I know, I know. The season hasn’t even started yet, why am I doing a mock draft? It’s important to compare and contrast where we are at the beginning of the season versus the end of it to see any new developments or how our confidence has changed in various positions.
I used the Pro Football Network draft simulator for this initial mock draft, but I’ll rotate between various sites as I do more of these if this becomes a series. The Denver Broncos pick 11th in this simulator (don’t shoot the messenger here). I took players based on where they were in the simulator and judged them based on overall need for the team. Keep in mind that this is indeed preseason, so things will change.
Without further ado, let’s get into the mock draft!
Round 1, Pick 11: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
If the team is picking 11th (which seems unlikely at this stage), then it’s pretty clear that Vic Fangio will no longer be the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Furthermore, neither QB will be the guy at that point. No new staff is likely going to tie themselves to Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock, so the first selection should be a new quarterback for the future. I say should because the corner class next year is very, very talented and we know George Paton can’t resist those.
On the surface, some might be hesitant with Corral-drawing similarities to Drew Lock. The two have similar arm talents (I believe Corral’s is better) and inconsistent decision-making. However, there are a few areas that Corral already has the edge over Lock. For starters, Corral already has a better sense of pocket management. We’ve seen Lock over the years struggle with feeling pressure and rushers, and it’s part of why Teddy Bridgewater won the starting job. Corral has a better feel for pressure and play better against it than Lock. Corral posted a 60.5% completion rate against pressure and a positive EPA rate vs pressure (48%) and on 3rd downs (67.7%). Both of those numbers were in the top-20th percentile in the country. Corral posted an exceptional number of explosive plays versus pressure, something that’s been eluding the Broncos for a long time.
According to SEC StatCat, Matt Corral also had the highest success rate of any returning SEC quarterback and First down+TD rate, and is second among all returners in his accuracy score! Corral’s analytical measurements check off a lot of boxes, something important to note moving forward.
Corral has to get more comfortable with avoiding some critical spots and has a few pocket tendencies similar to Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma, but I believe those issues can correct themselves over time. With the offensive line the Broncos have built, Corral’s confidence can shine without having to worry about being constantly under duress.
Round 2, Pick 43: Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
This is one pick that feels a little TBD, but the EDGE spot could be a need for the Broncos next offseason. Both Von Miller and Malik Reed are free agents in 2022, and with the amount of free high-profile free agents the Broncos will have, it’s unlikely both will be re-signed. As such, the Broncos will need to add another player into this room.
Nik Bonitto is a bendy rusher in the same mold as Von and Malik Reed, combining that bend and ankle flexion with an explosive first step. He’s a high motor player, consistently fighting to make the play and hound the quarterback. Much like many players on the new Sooners defense under Alex Grinch, he’s constantly scrapping to make the play-an endearing trait. Bonitto also flashes in coverage, using that athleticism to spot drop in zones and match up in the flats against backs and tight ends.
As it stands off of his 2020 tape, Bonitto’s still developing a toolbox of pass-rushing moves, but the athleticism and motor are big selling points on his film. I’d like to see Bonitto improve as a run defender, with some rough moments versus power. He projects best as a 3-4 OLB at the next level, but should be able to play with his hand in the dirt as his play strength and weight improve.
A versatile outside linebacker with a hot motor and excellent athletic traits would be a wise addition to this Broncos’ defense with question marks in this room for the future.
Round 3, Pick 75: Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State
This might be a “No way he makes it there” kind of pick with Lucas, but he was too good to pass on here. The Broncos have long-term plans across the board on the offensive line, save for the right tackle spot. Both players who competed for the job, Bobby Massie and Calvin Anderson, are free agents in 2022. Massie shouldn’t be a long-term plan given his age, and Anderson’s raw play despite being in the league for several years make it difficult to trust him assuming this spot.
Lucas is an interesting evaluation due to the parallels of him in pass protection versus run blocking. In pass protection, Lucas looks at his best-which is no surprise. Working under Air Raid extraordinaire Mike Leach and now a Run & Shoot coach in Nick Rolovich, Lucas just hasn’t played in a traditional run game. That makes his projection tough, especially when another Washington State lineman in Andre Dillard has really struggled to make it in the league. He’s shown an ability to pull and work with combo blocks, but I’m not a fan of his game working up to the second-level, where the athletic difference between him and Dillard shows up.
