and L.A. in field-goal range, on and on.

Chargers’ Adrian Phillips suffers broken arm vs. Lions -

Phillips was replacing Derwin James, who is on injured reserve with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his foot. Starting cornerback Michael Davis is out with a hamstring injury, as well. An All-Pro in 2018, Phillips was a versatile presence who could also play linebacker and was emblematic of the Bolts’ defensive depth, but is now symbolic of their dwindling numbers and prospects.

Demarcus Robinson, defensive adjustments stifle Raiders in Chiefs win - Arrowhead Pride

Demarcus Robinson stepped up in a big way with a giant thirddown catch early, taking advantage of a blown coverage in the slot for a 44-yard touchdown. Robinson made another terrific catch between two defenders that was called back for holding, then got free on a back side post for 43 yards. Robinson hit paydirt again in the second quarter, coming up with a contested 39-yard touchdown catch on a fade over Gareon Conley.

Raiders banged up against Chiefs including tackle Trent Brown whose injured knee is being evaluated - Silver And Black Pride

They got beat up by the Chiefs on the scoreboard and on the field, with several players spending time down on the field, on the trainer’s table, and in the locker room.

Two starting caliber wide receivers? Psh, who needs that? The Raiders do. Desperately - Silver And Black Pride

With those picks, there were two wide receivers who would have been home runs in Marquis Brown and AJ Brown. There they were at pick 24 and Marquis Brown was still on the board. They went with Josh Jacobs instead and Brown went with the next pick.

NFL Links

Steelers get Minkah Fitzpatrick from Dolphins – ProFootballTalk

The Dolphins are making no secret that they’re tanking, while the Steelers are trying to get better even after losing Ben Roethlisberger. Miami defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has been traded to Pittsburgh, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Trevor Siemian injured, Luke Falk in for Jets – ProFootballTalk

This night could not get much worse for the Jets. They began the Monday night game without linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (ankle) and quarterback Sam Darnold (mono).

Ben Roethlisberger injury: Steelers QB releases a statement on his future after landing on injured reserve -

I’ve been informed that I need season ending surgery on my elbow to continue playing football at the level I expect. This is shocking and heartbreaking for me, to miss this much of a season and feel like I am letting down so many people. I can only trust God’s plan, but I am completely determined to battle through this challenge and come back stronger than ever next season. The Steelers committed three years to me this offseason and I fully intend to honor my contract and reward them with championship level play. I will do all I can to support Mason and the team this season to help win games. I love this game, my teammates, the Steelers organization and fans, and I feel in my heart I have a lot left to give.

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NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports the latest on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ thumb injury and his surgery options moving forward.

Antonio Brown: New sexual misconduct accusation |

Brown’s first full week as a Patriot included a civil lawsuit filed against him by former trainer Britney Taylor, who alleged that she was the victim of several instances of sexual assault by Brown, including one in which Brown “forcibly raped” her at his residence in 2018. Taylor’s accusations are the most serious to be levied against Brown, but, as Sports Illustrated has learned, they are far from the only ones.

Sean Payton: We can’t control poor officiating or “an awful call like that” – ProFootballTalk

As hard as Al Riveron tried to whitewash that his officials blew it (again!) against the Saints, a blown call is a blown call is a blown call.

J.J. Watt says official told him “I saw him hold you, but I didn’t throw the flag” – ProFootballTalk

“The ref literally admitted to me that guy held me on one play, and he didn’t throw the flag. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that after a play. I look over at the ref and he says, ‘Yes, I saw him hold you, but I didn’t throw the flag.’

FMIA Week 2: Right Or Wrong, NFL’s Ref Problems Not Going Away Soon – ProFootballTalk

Was Hill flagging each guy for the dreaded “body-weight-on-the-quarterback sack?” Maybe, but neither was a good enough example of that to call. The Chubb call, with 24 seconds left in the game, was crucial. Denver led 13-12 and Chicago needed to gain about 35 yards to have a decent shot at the game-winning field goal. The Chubb call gave the Bears nearly half of that, 15 yards, to the Chicago 45. The Bears got to the Denver 35 with a second left, and Eddy Pineiro’s 53-yard field goal won it.

FOX’s Mark Schlereth was apoplectic about each call. “Garbage call, but that’s the world we live in today,” he said after the Goldman play. And post-Chubb, Schlereth noted: “I guess we’re gonna legislate contact out of a contact sport.”

The 49ers are for real but these 2 things could hold them back

The offense is loaded with gifted skill players who are dangerous with the ball in their hands. This is arguably the best “Yards After Catch” team in the league, which is further enhanced by Kyle Shanahan’s ability scheme up wide-open passes.

Colts coach Frank Reich: Adam Vinatieri is our kicker – ProFootballTalk

The Colts have talked Adam Vinatieri into sticking around. Amid widespread speculation on Sunday that the future Hall of Fame kicker would be retiring on Monday (and it was leaning in that direction), Vinatieri will stay with the team.

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”I think wide receiver,” former team executive Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, said when asked what position Jackson should play. “Exceptional athlete, exceptional ability to make you miss, exceptional acceleration, exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand, and that’s rare for wide receivers.”