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What if the Broncos are Locked in?

Let’s take a look at how the roster could look in May if George Paton commits to Drew Lock.

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With the NFL Draft less than a month away it feels like the biggest question hanging over the Denver Broncos is what George Paton will choose to do at quarterback. Now that all the best options in free agency are long gone there’s only three real options in front of him.

  1. Will the new general manager spend his first draft acquiring a new signal caller?
  2. Will Paton trade for competition before OTAs begin?
  3. Are the Broncos Locked in to their 2020 starter?

I’ve already shared how I view the options ahead of the Broncos, but I thought it time to take a look at how the decision could impact the whole roster. What follows is potential scenario where I play the role of George Paton and do nothing to actually challenge Lock’s status as the starting quarterback. In this scenario I kept true to my 4 Simple Rules for the NFL draft.

What does the cap look like right now?

According to OvertheCap the Broncos currently have $26,439,494 in cap space. This figure accounts for the rollover amount from 2020. Keep in mind that the top 51 contracts are what count against a team’s cap and that the 51st contract on the Broncos is currently a $780,000 cap number, so rookie contracts will impact this.

What about the QB question?

In this scenario we are Locked in. There’s still questions to answer, however. Jeff Driskel is an expensive QB3 with a $3,250,000 cap figure. Considering Drew Lock’s injury history, Brett Rypien’s athletic limitations, and the angry fans who want a competition of some sort we’re going to try and nab another arm somewhere. The trick is finding someone who doesn’t actually split the locker room. With the way fans have been clamoring for a rookie passer it may be tricky, but we’ll do our best.

Cut

Jeff Driskel - Quarterback (frees up $2.5 million vs. $750,000 dead)*

*this will occur in the dead season between the draft and OTAs once we have a replacement.

Extended

Bradley Chubb - ED (5th year option: $12.716 million for 2022)

What about Free Agency?

Alex Smith is my backup backup plan. If we make it through the draft and post-draft fallout without acquiring a quarterback we’ll hope he can pass a medical check. For this reason we’ll earmark $4 million in space. I figure if Joe Flacco can make $3.5 million to backup Jalen Hurts, an extra 500k to hold a clipboard for Drew Lock is fair. Smith has his history helping Patrick Mahomes, which is worth the difference.

The rest of the free agency plans center around how the draft falls. Having additional room to chase a veteran after he was cut makes sense and gives us a ton of flexibility to grab a value signing. If nothing worthwhile comes of it the cap space can be rolled over into 2022 where new contracts for Courtland Sutton, Von Miller, Alexander Johnson, Kyle Fuller, and Bryce Callahan potentially loom.

What about the 2021 Draft?

For this scenario I went with The Draft Network’s Mock Draft simulator. Any complaints about the picks should be directed at them. Like the rest of this scenario, my plan for this draft is to explore every avenue to improve the Broncos without upsetting the applecart that is Drew Lock as QB1.

The Trade Down

I was fortunate that one of the “big five” quarterbacks fell to me. While Broncos Country waited with baited breath and the clock wound down I worked a bidding war between the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and New York Jets. It took a little goading, but Bill Belichick gave up his entire day two and we have five picks in the top 100 and seven in the top 122.

As the draft spun towards 15 my phone went off right as I turned to look at a text from Joe Douglas. The Pittsburgh Steelers offered a 3rd to drop to 24. They took Najee Harris. Half my first round prospects were still there, so it came as no surprise Jerry Jones gave me a jingle. When he refused to budge on a future first I hung up the phone. Then I called him back and split the first into a second and third. The Dallas Cowboys select Azeez Ojulari as I count my picks.

When I leave the office after the first round I see my other phone has 24 texts and a missed call from my wife. Turns out Broncos Country isn’t happy we passed on Justin Fields.

40. Javonte Williams - RB - North Carolina

Melvin Gordon’s contract status remains dependent on discipline on the NFL office for his October and Phillip Lindsay’s a member of the Houston Texans. I ardently believe if we’re going to lean into Drew Lock’s strengths there needs to be a consistent rushing threat and the best way to do that is solidify the line and grab a top tier workhorse back.

Williams is the top back on my board and a player I’d consider in the last picks of the first. The way his “hulk smash” playing style succeeded despite his offensive line speaks to how good he could be in a Mike Munchak system. His contact balance is the best I’ve seen in years and he combines it with very good footwork. He also displays the kind of tenacity and discipline to become a very good third down back due to his pass blocking. Lastly, he only has 416 touches on the odometer as he enters the NFL.

T44. Zaven Collins - LB - Tulsa

I’ll admit I was sweating the picks between Williams and Collins. Fortunately the San Francisco 49ers took Nick Bolton and left us the Golden Hurricane. Standing at 6’4 and 260 lbs. Collins has the range and instincts to become to rule the tackle box and drop into space.

While I still there’s another level of physicality Collins has yet to unlock, he has the kind of tools, character, and competitive toughness to become a star. At just 21-years old, I’m excited to see what Vic Fangio can do with him.

T46. Asante Samuel Jr. - CB - Florida State

The New Orleans Saints offer me a fourth round pick to slide back to 60. It’s tempting to add another pick, but I’m reluctant to pass on the diminutive Samuel Jr. He has the kind of ball skills and instincts to feast off of pressure in the Broncos defense. With his ability to mirror opponents he’ll find a role despite his 5’10” 180 lb. frame.

