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Broncos 2021 Third Round NFL Draft Board

Who should George Paton consider in the third round?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Allstate Sugar Bowl Semifinal Game - Ohio State v Clemson
Could the Broncos snag Rodgers or Werner in the third round?
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If you did not see my first round board, you can catch it here.

If you did not see my second round board, you can catch it here.

If you did, a quick reminder: the NFL Draft is an inexact science.

I see my role in the process as something akin to an intermediary. With the Broncos’ roster and coaching staff in mind, I spend months digging through reports, articles, podcasts, and whatever film I can scrounge up. With that information, I create what you’re reading now to hopefully provide you with a list of prospects that I believe will fit on the Broncos.

In the name of transparency, I feel it necessary to share whom I consider trusted sources for evaluations as well as other information regarding draft prospects.

There’s no question this is a hopelessly subjective exercise. To create space for discussion where possible, I’ve ranked prospects by tiers and also stacked a vertical board. As part of each breakdown, I made a point to lay out how I see a player fitting the current roster during his rookie season as well as what I think is the most optimistic three-year outcome.

History has emphatically shown that there will be players who fail to live up to expectations on this side of the draft. I’ve made a point to share any potential risks associated with each prospect. To be clear, just because I list an issue as a risk does not mean I am condemning a player, it’s merely something I consider noteworthy information that I would be aware of as I consider him for the Broncos. Obviously every other NFL team has access to medical records, interviews, and background information that I do not, so they may not see these risks the same way I do.

Without additional information, lists like this can only go so far, and yet I hope that it better informs you on how individual prospects could help the Broncos’ roster.

*A quick note: Round three is where risks start to really sway certain position rankings. You’ll notice this in the tackle rankings most, but it exists across the board going forward.*

Tier 10: Third round guys who have early round intrigue

There’s concerns about fit, positional value, upside, and/or risk that holds these players out of of the tiers above, but they offer exciting upside.

53. Spencer Brown - OT10

Fit: Competitive for backup role at T, developmental starter.

Risk: Torn MCL in right knee in 2017. Surgery on left knee in 2015 to “repair a defect under his kneecap.” Football young and still growing into frame. No tape since 2019 because FCS played football in spring in 2020 due to Covid-19 and he didn’t transfer (Brown said, “I am not going to let someone else reap the benefits of what UNI did for me.”) HS was 8-man football where he played tight end and DE. Jump from FCS Northern Iowa to NFL is a big one. Height will probably always cause some pad level issues. Aiming points, hand placement, and weight distribution all need to improve.

3-Year Ceiling: Starting right tackle you can win with because he has the athletic ability, length, and bad intentions to push for All Pro votes.

54. Jalen Mayfield - OT12 / OL15*

Fit: Utility depth with experience at right tackle and skillset to contribute meaningful snaps at guard.

Risk: Missed four games to close 2020. Workouts were poor for a tackle. Just 15 starts and still football young. 32 5/8” arms fall under Thorn threshold for OTs and will give up his chest to length. 27 pressures allowed in 2019 games per PFF charting. Pass protection needs to be revamped. Adequate foot speed impacts his kick slide and he compensates by narrowing his base in obvious passing situations. Will open the door and leave inside exposed. Lunges and hand quickness need work. Exposed in matchups against Notre Dame, Wisconsin. May be a guard due to athletic and pass pro limitations.

3-Year Ceiling: Right tackle you can win with who is dominant in the run game due to his savvy, power, and nastiness. Good enough to win with in pass protection.

*Risk makes this the fifteenth lineman on the board, but could vastly outplay due to age, development, and NFL strength training and conditioning*

55. Levi Onwuzurike - DL2

Fit: Immediate competition for DL snaps who could contribute meaningful snaps with past experience as nose, 2T, and 3T and tools to play up and down the line.

Risk: Skipped Short Shuttle and 3-Cone at Pro Day, which raises questions about lateral quickness. Disappointed in limited exposure and then missed most of Senior Bowl week with injury. Pad level isn’t ideal. Flash player who needs consistent motor on running downs. Anchor needs to improve. Better suited for nickel personnel and length could present issues in Fangio base 3-4. Crowded DL rotation.

