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Paton’s Spaces: What could the Broncos’ new General mean for 2021 and beyond?

The Broncos have a new general manager and with him, a new vision for the future.

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Now that the dust has settled on a new dawn in Broncos Country, it’s time to let the speculation run rampant. With George Paton stepping in to replace John Elway as the general manager of the Denver Broncos, “win from now on” has turned into “aggressive—but not reckless.”

Yes, I’m aware that is an oxymoron. But as of now that’s all we have to go on beyond reports with a wide spectrum in terms of reliability and Rick Spielman’s words. KOA’s Brandon Krizstal has reported Paton will meet with the media on Tuesday. Until then it appears there’s radio silence from the new General.

In recent years, the Broncos have become something of an open book come the offseason. By the end of his tenure, Elway addressed needs that were plain to see. There was also a constant leak of mostly reliable information, which gave insight into players he was high on. Bradley Chubb was drafted over Quenton Nelson in part because of position value, but also because injuries to Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray left Von Miller alone far too often. Courtland Sutton was drafted in the second round because both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were nearing the end of their run in orange and blue. Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler were drafted because Sutton needed more help. You get the idea.

The moves made sense and have looked beautiful so far, but they weren’t surprising. The Broncos’ recent emphasis on character meant meeting and reports out of the Combine, Senior and Shrine bowls were meaningful predictors. If Paton has any sort of tendencies or tells, it will take time to identify. Even if we dig into the numbers on the Vikings’ interest vs. reports dating back to 2007 it will only tell us so much because Paton was not the general manager. Without speaking with him and others directly tied to the process, it would be impossible to know how much a role he played in every single move over the years.

That said, we can take a look at them and see if any patterns do emerge. It could hint at where changes may occur within the Broncos as the new boss evaluates all of his inherited personnel. Minnesota’s history in free agency isn’t a priority today because there remain so many questions about the 2021 salary cap and free agent class, but I do plan to dig into it further.

Keep in mind that the two candidates we’ve heard to fill Matt Russell’s role as director of player personnel are Champ Kelly and the Vikings’ director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson. Whoever Paton hires will certainly have an influential voice in matters.

Just in case you’re curious what I would do if I had GM powers, I toyed around with the idea.

Every member of the Broncos’ roster who is current under contract for 2021.

Coaching / Draft

  • The Vikings have had three different head coaches since 2007, which makes them look like a bastion of stability compared to Denver in the last five years. When Paton joined Minnesota, Brad Childress was the head coach. Both the hires after him came from the defensive side of the ball. Leslie Frazier lasted from 2011 to 2013 and is now the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, while Mike Zimmer remains the head coach.
  • What the Broncos do with Von Miller and at quarterback could lay some hints as to how George Paton views Vic Fangio and the current coaching staff going forward. Before John Elway stepped aside there were numerous fans and media members calling for a complete tear down. As much as I respect what Fangio’s and his staff have done with a challenging situation these past two years, most GMs want their own guy.
  • During Rick Spielman’s chat with the media yesterday he mentioned something that really caught my eye:

I tell people this, to the young scouts especially, is you don’t become a great evaluator in year one because you don’t know how that player is going to be three years from now. You can’t go and read it in a book, you can’t take it in a class at a university, the only way that you become a very good talent evaluator is following the draft classes year in and year out and going back to assess where you did well—why did that work? Where did you fail? And reassess why it failed and make sure you don’t make those same mistakes again, but you can’t do that until you actually go through all those experiences. That’s why I think George is so prepared for this, he’s been through so many experiences with me side by side. Through all the trades we have done, through different acquisitions through the draft, he’s seen everything happen from A to Z. My philosophy has always been to be very active trading up and down on draft day accumulating (draft picks). I think last year we ended up with 15 draft picks and he was a critical part of leading those trades along with [Executive Vice President - Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski, our cap guy.

