For all the hand-wringing that many in Broncos Country did after the Broncos failed to take a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft, the second day’s haul was a master class in utilizing draft capital to get both quantity and quality in picks.
George Paton traded up to go after North Carolina’s 1,100-yard-plus rusher Javonte Williams, then traded back a couple times to turn one pick into two, bringing in everyone’s favorite quirky D-III offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz and a beast of a linebacker in Ohio State’s Baron Browning.
Addressing three important positions while also getting top-level talent earned the Broncos much praise from fans and analysts alike.
It was even one of three teams to get an A+ grade from NFL.com’s Chad Reuter, who gave Paton a B for Day 1:
“Williams has a powerful running style that will allow the Broncos to control the clock while also enabling him to break off longer runs. ...Meinerz can play guard or center in the NFL, but the Broncos announced him as a guard. He’s an excellent find in the late third round for a Broncos team needing more depth on the interior offensive line. Browning was my highest-rated player left on the board when the Broncos picked him at 105. He will anchor the team’s second-level defense with leadership and athleticism.”
Williams, who turned his 224 rushing yards as a freshman into 1,140 as junior, is relatively new to the position. Having played linebacker in high school, his size prevented him from getting calls from college scouts. So he became a running back and used his linebacker mentality to his advantage.
“I started playing running back, but schools were still passing on me because it was too late in the process,” Williams said of switching his senior year in high school. “My last game of my senior year in the state championship game we played at UNC, and [former Tar Heels Head] Coach [Larry] Fedora offered me after the game.”
Williams made the most of his learning experience and was considered by many to be a top or the top running back in the Draft.
He certainly thought he was.
“I definitely feel like I am the best running back in the Draft,” he said. “Having to sit through the entire first round yesterday was hard for me.”
The Broncos see Williams as a three-down back and a likely eventual replacement for Melvin Gordon III.
Williams looks forward to learning from - but also competing with - Gordon.
“I want to compete all the time. It’s the linebacker in me, too,” he said, adding that it’s mainly competing to win his one-on-one battles with defenders. “If I see someone in front of me, I want to go through them or make them miss in some sort of way.”
The Broncos essentially ended up with two linebackers on Friday, but one is just disguised as a running back and the other said he’d play any position the team needed. It wouldn’t even have to be defense.
“I think I’m more comfortable outside, but at the end of the day, I’ll play wherever they need me to play. I’ll play kicker,” he added, laughing.
For his seven sacks at Ohio State, he was coming off the edge, but he’s been working on broadening his skillset.
“I think I’ve grown a lot,” he said, adding that he worked with a grad assistant before the 2020 season to improve his off-man catch technique. “I think I’ve grown a lot in my pass coverage. I’m going to continue to grow in it. I’m trying to develop all my skills, so I’m just looking forward to continuing to be able to improve my skillset.”
If any Bronco is looking for a different workout routine, he may want to consult Denver’s newest offensive lineman, a DIII player from Wisconsin-Whitewater whose season was cancelled in 2020.
Meinerz, who gained notoriety as much for his “let the belly breathe” jersey fashion as his play at the Senior Bowl, employed Rocky-in-Russia type workouts, hauling propane tanks, lifting 4x4 planks of wood, grapevine drills across a bridge, snapping the ball into garbage cans and knocking over trees.
“I think I got really creative,” he said in an interview featured by Walter Sharp. “It was one of those moments where it taught me how motivated I am to work harder than anybody else.”
His No. 1 motivation, he adds, is “proving other people wrong and proving myself right.”
And that’s what he aimed to do - and accomplished - with his Senior Bowl invite.
Having abused Division I defenders in the Senior Bowl, Meinerz will be giving the Broncos some serious toughness on the O-line.
“The easy write-off for a small school player is level of competition, and I was like, ‘you know what, screw those guys. They don’t anything about me. I’m going to go out there and show even more so that level of competition wasn’t going to be an issue for me.’”
In a totally unfair poll, which of these studs was your favorite pick?
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