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What needs loom over the Broncos ahead of the NFL Draft?

What holes does George Paton need to address?

With the NFL Draft a week away it’s time to take another look at the Broncos roster. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll remember that right after the first wave of free agency I made a point to look at every position group and laid out some thoughts. I followed a similar structure today, but wanted to share a few thoughts on how the draft could provide answers.

Just as I did last time, each position group will be ranked by how pressing the need is. With the draft in mind I also made a point to consider future questions as well as oftentimes “surprise” picks happen because a team is planning ahead for an inevitable departure.The whole exercise is obviously subjective, but I hope it will help to inform.

Tier 4: Competition for the sake of competition

15. Punter

Sam Martin

14. Long snapper

Jacob Bobenmoyer

13. Kicker

Brandon McManus

12. Fullback

Jeremy Cox

  • Any addition added to these spots will probably serve as little more than depth in training camp. Mike Boone’s value to the special teams units as well as Pat Shurmur’s general aversion to utilizing fullbacks could push Jeremy Cox off the roster. Beyond that I expect little to change in this tier.

11. Defensive Line

Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim, DeShawn Williams, Shamar Stephen, Deyon Sizer, Isaiah Mack, Jonathan Harris

  • Mike Purcell restructured his contract and it would now cost the Broncos $3.3 million to cut him before June.
  • George Paton made a clear effort to fortify the defensive line ahead of the draft and I don’t expect the D-line to receive a ton of early consideration. This is a pretty weak rookie class and playing time could be hard to come by in the rotation, barring a wave of injuries.

Tier 3: Depth never hurt anyone

10. Tight end

Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Austin Fort, Andrew Beck

  • If Albert Okwuegbunam returns to the form he showed as a rookie this group could push for one of the best in the NFL.
  • Depth is a question as Austin Fort is completely unproven and Andrew Beck may not be a clean fit for inline tight end duties.
  • Kyle Pitts is the big name in this tight end class and a player George Paton could consider if he slides to nine, but I suspect the Broncos to consider tight ends on day three, not one.
  • This isn’t an especially great tight end class after the unicorn, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Broncos could skip the position on draft day and chase a veteran after the draft.
  • A few prospects who could make sense: Nick Eubanks from Michigan, Luke Farrell from Ohio State, and Shaun Beyer from Iowa.

9. Wide receiver

Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, DaeSean Hamilton, Diontae Spencer, Kendall Hinton, Tyrie Cleveland, Trinity Benson

  • Right now it looks like it’d be tough for a rookie prospect to find his way to the field because of the young talent already on the roster.
  • Given the contract questions about Sutton, Patrick, Hamilton, and Spencer, it makes sense. All four could be gone in 2022.
  • NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo’s reported Paton could move Hamilton, which would open up room for a rookie prospect.
  • This is the second straight year with a very talented and deep receiver class. Don’t be surprised if Paton grabs a player due to a BPA philosophy. His history with the Vikings hints that this could be a position group that receives talent quite often.
  • A few of the WR prospects who intrigue me: Dyami Brown from UNC, Josh Palmer from Tennessee, Ihmir Smith-Marsette from Iowa, Josh Imatorbhebhe from Illinois, Dax Milne from BYU, and Simi Fehoko from Stanford.

8. Running back

Melvin Gordon, Royce Freeman, Mike Boone, LaVante Bellamy, Damarea Crockett

  • If Melvin Gordon receives any sort of punishment from the NFL related to his October arrest, the Broncos can void his guarantees.
  • With Gordon and Freeman set to play on contracts that expire in 2022 it would not surprise me if the Broncos add a rookie running back.
  • The ground game mixes in a heavy dose of inside zone with gap concepts like power, pin-and-pull, and a variety of counters. Add to that Shurmur’s historical preference for bigger backs and I expect a rookie to weigh in north of 210 lbs. with the ability to work through trash as well as the patience to allow his blockers to set up.
  • There are three backs who are considered early prospects: Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, and UNC’s Javonte Williams. Williams and Harris are 1-2 on my board, while I question Etienne’s fit with Shurmur.
  • Other RB prospects who intrigue and fit the 210+ lb. mark: Kylin Hill of Mississippi State, Trey Sermon from Ohio State, Rhamondre Stevenson from Oklahoma.
  • I’ve also noticed Khalil Herbert from Virginia Tech, Javian Hawkins from Louisville, and Michael Carter from UNC. All three fall below the size threshold, but could make sense. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projects Carter as “a lesser version of Dalvin Cook.”

