clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who makes sense for the Broncos at 15?

New, comments

The likely 2020 NFL Draft candidates before the offseason circuit really gets going for the Denver Broncos.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn
Word is the Broncos are Henry Ruggs III floor in the upcoming NFL Draft.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Shurmur is in, Rich Scangarello is out. For as much as that may change the Broncos’ offense in 2020, on this side of free agency the needs remain the same. I’ve already covered them at length here, and given an idea for players to watch for here and here, but today I thought it’d make sense to look at some likely first round targets.

If you’ve only just started to pay attention to the upcoming NFL Draft, you’re probably already familiar with a few names. Iowa’s athletic tackle Tristan Wirfs, Clemson’s hybrid Isaiah Simmons, Auburn’s war-daddy Derrick Brown, Oklahoma’s alpha receiver CeeDee Lamb. All could be under consideration if they somehow slip out of the top 14 picks. But who’s left if they don’t?

KOA’s Benjamin Allbright has already reported that Henry Ruggs III is the big name to watch. The Crimson Tide receiver makes Flash look slow, and with Elway searching high and low to add a vertical threat to the offense that can also create yards after the catch he makes a ton of sense.

Henry Ruggs could wind up a 99 speed rookie in Madden 21.

But what if he destroys the Combine and gets picked before 15? John Ross forced his way into the top 10 after doing as much in 2017 despite a far more tumultuous collegiate career than Ruggs just completed at Alabama. So it’s a distinct possibility.

Ruggs is an underrated runner after the catch.

The good news is, there should be some really promising prospects on the board. Here’s a quick look at a three that have really captured my attention.

Kristian Fulton

There’s been a runaway narrative that the LSU cornerback can’t tackle. Because of this most in Broncos’ Country have dismissed him as an option because Fangio wants corners who lay the wood. I’m guilty of buying into this initially, and was part of the first wave to criticize Mock Drafts for slotting him to the Broncos.

Here’s the thing though, Fulton can tackle just fine and Fangio made it very apparent it isn’t as big a concern for him as we all made it out to be.

Certain guys fit better than others for every defense, particularly in the Dline. DBs, I think, are DBs. Either you can cover or you can’t. The guys that can cover can fit any system. D-linemen sometimes are a little different.

There is little question that the Tiger can cover. He has the kind of physical gifts that have no substitute and is sticky when mirroring his assignment.

Fulton could be an All Pro with someone like Fangio coaching him up.

It’s important to scout a player as an individual prospect rather than the school they come from, but the fact that Fulton comes from a school renowned as “DBU” is hard to ignore. He’s received quality coaching to this point and comes battle tested after a career in the SEC against players like Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, etc.

He isn’t without a couple of warts though. As overblown as his tackling questions are, a bigger receiver like Mike Williams could present issues for him after the catch. Granted, a 6’4 220 lb behemoth out wide is going to do just that to most corners, which is why Williams went 7th overall to the Chargers in 2017. There is also his 2017 suspension by the NCAA to consider.

The lingering concern I do have about Fulton is that he is such a physical player down the field. He’s an adept press corner but will need to improve past the 5-yard mark or risk flags in the NFL. If the Broncos do pull the trigger on him, it’s fair to trust that Fangio and Ed Donatell believe they can iron that issue out of his game.

A.J. Epenesa

It was big news when the Iowa linemen declared for the draft last week. Before the 2019 college season there were corners of the draft community that argued for him as ED1 based on his sophomore season. That was quickly put to rest when Chase Young wrecked the Big Ten as Epenesa settled into an expanded role early, but his relatively slow start led many to miss when he started to turn it on down the stretch. After the calendar turned to November he notched eight of his 11.5 sacks and forced three of his four fumbles.

Epenesa is an intriguing pass rusher with inside/out versatility.

One of the more underrated parts of Epenesa’s game is due to no fault of his own. Most draft sites have listed him as a defensive end or maybe Edge if they’re written by people born later than 1970. Because of this I’ve seen a lot of doubt about how he’d fit into the Broncos’ defense.

