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20 NFL Draft prospects who make sense for the Broncos at 64, and 3 who don’t.

Who should Paton consider with the Broncos’ first pick in the draft?

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Of all the fallout from the Russell Wilson trade, the one that caught me by surprise the most is the relative disinterest in the upcoming NFL Draft. In previous years Broncos Country was consumed by any and all chatter about the event around now, myself included. Not this year, where there appears to be just as much interest in the franchise’s impending sale and the slow drip of news from Nathaniel Hackett’s first OTAs.

An adjustment makes sense, of course. This time last year there was a hotly contested debate about what George Paton should do with the ninth overall pick. With only Drew Lock and Brett Rypien on the roster, there was plenty of speculation that the first year GM could take “the fourth best” passer in the upcoming draft. Fast forward to 2022, and there’s no question about the starting quarterback anymore, while Paton isn’t on the clock until the end of the second round. With the lion’s share of draft content focused on the early part of the first round, plenty of fans have little idea as to who is even available.

Realistically it’s unlikely he’ll find a player who makes the same impact Patrick Surtain II did as a rookie, but that doesn’t mean the right player can’t help the Broncos’ odds at the playoffs. A quick look at the last 10 64th picks in the NFL Draft reveal plenty of early contributors.

2021: Kyle Trask

2020: Jeremy Chinn

2019: D.K. Metcalf

2018: Tyquan Lewis

2017: Taylor Moton

2016: Kevin Byard

2015: Jordan Richards

2014: Justin Britt

2013: Dwayne Gratz

2012: Dwayne Allen

By my rough count five of the 10 players turned into impact players, and a few of the others became solid starters. I set out to dig up prospects at the Broncos’ clear positions of need who could make an early impact. To avoid wasting your time with players who probably won’t be available at 64, I crosschecked each with Marcus Mosher’s consensus board.

Defensive line

The Broncos look like they have a rather pressing need at five technique in their base 3-4 because D.J. Jones and Mike Purcell are both at their best playing further inside, while the depth behind them is unproven in a starting type of role. The second third round turn currently looks like the last real sweet spot in the draft for teams in need of such a player this year. There could be three options for Paton to consider.

DeMarvin Leal has an average draft position (ADP) of 61, so he may be just out of reach. The former five star recruit was a starting strongside 5-tech for the Aggies, but routinely moved up and down the front. He’s a very good athlete with the burst, bend, and motor to develop into a starting caliber player who can rush the passer in the league.

Perrion Winfrey’s ADP of 64.6 is more in line with Denver’s pick, and the Senior Bowl MVP offers a similar size profile to Leal at 6’3 and 290 lbs. He played along the interior of Oklahoma Sooners’ slanting 3-3-5 defense. He’s a good athlete with ridiculous 35 1/4” arm length which helps him to power his way past blockers.

Phidarian Mathis has an ADP of 66.7. One thing that could make Mathis a sleeper to keep an eye on is he has the traits to quickly carve out playing time as a run defender in base personnel, whereas Leal and Winfrey look like they’ll make an early impact as sub package pass rushers. A powerful 6’4 and 310 lbs., Mathis offers the ability to two-gap with his length and anchor.

Linebacker

If healthy Josey Jewell will start at one off ball spot, but there are questions about who lines up beside him. Reports suggest Baron Browning will move to edge, and while the Broncos signed Alex Singleton to a one year deal, his struggles against blockers appears to leave the door open for Jonas Griffith or a rookie to compete for the starting spot. There are two prospects on the consensus board who fit into the range between Denver’s pick at 64 and their first third rounder at 75 and I’ve studied both at length.

Leo Chenal’s ADP of 66 is interesting because draft analysts are so split on him. He’s ranked as highly as 33rd overall by Pro Football Focus and as lowly as 118 by NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein. A top tier run defender who has athletic limitations in coverage, he’d remind Broncos Country of Alexander Johnson.

Darrian Beavers looks like he has a decent chance at sliding to 75 with his ADP of 73. While he isn’t quite the thumper Chenal is, Beavers offers a similar skillset with his ability to defeat blockers, leverage gaps, and hold down the fort against inside runs. He’s a very instinctive player with pass rush upside, but like Chenal he’ll have issues if Ejiro Evero matches him up against twitched up athletes in space.

Defensive Back

Paton’s prioritized the secondary since he became general manager and yet the group is still concerning when you consider Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr quarterback the Broncos’ AFC West rivals. Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and K’Wuan Williams all missed time to injury in 2021 and the depth behind them is questionable, while Kareem Jackson’s ongoing fight with Father Time leaves uncertainty about the long term plan at safety.

It’d behoove Paton to consider Kyler Gordon if he somehow slides to 64, as he’s a fantastic fit for what the Broncos look set to run. Failing that, it looks like there’s three DB prospects on the consensus board who will fall between Denver’s picks at 64 and 75.

Martin Emerson’s ADP of 69.5 may be a bit misleading because it’s inflated by Bleacher Report ranking him 44th on their board. The Mississippi State Bulldog is a big corner at 6’2 and 201 lbs. with the mental acuity and length to find a home in the league, but athletic limitations related to his fluidity, change of direction skills, and play strength create questions about his fit in a variant of the Fangio scheme.

