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Broncos’ 2021 Draft Wrap Up: the Good, the Bad, and the Elway

Initial thoughts on every Denver Broncos’ selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.

One of the most overlooked parts of the NFL Draft is how it is a giant guessing game. Every team hits on picks and every team will miss. With that in mind, I’ve long been a proponent for collecting lottery tickets.

This year we got to watch a new general manager throw darts at the board for the first time in 10 years. The hope is they will all become foundational players, though the reality is some of them probably won’t. For now, optimism about each prospect is sky high and that’s awesome.

What follows are my thoughts on all 10, broken down by what I like, what I don’t, and what I would have done if Elway had passed the GM role down to me. Surely that won’t upset anyone.

9. Patrick Surtain II - Cornerback

The good:

The seventh player on my board and the top corner. Surtain’s a shutdown corner who allowed 46.1% of the targets in his direction to be completed across 41 career games at Alabama. He allowed just four touchdowns. He’s received NFL type of coaching since he was in high school and should become an early contributor in a Fangio defense that used five or more defensive backs on 75% of their snaps in 2020.

The bad:

The Broncos signed Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in March after drafting Michael Ojemudia in the third last year. Some will complain that they didn’t need a corner, even if the injury history and contract questions make that short sighted.

As for Surtain himself, I do have some concerns about how he’ll match up against speed in off coverage.

The Elway:

I would have taken Justin Fields, but have heard from a reliable source the Broncos were this close to acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. It would make no sense to draft a rookie QB in the top ten to sit as a QB3 all year and while the future Hall of Famer is 37-years old, he’s said he wants to play into his 40s.

35. Javonte “Pookie” Williams - Running back

The good:

My RB1 and a fantastic scheme fit for the Broncos’ rushing attack, Williams combines elite contact balance with underrated hands and very good athleticism. With a little refinement, he has a 4-down toolkit and should become a weapon in short yardage situations.

The bad:

George Paton traded away a fourth round pick to acquire a running back. Williams needs to prove he can be patient to let his blocking develop on a consistent basis because he doesn’t have the kind of speed to reliably make the corner bouncing runs wide in the NFL. To stay on the field on third downs, he’ll need to improve his pass pro technique.

The Elway:

I would have considered Williams if he fell to 40 because I love the player, but didn’t like the trade up. I’ve gone back and forth on the pick itself because I do believe shoring up the right tackle situation will do more to fix the offense than an RB2 in 2021, but this running back class was pretty weak as far as Shurmur types. If Pookie picks a cool number, I’ll probably buy his jersey.

98. Quinn Meinerz - Interior Offensive Lineman

The good:

I thought he’d go in the second round, and it was a surprise he fell all the way to 98. He brings potential guard/center versatility which makes him a valuable part of the OL room whether he starts or sits early. Everything I’ve read/heard on him suggests he’s a mean SOB who lives and breaths football. Good grip strength, underrated athleticism, and competitive toughness.

The bad:

His draft stock soared because of the Senior Bowl where he played through a broken hand. Jumping from Wisconsin-Whitewater to the NFL is going from a creek to the ocean. The Broncos paid Graham Glasgow and drafted Lloyd Cushenberry in the third round a season ago, so Meinerz may not find his way to the field for awhile.

The Elway:

I would have taken Baron Browning at 98 because I’ve been optimistic Cush can improve on his rookie season. Now I have questions.

105. Baron Browning - Linebacker

The good:

The third linebacker on my board behind Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Micah Parsons. Browning offers a similar upside to Parsons with his elite athleticism, fluidity in space, and ability to rush the passer. He brings previous experience playing multiple spots for the Ohio State defense and should become a core special teamer.

The bad:

He never found a true home with the Buckeyes, bouncing between positions. Questions about his instincts and feel for the game could lead to a defined role and limit his impact.

The Elway:

I would have considered Browning at 40 because I think he’ll become an All Pro under Fangio’s guidance.

152. Caden Sterns - Safety

The good:

Elite athlete and 2020 team captain. Sterns has the kind of range you can’t teach with the ability to match up in man or patrol deep zones. While he needs to do a better job anticipating, he does a good job keying off the QB to get where he has to be. He’s a willing tackler.

The bad:

Sterns’ best season came in 2018 and he’s battled injuries since. Caden Sterns fell in the draft because he’s been a trait over tape guy so far. Scouts question his toughness: Knee injury in 2018. Knee surgery in the spring of 2019. Right knee sprain in fall of 2019 caused him to miss 4 games. Missed a game last year to turf toe. Anticipation and route recognition needs to improve if he’s going to contribute on defense. While he’s willing to mix it up, he needs to do a better job sorting through trash and securing the ball carrier.