Specialists

Sam Martin, Brandon McManus, Jacob Bobenmoyer

  • I don’t expect the Vikings’ draft history to impact McManus much when he just signed an extension.
  • It is a little troubling that Minnesota traded a pick to the Ravens for a kicker for a fifth round pick only to cut him weeks later.
  • Minny wasn’t hesitant to use draft capital on specialists since 2007: they’ve spent two picks on kickers, one on a long snapper, and another on a punter.

Defensive backs

A.J. Bouye, Michael Ojemudia, Bryce Callahan, Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall, Duke Dawson, Parnell Motley, Essang Bassey, Nate Hairston, Chris Cooper, P.J. Locke III

  • The Vikings have used more picks in rounds 1-3 on cornerback than any other position group since Paton came aboard in 2007.
  • The Vikings have drafted two safeties early since 2007: Tyrell Johnson was a second round pick in 2008 and Harrison Smith was a first round pick in 2012. Both came out of their respective schools with a ton of experience and tested as freakish athletes in the pre-draft process.
  • If you’re an armchair GM it’s probably a good idea to dive into this cornerback class. Fangio’s presence means traits like a players ability in zone coverage, physicality, and mental processing are priorities.
  • Make of it what you will: athletic testing numbers didn’t scare the Vikings off defensive back prospects they liked. Cameron Dantzler is only the most recent example of this.
  • Prior to John Elway’s departure, I took an early look at what Brandon Staley’s defense with the Rams says about traits that stand out when evaluating potential Bronco defensive backs.

Linebackers

Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad

  • Since 2007, the Vikings only ever spent one pick in the first three rounds on a pure inside linebacker: Eric Kendricks. Not a bad prospect to make an exception for.
  • I say “pure” because the Vikings also drafted Anthony Barr ninth overall in 2014. His game is built around the versatility to play off ball and also rush the passer.
  • When you factor in picks on the third day of the draft, the Vikings have spent 13 draft picks on linebackers since 2007.
  • I would be surprised if Alexander Johnson doesn’t receive a second or first round tender. Most likely it will be the former as this could potentially entice another team to bid on the 29-year old and give Paton a chance to collect an extra Day 2 pick.
  • It’s impossible to forget that the Broncos had rumored interest in free agent Joe Schobert and tried to trade up or Patrick Queen last season. A linebacker with athleticism and strengths in coverage currently looks like a priority.

Edge

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Derrek Tuszka, Malik Reed

  • Von Miller’s age, 2020 injury, and contract status make this a position to watch this offseason. Even if Paton picks up the future Hall of Famer’s option, it’s no guarantee we’ll see 58 in orange and blue again. Declining his option would cost $4,125,000 in dead money while freeing up $18 million.
  • It’d floor me if Bradley Chubb’s 2021 fifth year option isn’t picked up.
  • Minnesota ran a 4-3 defense since before 2007 so it’s necessary to remember edge and defensive ends aren’t synonymous. If the Broncos take any serious losses to their college personnel staff this may be an area of transition towards Paton’s vision.
  • What brought this to mind is how much I’ve thought about space for Fangio’s edge players over the last two years. It’s an important factor to consider as Fangio asks his outside backers to drop into coverage as past of his simulated pressure scheme because it will both impact the offensive line’s protection scheme and clutter passing lanes.
  • During Paton’s run with the Vikings they drafted 11 defensive ends. There were two drafted in the third round: Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter.
  • One of the Vikings’ best day three selections along the edge was Everson Griffen. He reportedly wants to return to the Vikings, but if that doesn’t happen perhaps he’d be open to a move west? It wouldn’t be the craziest thing, although I would need to study his tape to better understand his fit within Fangio’s defense. He notched six sacks, 20 pressures, and 12 QB hits playing for the Lions and Cowboys in 2020.