7. Interior offensive line

Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Netane Muti, Austin Schlottmann, Patrick Morris

  • There’s a distinct possibility the Broncos do nothing with this group and roll it back with Risner, Cushenberry, and Glasgow as starters with Muti, Schlottmann, and Morris fighting it out to back them up.
  • It is also possible the Broncos grab a developmental starter. Glasgow’s 2022 cap hit is $12 million while Cushenberry’s rookie season was pretty rough.
  • This iOL class has quite a few prospects that make sense for the Broncos. In addition there are a number tackles who may find their best suited to playing guard in the league.
  • A few intriguing prospects: Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis from Ohio State, Cole Van Lanen from Wisconsin, Aaron Banks from Notre Dame, Jimmy Morrisey from Pittsburgh, Orlanda Umana from Utah as well as Alaric Jackson from Iowa.

5. Edge

Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, Derrek Tuszka

  • On paper this looks like one of the best edge rooms in the NFL, but there’s no guarantee Miller’s the same player following a 2020 ruined by injury.
  • Looking ahead to 2022 there are plenty of questions: Miller, Chubb, and Reed all have expiring contracts as of today. The Broncos can pick up Chubb’s fifth year option and tag Reed as he’ll be a Restricted Free Agent, but there’s plenty of reasons to believe this group receives attention in the draft. The question is where.
  • This rookie edge class is a peculiar one. It doesn’t have a top 10 prospect like Chase Young or Bradley Chubb, but does have a number of promising prospects who could develop into starters you can win with in the league.
  • I’m quite curious about how George Paton will approach the edge position as there’s really two distinct player types in the Fangio defense: Malik Reed and Von Miller both fit as lighter players who have a bit more lateral quickness while Bradley Chubb brings more size and power as a former defensive end.
  • The top of this class is defined by Jaelan Phillips and his medical history vs. Azeez Ojulari and Kwity Paye. It wouldn’t shock me if Jayson Oweh finds his way into the first round where a fanbase could lose it over the fact he notched 0 sacks in 2020.
  • A few of the other edge prospects who intrigue me as fits for the Broncos: Joe Tryon from Washington, Quincy Roche from Miami, Joseph Ossai from Texas, Shaka Toney from Penn State, Chris Rumph from Duke, Elerson Smith from Northern Iowa, and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. from Oregon State.

Tier 2: Needs attention

5. Linebacker

Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad, Josh Watson, Patrick Natrez

  • Since 2007, the Vikings only used two picks in the first three rounds on off ball linebackers: Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
  • Johnson should be penciled in as a 2021 starter, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Broncos chase an upgrade on Jewell. Both the incumbents have contracts that expire in 2022.
  • There is a segment of Broncos Country who ardently believe Strnad is set to become a standout in his return from his second consecutive season ending injury. It remains to be seen if Fangio and Paton agree.
  • This is the best linebacker class I’ve studied since joining Mile High Report. It’s headlined by Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. While both players come with rather large questions that need to be addressed, where this draft really stands out is the depth.
  • There are plenty of LB prospects who intrigue: Zaven Collins from Tulsa, Jabril Cox from LSU, Jamin Davis from Kentucky, Baron Browning and Pete Werner from Ohio State, Dylan Moses from Alabama, Cameron McGrone from Michigan, Chazz Surratt from UNC, Tony Fields II from West Virginia, Nick Bolton from Missouri, Derrick Barnes from Purdue, Monty Rice from Georgia, as well as Amen Ogbongbemiga from Oklahoma State.

4. Cornerback

Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia, Essang Bassey, Duke Dawson, Parnell Motley, Nate Hairston

  • From 2007 to 2020 the Vikings used more picks in rounds 1-3 on cornerback than any other position group.
  • Darby and Callahan have combined to play one 16+ game season in their careers. Both of them have been in the league since 2015.
  • Bassey and Dawson are both coming back from season ending knee injuries.
  • Fuller and Callahan are both playing on contracts that expire after the 2021 season.
  • There is an outside possibility Ojemudia could move to safety if the Broncos add another corner. Wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
  • All the above leads me to believe the Broncos would be wise to consider a cornerback prospect in the draft if the board falls that way. While Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley have earned ample air in debates, there’s little question in my mind that Patrick Surtain II is the top of the corner class.
  • This is an interesting group for the Broncos’ needs with a few really strong scheme fits for the Fangio defense. A few CBs who intrigue me: Asante Samuel Jr. from Florida State, Greg Newsome II from Northwestern, Elijah Molden from Washington, Ifeatu Melifonwu from Syracuse, Marco Wilson from Florida, Aaron Robinson from UCF, Darren Hall from San Diego State, Paulson Adebo from Stanford, and Avery Williams from Boise State.

