The NFL Draft serves as the lifeblood for every roster as it provides cheap talent that can easily outperform their respective contracts if they live up to teams’ hopes. The NFL Draft is also an inexact science because the human element is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy. Scouts can do everything right during their evaluation and watch as things go awry because their first round pick tears his Achilles, or loses his love for the game once he becomes a millionaire, or any other number of unforeseen outcomes. No GM gets every pick right.
Following the Russell Wilson trade the Denver Broncos find themselves in a Super Bowl window and lacking picks in the early rounds to draft an immediate impact player. There remains a distinct possibility George Paton elects to trade up in order to chase a prospect the front office graded very highly. While I do believe a move into the first 32 picks is unlikely, and one of these players sliding to 64 even more so, neither can be ruled out entirely. So it makes sense to consider the second year general manager’s options for the first day of the big event.
What follows is my NFL Big Board catered towards my understanding of the Broncos’ new systems. I decided to move towards positional tiers instead of a pure vertical format for this year’s board. Each position group is listed in order of need as I see it, and I made a point to write out what I believe the Broncos are searching for at each position.
This whole endeavor is a purely subjective exercise built upon what I know about the 2022 class, and unless otherwise stated the players in each tier are very loosely ranked as I see them for the Broncos. Paton will operate with more information, so we probably do not see eye-to-eye on every single player.
10 Prospects I’d want at Nine
Back before the Russell Wilson trade I put a lot of thought into who the Broncos ought to consider with their first round pick. None look like they’ll fall out of the middle of the first round, but the board starts here.
- Evan Neal - OT
- Ikem Ekwonu - OT
- Kayon Thibodeaux - ED
- Aidan Hutchinson - ED
- Kyle Hamilton - S
- Sauce Gardner - CB
- Charles Cross - OT
- Travon Walker - ED/DL
- Derek Stingley Jr. - CB
- Jermaine Johnson - ED
Garett Bolles will turn 30 in May and the 2022 starter at right tackle looks like it will be decided by a competition between Tom Compton, Calvin Anderson, and Billy Turner. Most NFL teams prioritize pass blocking over run blocking with their left tackle, even as defenses have moved to isolate right tackles against top tier edge rushers on passing downs. With the Broncos set to move towards more of a pure zone/duo run game under Nathaniel Hackett, I expect more of an emphasis to be placed on a tackle’s lateral quickness and ability to block at the second level.
- Evan Neal - Alabama
- Ikem Ekwonu - NC State
- Charles Cross - Mississippi State
- Trevor Penning - Northern Iowa
OT Trevor Penning— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 10, 2021
Call him 'physical' or 'nasty' or 'mauler' or even 'dirty' for all I care
Does he look to finish you every chance he gets? Yep.
Is he going to give you the last shove? Yep.
Will he try to dump you over the pile? Yep.
Will he drop the groceries on you? Yep. pic.twitter.com/zptxztsULX
If they can stay healthy, Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory look like a good set of bookends for 2022. Long-term there are significant questions about the rotation, as both Chubb and backup Malik Reed are unrestricted free agents in 2023. An edge rusher is routinely asked to be the force defender against the run, but they make their names pressuring the quarterback: burst, bend, and rush repertoire are critical to a prospect’s success making a jump to the league. All signs point to Ejiro Evero running a variant of the scheme Vic Fangio utilized the last three seasons, which means an edge rusher needs to be able to drop into space on occasion.
- Kayvon Thibodeaux - Oregon
- Aidan Hutchinson - Michigan
- Jermaine Johnson - Florida State
- Travon Walker - Georgia
That first step from Kayvon Thibodeaux is terrifying. Beats the OT off the hop with ease, slight dip to draw the hold+ win the edge, and shows that smooth ability to run the arc. There’s no way he should fall in the draft. pic.twitter.com/dbt7OiU809— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 11, 2022
If they can stay healthy, Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and K’Waun Williams make up one of the better trios of cornerbacks in the league. Depth is a huge question, as both Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey missed significant time in 2021. CB is often split into two position groups in the NFL and this holds true for Denver.
A boundary corner is often responsible for their assignment deep downfield against a wide receiver, which makes long speed and hip fluidity critical to their success. Length and play strength are also important, as they need to hold up in jump ball situations against massive targets such as the Chargers’ 6’5”, 230 lb. Mike Williams.
In a general sense, the nickel corner is merely a smaller, quicker player who subbed in for a linebacker’s duties. This means they’re part of the run fit, and they’re usually protected downfield by the other DBs. Route recognition, twitch, and physicality are critical to their success, even if it comes at the cost of a little long speed.
- Sauce Gardner - Cincinnati
- Derek Stingley Jr. - LSU
- Trent McDuffie - Washington
- Andrew Booth - Clemson
- Kyler Gordon - Washington
Trent McDuffie's measurables aren't gonna blow anyone away, but his closing speed *pops* on screen. Hits like a freight train, too. pic.twitter.com/3O2kJrMnJW— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) April 3, 2022
D.J. Jones and Dre’Mont Jones are a promising interior for the Broncos’ nickel fronts. Questions remain for base 3-4 or 5-1 personnel groupings, however. DL is often a catch-all term used to categorize as many as three distinct body types, though there is overlap between responsibilities as defenses routinely ask their linemen to play up and down the front. The roster looks like it could use an additional five technique.
