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What are the Broncos’ realistic options at 9?

Who would actually be available in the NFL Draft if George Paton doesn’t trade?

One of the unsung tidbits most fans miss when it comes to draft season is how NFL teams generally meet around the beginning of April to lay out their plans for the draft. Those of us on the outside have been speculating for months, obviously. We’ve heard from a number of trusted insiders why ____ is going to slide or ____ will only be available via trade. Odds are most of it’s smoke because the teams themselves didn’t know. That’s going to begin to change, but we’ll also see a dramatic increase in the lies and misinformation as teams try to work the board in their favor.

With three weeks left until the opening round of the draft, I think it’s time to take a look at who seems like realistic options for the Broncos at ninth overall. I laid this out in a Mock draft format, but will make a point to cover potential “curve” balls that look feasible at every opportunity. Keep in mind that I’m not carrying water for any teams and this is merely connecting dots based on what we know about team needs, cap situations, hot seats, etc.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - QB - Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Urban Meyer has basically admitted to Peter King they’re taking Trevor Lawrence first overall.

2. New York Jets - QB - Zach Wilson, BYU

Now that Sam Darnold is a Panther, it’s safe to lock in a quarterback at two. There were deleted tweets and a ton of buzz after BYU’s Pro Day that made it pretty clear Zach Wilson will land with the Jets. The potential curve ball would be a different quarterback, but since the rookie will need to hit the ground running, it makes it hard to believe Joe Douglas would take Trey Lance.

T3. San Francisco 49ers - QB - Trey Lance, NDSU

This is where the speculative fun really begins. Since the 49ers traded up to three, there’s been a ton of anonymous reports dinging Justin Fields, attacking his work ethic, mental aptitude, etc. Simultaneously we’ve seen a number of tied in media members share that they believe Mac Jones will land with Kyle Shanahan. It’s hard to imagine the Niners gave up three first round picks for anyone but a quarterback, but which one?

Here’s why I believe it will be Trey Lance:

  • Right after the Niners moved to three, there was talk Lynch spoke with teams between the Dolphins and their original selection at 12. That they offered three first round picks to jump the Falcons after Atlanta restructured Matt Ryan’s contract so that it essentially made him a lock for the roster until 2023 does not seem like a coincidence.
  • Reports that the 49ers want a first round pick if they’re trading away the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo, which probably locks him in as a bridge QB in 2021.
  • Carolina’s recent trade for Sam Darnold to replace Teddy Bridgewater. They were very interested in Deshaun Watson before the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. They were also reportedly interested in Matthew Stafford and offered the eighth pick as well as Bridgewater. I believe they want more than a game manager type and if they think Jones is going to the Niners, it dramatically increases their chance at a Trey Lance or Justin Fields.

Obviously I could be wrong as no one actually knows right now. It’s safe to assume this pick is a quarterback, but any one of the Fields, Jones, or Lance trio could be the apple of Shanahan’s eye.

4. Atlanta Falcons - TE - Kyle Pitts, Florida

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Falcons’ Terry Fontenot would like to draft a quarterback while Arthur Smith thinks Matt Ryan has two or more years left. Shortly after Mort’s report, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Falcons have received calls from multiple teams and would be willing to move down.

I’ve long believed a trade down makes sense for the Falcons because their cap situation is so tight that they currently have all of 52 players under contract. It’s hard to believe they may have turned down three first round picks from the 49ers if they weren’t tempted to see what happens above them. As it stands, I think any potential trade down will happen after San Francisco makes their selection. If Lance is on the board, I think they take him.

Assuming Lance is not on the board, I think the Falcons will weigh out trade offers vs. an immediate impact player. This means there’s a decent chance a quarterback goes fourth overall regardless of the team. If Atlanta does not move down, I believe it will be Kyle Pitts.

There is an outside possibility the team is sky high on another prospect: Najee Harris. There’s been persistent smoke that he’s received interest from teams in the top 10. The Falcons’ backfield consists of recently signed Mike Davis, Ito Smith, and depth. Given Arthur Smith’s work with Derrick Henry makes it easy to imagine he sees a similar skillset in the 6’2, 230 lb. Harris. He could also makes sense for them in a potential trade down.

5. Cincinnati Bengals - WR - Ja’Marr Chase - LSU

Joe Burrow was an active part of the Bengals’ recruitment of Riley Reiff and signing the free agent tackle also provides a short-term solution at tackle. With the former Viking on board, the Bengals can afford to go in a number of directions at fifth overall. Ever since mumblings about Burrow’s concerns with the Bengals’ commitment to winning last year, there’s been a sense that keeping him happy is a priority.

I would be pretty surprised if the Bengals do not add to their offense in some way, and Duke Tobin’s recent comment leaves me thinking Chase is the guy. With the Dolphins at six, Cincinnati may believe they can’t afford to move off five because they’ll lose the one star receiver in this class who put up historic numbers with their franchise quarterback.

Reiff turns 33 in December and he’s not exactly a world beater so both Rashawn Slater and Penei Sewell still make sense. They’d be able to ease their way in or a “best five” situation could play out where a tackle is playing guard for the short-term. There’s definitely a possibility the Bengals elect to draft Kyle Pitts if he falls.

T6. Miami Dolphins - WR - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

I can’t help but think the Dolphins moved from 12 back into the top 10 as a sort of five dimensional chess move. Everyone’s known for years months QBs would go 1-2. The Dolphins moving off three means it’ll be 1-2-3. The Bengals won’t take a quarterback. So six gives Miami the opportunity to either take a pass catcher they wanted at three or the chance to play gatekeeper on a sliding quarterback.

Which means Bill Belichick would probably need to jump them.

