The Broncos went into the draft with two obvious needs. Just about every NFL analyst outside of Colorado knew quarterback made sense. There was no way George Paton would be content with a third year quarterback who finished 2020 last in every measure that matters and a veteran who’s former team willingly accepted to pay $7 million for him to play in Denver.
Less glaring but more pertinent was the 317 lb. question mark set to start at right tackle. I want to be clear that I have no problem with a man prioritizing his family’s health in the middle of a pandemic, as it is truly a life-or-death kind of decision.
In football, Ja’Wuan James’ 2020 opt out meant it’d be nigh impossible for the Broncos to part ways with him this offseason. While I’ve long known that to be the case, at no point did I think George Paton would count him as the man who played 65 snaps in two years as he did.
I understood the Broncos’ willingness to lay low in a free agent market where bad tackles got funny money and good ones made history. It did seem odd Denver didn’t so much as sign a third wave veteran at the position, but I figured that pointed to obvious plans for a very deep tackle class in the 2021 draft.
Penei Sewell was the top non-QB on my Broncos big board, so it did not come as a shock when he landed with the Detroit Lions at seven. Despite what some draft analysts were saying on TV, the gap between Sewell and every other tackle prospect was a massive one.
I did not predict three pass catchers and Jaycee Horn going in the top eight, and when the Broncos landed on the clock at nine, my heart stopped. I’d heard from a trusted friend during the week leading up to the draft that George Paton wanted Trey Lance and would pass on Justin Fields if that situation occurred. I’d hoped he’d been misled. He wasn’t.
Patrick Surtain II became a Denver Bronco.
As the pick happened, speculation ran rampant how George Paton may have made the pick for the Green Bay Packers. He didn’t.
Following the draft, we’ve learned from NFL Network’s Mike Silver that Paton had received preliminary offers from the Philadelphia Eagles at 12, the Minnesota Vikings at 14, the Bears, and New Orleans Saints at 28. Thanks to the first trade down in Dave Gettleman’s career as a general manager, the Chicago Bears gave away 20, 164, and a 2022 first and fourth to move up for Justin Fields.
There’s an alternate universe where Broncos made the trade with Chicago and drafted Christian Darrisaw. It would have given them insurance against Drew Lock and a failed Aaron Rodgers trade. If the rumors are true and Philly wanted to jump Dallas for Surtain, Paton could have slid back to 12 and drafted Rashawn Slater.
No matter, Patrick Surtain II will be Champ Bailey, right?
On the second day of the draft, George Paton made sure he got his guy when the Broncos traded 40 and 114 to move up to 35. The hope is Javonte “Pookie” Williams gives Pat Shurmur the next Beast Mode and serves as insurance against Melvin Gordon.
It would not surprise me if Javonte Williams stole Melvin Gordon's job. pic.twitter.com/MwcAbYn9ck— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 5, 2021
To go up and get the top running back on my pre-draft board, the Broncos gave up an opportunity to draft Tevin Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, Walker Little, Sam Cosmi, and Dillon Radunz.
In the third round, the Broncos picked at 71. After Jaylen Mayfield and Brady Christensen were drafted at 68 and 70, George Paton traded down multiple times to collect two third round picks from the New Orleans Saints. Both picks fell behind the Buffalo Bills at 93, which cost Paton Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown.
The trade for Pookie cost the Broncos their fourth round pick and an opportunity to steal Jabril Cox away from the Dallas Cowboys. It also meant Mike Munchak wouldn’t have the opportunity to coach up Dan Moore, Josh Ball, or D’Ante Smith. Maybe that’s a good thing: the questions hanging over Ball make Tyreek Hill look like a saint.
Drafting Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson in the fifth round made a ton of sense. Paton is planning for life after Kareem Jackson, whose contract expires after the 2021 season. Planning ahead at safety cost the Broncos Jaylon Moore, Brenden Jaimes, Tommy Doyle, and Stone Forsythe.
At his post-draft press conference, George Paton said a few tackles were drafted right before the Broncos took them.
“We targeted a few that were taken right before we took them, but it didn’t fall our way. We still feel good about our depth. We’ll continue to look on the market—the free-agent market. I think we’re signing five offensive linemen from college free agency. Sometimes it just doesn’t fall. We had a tackle we liked but he was taken right before, that’s just the way the draft goes.”
Now they are looking at Calvin Anderson, Quinn Bailey, rookie Drew Himmelman, and the fourth wave of free agency. In the end, George Paton has no one to blame but himself. The Broncos had a chance to draft every single tackle but Penei Sewell.
Make the draft fall your way.
More on the potential Rodgers/Broncos marriage
According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, the Packers are upset that other teams, including the 49ers and Broncos, may have contacted Rodgers to see if he is interested in playing for them.
From NFL Now on @nflnetwork: On @BobMcGinn’s “Krause” report and Aaron Rodgers’ warning #Packers prospective free agents for quite some time he wasn’t expecting to be back in Green Bay in 2021. pic.twitter.com/pXdYHffCiY— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 5, 2021
Wow. Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles while working out today away from the team.
