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Do the Broncos need to go receiver in the first round of the NFL Draft?

The 2020 class looks amazing, but...

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College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
Keep an eye on Jefferson as a sleeper.
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

We’ve reached the final days until the 2020 NFL Draft, which means I’m back to playing with my boards, which means reevaluating based upon what Denver has done to add talent to the roster since January. Between John Elway’s comments since the 2019 season ended and decision to bypass veteran help in free agency, as well the impact Pat Shurmur’s hire will have on the passing game, prospective receivers appear to need to meet three main criteria:

1. Capable of presenting as a viable deep option.

2. Able to create separation for themselves.

3. Can hit the ground running on the boundary.

There’s little doubt that this receiver class is deep. It’s arguably the best group from top to bottom this century. But when you narrow the focus to who looks like a fit for the offense who can both contribute immediately as a Z receiver and also add a vertical dimension? The list narrows considerably.

Jerry Jeudy

Henry Ruggs

CeeDee Lamb

Most of Broncos Country has been focused on the big three, and rightly so, as they’re incredible. Jeudy is the best separator I’ve seen since I began studying college prospects. Henry Ruggs’ 4.2 40 has the hype train ready to jump off a cliff with ideas as to how he can run the top off any defense. CeeDee Lamb may be the best of the trio with his catch radius, body control, and vision after the catch.

The fact remains that there’s a very real possibility all three are gone before the Broncos pick at 15. Rather than argue about who will or won’t take a receiver from 1-14, let’s just take a quick look at the projected top receivers from each team.

1. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd

2. Washington: Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, Trey Quinn

3. Detroit Lions: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola

4. New York Giants: Golden Tate, Sterling Shephard, Darius Slayton

5. Miami Dolphins: DeVante Parker, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson

6. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Andre Patton

7. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel

8. Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk

9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Marqise Lee, D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook

10. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Taywan Taylor

11. New York Jets: Breshad Perriman, Quincy Enunwa, Josh Doctson

12. Las Vegas Raiders: Zay Jones, Tyrell Williams, Nelson Agholor

13. San Francisco 49ers: Deebo Samuel, Jalen Huard, Marquise Goodwin

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Justin Watson

Almost every single team could feasibly benefit from one of the “big 3” receivers. That reality combined with the 49ers’ trade with the Colts to get the 13th pick of the draft has led to plenty of speculation that Elway will need to trade up if he wants to draft Henry Ruggs as expected. It’s easier said than done, however. I suspect the Cleveland Browns won’t move unless the left tackle prospects they are considering are gone, and every team between them and the Broncos are as likely to take a receiver as move down to 15.

Jeudy’s inside/outside game makes him a potential fit for almost every team in the league.

The following tier that fits all three criteria are as follows:

Denzel Mims

Justin Jefferson

Jalen Reagor

Brandon Aiyuk

The four are in order of my current receiver rankings, and all could help Drew Lock and the offense. Mims has been compared to Courtland Sutton by some and has blown up the pre-Draft process with his route running and hands at the Senior Bowl as well as his workouts at the NFL Combine. Justin Jefferson accounted for 18 touchdowns as Joe Burrow’s slot weapon on one of the greatest offenses in college football history and turned heads with a 4.43 40 in Indianapolis. Jalen Reagor’s 2018 had many speculating that he’d wind up a top 15 pick, and he brings more explosiveness than all but maybe two receivers in this class. Brandon Aiyuk was a late bloomer who turned into a YAC god for the Sun Devils in 2019.

What makes things hazy on all of the four are how they fit into the idea of Need vs Best Player Available relative to the rest of the draft prospects. Each also comes with a question or two:

  • Mims’ route running came and went at Baylor, and he had a few gaffes securing the ball.
  • Jefferson played in a loaded offense and more than 90% of his 2019 snaps came in the slot.
  • Jalen Reagor’s quarterback was atrocious in 2019, but he also made a number of body catches and is a callow route runner.
  • Aiyuk was a late bloomer, which in and of itself brings a few questions. He’s also going to need time to adjust to physical coverage and develop nuance as a route runner after a large chunk of his production came on screens.

With the vast majority of NFL teams running three receiver sets as their base personnel group, it’s also entirely possible that all seven go before the end of the first day.

Brandon Aiyuk’s explosiveness out of the gate could appeal to teams in the late first.

The next couple cluster receivers begin to present significant questions for the Broncos if they’re looking for an early contributor across from Sutton who can also bring speed and explosiveness:

Tee Higgins - separation

K.J. Hamler - deep game

K.J. Hill - deep game

Laviska Shenault - separation, early contributor?

Bryan Edwards - deep game, separation, early contributor?

While it’s possible any of the above make a jump between when we last saw them play and the start of the NFL regular season, it’s hard to count on. One look at the Broncos’ current receiver room suggests that Elway and the coaching staff are looking to count on a rookie, which means they’ll need to strike early or pray they get lucky.

While Hamler brings speed to burn, his catch radius and hands limit his ability to go up and win on the deep plane unless he’s wide open.

Your Broncos’ Links

Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. named to 2010s All-Decade Team - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos 2015 defense will have two players represented on the 2010s All-Decade Team in Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr.

Derek Wolfe nearly asked to be traded to the Ravens during the 2019 season - Mile High Report

While it did on a promising note under rookie quarterback Drew Lock, a few veteran players were looking or at least considering jumping ship during the midst of their struggles prior to Lock starting.

Tom Dempsey and the Denver Broncos connection, RIP - Mile High Report

Even if you didn’t know him by name, if you’re a Broncos fan, you know who Tom Dempsey was.

Peyton Manning Throwback: Denver Broncos 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 19 - Mile High Report

The Peyton Manning era in Denver began with a bang as he dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 of the 2012 season.

