John Elway won’t tell you this, but over the last 24 months, the Broncos underwent a rebuilding project. The roster was churned as veterans were traded off and picks were accumulated. The 2020 off-season is supposed to be the end of this project as a young core moves forward in a new attempt to contend for the playoffs and “win from now on.”
With that in mind, it’s worth asking if the Broncos have done perhaps too good of a job of collecting draft capital. Even after trading for Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye, Denver has 10 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. Do they have so much room on their roster that it makes sense to select 10 rookies? Or should they use some of the picks in an attempt to move up for a player they covet?
I thought it best to dig into each position group and find out.
Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, A.J. Bouye, and Bryce Callahan are locked into spots. It seems unlikely that De’Vante Bausby is going anywhere so long as he returns to the play he showed in 2019. Isaac Yiadom is a former 3rd round pick with two years left on his deal so he’s probably secure.
Behind that group, there’s a little promise and a lot of questions. Trey Marshall looked better than expected once Jackson was suspended for a DUI at the end of last season. Alijah Holder had some inspiring moments in training camp. Duke Dawson played a little over 400 snaps last season, mostly at the nickel corner spot. Shakial Taylor, P.J. Locke, Tyvis Powell, and Kahani Smith make up the back end of the group.
It’s hard to believe the Broncos couldn’t afford to add another young prospect or two to this group. Vic Fangio hinted at as much at the Combine when he said that the Broncos needed to look at every avenue to grab corners in today’s NFL because of the prevalence of 11 personnel. Bouye, Callahan, and Bausby all have notable medical questions. Jackson is 32 and has a contract that could be terminated after 2020.
Alexander Johnson is the only Broncos linebacker I’d bet money on remaining through training camp. I still need to go back and study his 2019 at length later this off-season, but thought he was the third best player on the defense for a long stretch of the campaign. What’s more, he’s entering the last year of a rookie deal and will be a Restricted Free Agent in 2020. Barring something catastrophic, he’s sticking around.
The Broncos picked up Todd Davis’ contract option this off-season and at present he’s the other starting backer in camp. In a way, he’s been a Rorschach test for fans since he became the starter. Some cling to his struggles against the elite receiving tight ends and his slow 40-time and vocally denounce the choice to keep him. Others accept that he’s a solid inside backer you can win with while the rest of the roster is built up.
After those two, things get even more hazy. Josey Jewell was once heralded as the Hawkeye savior after an uneven rookie campaign, but has been exposed a number of times in coverage. Joe Jones was retained on a one-year contract with no guarantees. Josh Watson spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad after a promising rookie training camp. In January the Broncos signed Tre Crawford to a futures contract.
With Fangio stating his desire to upgrade the linebacker position at the Combine and the rumors that they kicked the tires on Nick Kwiatkoski, Joe Schobert, and others in free agency, it’s probably a group that will see a new addition in the NFL Draft.
Von Miller is now the only remaining member of the No-Fly Zone defense on the Broncos roster. The 31-year old-enters his 10th season, and while I do not believe there is any reason to think Elway will dump him this season, it is worth mentioning that moving him via trade over the next two years saves more money than it costs in dead cap.
Bradley Chubb returns from an ACL tear that ended his sophomore season, hoping to deliver on the promise his 12-sack rookie campaign offered. Behind him, the Broncos have Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu, who combined for about 800 snaps in 2019. Justin Hollins should also factor into the equation, though it’s entirely possible he returns to his LB/ED hybrid role the coaching staff envisioned for him last August. Malik Carney rounds out the group.
We could feasibly see an addition if the Broncos are beginning to plan for life after Von, or there is an opportunity to bolster the depth. However, Fangio tends to carry 4 or 5 Edge backers on his rosters, so it may remain unchanged.
Jurrell Casey was acquired via trade. Shelby Harris was resigned. Mike Purcell was tendered. Is that enough? Two of them are signed through the end of 2020, while Casey will turn 31 before the year’s end.
Beyond the big three, the Broncos have Dre’Mont Jones, who could be in line for more playing time after he notched 25% of his rookie snaps over the last two games of 2019. DeMarcus Walker showed signs of life in year 3, playing 220 snaps and finishing with four sacks.
After those five, the Broncos have a lot of bodies, but lack proven contributors. Jonathan Harris came to Denver from Chicago at mid-season, while Kyle Peko returned. Deyon Sizer, Jay-Tee Tiuli, and Joel Heath round out the back end of the group.