Defensive Line

Jurrell Casey, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, DeShawn Williams, McTelvin Agim, Kyle Peko, Deyon Sizer

  • I have no idea what George Paton will do with Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris.
  • The Vikings only spent one Day one or two pick on a true interior defensive lineman since 2007: Shariff Floyd. He played four years before nerve damage in his knee ended his NFL career.
  • On Day three the Vikings have made a habit of grabbing defensive tackles and have drafted eight total since 2007.
  • The way the Broncos have picked defensive linemen in the draft since Fangio was hired suggests a premium is placed on lateral mobility and pass rush prowess. One reason for this is they profile as very impactful players on stunts as Harris and Casey have been. With both Dre’Mont Jones and McTelvin Agim in the fold it is no guarantee that continues. The structure of Purcell’s contract serves as the perfect opportunity to try and find an upgrade on him.
  • I haven’t studied any defensive linemen from the 2021 class yet. Numerous people I keep up with have said this upcoming class is far weaker than previous years, which is one hidden reason Alabama’s Christian Barmore looks like a first round lock.

Wide Receivers

Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton, Fred Brown, Kendall Hinton, Trinity Benson, Tyrie Cleveland

  • Since Paton joined the Vikings, they’ve thrown more darts at the board for wide receiver than any other position group. If you remember Jeff Essary and my BPA mock discussion last year, you already know where I land on it.
  • During that time Minnesota has drafted four receivers in the first round: Percy Harvin, Cordarelle Patterson, Laquon Treadwell, and Justin Jefferson.
  • There are six big reasons I hope George Paton places a second round tender on Tim Patrick.
  1. Without him, Courtland Sutton is really the only receiver on the roster who shines in 50-50 situations.
  2. Having Patrick in the fold and a healthy Sutton gives Shurmur some room to toy with personnel packages. The two are something akin to twin towers and will create matchup issues.
  3. Patrick’s the backup x-receiver so retaining him bolsters depth. It’s no big deal with Sutton coming off an ACL injury.
  4. 11 is Shurmur’s favorite personnel grouping and the Broncos’ receivers saw 1,978 snaps on offense last year. There’s plenty of snaps to go around.
  5. A second round tender looks like it will cost about $3.3 million against the cap. Patrick’s earned that. Even if the Broncos go as high as a first, it’d only cost roughly $4.6 million.

Offensive Line

Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Ja’Wuan James, Netane Muti, Quinn Bailey, Darrin Paulo

  • This is one of those position groups where the Vikings’ draft history is equal parts encouraging and troubling. By and large, Minnesota has prioritized athletic testing for tackles taken on the first two days of the draft. They’ve taken just four since 2007, and the offensive line as a whole has been a rather large issue in recent years.
  • Ja’Wuan James isn’t a popular guy in Broncos Country at the moment, but it’d cost so much to cut or trade him there is little reason to believe he won’t be on the 2021 roster. Let’s hope he can deliver on the promise Elway saw in him.
  • In 2022 Garett Bolles’ cap number will be $21 million while Graham Glasgow’s will be $12 million. Unless James looks like an All Pro, it’s hard to imagine Paton accepts a $14 million cap charge. Moving him would carry a $6 million dead cap hit.

Tight Ends

Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Nick Vannett, Andrew Beck, Austin Fort, Jordan Leggett, Jeremy Cox (FB)

  • In the short term Minnesota’s draft history here probably won’t impact things too much: Fant and Okwuegbunam are the future of the position barring health. With that in mind, the Vikings have taken two tight ends on the first two days since 2007. Kyle Rudolph has made the Pro Bowl and Irv Smith is a valuable role player who scored five touchdowns last season.
  • As Nick Korte mentioned in his terrific rundown for the Broncos’ offseason, it makes sense to bring Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli back if the numbers are right.