Given the 2022 questions about the cornerback corps. as well as Ronald Darby’s injury history, I find Samuel Jr. well worth the price to stick at 46.

71. Jevon Holland - S - Oregon

On the way down the board I receive a call from Kevin Colbert. The Steelers want split their second rounder into two thirds and will give me their sixth to do so. No thanks. The top of the third is too good a spot to pick from the safety pool and Kareem Jackson’s age and contract status make it a necessity if we’re trying to plan ahead. With Richie Grant, Jamar Johnson, and Jevon Holland. The duck wins out.

Holland’s a relatively inexperienced player after opting out of the 2020 season. He’s also a bit of a projection after playing an overhang and nickel role. My concerns about his adjustment are mitigated by Jackson’s presence and Trey Marshall’s play in relief of him in 2019. Holland will have time to adjust to playing in the alley more, but his strengths in coverage, physicality, and mental processing will make him a worthwhile heir to Jackson.

87. Quincy Roche - ED - Miami

The Cincinatti Bengals call and offer a 4th and 6th to hop back, but would rather have a chance at another Hurricane. After three years at Temple Roche grad transferred to South Beach and was responsible for 34 individual pressures, 17 hurries, 22 hits, four and a half sacks, and 16.5 tackles for a loss in 2020. He generated pressured on 11% of his snaps.

There’s reason to believe Roche will be a better pass rusher in the NFL with his ability to convert speed to power and bend around the arc. Standing 6’2 240 lbs. doesn’t prevent Roche from being a good run defender, and while his play strength is solid he’s willing and capable of stalemating a puller or setting the edge. Settling in as a fourth option behind Malik Reed, Von Miller, and Bradley Chubb his rookie year should give him time to expand on his rush repertoire and get stronger.

96. Spencer Brown - OT - Northern Iowa

The Jets call and offer a fourth and fifth to move up, but I’m not interested. No draft class is the same and we planned around the fact this offensive tackle class was insanely deep. Brown has first round athleticism to go with a 6’8” frame, but got lost in the shuffle because he came out of the FCS.

Best case scenario he’ll be able to spend the year learning from Munchak as Ja’Wuan James takes every snap. Down the road Brown gives us flexibility if James and Garett Bolles’ combined cap hits become too onerous. Worst case scenario he’s toolsy depth.

T99. Paulson Adebo - CB - Stanford

No calls this time around and I assume it’s because everyone knows I wanted top 100 picks. Adebo opted out of the 2020 season and will probably need time to find his footing in the league, but he hauled in eight interceptions during his career and displays very good ball skills and instincts. Standing 6’0, Adebo gives us a potential long term starting trio with he and Ojemudia on the outside and Samuel Jr. in the slot.

T114. Alim McNeil - DL - NC State

The Jacksonville Jaguars call and offer me Gardner Minshew for 114, but I decline. There’s too great a chance Minshew will outplay Lock in camp and it’ll turn into a messy autumn. We can’t have that. I keep the pick and grab competition for Mike Purcell.

McNeil gives Bill Kollar another big body to coach up and he’s going to be a bear for centers in short yardage. Standing 6’2 and 320 lbs. he’s a bowling ball who will clog up the interior. He’s also stout at the point of attack and capable of stalemating doubles, which should help free up Dre’Mont Jones and Shelby Harris.

T114. Ihmir Smith-Marsette - WR - Iowa

Urban Meyer calls again. I don’t pick up. With three receivers playing out contracts that expire in 2022 it makes sense to take a swing in a deep draft class. I have to give credit to a persistent scout for the pick, as he wouldn’t leave the staff alone.

Smith-Marsette isn’t the kind of size speed mismatch Tim Patrick or Courtland Sutton are, but he should give Lock another savvy route runner with a big catch radius to provide ample room for error. While he’ll have a tough time seeing the field on offense this year, he should push Diontae Spencer.

T152. Caden Sterns - S - Texas

Day three is about chasing depth and bolstering special teams. The Longhorn gives us another rangy safety who will thrive in Fangio’s two high structure with his combination of instincts and physicality. Sterns is the fourth defensive back we’ve taken, but the Broncos only played base personnel 25% of the time in 2020. In a passing league it pays to have depth on the backend.

T179. Davis Mills - QB - Stanford

The last time the Broncos wound up with a rookie passer from Stanford it turned out alright. Elway’s a little nervous that a former top ranked recruit will push Lock, but Mills has so far to go I’m not worried.

Final Thoughts

This Broncos roster a ton of talent as we approach 2021, but it’s also been one of the most injury plagued teams in football since 2018. The 5-11 finish in 2020 exposed how badly the team needed to churn the depth and continue to add talented pieces to supplement the core foundation. In Collins and Williams the Broncos have two prospects ready to contribute in meaningful ways immediately, while the rest of the class provides talented bridges to the future.

In the meantime we’ve set the roster up to give Fangio a chance to put up or shut up with a slew of prove-it deals. With the veterans returning from injury and improvements in the secondary, the Broncos should have a top 10 defense this year. If Ja’Wuan James can step in and deliver on the promise that led John Elway to give him a 4-year $51 million deal the offensive line could take a big jump.

Let’s hope Lock is ready for his last best shot.

Post-draft roster

Your Broncos’ News

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“They’re going to have a fantastic defense. [Head coach Vic] Fangio does a fantastic job with that. But for Drew, it’s ‘What did I not do last year that I need to do this year that’s going to put me on another level?’ He has the capability of doing that.

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