With the college football bowl games kicking off in earnest today, it’s a good time to take another look at what lies before George Paton and the Broncos once their 2021 comes to a close.
It’s worth a reminder that there could be an unprecedented level of chaos around the franchise, as it currently looks like the Bowlen’s will sell the franchise while Vic Fangio and the coaching staff face the prospect of losing their jobs. Beyond that uncertainty, it’s tough to pinpoint what the Broncos’ biggest long-term needs are outside of quarterback. Roughly a third of this year’s roster has contracts set to expire when the final bell rings on this campaign, including core contributors:
- RB Melvin Gordon
- RT Bobby Massie
- ED Malik Reed
- S Kareem Jackson
- CB Kyle Fuller
- CB Bryce Callahan
- LB Alexander Johnson
- LB Josey Jewell
- LB Kenny Young
- QB Teddy Bridgewater
All of the looming questions make Denver a tough cookie to crack this far out. It’s totally reasonable if you look at all that and come to the conclusion that since the Broncos are 7-6 and still in the midst of the playoff chase, it’s better to wait until the offseason to start sweating the draft. For everyone else, this exercise is an excuse for me to continue learning about the prospects while ideally providing you a fun scenario to mull over.
What follows is a mock draft scenario with the draft order set as if the season ended today. I made the picks for the teams leading up to the Broncos’ selection, setting the table for you to vote on what Paton should do. Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett became a Bronco in the last scenario. This time around he’s long gone, which leaves me eager to see what you decide on.
1. Detroit Lions - ED, Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Beyond the whole “Michigan man heads to Detroit to save the Lions” narrative, this sort of homecoming makes sense when you consider that since Dan Cambell’s first press conference, he’s been all about changing the culture in Motown. Hutchinson elected to stay in school for his last season, in no small part to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, and made himself into a top tier edge prospect along his way towards doing so.
At this time I don’t foresee a quarterback emerging as a contender for the top spot, and the Lions look pretty set at tackle. Last vote mock I went with Kayvon Thibodeaux here and he could still work himself into consideration.
How Aidan Hutchinson speed bulls— Craig Roh (@craigroh) December 10, 2021
2. Houston Texans - ED, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Nick Caserio spent the better part of his first year alienating a large swath of the Texans’ fanbase as he worked to tear down the roster he inherited from Bill O’Brien. He’ll have about $40 million in cap space to try to steer the club out of the smoldering wreckage next offseason with just 29 players under contract. About as close to a blank slate as there is in the NFL. This doesn’t account for any potential resolution to the Deshaun Watson situation, though it’s worth remembering that the Miami Dolphins looked pretty close to sending multiple first round picks to Houston before the NFL trade deadline.
The Duck represents a “best player available” approach and gives Houston a speed rusher to build a four-man pass rush around, but there’s also an argument to be made that the Texans should do all they can to trade down from this spot to collect extra ammo should this situation occur.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - OT, Evan Neal, Alabama
After the Urban Meyer debacle, the pressure’s on Jacksonville to help Trevor Lawrence to a better second season than his first in the NFL. They’ll hire an offensive head coach with real play calling chops and invest heavily in the offensive supporting cast to give him as much help as possible. That will continue in April when they grab Evan Neal to develop into Lawrence’s longtime bookend. He’s also the kind of bully that’ll help clear the way for both James Robinson and Travis Etienne in the run game.
4. New York Jets - ED, George Karlaftis, Purdue
Much like the Texans, the Jets have so many needs that they could go in many different directions with this pick. Unlike Houston, it looks like the seats occupied by Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh are heating up in New York. Zach Wilson was outplayed by Mike White and Joe Flacco during his rookie season and looks like the shakiest of the 2021 QB class. They also have one of the worst defenses in the league. Karlaftis gives them an edge rusher to potentially pair with a heathy Carl Lawson and can also serve as insurance against yet another injury for the former Bengal.