NFL QB value rankings: Who do you want most at current cost? -

The allure of upside, of finally finding a young solution at quarterback is strong. It’s why John Elway once offered a top-shelf deal to Brock Osweiler and why the Broncos are apparently all-in on Lock after five dramatic starts that were uneven, if promising for a rookie. The Broncos would be crazy not to look into signing Cam Newton, Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston as a Plan B.

Projecting the top 25 NFL free agents in 2021 | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

20. S JUSTIN SIMMONS The Denver Broncos may be working toward a long-term deal for Simmons, but the franchise tag was the right move for this season. He played well in 2017 with a 74.5 overall grade, but then he saw that drop to 60.9 in 2018 with a 51.2 grade in coverage. Simmons followed up that disappointing season with a 90.8 grade (91.1 in coverage) and the highest PFF WAR value at the safety position in 2019. That has led to a situation where “wait and see” is probably the best approach for 2020 to see if Simmons can repeat that type of performance. No, I do not think Simmons will end up being a free agent. But as of now, he is a candidate to hit the market. If he puts up a similar performance in 2020 to the one, he had last season, he’ll be one of the better options out there at 27 years old.

NFL Draft Links

Denver Broncos and Henry Ruggs would be an incredible partnership - Mile High Report

The receiver from Alabama would fill a need for the Broncos and instantly make the offense better.

2020 Draft Profile: Scouting Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III - Mile High Report

Ruggs is the popular pick for the Broncos right now so lets get to know the speedster.

2020 NFL Draft Profile: USC Left Tackle Austin Jackson - Mile High Report

The toolsy Trojan could be an exciting project for Mike Munchak.

2020 NFL Draft Profile: UCF Wide Receiver Gabriel Davis - Mile High Report

Could Pat Shurmur grab another raw route runner and turn him into a slot fade stud?

2020 NFL Draft Profile: Oklahoma Linebacker Kenneth Murray - Mile High Report

Could Fangio look to Norman to find his next great linebacker?

The Ringer’s 2020 NFL Draft Guide

Are the Patriots suddenly in the market for a QB? And which prospects’ stock is rising with the first round less than a month away?

Three First-Round Sleepers For 2020 NFL Draft | The Draft Network

Who will be the big surprises announced at the end of the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Ledyard’s 2020 NFL Draft Top 20 Wide Receiver Rankings | Pewter Report

The wide receiver class in the 2020 NFL Draft has been heralded since before most of these players were even eligible, and my tape evaluations of the group certainly lived up to the hype. Will they be as impactful year one as the 2014 or 2019 classes? That remains to be seen, but as prospects there is certainly a comparison to be drawn.

To each receiver’s evaluation section I’ve added their Year 1 and Year 3 outlook, not necessarily saying what I think will happen, but what is a realistic best case scenario for each prospect as they progress in their NFL careers. Tons of factors will be at work in determining if these projections actually come true, including quarterback, scheme, coaching, character, health and more, but based on what I can know at this time, I made reasonable high-end guesses as to where each player’s career could be headed in ideal circumstances.

Deep dive: LSU WR Justin Jefferson under the film microscope

While 11 offensive personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back) has become a base personnel package for the majority of NFL teams, making slot receiver a starting position, how that spot is used functionally makes it a bit of an easier position to play. The slot receiver gets the benefit of pre-snap movement, making it easier to avoid press coverage off the line of scrimmage. Additionally, the slot receiver has a “two-way go” off the release, giving the cornerback more to think about. Slot receivers, thanks to their alignment on the field, can run routes breaking both inside and outside.

Boundary receivers, however, are limited with what they can do working towards the outside. On routes where they break towards the sideline, they either have to cheat their alignment towards the middle of the field pre-snap (perhaps indicating to the CB what they are doing) or create space with their route, perhaps by stemming inside first and then breaking outside.

Matt Miller’s Scouting Notebook: Latest 2020 Draft Rumors for Every NFL Team | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

As the draft gets closer, the information from team sources gets more accurate and starts to flow more freely. Head coaches who are still digesting draft information will reach out for tips on a player or position group. Scouts, who’ve been studying this class for a year, are bored and anxious to talk.

As those conversations happen, what information can be relayed to readers will be. And that’s what this week’s Scouting Notebook hinges on—the top team-by-team buzz in NFL circles right now.

NFL Links

The Top 15 Player Performances to Rewatch on NFL Game Pass - The Ringer

From Tom Brady’s 2011 annihilation of the Dolphins to Ed Reed’s divisional-round dismantling of the Texans to Aaron Rodgers’s MVP campaign, here are the most impressive performances to revisit on Game Pass

2010s All-Decade Team snubs: Ten NFL players worthy of a spot -

While each player and coach selected to the 2010s All-Decade Team was worthy of a roster spot, there are several notable names missing from the squad. Nick Shook ranks the 10 biggest snubs.

Looking Ahead to the 2020 Season With Adam Lefkoe. Plus: Underrated NFL Draft Prospects - The Ringer

Adam Lefkoe and Kevin Clark talk about how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 season before Danny Kelly joins for some draft analysis

Building the ideal NFL secondary for 2020 | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

Nobody over the past two seasons has a better PFF grade in the slot than Desmond King has for the Chargers. What’s interesting, is that the other option for our perfect slot corner is likely forcing him to move to safety this year. Chris Harris Jr. was the league’s best in that role for years, to the point that his play earned him a constantly expanding and changing role within the defenses he played — from slot corner only, to slot corner who played outside on base downs, and ultimately to an outside starting corner only who played no slot at all last season. Harris moves back to the slot full-time in 2020, pushing King to a safety role where he should still be very good.