What this argument misses is the fact that the 6’6 280 lb Epenesa played almost 100 snaps inside of the tackles last season. He’s closer to Derek Wolfe than Bradley Chubb when it comes to skillset, and if drafted would make hay as a defensive linemen for Fangio.

A nickel package of Miller-Jones-Epenesa-Chubb could be pretty nasty.

Javon Kinlaw

There is some reason to believe the South Carolina defensive linemen is an even better fit for Fangio than Epenesa is. Standing at 6’6 and weighing in at 310 lbs, he was used in a variety of alignments by the Gamecocks in 2019, playing snaps at the 1,3, and 5 technique.

Two things jump off the film when you’re watching Kinlaw that can’t be ignored. He’s got a very good burst off the snap for a man his size. He also has a ton of power to his game and should bring an effective bull rush, rip, and club move with him to his first training camp.

If given the green light to shoot gaps, Kinlaw should be a disruptive presence wherever he lines up.

The biggest issues with Kinlaw are areas where his own size works to his detriment. He’s a freight train in a straight line, but isn’t near as quick laterally as he needs to redirect and drop his weight. For such a tall player there are snaps where he gets too high and he’ll need to improve his pad level, especially against double teams.

All that said, he’d be a strong fit in Fangio’s defense. I could easily see him as the “surprise” first rounder that gets some in Broncos’ Country riled up until they familiarize themselves with his game.

Kinlaw would improve both the size of Denver’s base personnel and their interior pass rush in the nickel.

Three others who could fit

I’ve done less work studying these three, but they’re on my short list for the coming weeks. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Broncos show interest in them.

Clemson WR Tee Higgins - Not the same kind of blur athlete Ruggs or Shenault are, but possesses an underrated ability to separate and win contested catches. His frame and ball skills suggest he’ll be redzone weapon at the next level.

Higgins’ ability to beat defensive backs for the ball in the air should serve him well in the NFL.

Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr - His lengthy medical history is concern, and he’ll need to refine his route running, but he looks like game breaking athlete on tape.

Shenault’s best plays rival any other WR prospect in this class.

Alabama CB Trevon Diggs - According to Pro Football Focus’ charting, he allowed all of 176 yards on 13 catches this season. He’s long and comes from a system that should help him adjust to Fangio’s defense quickly.

Higgins and Sutton could give Lock a dangerous pair of receivers who can create YAC.

Your Broncos’ Links

Senior Bowl 2020 preview: Prospects to watch - Mile High Report

The 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl kicks off this week. I’ll be down there checking out which players could be a fit for the Broncos.

NFL Free Agent Profile: Breshad Perriman - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos have a need for a down-the-field receiving thread. Could a guy like Breshad Perriman be a good fit?

Free Agent Profile: Will Parks - Mile High Report

Another member of the 2016 draft class is set to hit free agency. Does Denver try to keep Parks around for another year?

NFL Free Agent Profile: Graham Glasgow - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos could need help at right guard if they move on from Ron Leary. Could Graham Glasgow be the guy to replace him?

Denver stadium sponsor Empower Retirement disrespects Broncos Country, celebrates Chiefs - Mile High Report

They did what? Aren’t they a hometown Colorado company?

NFL Draft Links

The Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP)A Senior Bowl Primer

Whether you’re a writer attending the Senior Bowl for the first time or you’re new to the all-star game as a fan, I’m sharing my perspective here. Some of what I share will be in line with what you’ll read elsewhere, other points will depart from the norm. There are multiple ways to study this event well. Keep that in mind.

From Homeless to Hero - The Javon Kinlaw Story | The Draft Network

Kinlaw, who was the youngest of his three brothers, and only 10 years old at the time, experienced periods of homelessness and while there were brief stints with family friends, the comfort of knowing where shelter may have come from was a week-to-week unknown. Basements, one bedroom homes, and many unfortunate circumstances, he and has family have been through it all.

LSU DB Kristian Fulton has two-year suspension upheld by NCAA - CollegeFootballTalk | NBC Sports

It was alleged by the NCAA that a testing administrator witnessed Fulton pouring some type of substance into his urine sample during a drug test in January of 2017. Fulton’s lawyer didn’t challenge that allegation; rather, he questioned the rule — 3.4 of The Association’s Drug-Testing protocol, to be specific — that was applied by the NCAA. Fulton’s lawyer argued that his client was instead in violation of rule 3.3, which would’ve allowed for, at most, a one-year suspension for “[failing] to provide a urine specimen according to protocol” and “[attempting] to alter the integrity of the collection process.