Running backs

Melvin Gordon, Royce Freeman, LaVante Bellamy, Damarea Crockett

  • Like Alexander Johnson, I expect Phillip Lindsay to receiver a second round tender. It’d be a nice show of faith towards a longer term deal to give him the first as the difference is close to negligible to a billion dollar organization, but with a shrinking cap and Lindsay’s injury woes I don’t expect it.
  • If Lindsay is tagged he, Gordon, and Freeman will all play 2021 on expiring contracts. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos make an effort to find another back this season and Paton’s time with the Vikings suggest it could come on Day 2. Minnesota’s first pick in 2007 was Adrian Peterson and they’ve taken three other backs before the fourth round since.
  • Fun fact: the Vikings have drafted more running backs on the first two days than the third.
  • If you’re trying to dig into the 2021 running back class it does not appear that athletic testing numbers stopped Minnesota from taking guys they liked. Dalvin Cook showed off the kind of big play ability you see every Sunday at Florida State only to disappoint at his Combine.

Quarterbacks

Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien

  • I have to admit that after speaking with Tim Jenkins on Cover 2 Broncos I am cautiously optimistic he can make strides this offseason. I worry about how the statsitical data points to a need for a huge jump, but I am hopeful. It’s going to be fascinating to see if Paton shares that same faith. Keep in mind that little in the numbers will push him to do so:

Lock has missed time due to injury in both of his seasons in the NFL

If Paton cares about QB wins, Lock has gone 8-10.

He’s completed just 59.1% of his passes in the league and took a step back in his second season.

Sports Info Solutions charted 64.6% of Lock’s passes as on target. Only Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, and Carson Wentz were worse among 2020 passers with 200 attempts.

SIS also charted 70.4% of Lock’s passes were deemed catchable. It’s the third worst rate among 2020 quarterbacks with 200 attempts.

He threw 15 interceptions last season. While I excuse some for the fact Lock was trying to get the Broncos into a game (such as the Chargers pick) it’s no guarantee the new boss will.

Advanced metrics like EPA, QBR, and DYAR, pegged Lock as one of the worst QBs in football.

When I spoke with Tim Jenkins he deemed most of Lock’s accuracy issues as teachable things and it stemmed from his footwork. I don’t want this to sound like a comparison because Allen is such a unicorn, but perhaps Lock work with Jordan Palmer this offseason can bear similar fruit to what it did for Josh Allen? It won’t be easy.

  • DNVR’s Andrew Mason has done a fantastic job breaking down the circumstances the Vikings have gone through at quarterback and I can’t recommend it enough. To summarize: Paton and Spielman inherited Taravaris Jackson and moved on because he clearly wasn’t good enough. It’s caused them to try a few different approaches to varying levels of success. While every prospect has their own unique strengths, one trend I’ve noticed with all the QBs Minnesota has acquired over the years is they fit the West Coast/Pro style mode over players like Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, or Justin Fields. Combine that with what I know of Pat Shurmur’s offense, and it’s entirely possible the Broncos would pass on the Buckeye if he slid all the way to ninth overall this year.

Your Broncos News

Denver Broncos: What does George Paton mean for Drew Lock? - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos new General Manager means a new vision and outside perspective.

Calling the Broncos a ‘sleeping giant,’ Paton’s hire is admired across the league - Mile High Report

The new GM is already saying the right things.

The case for and against Drew Lock as the Denver Broncos QB in 2021 - Mile High Report

Joe Rowles argues for, Joe Mahoney argues against

One free agent each NFL team should pursue in the 2021 offseason | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

DENVER BRONCOS: QB RYAN FITZPATRICK The Denver Broncos put a LOT of talent around Drew Lock for 2020. Yet, they failed to see any kind of improvement out of their young signal-caller, at least beyond a couple of glimpses. Lock began the season slotting in at 32nd in our starting quarterback rankings heading into the year, and he finished the campaign with a 63.5 overall PFF grade, good enough to rank 34th out of 42 qualifiers.

What can we learn from the Vikings’ QB decisions during George Paton’s years with them?

Minnesota tried everything at QB while George Paton was in their front office.

NFL: Twitter reacts to Denver Broncos hiring George Paton as GM

George Paton to the Broncos received positive reviews on social media.

Which Vikings players will George Paton recruit to the Broncos?