“I don’t know if it’s going to matter, but he has a really weird build with a big upper body but these skinny ankles, which can be a concern.”

“...He had an Achilles injury in high school, but he’s been able to manage through that.”

3-Year Ceiling: Defensive lineman you can with who excels at causing havoc on passing downs with his very good burst, quickness, and hand usage.

56. Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. - DL3

Fit: Immediate competition for DL snaps with versatility to contribute meaningful snaps early as 3-4 5T/4i and slide inside to 3T in nickel personnel.

Risk: Missed one game due to Covid-19 in 2020. Quick, but not sudden. Pad level concerns. Pass rush plan needs to be revamped and hands need to become more efficient. Motor runs hot-and-cold, especially in run game. Needs to better use length to keep frame clean. Lateral quickness may limit effectiveness as looper.

3-Year Ceiling: Starting 5T you can win with whose quickness, strength, and savvy make him a meaningful contributor to the pass rush.

Tier 11: Best remaining players at positions of relative need

Questions about fit, positional value, upside, and/or risk hold these players out of of the tiers above, but they could become good players on the Broncos.

57. Creed Humphrey - iOL4

Fit: Early competition for playing time in “Best of 5” situation with experience at C and the skillset to play guard.

Risk: Missed 2019 spring practice due to hand surgery. Oklahoma offense almost exclusively out of shotgun. Left handed. Pad level consistency. Stunt/blitz pickup. Punch timing/placement.

3-Year Ceiling: Center you can win with whose wrestling background, grip strength, and brawler’s mentality makes him an asset in short yardage.

58. Dyami Brown - WR5

Fit: Immediate competition for WR snaps with the inside/outside versatility, route running, and hands to contribute meaningful snaps early in his career.

Risk: Slight frame and 189 lbs. Poor Short Shuttle and good, not great 3-Cone leaves questions about lateral quickness. UNC offense brought limited route tree. 15 drops on 170 targets across the last two seasons and will miss some easy ones. Physical corners will give him issues at the line and in phase, needs to improve release package. Adequate play strength and effort hurt blocking.

3-Year Ceiling: Inside/Outside receiver you can win with whose route running, hands, and contested catch prowess make him a key contributor.

59. Brady Christensen - OT13 / OL17

Fit: Utility depth with experience at left tackle and skillset to contribute meaningful snaps at guard or even center.

Risk: 32 1/4” arms fall under Thorn threshold for OTs. Turns 25 in September. 2020 schedule was a cakewalk and hid issues against length. Scheme (PA, RPO, roll-outs, 12 personnel, tight end) protected him. Flexibility and footwork could leave him exposed against twitched up length. Aiming points need to improve. Only played left tackle at BYU. Isn’t a true mauler, best in a zone scheme and Broncos use plenty of gap.

3-Year Ceiling: Starting right tackle you can win with due to his savvy, hands, and skills in pass protection.

60. Amon-Ra St. Brown - WR6

Fit: Immediate competition for WR snaps with the inside/outside versatility, route running, and hands to contribute meaningful snaps early in his career. Competition for ST snaps.

Risk: Played through AC sprains in 2018 and 2020. More smooth than sudden. Good, not great 40-time and Short Shuttle. 5’11” with short arms, which raises questions about catch radius. 35.7% of yards came after catch. 85% of his 2019 routes came from slot and may be limited to inside role due to issues with press, physicality, and top end speed. Adequate release and will need to improve package for NFL. Not a true breakaway threat. Adequate blocker due to technique: needs to improve angles and timing.

3-Year Ceiling: Inside/Outside receiver who serves as a go-to guy on critical downs due to his very good hands, route running, and reliability.

61. Quincy Roche - ED8

Fit: ED4 who can contribute meaningful snaps on passing downs and survive running downs.