Studying Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis. Easy to make Ryan Kerrigan comparison. Natural feel as a rusher, excellent hands & effort. pic.twitter.com/Pfw6847F1w— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 8, 2021
T5. New York Giants (from CHI) - QB, Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The Giants are showing their appreciation to fans by providing those who attend this weekend’s game a free medium soda, so who knows if the reports are true and the Rooney’s mercifully end the Dave Gettleman error this offseason. If we assume they are, the Giants become wildly unpredictable this far out. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Rooney’s elect to promote Kevin Abrams to general manager, as the current vice president of football operations has worked for the franchise for almost 30 years. In this scenario, that’s how I imagine things playing out.
After deciding what to do with Joe Judge, Abrams will quickly have to formulate a plan for quarterback. Daniel Jones is a wildly disappointing former sixth overall pick and his rookie contract expires at the end of 2022. I suspect he won’t have his fifth year option picked up, and with the Giants in prime position to grab the first QB in the ‘22 draft, he could become a bridge to the future.
6. New York Giants - OT, Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
Grabbing Corral with the first pick sets the Giants on a new course towards what they hope is a better future. Work remains, however, especially along both sides of the line of scrimmage. With Nate Solder and Matt Peart disappointing at right tackle, Abrams elects to grab a bulldozer to clear the way for Saquon Barkley.
Maybe the most violent snatch-and-finish I’ve seen from a college blocker.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 8, 2021
LT Ikem Ekwonu has some truly special abilities. One of the best players in the draft! pic.twitter.com/0LPGQVJx9p
T7. New York Jets (from SEA) - S, Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
This scenario will create a big dilemma for Joe Douglas. Wilson desperately needs help up front and out wide if he’s going to make it as an NFL passer, but the best players left on the board play defense. No one offers a defensible trade package to move up, so the third year GM grabs a rookie safety to replace the long-departed Jamal Adams.
Kyle Hamilton said he's gotten backlash for skipping the Fiesta Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.— BlueandGold.com (@BGInews) December 14, 2021
But #NotreDame players & coaches support his decision.
"They know they're a part of what we've done and what we're going to continue to do moving forward."https://t.co/PseCRWmis8 pic.twitter.com/B10RVwY5St
8. Carolina Panthers - QB, Kenny Pickett, Pitt
The Matt Rhule Panthers’ journey at QB is pretty hard to believe. Shortly after Rhule left Baylor for a seven-year, $60 million contract with the Panthers, they cut Cam Newton to sign Teddy Bridgewater to a $63 million contract. After one year, they bailed on Bridgewater and agreed to eat $17 million in dead money to give him to the Denver Broncos for a sixth round pick. This cleared the way for the recently acquired Sam Darnold, who they traded three draft picks for. During the 2021 season they benched Darnold twice before he landed on Injured Reserve, and they wound up signing Cam Newton to replace him.
In recent weeks it increasingly looks like Rhule is on the hot seat. The decision to fire Joe Brady as the Panthers continue to play yo-yo with Newton and backup P.J. Walker reeks of chasing a scapegoat. Rhule’s job security may depend on Dave Tepper’s willingness to pay two coaching staffs. In this scenario he survived the axe, which leaves the Panthers desperate for any semblance of hope at quarterback.
For this occasion, I compiled some of my favorite plays from Kenny Pickett's 5-year career with Pitt pic.twitter.com/dmH2bSpOEu— Nick Farabaugh (@Nick_Farabaugh) December 17, 2021
9. Atlanta Falcons - CB, Derek Stingley, LSU
After choosing Kyle Pitts over Justin Fields and Mac Jones last April, the Falcons doubled down on their commitment to Matt Ryan by restructuring the 36-year-old’s contract to create cap space. The decision to do so ensures he’ll be around for 2022 and possibly longer despite obvious signs of decline and a cap hit nearing $50 million.
Stingley’s draft stock could be pretty fluid this offseason. He looked like a future Hall of Famer as a freshman, the best corner on an SEC team that went undefeated. Last year he didn’t secure a single pick and missed three games because of illness and injury. He played in three games in 2021 before a foot injury ended his season.