Unlike Dillard however, Lucas probably won’t suffer from an inflated draft stock with Washington State not really in the national spotlight. I also think Lucas is better in pass protection right now than Dillard was, despite not quite possessing the athleticism Dillard did. I like Lucas’s sets and balance in pass protection, and he does a good job using his length to his advantage.
Overall, Lucas is a little raw and unorthodox as a tackle prospect, but I think he’d fit into the Broncos’ offensive line. He needs some more seasoning, but I’d imagine that a new staff would keep Munchak around, and his guidance would be instrumental for Lucas.
Round 4, Pick 111: Verone McKinley III, CB, Oregon
The Broncos will have Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller hit free agency next season. Given how frequently Callahan’s name has popped up in trade talks and his circumstances, I doubt the team feels comfortable inking him long-term. While Patrick Surtain II can fill in Fuller’s outside spot, that leaves the nickel spot open.
Enter Verone McKinley III. The Broncos have built their secondary with some versatility, and McKinley is no exception. He has experience playing outside corner, nickel in the slot, and at safety for the Ducks. McKinley flashes quick feet and great change of direction to match receivers in man coverage, and his awareness and ball skills are evident across his film.
His height can get the best of him, which is why he’s at his best as a nickel, but he’s not afraid to mix it up in the run game. He’s a little like now-Bengals corner Mike Hilton in that regard. Overall, I feel like he’s capable of starting in the nickel from day 1 and his versatility at multiple positions is intriguing on a team that likes to mix up looks in the secondary.
Round 5, Pick 143: Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor
With both AJ Johnson and Josey Jewell set for free agency, it’s possible the Broncos lose out on one or both. Baron Browning is presumed to fill one spot, but they need to add more to this linebacker room to fill out the depth.
Bernard has been a do-it-all linebacker at Baylor. Dave Aranda asks him to fit multiple hats, which is important for a guy that might be depth early on. He’s sharp mentally and a quick athlete dropping into coverage and playing the run. He won’t blow up blockers, but he’s good at slipping by and making a disruptive play. From my understanding of Aranda’s defense, Bernard mans the MIKE spot and serves as the defense’s “green dot”. That’s important, and makes Bernard even more of a value pick here.
Bernard’s past injuries and the dip in linebacker value might make him drop in the 2022 NFL Draft, but I was plenty surprised to see him available here in the simulator. He has the ability to play special teams as well, which we’ve seen is important to GM George Paton.
Round 6, Pick 175: Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Javonte Williams is going to pick up the main workhorse load, but with Melvin Gordon hitting free agency, Williams need a complementary back. Max Borghi projects as a solid-good third-down back at the next level.
Borghi’s ability as a receiver is his best attribute. Washington State feeds him often on receptions out of the backfield. Borghi does a good job working open and settling into zones, possessing natural ability and comfort as a receiver. He’s explosive in and out of his cuts, and he has an extra gear to produce big plays with a crease. I was pleasantly surprised by his contact balance, and unlike a lot of similar backs, Borghi can take hits and fight forward through traffic.
I like having a complementary back with Borghi’s skillset to the more bruising, power type that Javonte Williams has. There are a lot of similar running back committee’s built the same way, and Borghi’s ability as a third-down back is among the best in the 2022 draft class.
Round 7, Pick 206: Jalen Virgil, WR, App State
I debated on several courses here for this last pick. At the end of the day though, it’s a seventh round pick. So I settled on swinging for a high-upside pickup here at a sneaky position of need. Denver has Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Diontae Spencer, the team’s special teams darling, all hitting free agency. If you ask me, I’d only keep Sutton out of that group, and there’s a chance Tim Patrick could be traded before the trade deadline. The Broncos will then need to add to this room and replace (and upgrade) the returner role left behind by Spencer.
It’s hard to gauge just how effective Jalen Virgil is as a receiver, given that he doesn’t play in an offense that features his athleticism the way it should be, but given his ability and ridiculous speed, it’s a crime that no App State coach has really figured it out just yet. The All-Sun Belt returner has speed to burn, and has flashed big play ability when targeted and used. Listen to his numbers from Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List:
“A fixture on this list, the 6-1, 210-pound senior, who in 2020 was third-team All-Sun Belt as a return specialist, has run a 10.29 100 for the App State track team and vertical jumped 40.5 inches, broad jumped 10-11, bench pressed 405, and knocked out 345 pounds in a close-grip bench press. This offseason he’s added a sumo deadlift of 600 pounds to his hefty resume.”
Yeah, I’ll take a flier on that this late in the draft. Worth a shot on those numbers alone.