Risk: Brother died because of a kidney disease. Already 23 years old. May be close to athletic ceiling. Undersized for an edge at 6’2” and 245 lbs. Arm length falls in 23rd percentile. Played 2020 with Jaelan Phillips across from him. Adequate play strength overall and can be engulfed by power. Wins as a pass rusher with finesse but lacks elite tools. Cornering will be more difficult against NFL athletes. Adequate run defender who will need to improve at disengaging from blocks. His ability to set the edge is adequate and he’ll give up the ghost to length and strength. Some Malik Reed vs. Buffalo type of concerns. Lack of length could limit hand usage and shrink pass rush plan.

3-Year Ceiling: ED2 you can win with due to his savvy, burst, pass rushing, and versatility.

62. Paulson Adebo - CB11

Fit: Immediate competition for CB snaps. Potential CB4 who could play outside. Special teams contributor.

Risk: Missed final three games in 2019 due to injury. No tape since 2019 due to opt out in 2020. Limited experience on defense: played offense only until junior year in HS. More smooth than sudden. Adequate short area quickness and play strength. Length impacts fluidity. Needs to improve press and tackle technique, as well as route recognition.

3-Year Ceiling: Boundary corner you can win with due to his savvy, athleticism, and ball skills.

63. Richie Grant - S3

Fit: Immediate competition for S3. Special teams contributor. Developmental starter.

Risk: 5’10, 186 lbs. Poor bench, Short Shuttle, and good but not great 40-yard dash leave questions about range, COD and play around LOS. 24 years old during rookie season. COD questions show up in open field. Adequate play recognition and struggled closer to action. Limited man coverage reps. Adequate tackle who misses elusive ball carrier too often.

“As the veteran of that secondary, he needed to do a better job of making sure everyone was on the same page. There were so many busts from game to game out of that unit...”

3-Year Ceiling: Starting safety you can win with due to his savvy, competitive toughness, and mirror-match skills complement Justin Simmons.

64. Tyson Campbell - CB12

Fit: Immediate competition for CB snaps. Potential CB4 who offers inside/outside versatility.

Risk: Missed five games to a turf toe injury in 2019. Poor Vertical Jump. Poor Short Shuttle and 3-Cone do not alleviate concerns about high cut frame, tight hips, and COD questions. Athletic comparisons are a graveyard and Bashaud Breeland. Grabby and will need to clean it up to avoid flags in league. Better in press than off coverage. Route recognition and catch point inconsistencies despite NFL-type coaching dating back to HS. Gives up blind spots too easily. Allowed 59% of targets to be completed per SIS charting on 9.4 yards per target.

3-Year Ceiling: Boundary corner you can win with due to his long speed, savvy, and physicality.

65. Milton Williams - DL5

Fit: Competition for snaps along defensive front who can log snaps in base and nickel personnel and threaten opponents with his quickness, hands, and hustle.

Risk: Traits based projection. 31 1/2” arms fall under 10th percentile for position. Jumped from Louisiana Tech to NFL and emerged on radar due to near-historic Pro Day workouts. Pad level. Length could limit ball production on batted passes. Gap shooter who may be miscast in base 3-4 due to lack of length.

3-Year Ceiling: Defensive lineman you can win with whose burst and quickness make him a consistent mismatch weapon against interior offensive linemen.

66. Pete Werner - LB6

Fit: Immediate competition for LB snaps who can win on passing downs. Special teams contributor.

Risk: Had three labrum surgeries in high school: one shoulder and both hips. High cut frame with long limbs which impacts his ability to change directions in short areas. Adequate play strength impacts his ability to shed blockers and bring force as a tackler. He looks like a safety taking on blocks at the point of attack and will give ground to power. Misses tackles to jukes in the phone booth due to his issues breaking down in tight spaces. Takes overaggressive angles in pursuit after four years at a football power. He’s prone to overrunning the ball carrier in pursuit and needs to remain under control. Could stand to trigger quicker to the ball in the air. He’s prone to tackle after the catch is secured instead of working to dislodge the ball. Notable amount of his production as a blitzer came because he was unaccounted for or against an overmatched back.