Unreal closing speed from Derek Stingley pic.twitter.com/PP1hVofhYT— Ben Glassmire (@BenGlassmireNFL) September 5, 2021
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from MIA) - iOL, Tyler Lindbaum, Iowa
11. Philadelphia Eagles - ED, David Ojabo, Michigan
“Jalen Hurts or Gardner Minshew?” season has settled over Philly, which hints at the unenviable spot they find themselves in at quarterback. This isn’t going to be an easy offseason to find a solution, and rather than reach into a weak class, Howie Roseman grabs foundational pieces to patch up his line.
Tyler Lindbaum has been compared to Jason Kelce throughout the early draft process, so there’s little doubt he could fit what the Eagles want to do up front. Drafting him a year early means the rookie has a runway to replacing Kelce who is still playing at a high level at 35, but who has a contract set to void in 2023. It could cause consternation among the fanbase if they can’t overlook Roseman drafting a center in the top 10.
David Ojabo is the kind of toolsy pass rusher that will woo evaluators who have their eyes on his ceiling. He’s a very athletic lump of clay after starting for one season in Ann Arbor following a late start to the sport. While he’ll need to add to his pass rush repertoire and improve his pad level, the foundational tools are there to become an elite edge rusher. From day one, he’ll bring a hot motor, quick hands, and a good rip move.
12. Minnesota Vikings - ED, Traven Walker, Georgia
A true wildcard because any combination of Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and/or Kirk Cousins could be gone. Or they could all stick around. At the same time, this roster is capped out and the depth chart on defense is wanting. Realistically the Vikings could probably go in any number of directions because they’re on the precipice of blowing everything up, even if they don’t do it in 2022.
If it’s mostly status quo in the Twin Cities, they’ll invest picks into the defense. The pass rush is in need of a boost and it most likely gets worse before it gets better: Danielle Hunter’s probably gone before the fifth day of the new league year because keeping him would cost the Vikings $20 million. Travon Walker gives them a freaky 6’5”, 275 lb. former five star recruit who can move like an off ball linebacker.
Travon Walker (44) doesn't get much hype yet, but he's another UGA defensive prospect with round one traits. Rushes with a plan and knows how to utilize his length and heavy hands. Takes a strong man to challenge the anchor of Evan Neal. pic.twitter.com/1vLf7xB6wU— Justen Gammel (@gamscout) December 16, 2021
13. New Orleans Saints - WR, Treylon Burks, Arkansas
The Saints are currently staring down the barrel at yet another horrendous cap situation in 2022. According to Over the Cap’s calculations, they’ll hit the offseason $61.2 million in the hole. Cap magician Khai Harley’s going to have his work cut out for him, and it probably opens up various holes in the depth chart. They’re also a team Russell Wilson’s reportedly interested in playing for. There’s no way that happens, right?
In this scenario Sean Payton gives Taysom Hill a 6’3”, 232 lb. receiver with the catch radius to collect Hill’s passes as well as the play strength and athleticism to step into a Michael Thomas role if he becomes trade bait.
14. Las Vegas Raiders - QB, Sam Howell, North Carolina
Mike Mayock is probably out after serving as the general manager under Jon Gruden since 2019, and a new front office will hire a new coach. Derek Carr enters the final year of his contract and it’d cost Vegas nothing to move him. There’s a distinct possibility the Raiders turn the page and begin a rebuilding effort.
Whenever I see Derek Carr throw behind the sticks:— CJ Errickson (@CJ_Errickson) December 5, 2021
T15. Green Bay Packers (from PIT) - WR, Jameson Williams, Alabama
When Ben Roethsliberger retires, it likely spells the end for general manager Kevin Colbert, and a new general manager could bring an aggressive approach to fixing the quarterback spot. Pittsburgh has $43.7 million in cap space next offseason to accommodate a potential Aaron Rodgers trade. They could also elect to upgrade the supporting cast and draft a new franchise passer.
Post-Rodgers and Adams, Brian Gutekunst kickstarts the Jordan Love era with a sinewy 6’2” speedster who blazed through the SEC this year. Williams spent years after Ohio State and transferred to the Crimson Tide, so the world awaits his thoughts on C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young in 2023.
