The Denver Broncos have descended upon Indianapolis to dig into NFL Draft prospects at the NFL Combine. The event serves as the meeting hub for the movers and shakers in the league as well as the underwear Olympics fans see on television, which means it provides teams a chance to get a real read on what’s going on around the league. The buzz out of Indianapolis this year is that top names at the quarterback position like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr will not be available.
Without the big names on the board, the Broncos look like they’ll be one of a dozen or so teams desperately chasing quarterbacks like Mitch Trubisky, Jameis Winston, and Jimmy Garoppolo. It seems telling that George Paton left the door wide open for Teddy Bridgewater’s return earlier this week.
George Paton, asked whether he came out of the team’s meetings with multiple free-agent QBs the Broncos would sign:— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) March 1, 2022
“I wouldn’t say multiple. But there are some ones that we like that are very appealing — including Teddy …” pic.twitter.com/ICpWBSZb9s
The way Paton addresses the ongoing quarterback conundrum will have a ripple effect on every other move the Broncos make this offseason. With that in mind, A.J. Schulte and I decided to sit down and hash out what we believe is the best course of action in front of the second year general manager.
What’s your ideal approach if there’s no future Hall of Famer on the way?
Joe: Without Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson on the rother the Broncos are staring up at the rest of the teams in the AFC West. It’s a bummer after years of “we’re a quarterback away,” but roster building requires a certain degree of self awareness and this roster simply does not have enough to supplant the Kansas City Chiefs or Los Angeles Chargers with a shaky quarterback room. Heck, the Las Vegas Raiders are going to be tough. Unfortunately the veteran QB market looks like it’ll be a seller’s market, and this draft class looks like the worst in years.
This roster has too many foundational players to justify an out and out tank in 2022 barring a teardown, and I can’t believe Paton would consider stripping the roster with the looming ownership transition because he isn’t guaranteed 2023. So the grim reality of yet another year in passer purgatory facing the Broncos leads me to believe the best way forward is to prioritize long term flexibility and seek out future draft capital if at all possible.
AJ: It’s tough to justify going with the safe option in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr. This roster is pretty close to being competitive, with a few holes to fill (like most teams). With the QB market thinning and no free agents really worth it, the Broncos seemed destined for another year of QB purgatory. Unless...
They get aggressive. Whether that’s pursuing a trade for a Deshaun Watson or making a move for a QB in the draft, they have to have some sort of plan at the position for the future. Another year of a mid-tier QB is just kicking the can down the road, and a new owner next year probably won’t go for that.
The Broncos are Super Bowl contenders with Aaron Rodgers under center.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 5, 2022
They're fighting for 3rd in the AFC West without him.
At this point, George Paton has to sweat this thing out. Buckle up.
Which quarterback options are the most palpable?
Joe: I think Paton should do everything he can to build a wide open competition in the quarterback room without committing to anyone beyond this year. Yes, a true QB competition means you probably don’t have a franchise passer, but we already knew that. Sorry Lock stans.
I’m ardently opposed to trading meaningful draft picks for a Jimmy Garoppolo. I’ve already looked at the cap ramifications of a trade for Jimmy G. Paton would need to extend him or risk his cap number impeding every other significant move the Broncos can do this offseason. Extending Garoppolo hurts long term flexibility by tying the team to an injury prone player who put up similar numbers to Teddy Bridgewater with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle catching passes while Kyle Shanahan called plays. Hard pass.
The free agent options are pretty uninspiring if you’re hoping for a clear cut starter, but through the lends of competition it’s at least palpable. Bridgewater already beat Lock out for a starting job once, and Jameis Winston outperformed both when he was healthy. Marcus Mariota played in the Matt LaFleur offense in 2018 and didn’t forget how to play when he was backing up Carr in Las Vegas. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six passes last year because of an injury, but may yet have some magic in his 39-year-old right arm. Heck, even names like Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, and Cam Newton could make sense if the price is low enough. Mitch Trubisky is, well, Mitch Trubisky.