Mike Klis recently said the Broncos have no need for help at this position. I vehemently disagree, and the Broncos’ interest in Utah’s Leki Fotu and South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw implies they’d also be open to more talent if the opportunity arises.
Everyone knows the Broncos will add talent to this group, as it’s among the worst kept secrets in the NFL. After Elway passed on the veteran market, the bigger question is “how aggressively will he pursue talent?”
There’s been plenty of speculation that Denver could double-dip at receiver in this talented class. I think it’s definitely possible, but it is worth noting that Pat Shurmur has a tendency to carry six receivers on his final rosters. We know Courtland Sutton is a lock, but if two rookies are added, who will be cut?
The line is another group that is almost surely getting an infusion of young talent after Connor McGovern left for the New York Jets. If the season started today, some combination of Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Patrick Morris, Graham Glasgow, Elijah Wilkinson, and Ja’Wuan James would start. While they’re nowhere near the best lines in the league, there are worse.
Depth is a big question, as injuries to James and Wilkinson left Jake Rodgers and Austin Schlottman finishing out the 2019 campaign. I haven’t been able to forget Maxx Crosby spinning Rodgers like a turnstile, so ideally a more competent swing tackle is added. If things fall their way, that depth can also serve as the heir apparent to Bolles if he does not continue to improve. The Broncos have shown interest in Austin Jackson, Tristan Wirfs, Ezra Cleveland, Jedrick Wills, and Josh Jones.
Many expect the Broncos to chase a starting center in this upcoming draft. Last week I finished looking at the class and came away with the impression that if that’s the goal, they’ll need to secure one of the following four: Lloyd Cushenberry, Tyler Biadasz, Matt Hennessy, or Cesar Ruiz. By the time the draft starts, we know they’ll have talked to the last two.
If they do not grab a rookie for the pivot, there remains the possibility that Glasgow slides over and a player like Robert Hunt or Shane Lemieux is added to compete with Wilkinson at right guard.
Noah Fant enters year two, and hopefully a breakout campaign in an offense better tailored to his talents. Coming out of Iowa last year, he was compared to the Giants’ Evan Engram, who saw almost seven targets a game under Pat Shurmur.
It’s worth mentioning that the Broncos’ new offensive coordinator mixed in two or more TE sets on 439 plays. The only grouping he used more often was three receiver sets. For that reason, it remains possible that the addition of Nick Vannett does not spell the end for Jeff Heuerman.
If both veterans are retained, there will be a real numbers crunch for Austin Fort, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, and Bug Howard. Over the last three years, Shurmur showed a tendency to carry four tight ends, but one was an H-back. That seems to bode well for Andrew Beck, who fits the mold.
I haven’t spent much time on draft prospects here because it doesn’t appear likely they’ll add more than a flier or two on Day 3 or in the UDFA pool. A few names that could make sense if they’re trying to bring competition for Beck or move on from Heuerman are Oregon’s Jacob Breeland or Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene, who they spoke with in Indianapolis.
The national media is stuck on this idea that the Broncos need to add a Cam Newton or Jameis Winston. The coaching staff believes Drew Lock could be the guy. As Jeff Essary and I mentioned on Cover 2 Broncos, the growth #3 showed over his final rookie starts offered enough promise that he deserves a chance to prove he can be the guy.
After Lock, the quarterback room may be both cheaper than the 2019 version and better. Joe Flacco and his bloated contract are gone, replaced by Jeff Driskel, who should be an upgrade on Brandon Allen.
It’s likely that Elway chases another rookie to add to this group, it’s just a matter of when they address it. Much depends on what Shurmur and Mike Shula think of Brett Rypien. Rich Scangarello thought enough of him that he was given a substantial contract for an Undrafted Free Agent in 2019, but new coordinators often want to bring in their own guys.
During his time in New York, Shurmur carried three quarterbacks. If they bring in another rookie free agent, it’s probably to serve as competition and a camp arm. Anything higher and Rypien will have an uphill battle on his hands.
The popular narrative is that Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay provide the Broncos with a 1-2 punch at running back. A deeper dive into Pat Shurmur’s history as a playcaller suggests Melvin Gordon will be the Broncos’ starting running back and Phillip Lindsay will be the backup. However you feel about that is fine, and we’ll see if things change going forward. The bigger questions facing the backfield are deeper down the depth chart.