Bryce Young clinches the Heisman Trophy with 3 TDs against the best defense in college football.— James Ogletree (@TheOgletree) December 16, 2021
Bryce points and tells Metchie where to go
⚡️ Jameson Williams hits a ridiculous 23 mph
Bryce drops the mic with a 58-yard heave
More to come on Roll Tide Rewind tomorrow... pic.twitter.com/GLXhlttm4y
16. Who should George Paton draft, Broncos Country?
Who should the Broncos draft?
This poll is closed
OT - Charles Cross - Mississippi State
OT - Bernhard Raimann - Central Michigan
OT - Trevor Penning - Northern Iowa
QB - Desmond Ridder - Cincinnati
QB - Carson Strong - Nevada
QB - Malik Willis - Liberty
CB - Sauce Gardner - Cincinnati
CB - Trent McDuffie - Washington
CB - Kaiir Elam - Florida
CB - Roger McCreary - Auburn
CB - Andrew Booth Jr. - Clemson
LB - Nakobe Dean - Georgia
LB - Devin Lloyd - Utah
ED/DL - DeMarvin Leal - Texas A&M
ED - Drake Jackson - USC
ED - Kingsley Enagbare - South Carolina
ED - Jermaine Johnson - Florida State
DL/ED - Logan Hall - Houston
DL - Jordan Davis - Georgia
OG - Kenyon Green - Texas A&M
OG - Zion Johnson - Boston College
S - Jaquan Brisker - Penn State
S - Jordan Battle - Alabama
Other ( Please Comment)
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“From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, our focus has been to play our games in a safe and responsible way, consistent with the best available medical and public health advice, based on protocols jointly developed and implemented with the NFL Players Association,” Goodell wrote in a memo obtained by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
“A key element of our success to date has been our commitment to working with our union and our respective medical experts to make needed adjustments in response to changing conditions.
“The emergence of the Omicron variant is precisely the kind of change that warrants a flexible response. Based on medical advice, we have instituted additional protocols as well as revised testing protocols for reinstating players and staff who have tested positive. We have also considered whether certain games should be rescheduled in light of current conditions.”
Decisions to reschedule or cancel games remaining on the schedule will be made “in accordance with the principles” outlined by Goodell in a memo sent in July.
Goodell pledged the league “will make every effort, consistent with underlying health and safety principles, to play or full schedule within the current 18 weeks” while emphasizing the responsibility falls on each franchise to “have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place.” Clubs will not have a “right to postpone a game, and games will not be postponed or rescheduled because of roster issues affecting a particular position group or particular number of players.”
The NFL agreed to postpone three games this week, and the union agreed to work on further modifications of the COVID-19 protocols, according to a source. The NFL wants to make it easier for teams with COVID issues to field sufficient players by shortening the time period for the return of a vaccinated, asymptomatic player who has tested positive.
The NFL postponed the Raiders-Browns game scheduled for Saturday afternoon to Monday because of the ongoing COVID outbreak in the Browns organization and the news was met with negative reactions from Raiders players on Friday afternoon. Raiders owner Mark Davis said that it is a “competitive disadvantage” to a Raiders team that was all set to fly to Cleveland when they found out their trip will be delayed. Davis noted that the team will then have to fly back to begin a short week before facing the Broncos despite having no players on their COVID reserve list.
According to those reports, the game will kick off at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. That’s the same time that Washington and Philadelphia will be playing and there has not been word yet on television plans for the two games. The Rams have 21 players on their COVID-19 reserve list and they’ve put 20 of them on the list in the last week. Similar outbreaks led to the shift in the Washington game and the Raiders-Browns game originally scheduled for Saturday will now be played on Monday for the same reason.
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“Coming into the season, I didn’t think anybody was going to be able to block me,” Hutchinson said in an exclusive conversation with The Draft Network. “In fact, I knew they couldn’t. My combination of speed rushes with my power helps me unlock my abilities as a pass rusher. My power opens up my speed and vice versa. If you turn on my tape, you’ll see a player that can beat tackles around the edge, I can beat them with a counter and I can also run them over. It’s really a dealer’s choice for me on any given snap. It just depends on how the offensive tackle sets. That’s what makes me stand out as a pass rusher.”
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