3. Safety

Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Trey Marshall, P.J. Locke III, Chris Cooper

  • Jackson is 33-years-old playing on a deal that expires after the season, so it’s hard to imagine the Broncos won’t try to add a prospect before training camp. Where is another question altogether.
  • After two years in the system Fangio may have faith Marshall can eventually step into a starting role in his defense.
  • This is a pretty deep safety class for a defense that heavily utilizes a two high structure like the Broncos do.
  • Some of the S that intrigue me: Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington from TCU, Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze from Oregon, Damar Hamlin from Pittsburgh, James Wiggins and Darrick Forrest from Cincinnati, Caden Sterns from Texas, as well as Christian Uphoff from Illinois State.

2. Offensive tackle

Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James, Quinn Bailey, Calvin Anderson

  • Garett Bolles’ development into an top tier left tackle is a relief, but there are pressing questions about the right side and depth.
  • Ja’Wuan James has played all of 65 snaps since he signed as a free agent in 2019 and his cap figure is $14 million in 2022, so it remains to be seen if he’s a part of the Broncos’ long term plans.
  • Calvin Anderson played 199 snaps last year, including two games on offense where he looked pretty overmatched. It seems unlikely, but he could figure into the Broncos plans as a swing tackle or even developmental starter.
  • Quinn Bailey has logged eight snaps in two years with the Broncos.
  • If the Broncos do have James in their long term plans it would behoove them George Paton to draft a tackle who can develop into a starter this year. It’s really promising class. Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater are the big names with evaluators debating which should go first, but there’s plenty of depth behind them.
  • A few of the many OTs who intrigue: Teven Jenkins from Oklahoma State, Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech, Liam Eichenberg from Notre Dame, Alex Leatherwood from Alabama, Dillon Radunz from North Dakota State, James Hudson from Cincinnati, Spencer Brown from Northern Iowa, Stone Forsythe from Florida, Brady Christensen from BYU, and Josh Ball from Marshall.

Tier 1: Glaring need

1. Quarterback

Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien

  • It’s hard to say with certainty what the Broncos will do at QB in the NFL Draft, but I have little doubt this position group will look different by the season opener.

Let’s review what we know about Paton’s approach to QB since he’s taken over as general manager:

  1. George Paton said “we’re obviously looking” when asked about quarterbacks at his introductory press conference.
  2. In March, former Houston Chronicle insider Aaron Wilson reported the Broncos were still interested in Deshaun Watson.
  3. The Broncos tried to trade for Matthew Stafford and Drew Lock was a part of the deal. There’s been speculation the deal died because the Lions wanted Jerry Jeudy.
  4. There is conflicting reports, but reason to believe the Broncos have been involved in talks with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets regarding Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold.
  5. Paton did not attend the Clemson Pro Day.
  6. Paton, Mike Shula, and Brian Stark attended Trey Lance and Justin Fields’ his first Pro Days. That’s the Broncos’ general manager, quarterback coach, and director of college scouting.
  7. Pat Shurmur and A.J. Durso attended Trey Lance and Justin Fields’ second Pro Days. That’s the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and director of pro personnel.
  8. Paton did not attend either Alabama Pro Day, but the Broncos did send a contingent led by Brian Stark.
  9. The Broncos did not bring in a single quarterback in free agency.

Poll

Who will be the Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Deshaun Watson
    (99 votes)
  • 66%
    Drew Lock
    (1129 votes)
  • 14%
    Justin Fields
    (243 votes)
  • 3%
    Trey Lance
    (63 votes)
  • 1%
    Mac Jones
    (27 votes)
  • 4%
    Teddy Bridgewater
    (72 votes)
  • 2%
    Gardner Minshew
    (47 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (Please Comment)
    (13 votes)
1693 votes total Vote Now