I’m certainly open to drafting a rookie quarterback should the right one slide down the board, but it’d be a waste to take one with the ninth overall pick. The truth is Every one of the five quarterbacks taken in 2021 would go ahead of the 2022 QB crop, and none of these players would be first round prospects in an average draft class. Malik Willis will need to make significant strides to win from the pocket in the NFL. Sam Howell looks like a decent scheme fit if you can overlook his worrisome poise under pressure. Desmond Ridder could be pro ready if he can make notable strides in his down to down accuracy. Matt Corral’s injury, frame, and the Ole Miss offense make him a bit of a risky projection. Carson Strong’s medical checks could cause various teams to take him off their boards completely if his knee gets flagged. Kenny Pickett’s a 24-year-old one-year-wonder with middling arm strength with hands so small he’d be a historical outlier if he succeeds in the league.
AJ: I’m with Joe, for the most part. Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo is pretty pointless, given that I’m not sure Hackett is another version of Shanahan and they won’t be able to carry Garoppolo in a similar fashion. Their only shot at a ceiling-elevating QB is Deshaun Watson, which carries its own risks.
Free agency is a pretty poor mix of quarterbacks. Jameis Winston is the most appealing option, but coming off of injury makes him risky. Mariota, Dalton, Tyrod are all middling options in their own rights and don’t answer any questions. Mitch Trubisky has somehow gained value sitting on the bench despite years of poor (at best) play. That’s a weird hype train that doesn’t make any sense to me. Signing him to be anything other than a backup role seems pretty useless for Denver. They already have Trubisky on the roster.
I’m mostly ok with them taking a QB in the first round. I find it much more tolerable for them to use their day 2 capital to pursue a trade up into round 1 instead of taking one at 9. It also has to be the right quarterback. Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Matt Corral all have enough upside to justify the pick and are fits in what we’re imagining the Hackett offense to look like. Hard pass on anything relating to Kenny Pickett.
Mitch Trubisky by the numbers:— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 3, 2022
Completed 64.1% of his passes for 10,609 yards, 64 touchdowns, and 37 interceptions across his time with the Bears. Took 111 sacks and fumbled 27 times.
Finished above 24th in DYAR once in four years, and ranked 27th in EPA+CPOE among qualifiers. pic.twitter.com/ruufQOQ3iD
What do you hope for from free agency?
Joe: I should admit I’m that weird fan who appreciates a “boring” free agency in a general sense. NFL history shows that teams usually regret their splash signings in the early days of funny money season, and the best deals routinely happen during the second and third wave when GMs bring in depth guys and previously banged up vets who overperform their new contracts.
I do think Paton and the Broncos can do a lot to really improve the roster. According to Over the Cap projections they currently have the sixth most cap space in the league with $38,052,012. Franchise tags will take some of the top talent off the board, but it looks like there should be intriguing veteran talent to address the Broncos’ biggest roster holes.
There’s a plenty of edge players who could step in as an upgrade on Malik Reed if Paton’s willing to hand meet their contract demands. If the Broncos do not elect to retain Josey Jewell, Bryce Callahan, and/or Melvin Gordon they could find comparable replacements on the open market. They could also find starting caliber players at safety, defensive tackle, and tight end if the new coaching staff deems it necessary.
Tackle is a bit complicated, but the Broncos find themselves in a position where they have to sign someone because there’s only one player under contract with NFL experience. Terron Armstead is the top player available and looks like he’ll make an exorbitant amount give his injury history. After that most of the names that’ll land on Paton’s radar are year to year guys that hover around league average, and given the demand they’ll cost more to sign than their play justifies.
Personally, I hope the Broncos retain Calvin Anderson on an RFA tag and find a way to bring back Josey Jewell. I’m also open to one of Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, and Nate Hairston trio returning for a year as the nickel corner. It also makes sense to bring in Morgan Moses of the Jets or re-sign Bobby Massie if the Packers do not release Billy Turner. If the price is right it makes sense to extend Melvin Gordon, though I hope Paton’s wary of the miles on the odometer. If they don’t retain any of their corners I think Darious Williams makes a lot of sense given his familiarity with Ejiro Evero. Sebastian Joseph-Day would also be solid replacement for Mike Purcell if the veteran is a cap casualty.