Comments since Gordon’s signing and the sheer number of backs Elway has shown interest in during the NFL Combine and leading up to free agency suggests Royce Freeman could have played his last down in orange and blue. While he offers enough to be a decent third banana on the depth chart, his past workload at Oregon and in the league does bring questions about what value, if any, he brings to special teams.
Typically Shurmur carries three or four running backs, and right now Denver has the three aforementioned, Jeremy Cox, and Khalfani Muhamad on the roster. Don’t be surprised if they bring in another back or even two in the draft and through the UDFA pool. Past history suggests it will be a 205 lb+ back, as Denver’s new OC has shown preference for bigger bodies.
Let’s pour one out for Andy Janovich, the last true fullback the Broncos will roster while Pat Shurmur is the offensive coordinator.
Does the Broncos roster have room for 10 draft picks?
This poll is closed
Maybe, it wouldn’t hurt.
Your Broncos’ Links
Just a few games into Peyton Manning’s career with the Denver Broncos, he would engineer one of the greatest regular season comebacks in NFL history.
Von Miller put up a monster game harassing Philip Rivers to continue the Denver Broncos winning streak in a 30-23 home win over the San Diego Chargers.
Former Broncos corner (still hurts to write) Chris Harris joined Broncos Country to talk about being named to the NFL’s All-Decade team
I fully accept that this might be an unpopular opinion ( I mean, that is what I do, after all), especially because most people would likely favor Donald and his two DPOYs over Miller’s zero. But the Broncos’ edge rusher finished the decade with seven All-Pro selections (three first-team honors), a league-leading 106 sacks and a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Most importantly, though, he won a Super Bowl MVP award (in Super Bowl 50). Donald might have gotten one of those, too, had the Rams beaten the Pats a few years back. But he didn’t. Miller did. And if quarterbacks get judged on Super Bowls, it’s only fair to give credit to a guy who basically willed Peyton Manning and the Broncos to a title.
NFL Draft Links
In past offseasons, the Broncos’ visits have been a huge indication of where they’re leaning.
The 2020 class looks amazing, but...
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A savvy Owl who’s ready to fight for an early starting job.
The MHR Radio Podcast examines the main targets for the Broncos with the 15th pick in the NFL Draft.
The Broncos could go receiver here, but they also have a need on the D-line. Kinlaw has unlimited potential.
Either teams are lying in wait or realize they have no shot at landing Young.
Kevin Clark is joined by Mallory Rubin to discuss the virtual draft.
Per a league source, the NFL will be prepared to show flexibility in the event that a genuine technical breakdown happens. In late April, for example, thunderstorms tend to happen on a fairly regular basis. Chances are that, somewhere in the U.S., a storm will be firing at some point during the first round of the draft. If a G.M. or head coach or owner temporarily lose all connections due to a lightning strike, the NFL won’t tell them, “Sh-t happens.”
All 32 teams will participate in a mock draft, with general managers and league officials all set up at their home offices to oversee the technology and make sure it functions properly, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
”There was a time before last offseason, I had a contract that got restructured, and basically, from my standpoint, I knew that at the end of the year I was going to become a free agent for the first time in my career,” Brady said. “And I had spoken about it with the ownership of the team, Mr. Kraft, and he was good with it. I had spoken about it with coach Belichick, he was good with it. That’s what we decided to do. And if we, over the course of the season, and the offseason, there wasn’t a ton of substantial conversations for us to continue. We had some. And we both thought about it, and in the end, it was just a great way to end two decades. We had a great conversation ... I said this before, there is no bigger fan of the New England Patriots organization than me. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that I could continue to play there at the highest level. I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can still perform at the highest level.”
‘Would I be successful without him? The same level of success?’ I don’t believe I would have been.
The former no. 1 pick led the NFL in passing yards last year, but there are several reasons why he’ll likely have to take a job as a backup in 2020
“If that was the situation Kyle would have a leg up on the situation, most certainly. . . . If we were told, hey, you’ve got two weeks to go, I would feel very comfortable with Kyle because here’s a guy that knows the system, has been in the system and could handle it for us for a period of time, and we’ll see how that goes,” Rivera said, via Jenny Vrentas of SI.com. “That’s kind of the thought process behind it for us.”