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If Broncos don’t go QB at No.9, still tons of talent to draft

John Todd and Nate Cooper of Sports Info Solutions believe the talent and depth of the linebacker and cornerback classes is so good, Broncos couldn’t go wrong with either. But a top edge rusher isn’t a bad choice either...

Normally on our Something Something Broncos podcast, Jess Place, Tim Lynch and I mainly crack jokes about whatever the latest Broncos new is, reminisce about the winning years in Denver and talk trash about the Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers.

But this week we had some guys who actually know something about the 300-plus players who could be drafted to the NFL this coming week because, well, they do their homework. AND...they’re going to let you see it.

The “Sports Info Solutions Football Rookie Handbook” is available for all draftniks to buy, complete with two pages of stats, research and analysis on each player. And to own up to their analyses, SIS’ John Todd and Nathan Cooper joined to talk about the most likely prospects who could end up being Broncos.

And even though Cooper is a Lions fans and Todd cheers for the Washington Football Team, they had some good ideas on what players would fit well with the Broncos.

What about quarterbacks?

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. Cooper and Todd like Justin Fields. In fact, SIS gave Fields and Zach Wilson the same grade (6.9) based on their statistical analysis and role-based grading, which goes by the following scale:

9.0-7.0: Pro Bowl level player. Difference-maker.

6.9-6.7: Strong starter. One of the reasons you win.

6.6-6.5: Sufficient starter. You can with with him.

6.4-6.2: Circumstantial starter or high-quality backup.

In a tie-breaker done by SIS’ vice president for football research and former NFL scout Matt Manocherian, the nod went to Fields for the No. 2 spot.

So it’s safe to say they like the Ohio State prospect and think he can be an eventual NFL starter with a Pro Bowl-type career.

“We’re very high on Justin Fields as a borderline Pro Bowl/All- Pro/perennial-type player,” Todd said, noting that the grades are based on projections for a player’s second year in the pros. “Great overall athlete and think he’d be a really good fit in the Broncos’ scheme as well.”

But if the Broncos were to take a rookie QB in the first round and Fields wasn’t available, Trey Lance could be a decent prospect as well.

Cooper, who wrote up the SIS report on Lance, called the inexperienced quarterback from North Dakota State a “very interesting and intriguing player.”

“He has a lot of question marks and then there’s a lot you really like with him,” Cooper said, noting Lance’s college career of just 17 games as a starter and mediocre completion percentage and on-target. “But you look at the athleticism. He’s runs really well. Works the pocket. Extends plays Has a strong arm, makes all the throws.”

But as many have noted, Cooper agrees Lance can be “a little frustrating to watch.”

“He’ll make a couple ridiculous throws and then all of the sudden airmail an easy out-route,” Cooper said. “He definitely is a guy you sit behind a guy for a year or two, but he is somebody who can develop into something at the next level.”

Cooper added that he’d be a little worried if a team was drafting Lance to play immediately, but most analysts seem to agree that there’s a high ceiling but he’s not ready yet.

“If you put him in a solid run game, work the play action to get to the passing game, I think he’s somebody who could really develop into a good quarterback,” Cooper said.

But Todd added that in today’s NFL, the likelihood is that if Lance is taken in the Top 10, he’s going to a team looking to have him play year one.

And this scenario is one of the main reasons many have tied Lance to the Broncos because it allows Drew Lock the chance to prove he’s the starter while having a top guy working his way up if/when that happens.

But enough about the QB...

Cornerbacks v. Linebackers

Conventional wisdom says this year’s draft class is heavy on cornerbacks and linebackers and a little thinner on defensive linemen and even edge rushers. Both of these factors make the Broncos’ choice of position in the first round extremely intriguing - especially since both are key positions in Vic Fangio’s defense.

And should the Broncos choose cornerback in the first round to add depth to an always much-needed position - even though its starting group of Bryce Callahan, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller is seen as a strength - then there is a plethora of corners to choose from. There will be the Tier 1 guys like Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn or Caleb Farley, and then there will be the next group with studs like Asante Samuel Jr. and Greg Newsome.

“I actually think [the value at] corner and linebacker are pretty similar,” Cooper noted, adding that corner is probably a little deeper but going either first and the other second will still be great value at both.

“Ifeatu Melifonwu, cornerback out of Syracuse, is a guy who fits really well in the Broncos defense. Big corner, able to tackle, good reactive athleticism as well,” Cooper added. “And even if you go linebacker in the second round, there’s guys like Jabril Cox out of LSU. Very good coverage ability. He probably rivals Owusu-Koramoah. His coverage skills are ridiculous, but he can also rush the passer, can do good things in the run game. And then Jamin Davis out of Kentucky who had a ridiculous Pro Day and there’s talk he may even get into that first round as well.”

So would it be smart to draft an edge rusher early?

Von Miller is not replaceable - but getting ready to fill the void that might exist in his place next year makes some sense.

Both Todd and Cooper agree that going edge rusher with the No. 9 pick would be a little high in this year’s Draft class, but given that the position is not so deep, it could make sense to take one of the best ones early, particularly if the Broncos end up trading down.

“You’re always trying to fill holes a year before you need them,” Todd agreed. “It’s not just QBs that benefit from sitting behind a veteran. You could certainly draft an edge rusher and have him sit behind Von Miller and learn the tools of the trade and give the team flexibility moving forward.”

Todd added that teams like the Broncos that have been really good at developing edge rushers, picking up one of the few premiere ones this year could be “a savvy move.”

Among those guys is Azeez Ojulari, the outside linebacker from Georgia, who Cooper believes would be a good edge to learn from Von Miller and eventually fill the void down the road.

“He’s a guy I’m really high on, and I think he fits the Broncos’ system really well,” Cooper said, adding that he could easily be a late first-round early second-round pickup. “His first step is ridiculous. His get off - he gets into the tackles really quick. His hand use is insane. And his hand us is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. He’s always able to knock away the tackle’s arms. Very Really good bend and pass rush ability. But he’s not just a pass rusher. He’s a guy who can play all three downs. He can set the edge; he can play in that run game as well.”

On to Draft Night

What the Broncos do on Thursday is anybody’s guess - perhaps this year more than most. And although neither Todd nor Cooper wanted to say the only move should be QB in the first round, both believe that if Justin Fields can be acquired by the Broncos, that is the best move for the team this year.

“Especially if Mac Jones goes No. 3 and you have one of these quarterbacks [Lance or Fields] who has more upside to us,” Todd noted, “that could really be a coup to not have to move up a ton and secure that quarterback for the future.”

Cooper added that it’s really hard to move away from the quarterback position in the first round unless you already have your guy.

“If you really think the position needs to be an upgrade - whether you are going to move on from Drew Lock in a year or two and you want to get a guy now - you have to look at the drafts coming up as well,” he said. “This Draft I would say is probably one of the richest at the top end for quarterbacks. ...I don’t see four or five guys next year who can go in the first 10 picks.”


Not a QB poll! Which of the other top defenders mentioned by Nate and John would you prefer Broncos to take?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Azeez Ojulari, Georgia edge rusher
    (118 votes)
  • 6%
    Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse cornerback
    (61 votes)
  • 51%
    Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame linebacker
    (504 votes)
  • 8%
    Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State cornerback
    (84 votes)
  • 21%
    "Shasta" (other)
    (216 votes)
983 votes total Vote Now