AJ: I’m not with Joe on the boring free agency period. This is the time for them to go on the offensive and attack free agency. While they don’t quite have to be the Texans of last year, they don’t have as many holes to fill. Look at the Chiefs last year who aggressively attacked fixing the offensive line or the Cowboys with their defense.
Bring back two of Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, or Jonas Griffith at linebacker to fill that spot. I’d also bring back at the least Nate Hairston for some depth. Bringing back Calvin Anderson for cheap should also be a priority, as swing tackles are hard to come by.
After that, go big. Go attack the corner spot, go attack pass rusher, get some more playmakers on both sides of the ball. Build up the trenches. I want them to bring in at least 2 edge rushers this offseason, and there are plenty of talented options in free agency to add. Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Za’Darius Smith if he becomes available, Haason Reddick, Jacob Martin, Obo Okoronkwo, Dennis Gardeck, Lorenzo Carter, Ola Adeniyi, Charles Harris, Uchenna Nwosu, et al are all available in free agency and fit the Broncos’ scheme for pass rushers.
I think they need to boost the defensive line as well. Players like Rasheem Green, Efe Obada, Brandon Williams, BJ Hill, Darius Philon, and Sebastian Joseph-Day make a lot of sense to boost the interior of the defensive line.
There are some talented corners available in free agency too. I don’t think the Broncos should pay big money here, given their starting outside corners are locked in. Some cheaper free agents like K’Waun Williams, Chandon Sullivan, Anthony Averett, and Sidney Jones could be in free agency and make a lot of sense for them to add to boost their secondary depth. I’d look more at nabbing an extra nickel/dime and an outside corner in the draft than in free agency however.
If they do attack offense, I’d expect them to hit up the offensive line and maybe another speedy receiver as a returner. There’s really only one offensive line starter in free agency I’d expect them to pursue and that’s James Daniels. At receiver, Brandon Powell, David Moore, and DeAndre Carter are all some experienced returners this year in free agency the team could pursue for cheap.
Tier one offseason needs for Denver imo: QB, EDGE, RT— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 22, 2021
Tier 2: CB, C (solved if they just move Quinn there), and IDL
Tier 3: LB, WR (gadget/speed guy), RB
Thoughts on the draft?
Joe: I’ve prioritized watching defensive front seven prospects since the Super Bowl and really think that’s a strength of this draft class. While it may lack a clear-cut top talent there are edge and defensive line prospects who fit just about every mold a team could want. I believe the Broncos’ defense under Ejiro Evero will still carry many of the tenets of the Fangio system, and there’s a bunch of players who intrigue. I’ve already written about a few, such as Michigan’s David Ojabo, Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie, and Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders.
Outside the defensive front, everything I’ve seen and read from people I trust such as Brandon Thorn suggests the tackle class has a few day one starters Paton will want to consider if the Broncos keep the ninth overall pick. After that there are developmental starters for the zone/duo run scheme Hackett plans to implement, but they’ll need time to adjust to life in the NFL. As is typical in most drafts, there is a slew of intriguing interior line prospects. If Paton wants to grab a center to back up or eventually push Lloyd Cushenberry he’ll have options all over the board.
Cornerback looks promising this year with guys such as Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley as well as Washington’s Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr., Florida’s Kaiir Elam, and Auburn’s Roger McCreary rounding out the top names. Baylor’s Jalen Pitre is someone I’ve got my eye on over the next few days, as he fits the Broncos’ immediate need for a slot corner.
Outside of quarterback, this looks like a pretty good draft for Paton to address the Broncos’ biggest needs. Given the dearth of passers, I hope the Broncos’ general manager strongly considers trading down from the ninth overall pick if there’s a way to obtain a 2023 first. Beyond that I hope he swings for top talent at premium positions early. In an ideal world one of the “big three” tackle prospects are available to him at nine. If not, there should be talented defensive front seven and corner prospects remaining on the board.
AJ: There are a few things the Broncos shouldn’t leave the draft without: an EDGE1, their starting nickel corner, their quarterback, and their right tackle. Some way, some how, those questions should be answered by the time they submit their final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The pass rusher class is abso-freakin-lutely stacked. We’re talking about a class where 20 edge rushers could come off the board in the first two days. Denver would be foolish to not dip into this pool, and they should do it early. I’ve said I believe they need to double-dip at edge in the offseason, and taking advantage of such a talented class is the right call.