NFL reiterates that injuries away from team facilities expose players to losing their salaries - ProFootballTalk
“According to the media coverage, several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”
Klis making it pretty clear the Broncos are going to help the NFL make an example of Ja'Wuan James. https://t.co/fX8k2SFQs2— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 5, 2021
The Broncos search for a right tackle continues.
Leno is probably the best healthy offensive tackle currently on the market.
With James loss for the season, here are all the available free agent RTs and their ages - min 10% of O snaps in 2020. Lots of older tackles still on the market. pic.twitter.com/0jivUAjzjd— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) May 5, 2021
The Denver Broncos under George Paton are improving. We’re taking a look closely at what we learned about it in this year’s draft.
Long, fast, good ball skills...just what the Broncos need to compete against the powerhouse offenses in the AFC West.
LSU Tigers’ cornerback Kary Vincent went to the Broncos at as No. 237, and he’s ready to get there and work.
Williams was my favorite back in the draft.
LB Jonathon Cooper is hyped to reunite with OSU teammate Baron Browning and learn from Denver’s secondary
Few teams did a better job of identifying and adding value than the Broncos. However, I happen to disagree with the decision to pass on Justin Fields at No. 9 overall. GM George Paton had the opportunity to pull Denver out of the QB wilderness for the first time since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset, and he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Perhaps visions of Aaron Rodgers in orange and navy were dancing in his head.
Everything the Broncos do this weekend—and perhaps for the next three years—may be clouded by the fact that the team passed on Justin Fields last night (despite a reported interest) and couldn’t consummate a rumored Aaron Rodgers trade. The Broncos just TRADED UP to draft a modest upgrade over Melvin Gordon. That’s the kind of move that will keep them where they are instead of getting them where they expect to be.
Meinerz is a fine athlete who dominated lower-level competition. He then proved he could hang with the big boys at the Senior Bowl. He has the upside to be a capable NFL starter, though he may need a year to refine his technique and ramp up to the level of competition. Indistinguishable from the real thing, right? Seriously though: small-school linemen who roll through Mobile have a pretty strong track record of success, and Meinerz could end up like Marpet someday, blocking in the Super Bowl for a Hall of Famer like Aaron Rodgers.
Melvin Gordon has negative rushing DVOA in five of his six career seasons. I think he’s a bit better than that suggests, but I don’t think the Broncos were set at running back.
The 10 best player fits of the 2021 NFL Draft: Ja’Marr Chase to the Bengals, Alijah Vera-Tucker to the Jets and more | NFL Draft | PFF
PICK 105: EDGE BARON BROWNING, DENVER BRONCOS Go to Browning’s MockDraftable page and you’ll see that one of his top athletic comps among all linebacker prospects in history is Von Miller. There aren’t too many 6-foot-2, 245-pounders who can run a 4.56 40-yard dash, vertical jump 40 inches, broad jump 10-foot-10 and run a 6.78-second three-cone. Miller timed slightly faster in both but also jumped slightly less at 6-foot-3, 246 pounds. What I’m trying to get at is this: Browning is a raw edge prospect with similar tools to Miller who now gets to learn from one of the best ever to do it. Browning couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot.
"If the Packers decide to trade Rodgers, chances are they wouldn’t send him to a team in the NFC."— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 5, 2021
No word on when George Paton will hire an assistant GM
“Knowing Aaron, and I think I know him fairly well, if he has a grudge, whether it be against the organization or a player or an arch-rival, or family, friends, he ain’t budging,” he said on the “Bolling with Favre” podcast. “I don’t see him coming back and saying — if this is not resolved, however, whatever the issue is — if it’s not resolved, or even if it’s resolved but he feels like they have one up on him, he ain’t gonna play. Knowing Aaron, he would sit. Now, he would forego a lot of money, but he’s also got a lot money.”
“I have a fairly good feel for what league value is on a player versus what we considered to be Raiders value,” he said, alluding to his nearly two decades as a draft analyst for NFL Network. “Leatherwood had a big value for us. The announcers, I guess, didn’t like it last night, and I knew it was going to be controversial, but I really don’t care. The only thing I do care about is when my family gets hurt. But that’s part of the job. It doesn’t bother me at all. When my son or my daughter is upset, I’m upset. But outside of that, no.”
“I would probably say free agency was more nerve wracking than draft day,” Smith-Schuster told PFT PM. “Everything this year did not play out to how I wanted it to be when I look back five, four years. It’s a lot different. It’s betting on myself, going with the team I’ve been with before, and going out trying to get paid again.”
Michel, a running back chosen in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, could lose his spot on the 53-man roster if rookie Rhamondre Stevenson impresses in training camp and the preseason, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.
“We’ve talked about this internally,” York told Matt Maiocco on 49ers Talk. “If we’re in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.
Because he has only three years in the NFL, Johnson will go on waivers, where the 31 other teams have the opportunity to claim his contract. Given that he’s just 23 years old and has shown flashes of big-play ability, it won’t be surprising if some team claims him.
The Bucs already re-signed third-string quarterback — and Tom Brady‘s Super Bowl parade wingman — Ryan Griffin. They drafted Kyle Trask in the second round.