The Elway:

I would have taken Stone Forsythe because I think the Broncos’ right tackle situation is pretty dire, but Sterns is an exciting developmental prospect who should become a good special teamer.

164. Jamar Johnson - Safety

The good:

Tape over traits ballhawk who displays the kind of anticipation to bait throws and steal the ball. 2020 was Johnson’s only year as a starter at Indiana and he led the Big Ten in pass break ups and interceptions. The Hoosier’s had him play their “Husky” position which is a mix of free safety and nickel corner. He’s got the tools to be a factor on blitzes and cover the slot.

The bad:

He played in 31 games, but only started 9. Was ejected from a game in 2020 for throwing a punch. He was also arrested and charged with a Class-A misdemeanor for fleering from police, who approached him after smelling marijuana. On the field, he’s going to need to improve as a run defender across the board. Needs to take better angles coming downhill and become a better form tackler.

The Elway:

I wasn’t completely sure if Johnson would land on the Broncos’ radar because I had questions about his run defense, wondering if Fangio would take issue with it. I do think he’s an intriguing prospect and should find a role, but I would have taken Stone Forsythe because I think the Broncos’ right tackle situation is pretty dire.

219. Seth Williams - Wide receiver

The good:

Led the Auburn Tigers in receiving yards the last two seasons and finished with 17 TD grabs. He’s a big body who shows a knack for making the most of shaky ball placement having played with Bo Nix for two years. He has good hands and his past history as a power forward shows in his ability to outrebound defenders for the ball in jump ball situations. He’s also a willing blocker, which should help him compete for time on special teams.

The bad:

15 drops the last two seasons. He isn’t very good at separating at the line or with his route running and that probably won’t improve much in the NFL because of athletic limitations. Is not a burner and probably won’t become a consistent vertical threat. Missed a game in 2019 because of a left shoulder injury.

The Elway:

I had Ar’Darius Washington as the top prospect on my board, but the Broncos already took three defensive backs. Williams makes sense if the plan is rolling out Drew Lock and/or losing Tim Patrick down the road. I would have drafted an offensive lineman like Alaric Jackson, or maybe Justin Hilliard for special teams and linebacker depth.

237. Kary Vincent Jr. - Defensive Back

The good:

Elite athlete with a notable track background: He ran track at LSU, serving as the lead leg of the 4x100-meter relay as a freshman and claimed gold at the SEC Championships. As a sophomore, he won gold in the 100 meters, recording the second-fastest time of the NCAA season. His father was a wide receiver prospect who was drafted by the Saints in 1992, Vic Fangio was their linebacker coach.

The bad:

I didn’t think he was a Fangio fit because he’s lacks savvy in coverage and comes with questions about his run defense. Needs to improve his route recognition, play strength, and tackling to find a role on the Broncos defense. His marginal play strength will make separating from blocks difficult, which could impact him on special teams. While he’s an elite athlete, he lacks return experience.

239. Jonathan Cooper - Edge

The good:

A two time team captain with a hot motor, he earns high marks for competitive toughness. Cooper brings good play strength and an appetite for violence, he could become a factor in the Broncos’ pressure package with his ability as a penetrator.

The bad:

A notable injury history. He suffered a right ankle injury that required tight rope surgery in 2019 that knocked him out for most of the season. Also had hernia surgery in 2020. When he was 14 he was diagnosed with arrhythmia and underwent multiple heart surgeries to address his abnormal heart rhythm. On the field he’s a straight line type of rusher who doesn’t possess a ton of bend or length. Needs to improve his rush plan.

The Elway(2X)

If the Broncos were still considering DBs, I much preferred Ar’Darius Washington. I didn’t think they were at this point and thought Alaric Jackson (OT), Justin Hilliard (LB), or Amen Ogbongbemiga (LB) would have made a lot of sense. I also thought Shaka Toney, Charles Snowden, and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. were better options at edge.

253. Marquiss Spencer - Defensive line

The good:

Came to the Bulldogs as the third ranked recruit in the 2016 class behind Jeffery Simmons and Kobe Jones. He’s a powerful player with a good burst and hands. Brings versatility to play up and down the defensive line.

The bad:

Older prospect who will turn 24 during his rookie season. Left the field on a stretcher in 2020 and missed the last two games of the year, though the injury was deemed not serious. Tore an ACL in 2018. More powerful than twitched up.

The Elway:

With the way the Broncos are loaded along the defensive line I would have chased an offensive lineman, linebacker, or tight end for the final selection.