2020 East-West Shrine Bowl: Strong rosters shine - NFL.com

Michael Danna, DE, Michigan: There’s a lot of guys you have to look at when you’re scouting the Michigan defense, and honestly, when I was watching their tape, he got lost in the shuffle. But he showed me a lot with his play here, especially his hands. His push-pull move is outstanding.”

East/West Shrine Bowl Day 2 Recap: Trenches | The Draft Network

MICHAEL ONWENU, IOL, MICHIGAN Michael Onwenu is a big player; he tipped the scaled 362 pounds at Monday’s weigh-ins and boasts of 34 1/2 inch arms ... for a guard. Those are both astronomical numbers. Onwenu has a squattier build without a huge stride length, so I understand why he played on the interior, but the East team defensive tackles surely wish he was on the outside. Onwenu is stonewalling folks in one-on-ones; with a defensive line background, he is willing to get aggressive in the trenches with jump sets and early punches to initiate contact and generate immediate displacement. He’s likely the best offensive lineman here on either team.

NFL draft winners and losers: Auburn’s Derrick Brown shows he’s an elite prospect

Stock up: Oklahoma CB Parnell Motley The last time the 6-foot, 180-pound Motley played in Stillwater, he was lit up like a candle by former OSU (and current Pittsburgh Steelers) WR James Washington in 2017 before being benched in that one. On Saturday, Motley had as good a game as I’ve seen from him in a dominant performance. After forcing and recovering a first-quarter fumble that helped turn the tide of the game, Motley also had six tackles, a pass broken up and two interceptions — one that was (incorrectly) overturned and one in the fourth quarter that stood and was the knockout blow for the Cowboys. Motley is a thin-framed corner who might be limited to slot duty in the pros and whom scouts believe is a Day 3 option. Watching his competitiveness in this game makes me think a team could fall for him during the scouting process.

Marino’s 2020 NFL Mock Draft 5.0 | The Draft Network

Broncos Henry Ruggs III WR, Alabama The Denver Broncos should like the flashes they saw from Drew Lock and take the offseason ahead to make sure he has the infrastructure around him to take a step forward in 2020. Henry Ruggs III is an electric offensive playmaker that would perfectly complement the skill sets of Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant. Ruggs has rare speed but he is far more than just a fast guy. He plays through contact, illustrates good route-running technique and he has the ball skills needed for that speed to matter.

2020 NFL Mock Draft: Senior Bowl Edition | The Draft Network

Broncos Brandon Aiyuk WR, Arizona State Thought of by most as the top wideout in attendance, Brandon Aiyuk is a speedster with nimble feet and exceptional burst. His footwork is sloppy and he struggles with false steps, but the talent and field-stretching capabilities are undeniable. He would be a strong complement to Courtland Sutton.

NFL draft: 10 most fascinating players at the 2020 Senior Bowl

Here are 10 players with a lot to gain or lose with how they perform this week.

NFL Draft Sleepers: 2020 Senior Bowl And Early Declarations | The Draft Network

Some names to keep an eye on.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Tight Ends | The Draft Network

The tight end position is constantly evolving.

Tight End Class Mossed with late Thaddeus Declaration — BLUE CHIP SCOUTING

Thaddeus Moss is one of the most interesting names in the 2020 draft class. Just three short months ago he was splitting time with Senior Bowl bound tight end Stephen Sullivan and fullback Tory Carter. Just a year ago those 47 catches for 570 yards would have been good for 2nd on the team. His four touchdowns would have also ranked 2nd.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Specialists | The Draft Network

While most eyes will be on the quarterbacks and one-on-one drills, many will fail to pay attention to the specialist.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Wide Receivers | The Draft Network

Mims also improved as a player overall. His catch radius is up there with the best in this class, and he pairs a long, 6-foot-3 frame with good speed. You often don’t see players of Mims’ size as deep threats, but that’s his specialty. He needs to improve in his functional strength, whether that’s beating press coverage or making contested catches.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Running Backs | The Draft Network