3-Year Ceiling: Will linebacker you can win with on passing downs due to his savvy, range, and coverage prowess.

67. Elerson Smith - ED9

Fit: Competition for ED4 who can contribute snaps on passing down. Developmental starter. Special teams contributor.

Risk: Traits projection. One year starter at Northern Iowa. No games since 2019 due to Covid-19 moving season to spring. Jump from FCS to NFL a big one. Will be 23 during rookie season with need to get stronger to improve block shedding. Rarely asked to play in coverage. Pad level.

3-Year Ceiling: ED2 you can win with because of his explosive length, hands, and competitive toughness.

68. Robert Rochell - CB13

Fit: Competition for CB snaps. Potential CB4 who could play inside/outside. Developmental starter. Special teams contributor.

Risk: Missed two games to injury in 2020. Father shot and killed in drive by shooting in 2009. Traits projection. Jump from Central Arkansas to NFL a big one. Very limited exposure to top talent. Needs technical development across the board: line of scrimmage, pedal. Zone a work in progress due to route recognition, spacing, trigger.

3-Year Ceiling: Boundary corner you can win with due to his athleticism, physicality, and ability to match and mirror from the line.

69. Alim McNeil - DL6 / NT1

Fit: Competition for snaps along defensive front who can log meaningful snaps in the base defense as 5T/4i/NT and contribute as a 1T in nickel personnel.

Risk: Limited range. Wears down over extended drives and best on pitch count. Pass rush plan needs to move towards more power over finesse. Needs to do a better job protecting himself from down blocks and anchoring vs. doubles. Adequate pass rusher who may be best as nose only.

3-Year Ceiling: Nose tackle you can win with due to his explosive burst, play strength, and run defense.

70. Quinn Meinerz - iOL6 / OL19

Fit: Early competition for playing time in “Best of 5” situation with experience at left guard and skillset to play center.

Risk: Broke bone in right hand at Senior Bowl. Jumping from D3 to NFL. Guard at Wisconsin White Water and Center is a projection. Needs to do a better job keeping frame clean. Needs to maintain a wide base and proper weight distribution. Top heavy on tape.

3-Year Ceiling: Interior offensive lineman you can win with due to his competitive toughness, mobility, and core strength.

71. Travis Etienne - RB3

Fit: Immediate competition as a change of pace back with explosive athleticism and breakaway speed. Best on Inside Zone, Outside Zone, and Duo. May have issues on gap concepts.

Risk: Skipped Short Shuttle and 3-Cone drills at Pro Day, leaving questions about short area and lateral quickness. Tested poorly in Vertical jump and very good, not elite 40 with good, not great 10-yard split. Averaged 13.8 carries per game as a starter. 8 fumbles on 788 career touches. Adequate vision, hands, ball security, and marginal pass protection.

3-Year Ceiling: Big play running back you can win with due to his explosive athleticism. Dynamic kick returner.

72. Josh Myers - iOL7 / OL20

Fit: Early competition for playing time in “Best of 5” situation with experience at C and skillset to play guard if necessary.

Risk: Missed Senior Bowl because of turf toe injury that required surgery in 2021. Did not work out at Pro Day due to injury. Issues with pass blocking against quick finesse rushers due to lateral agility and hands. Zero gameday experience at guard.

3-Year Ceiling: Center you can win with who has the savvy, competitive toughness, and power to set a tone on the ground and who makes the whole line better on passing downs.

73. Nick Bolton - LB8

Fit: Immediate competition for LB snaps who can win on passing downs. Special teams contributor.

Risk: Tape over traits. 5’11 and 237 lbs. with short arms. Poor 3-Cone, Short Shuttle, Vertical Jump. Good but not great Broad jump and 10-yard split leaves plenty of concerns about his athletic ability and range in space. Length impacts all phases: block shedding, tackling, coverage.

3-Year Ceiling: Mike linebacker and team captain you can win with due to his savvy, run defense, and competitive toughness.

74. Michael Carter - RB6

Fit: Immediate competition as a change of pace back with the vision, contact balance, and short area quickness to push for starting snaps. Best on zone scheme runs.