Nick Cross fits neatly between 64 and 75 with his ADP of 70.4. A versatile safety who logged snaps in the slot, he was Maryland’s interception leader each of his three years starting for the program. His 4.3 speed and the physicality he plays with makes him an intriguing fit for the Broncos’ defense. He’d fit into the 2022 roster as a backup who can log snaps at safety, nickel, and on special teams with starting upside if he can improve his route recognition.

Bryan Cook may be a better pickup in the third round than the second, as his ADP is currently at 74.1. A former cornerback turned safety following his transfer to Cincinnati, he has experience logging snaps in single high, the box, and the slot for the Bearcats. He’s a good tackler who has the physicality and play strength to run the alley out of two high looks, as well as the mental acuity to hold up in zone coverage. I suspect he’d improve the Broncos’ special teams early as he competes for snaps behind Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson.

Offensive Line

Unless someone like Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raiman or Tyler Smith fall, 64 does not look like the ideal spot to draft a tackle for a zone/duo run game in this class. The same can’t be said at guard, where there’s three players who could intrigue Paton at the end of the second round.

Jamaree Salyer has the highest ADP of the trio at 69.5, but brings the most questions about fit in the Hackett offense. He spent time at each position on the Georgia O-line during his career, but most of his starts came at left tackle. Even still, his 6’3 321 lb. stature and athletic limitations suggest he’s going to become an NFL guard. He offers good reactive athleticism, play strength, and the anchor to compete for starting snaps, but may be miscast in pure zone/duo run game where he’ll need to make more blocks on the second level.

Cole Strange fits right between 64 and 75 with an ADP of 70.6. He’s the closest thing in this draft to Quinn Meinerz with the way he impressed evaluators at the Senior Bowl after 44 career starts at UT-Chattanooga, mostly at left guard. He spent time at center in Mobile and could compete for a starting job early in his career if he can refine his technique. He has the athletic ability, competitive toughness, and play strength to backup multiple positions across the interior out the gate.

Dylan Parham’s ADP of 74.4 suggests he’d be a better value when the Broncos pick in the third round. A high school edge who moved from tight end to the line in 2018 who started 51 games for Memphis at guard and tackle, he moved to center for the Senior Bowl. He has the athleticism, competitive toughness, and savvy to compete with Lloyd Cushenberry for a starting job early in his career.

Abraham Lucas has been a popular pick at 64, but it’s worth noting that draft analysts in the consensus board are extremely split on him and his draft position averaged out to 94.7 after two have him as high as 50, two in the 70s, and three others ranked him in the 100s, including Brandon Thorn who ranked him as the 13th best tackle in this class. He was a four-year starter at Washington State who only blocked for run plays on 27% of his snaps for the Cougars. Issues with play strength, weight distribution, flexibility, and technique will need to improve for him to develop into a starting caliber player.

Edge Rusher

The strongest position group in this draft class is certainly edge rusher, and while it may lack star power at the top what separates it from previous years is the sheer depth of talent. What Paton may find himself debating at 64 is if he can afford to wait and tap into that depth, as every member of the Broncos’ edge rotation carries a question about durability, size, or both. There appears to be two players who fit neatly into the Broncos’ range on the consensus board, though there is a possibility Michigan’s David Ojabo, Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto or even Minnesota’s Boye Mafe slide.

Cameron Thomas’ is a 6’5 270 lb. tweener who’s ADP of 71.4 lands him closer to the Broncos’ first third rounder than 64, and the 33rd team had him as high as 38th overall. Additionally, a hamstring injury at the Senior Bowl caused him to miss workouts during the pre-draft process. He logged a ton of snaps overall as he played up and down the defensive line in San Diego State’s 3-3-5 scheme. He has the hands and competitive toughness to find a home in the NFL, but is a bit of an odd fit for Denver unless he bulks up to play five technique.

Drake Jackson’s 71.8 ADP may come in lower than Thomas’, but he seems likelier to go before the Broncos’ 64th pick. His average is anchored by two analysts who were very low on him: Lance Zierlein has him at 147 and ESPN’s Matt Miller ranked him 91st, everyone else had him out of Paton’s reach. Unlike Thomas he’s projects best as a stand-up edge rusher with the burst, bend, and explosiveness to become an impact starter if he can refine his pass rush plan. He’d fit into the rotation as a sub rusher in year one.

The dilemma at Tight End

Noah Fant is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks as part of the trade to acquire Wilson, which leaves the Broncos’ tight end room Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Tomlinson, Shaun Beyer, and Andrew Beck. If he can stay healthy, Okwuegbunam has the talent to become a reliable starter if he can improve on his blocking and route running. Tomlinson’s a journeyman with 18 career catches and Beyer’s entering his second season in the league after a rookie year on the practice squad, while Beck’s played 121 offensive snaps since 2019. No one will blame Paton for grabbing a tight end in this draft, the conundrum he’s facing is: where?

The consensus best tight end in this class is Colorado State’s Trey McBride, who has an ADP of 55.9. At first glance it’s certainly plausible that he could slide a little, but his two highest rankings came from Lance Zierlein and the 33rd team, which suggests the NFL is higher on him than the consensus.

If the Broncos miss out on McBride the second ranked tight end on the consensus board is Greg Dulcich with an ADP of 80.9, and only two analysts ranked him above the Broncos’ spot at 64. He’s probably there at 75. The next tight end is Jeremy Ruckert, with an ADP of 85.9. I studied Ruckert at length and think he makes a ton of sense for this Broncos roster. I also believe 64 would be very rich.

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