Will former Minnesota Vikings assistant GM George Paton bring any players or front office members along with him to the Denver Broncos?

George Paton gets protection against ownership turmoil - ProFootballTalk

It’s a six-year contract for Paton, and it makes a ton of sense. No one knows whether the Broncos will ultimately be controlled by Brittany Bowlen or whether the team will be sold. If the team is sold within the next few years, the new owners will have to keep Paton or write him a sizable check.

Vikings’ Paton attracting plenty of interest in GM searches - StarTribune.com

He was a finalist for the Rams’ GM job in 2012, and turned down interview requests from the Jets in 2013 before declining requests from the Jets, Bears and Dolphins after the 2014 season. In 2017, he met with both the Colts and 49ers, and was believed to be the front-runner for the San Francisco job until the team hired John Lynch off of Fox’s NFL broadcast lineup. Paton turned down an interview from the Chiefs later in 2017, rebuffed interest from the Jets in 2019, and last year, he met with the Browns — who’d just hired former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as head coach — before withdrawing from that race.

The Numbers Behind GM Candidate George Paton

2017 - The Colts are set to interview six candidates for the team’s vacant general manager position and this time we take a look at Vikings Assistant General Manager George Paton.

Which Vikings players will George Paton recruit to the Broncos?

Will former Minnesota Vikings assistant GM George Paton bring any players or front office members along with him to the Denver Broncos?

NFL News

Bills’ Josh Allen, other resilient QBs continue to prove doubters wrong

Josh Allen and so many other quarterbacks in this season’s playoffs have proven once again that mental toughness remains the most important trait for an NFL signal-caller. A chip on the shoulder doesn’t hurt, either, writes Jeffri Chadiha

Russell Wilson says it’s ‘critical’ he’s involved with hiring of next Seahawks OC

In an hour-long Zoom call with reporters on Thursday, his first since his OC Brian Schottenheimer’s departure, Wilson addressed a number of things, including a strong desire to be involved with the hiring process of his unit’s next leader.

Russell Wilson wants to be involved in Seahawks’ offensive coordinator hiring - ProFootballTalk

“As the quarterback, it’s imperative to my career,” Wilson said, via Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest.

Panthers expected to hire Seahawks exec Scott Fitterer as general manager

After a lengthy search, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has made his first major front-office hire. Carolina is expected to hire Seattle Seahawks VP of football operations Scott Fitterer as its new GM.

Report: Steelers won’t renew OC Randy Fichtner’s contract - ProFootballTalk

Fichtner joined the Steelers as the wide receivers coach in 2007 and became the quarterbacks coach in 2010. He added offensive coordinator to his title after Todd Haley left following the 2017 season and dropped the quarterbacks coach title this season.

John Wolford out, Jared Goff will start for Rams - ProFootballTalk

Goff has been a full participant in practice this week. He was 9-of-19 for 155 yards and a touchdown after taking over for Wolford in the Wild Card round. Blake Bortles will back up Goff for Saturday’s game and McVay said Bryce Perkins could also come up from the practice squad.

Jaguars hire Urban Meyer to be next head coach

Urban Meyer is again leaving retirement and the comfortable confines of the broadcast booth for a headset and the sideline, signing on to be the head coach of the Jaguars.

Urban Meyer hire puts even more pressure on Texans to get it right - ProFootballTalk

The Texans, meanwhile, continue to stumble through a search process that has seen the team request an interview with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after the completion of the bye week, requiring them to wait until Kansas City’s playoff run ends before even talking to him.

Dolphins “excited” about the future with Tua Tagovailoa - ProFootballTalk

“A lot of attention gets paid to Tua, but I thought he made a lot of improvement over the course of the season. I’m excited about the future with him,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores told Cameron Wolfe of ESPN on Thursday. “He’s a young player, talented player, bounced back from the hip. I think this is a big offseason for him. That Year 1 to Year 2 jump will be important like it is for all rookies.”