Risk: Missed three games in 2018 to broken wrist. Missed most of 2015 season to torn PCL and LCL in right knee. Size below Shurmur’s preferences at 5’7 and 201 lbs. Isn’t going to be a power back. More quick than fast: 4.57 40-yard dash with good 10-yard split, elite COD drills. Adequate play strength limits effectiveness as pass blocker.

3-Year Ceiling: Running back you can win with because of his vision, three down skillset, and phone booth quickness.

Tier 12: Third round prospects

It’s impossible to deny that these prospects look like potential impact players, but they bring some combination of risk, downside, or fit issues that hold them out of the tiers above. For the sake of transparency, I chose to rank them as I see them for their position groups, but there are some major questions that need answering before I would consider drafting them.

Dylan Moses - LB7

Fit: Competition for LB snaps who could contribute on all three downs and special teams snaps.

Risk: Jones fracture in left foot in 2017. Tore ACL in right knee in August, 2019 and played through pain in 2020. Played most of 2020 with torn MCL and had surgery in 2021. Was not the same player following ACL reconstruction in 2020 and best projection accounts for full recovery. Two big things I notice on his 2020 tape after studying 2018 is a hitch when shifting directions (this isn’t a surprise following ACL tear) and less physicality overall. He played through pain in 2020 and considered retiring from football following his ACL tear. Standing 6’1” and the lack of length creates less margin for error separating from blocks and rushing the passer. While mental processing is solid overall, he will second guess reads and can be fooled by misdirection. Needs to become more disciplined with his eyes and trust what he sees. Explosive hitting masks the fact he isn’t a true banger at the point of attack. Could become solid in this area at the next level, but he’s better slipping blocks than stacking.

3-Year Ceiling: Will linebacker you can win with whose range, versatility, and coverage prowess make him a factor on every down.

Walker Little - OT11*/OL13*

Fit: Competition for swing tackle with starting upside.

Risk: One game since 2018 due to dislocated left knee in 2019 and 2020 opt out. Played through pain with right shoulder injury most of 2018 and missed bowl game. Stanford’s offense is run-heavy. Adequate hand usage due to punch timing. Adequate play strength due to core and weigh distribution. Adequate power at POA.

“Does he have talent? Yes. … I don’t think the knee is good, but he’s going top 100.”

3-Year Ceiling: Starting right tackle you can win with due to his athletic ability, technique, and skills in pass pro. Able to pinch hit at left tackle.

*Risk makes this ranking very soft *

Jackson Carman - OT14 / iOL5 / OL18*

Fit: Utility depth with experience at left tackle and skillset to contribute meaningful snaps at guard.

Risk: Back surgery in January of 2021 and missed Pro Day workouts, leaving questions about athleticism unanswered. 32 1/2” arms fall under Thorn threshold for OTs with pad level, footwork, and hand concerns (placement specifically) that probably force a move off tackle. Will give up chest. Grabby when beat and will draw flags in the league. Conditioning questions, has pushed into the 370+ range in past and cooking a passion. Hand concerns linger at guard, though the lack of experience leaves this as pure projection.

3-Year Ceiling: Starting guard you can win with due to his power at the POA, physicality, and underrated agility on the second level. Can pinch hit at tackle.

*Injury question and positional fit make player ranking very soft*

Kylin Hill - RB4

Fit: Immediate competition as a change of pace back with the physicality, contact balance, and hands to steal starting snaps. Best on Inside Zone, Duo, and Power concepts. May see issues on wide runs and Outside Zone.

Risk: Missed two games and parts of others in 2018 because of a hamstring injury. Quit football team as a sophomore in high school and admitted he “always stayed in trouble” growing up. Suspended one game in 2020 due to a postgame outburst. Known for bottling up his emotions. Clashed with 2020 coaching staff. Opted out of final season after three games. Different back in 2020 vs. 2019, notably less physical. Adequate long speed and won’t run away from many defenders in the NFL. Is not a true pile driver and can get stalled out by bigger, stronger defenders. Can get impatient with his blockers and press too early, which leads to bypassing open holes to make his own way on occasion. He’d rather hit you than try to make you miss, and this will be harder to sustain in the NFL. Limited route tree at MSU, mostly swings and wheels. He’s more effort than skill as a pass blocker right now.