With his squatty 6’0” frame, anchor, and play strength, D.J. Jones fits the mold of a nose tackle and lacks the length of an NFL five technique. Nose tackles typically line up in a 2i-0 technique and are tasked with holding the A or B gap, sometimes both. In a Fangio scheme these players are valuable for their ability to play gap and a gap as it frees up resources for coverage. Jones and Purcells also bring uncanny short area quickness for 320+ lb. players, which makes them quite disruptive vs. outside zone.
Standing 6’3” and 281 lbs. with very good burst and quickness, I’d classify Dre’Mont Jones as a classic 3-technique. These types of defensive linemen are often the stars of the show with their ability to impact the quarterback. Their ability to rush the passer can justify tradeoffs or limitations elsewhere. Dre’Mont Jones is at his best shooting gaps on passing downs, but is a little undersized for five technique duties or vs. doubles.
Former Bronco Derek Wolfe or the Los Angeles Rams’ A’Shawn Robinson are good examples of a prototypical five technique. While there’s about a 40 lb. gap between the pair, they both stand north of 6’4” with the long arms to mash with tackles, and both offer the play strength to eat blocks in order to free up teammates. Typically these players will slide inside in sub packages and play as an interior rusher.
- Jordan Davis - Georgia
- Devonte Wyatt - Georgia
#UGA DT Devonte Wyatt (6-3, 315) really flashes on tape. He’s a true up-the-field penetrator as a 3-tech. Disruptive, discipline vs. the run, and contains upside as a pass rusher. Saved his best for last against Alabama in the title game.— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) January 21, 2022
Excited to see him at the Senior Bowl. pic.twitter.com/BwoPB0xny3
Off Ball Linebacker
Josey Jewell gives the Broncos a dependable starter, though questions remain about his running mate after reports emerged about Hackett and Evero’s plans to move Baron Browning to edge. A linebacker in the Fangio style defense is routinely tasked with leveraging gaps against the run, hook and flats coverage, and adding to the pressure call with a blitz. This could be an unpredictable spot to watch in the draft, as Paton’s moves thus far suggests he values athletic traits more than John Elway did, even if he sacrifices a backer’s ability to take on blocks or read keys to acquire them.
- Devin Lloyd - Utah
Fascinating Devin Lloyd play. Realizing there is no safety, Lloyd leaves his position, and carries 2 vertical making the defense right.— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) April 19, 2022
Shows super high IQ and understanding not only of his job, but the entire scheme. pic.twitter.com/puAUIBsonN
With Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy under contract for at least the next two seasons this does not look like a position Paton will invest an early round pick into. It is worth mentioning that “wide receiver” is a catch-all term. Teams categorize receivers by Z, X, and slot. For our purposes the difference to keep an eye on is boundary vs. slot receiver. It is worth noting that the way Hackett’s offense meshes with Russell Wilson’s playing style could dramatically impact receiver evaluations.
Sutton and Patrick fit the mold of a boundary receiver in the league. Neither is a 4.3 burner or a twitched up separator, though they have the size, physicality, and concentration to go up and win jump balls as well as the reliable hands to make snags through contact on money downs. They can and will play snaps out of the slot, but the way they can beat press makes them valuable matchups on the perimeter.
Jeudy and K.J. Hamler’s skillsets are sort of the inverse of Sutton and Patrick. They’re at their best creating separation the horizontal plane and lack the size, physicality, or catch radius to consistently win in jump ball situations.
- Drake London - USC
- Jameson Williams - Alabama
- Treylon Burks - Arkansas
- Garett Wilson - Ohio State
- Chris Olave - Ohio State
My god did Jameson Williams absolutely obliterate Emerson here. Seems like he has some stiffness in his hips and if he can’t get his hands on you at the stem he’s going to struggle with COD. pic.twitter.com/mQowCQDUZs— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) April 16, 2022
Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson look like one of the best safety duos in the league if the 34-year-old can fend off Father Time for another year. How Paton sees Caden Sterns probably impacts if and where the Broncos take a safety in this draft. In the Fangio/Evero defense, the lines between a strong and free safety are pretty blurry. Both safeties need to wear multiple hats, logging snaps in two high, single high, the box, and slot.
- Kyle Hamilton - Notre Dame
Don't let Kyle Hamilton's 4.6 fool you. He. Has. PLENTY. OF. RANGE to cover ground. pic.twitter.com/LZoialJoa8— DJ Bien-Aime (@Djbienaime) March 7, 2022
Interior Offensive Line
On the surface this does not appear to be a position where there is an urgent need for a rookie. Graham Glasgow, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Quinn Meinerz look set to compete for three open spots on the interior so long as they’re back in peak form. What’s more murky is how Hackett’s new offense and coaching staff impacts the incumbent linemen. Similar to the tackle position, the move to a zone/duo run game means a greater emphasis will be placed on lateral quickness and the ability to combo block up to and succeed in space at the second level. Historically, the scheme tends to accept less physical strength from their centers if the player brings the competitive toughness and savvy to compensate.
- Tyler Linderbaum - Iowa