As the game has evolved into the modern age, so has the usage of the running back position. It is not often you see teams really just use one main back like they did years ago. Today, teams use the position situational. Rather than have a singular player who tries to fill all the roles a running back can be useful in, teams now have a committee of backs to service their offense.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Linebackers | The Draft Network

Wisconsin hybrid linebacker Zack Baun is going to be the headliner name in this group — and rightfully so. He projects well as both an edge rusher and an off-ball defender, and I expect the coaching staff in Mobile to use him all over the field like a chess piece. If I had to put money on the prospect who rises the most from this event, my pick would be Baun. Versatility is king in today’s NFL. Look no further than former Joe Schobert, a former Badger who is now a Pro Bowl player for the Cleveland Browns. In 2015, he played the same exact role Baun played; but if he were drafted 10-15 years ago, he would’ve been labeled as a tweener. If Baun stands out in both the pass rush and coverage one-on-one drills, you can be sure he will be the talk of the town next week and every first-round mock until April will have his name in it.

2020 Senior Bowl Preview: Defensive Line | The Draft Network

Watching the defensive line compete against the offensive line in one-on-one drills throughout the week of practice is always a spectacle. You get to see strength levels, natural instincts, bend and drive from the players. With power being one of the most common traits among the 2020 class, there’s plenty of prospects who could improve their stock after a standout week.

NFL Links

Bengals have no intention to trade No. 1 overall pick – ProFootballTalk

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the Bengals “have no intention of trading the No. 1 overall draft pick no matter the interest they get in it.”

Philip Rivers to the Buccaneers with Jacob Eason as his backup? | PFN

Pro Football Network’s NFL Insider Ben Allbright confirms that there has been an increasing amount of chatter coming from the 2020 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama regarding Rivers and the Buccaneers.

Texans expected to name Anthony Weaver as next DC - NFL.com

The promotion of the 39-year-old Weaver keeps a familiar face in a key role in Houston. Weaver, a former second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens out of Notre Dame in 2002, played the final three years of his seven-year pro career in Houston. After two years as a college assistant in 2010 and 2011, Weaver made the jump to the pros as an assistant D-line coach with the New York Jets in 2012.

Tom Brady ‘open-minded’ about where he could play - NFL.com

”I am open-minded about the process and at the same time I love playing football and want to continue to play and do a great job,” Brady said on a recent Westwood One appearance, via NBC Sports Boston. “I am looking to what is ahead. Whatever the future may bring, I will embrace it with open arms.”

Report: Browns are expected to hire Bill Callahan – ProFootballTalk

It looks like the Browns will have a top assistant with head coaching experience working under Kevin Stefanski in his first year as the boss in Cleveland. Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that Bill Callahan is expected to take a job on the Browns staff as the offensive line coach.

Frank Okam heading to Carolina to join Matt Rhule’s staff – ProFootballTalk

Okam, originally a fifth-round pick of the Texans, also spent time with the Seahawks, Buccaneers, and Giants. He’ll work as an assistant line coach in Carolina, under position coach Mike Phair.

Report: Panthers hire Samir Suleiman from Steelers – ProFootballTalk

According to Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com, the Panthers are hiring Steelers football administration coordinator Samir Suleiman. Suleiman will replace Rob Rogers in the salary cap position. Rogers left for Washington to join coach Ron Rivera there.

Bryan Bulaga knows he may have played his final game for Packers – ProFootballTalk

“I mean, it was fun,” Bulaga said. “Definitely appreciate coach [Matt] LaFleur and [offensive line] coach [Adam] Stenavich believing in me, bringing me in and allowing me to stay here and be part of this. It was a lot of fun. it’s been an enjoyable year. I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future — it’s not really my gig — but all I know is it’s been a good 10 years. It’s been fun. We’ll see what happens.”

49ers to wear white jerseys, gold pants at Super Bowl - NFL.com

The San Francisco 49ers will wear their regular road uniforms in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Niners are 2-0 in Super Bowls donning the white and gold combo.