3-Year Ceiling: Four down running back you can win with due to his combination of physicality, hands, and competitive toughness.

Trey Sermon - RB5

Fit: Immediate competition as a change of pace back with the vision, ball security, and contact balance to steal starting snaps. Best on Outside Zone runs and may have issues on Inside Zone and gap concepts.

Risk: Suffered a cracked L5 vertebrae and missed most of junior season. Torn LCL in left knee in 2019. Dislocated SC joint in left shoulder during National Title game in 2021. Pad level. Not a breakaway threat. Adequate elusiveness. Adequate pass protection due to technique. Adequate hands with focus drops on the resume.

3-Year Ceiling: Big play running back you can win with due to his explosive athleticism. Dynamic kick returner.

Payton Turner. - DL7 / ED7

Fit: Competition for snaps along defensive front who can log snaps in base 3-4 at 5T/4i and flash in nickel with versatility to play big edge. Developmental starter.

Risk: Tore ACL in 2016, foot injury that required season-ending surgery in 2018, broken fingers in 2019, and missed three games in 2020 to Covid-19, plus hand and knee injuries. Skipped 40-yard dash and broad jump at Pro Day, leaving questions unanswered. Length can be a double edged sword due to pad level. Adequate at POA. Callow pass rush plan. Needs to use length to protect chest with more consistency. Miscast as true Fangio backer.

3-Year Ceiling: Versatile defensive lineman you can win with whose competitive toughness, athleticism, length, and violent hands make him a mismatch weapon up and down the front.

Rondale Moore - WR7

Fit: Immediate competition for WR snaps in the slot with the twitch and breakaway speed to be a homerun threat. Explosive return threat.

Risk: Played in just 7 games the last two seasons due to hamstring injuries. Only 278 routes the last two seasons per SIS charting. Short and small at 5’7 and 181 lbs and isn’t getting bigger. Good, not great 10-yard split. Size limits catch radius and may also limit effectiveness as downfield target, just 27% of career routes were deep per SIS. Adequate release and can be shut down physicality. Probably a slot-only prospect. Size and play strength limit blocking.

3-Year Ceiling: Slot receiver you can win with due to his explosive athleticism, separation quickness, and ability to generate splash plays after the catch. Pro Bowl returner.

Daviyon Nixon - DL4

Fit: Immediate competitor for snaps along the defensive line who can log snaps early as 3-4 5T/4i and thrive in nickel personnel.

Risk: Per McGinn: Executives from three teams said he had been removed from their draft boards because of off-field issues. Four other teams indicated they had modest to major concerns. Academic issues led to JUCO route. 2020 production came in waves, and just 30 pressures for his 8 sacks per Sports Info Solutions’ charting, 6% pressure rate overall. Investigated for dorm incident that led to temporarily entering name into transfer portal before he was cleared of wrongdoing. Lateral quickness solid. Misses some tackles. Pass rush plan: needs to incorporate more power into repertoire. Played a lot, but wore down and left stamina a question.

3-Year Ceiling: Gap-shooting defensive lineman who can hold up on running downs and be a passing down mismatch weapon along the interior.

Pat Freiermuth - TE2

Fit: Competition for TE snaps who offers the versatility to play Y and H. Special teams contributor.

Risk: 2020 came to an end because of right shoulder surgery that prevented Pro Day workouts, leaving questions about athleticism unanswered. Good, not great athlete who won’t separate 1v1 from very good second level coverage players. Lacks true breakaway speed after catch and adequate elusiveness. Solid, not good play strength impacts blocking ability. Needs to refine blocking technique and improve footwork.

3-Year Ceiling: Starting tight end you can win with whose a jack-of-all trades type with the ability to box out for the ball and punish light defensive personnel as a run blocker.