In this scenario I’m not doing trades and so the Dolphins made a pick. Tua Tagovailo is more comfortable finding open guys and letting them work than chucking up 50-50 balls, so a former receiver who can capitalize on his accuracy makes too much sense.

There’s a number of curve balls here. Rashawn Slater’s versatility could be appealing to a team that took two offensive linemen high last season, while Penei Sewell’s upside could be too good to pass on. Both Pitts and Chase also make sense if either’s available. You can’t rule out DeVonta Smith or Najee Harris. After a rough rookie season there is a very small chance a QB lands in South Beach. Lastly, Micah Parsons could make sense after they cut Kyle Van Noy.

7. Detroit Lions - CB, Patrick Surtain - South Carolina

I suspect the Lions would love to auction off a quarterback here because someone will give up 2022 capital. The fact Brad Holmes did painfully little in free agency makes it crystal clear the first year GM is perfectly comfortable slogging through the first 17-game schedule in NFL history. There’s also the possibility they take a project quarterback to sit behind Jared Goff and I’m certain we’ll hear about it over the weeks leading up the draft.

The fact Detroit took the Rams’ offer when it didn’t provide them ammo to go up for a passer in this class makes me skeptical, however. Maybe it’s nothing more than a good will gesture so Matthew Stafford can enjoy Hollywood after suffering through Michigan winters. I suspect it has more to do with an open mind toward Jared Goff as they gear up to earn the first overall pick in the 2023 draft honestly.

If the Lions didn’t sign Jamaal Williams in free agency, I would have pegged them as a potential Najee Harris suitor. The biggest questions on the offensive line come on the right side, so both Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater could make sense. The defense is in such sorry shape that Micah Parsons, Patrick Surtain, and Jaycee Horn make sense, as well.

It would look like a bit of a reach compared to mock drafts right now, but an edge could land here. With a move away from the Matt Patricia defense, there could be a desire to improve the pass rush. Detroit finished among the six worst teams in football by Adjusted Sack Rate.

Both of the Alabama receivers also make sense if they’re available because Kenny Golladay’s departure leaves the receiving corps. painfully shorthanded. A sliding Kyle Pitts could entice, as Dan Campbell was a tight end coach as recently as last year.

I’ve long assumed the Lions will take a “culture” guy here. Blame Campbell:

“Look, we’re no different than anybody else. Even if you’re a great player, we don’t want turds here, man. We don’t want lazy guys, we don’t want guys that are up and down and we don’t want flash players. If you’re a flash guy where it’s like, ‘My god, did you see that play?’ and the next play he’s in the tank, we don’t know where he’s at, we don’t know what he’s going to do, I got nothing for those guys. It’s the ones that are consistent and you see it all the time.”

8. Carolina Panthers - CB, Jaycee Horn - South Carolina

We’re going to hear reports on the contrary, but it’s difficult to imagine the Panthers take a rookie quarterback now. Sam Darnold’s contract is moveable and could leave Carolina in a potential Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but I find it had to believe they’d bring another young quarterback into a situation where reps will be so hotly contested. As it currently stands they may be forced to cut bait or pay another team to take Teddy Bridgewater.

So the Panthers definitely lurk as a team willing to move down for someone looking to jump the Broncos. If they can’t do that, they’re another team that should have interest in both Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn. The offensive line could also use help as Greg Little’s disappointed and Taylor Moton is currently on the franchise tag.

They could also “reach” for an edge prospect as they’re defense is sorely lacking a consistent pass rush. It could also make sense to grab a receiver, and sliding Kyle Pitts makes sense as a huge upgrade for their tight end room. A rather big curve ball would be TCU’s Trevon Moehrig. I don’t think it happens, but they could use an upgrade at free safety.

Needs: Pass rush, DB, WR, QB?

9. Denver Broncos - ?

If you simply followed the picks above, you’ll know the following players could potentially fall to nine:

  • QB Mac Jones
  • QB Justin Fields
  • QB Trey Lance
  • OT Penei Sewell
  • OT Rashawn Slater
  • LB Micah Parsons
  • RB Najee Harris
  • WR DeVonta Smith

Admittedly, it looks as if there’s next to no chance both Sewell and Slater fall to nine, especially if two quarterbacks fall. I veered into the odd in the mock above in part because the conventional wisdom that the best prospects in this class play on offense has created an expectation that no team desperate for defense will pick need over talent.

If you read each team blurb, you’ll also know I wrote both receivers and corners in pencil. There’s a decent chance one or more of the following could be available:

  • CB Patrick Surtain II
  • CB Jaycee Horn
  • WR Jaylen Waddle
  • WR Ja’Marr Chase

It does look extremely unlikely that Kyle Pitts falls all the way to nine. Part of that is based on my belief that someone will bite on a generational tight end with the belief they can maximize him. It’s impossible to rule out him sliding because he is a tight end, but I think he’ll tempt someone who believes they have the next Darren Waller or Travis Kelce.

There’s also an argument to be made that Pitts is the safest receiving prospect in this class: Chase hasn’t played since 2019 and we don’t have athletic testing numbers for the Alabama receivers. There’s also Waddle’s injury history and Smith weight.

Regardless of Pitts, I doubt the Broncos draft a pass catcher this year, but we can’t overlook the possibility Paton grabs an heir to Von Miller. There are three edges who look like they’ll vie to be the first off the board:

  • Jaelan Phillips
  • Kwity Paye
  • Azeez Ojulari

Before free agency, I weighed out how I saw the Broncos’ options on day one. I plan to discuss it at length for an upcoming episode of Cover 2 Broncos and hope you tune in. In the meantime, I hope you can appreciate the sheer number of directions Paton could take his new team. It’s an exciting time to root for the orange and blue.

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