This corner class is pretty promising. While I don’t think Denver should take one at 9 (unless it’s Derek Stingley), some guys like Houston’s Marcus Jones, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, Auburn’s Roger McCreary, and Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant all make sense on Day 2 to pursue to fill out their corner room.
With them hopefully re-signing two of Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, and Jonas Griffith, they should only be looking at Day 3 guys to fill out the depth of their linebacker room. Illinois’s Jake Hansen, App State’s D’Marco Jackson, Arizona State’s Darien Butler, and Indiana’s Micah McFadden all make sense with upside to be impactful special teamers.
The offensive tackle class is going to dry up pretty quick for Denver, but if they are aggressive at attacking needs in free agency, an OT is likely going to be the best player available for them to consider. Mississippi State’s Charles Cross and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning are both outstanding athletes who should fit right into Denver’s outside zone offense at right tackle.
I’d also be looking at depth at receiver, running back, and along the interior of the offensive line. Like I said above, adding a speedster with some returning ability like Tennessee’s Velus Jones, Michigan State’s Jalen Nailor, SMU’s Danny Gray, and Rutgers’s Bo Melton into the receiver room is a smart idea for the team, given Hamler’s injury history.
The team needs another running back that fits their new scheme. Re-signing Melvin Gordon at this point is redundant and Javonte Williams in an outside zone offense leaves a lot to be desired. Georgia’s James Cook, NC State’s Zonovan Knight, Missouri’s Tyler Badie, Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks, and Arizona State’s Rachaad White all make sense.
Adding some depth in the interior of the offensive line is always a good idea, and this class features some pretty solid additions. Arizona State’s Dohnovan West, UT-Chattanooga’s Cole Strange, Central Michigan’s Luke Goedeke, Tennessee’s Cade Mays, and San Diego State’s Zachary Thomas are all scheme fits with plenty of athletic upside to stick in Denver’s zone scheme.
Your Broncos’ News
I spoke with RiseNDraft and Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Roberts on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos to find out.
There is a link, but it’s not what you might think
The Broncos GM says he’s sure there’s a draft pick or two that he’d reconsider, or a maybe free agent signing.
Every year the NFL Combine sends a few players draft stock flying sky high or drops it like a stone, but is it actually useful?
If the Broncos do end up with Drew Lock starting in 2022, is there any hope that he improves?
According to George Paton, “everything is on the table” regarding quarterbacks. Would drafting a QB in the first round be a good use of the pick?
The Denver Broncos need pass rush help...and Von Miller said he’s a Broncos for life, right?
Could the Broncos sign a future Hall of Fame pass rusher?
Could Paton replace Von Miller with a former first overall pick?
Broncos general manager George Paton confirmed what we’ve known since his team’s initial flirtation with Rodgers, saying the Broncos will continue to be “aggressive” in their search for a quarterback. That all sounds good and may appease those fan bases for a bit, but by this time last year, the Stafford trade was already a month old, and the Colts’ trade for Carson Wentz had already been made.
Last year, the combine was canceled—and NFL draft season rolled on virtually unchanged. This year, players nearly boycotted the event. Yet many in Indianapolis this week see importance in the annual convention.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Packers quarterback is “truly torn” on where he’d like to play in 2022. He’s currently “going back and forth” on what he wants.
Carr is entering the final year of the five-year, $125 million extension he signed in 2017, and new coach Josh McDaniels acknowledged this week that the team has had no extension talks with the quarterback’s representation.
It’s possible Wilson, who has a no-trade clause, vetoed any possible deal. He said this week that while he loves the East Coast, “I think the West Coast is better for me right now.” It’s also possible the Seahawks are trying to trade Wilson without looking like they are trying to trade him. The right offer, combined with Wilson’s OK, still might find Wilson packing his bags and heading elsewhere.
The team is prepared to use the franchise tag on Williams if they can’t reach a long-term deal with him before March 8, Tyler Dragon of USA Today reports.
What goes into evaluating a future NFL QB? We use one of the top QBs in this year’s draft class to illustrate the key points.