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 team’s 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. As I write this it looks as though the Broncos first selection will happen at the end of the second round. It does remain possible Paton elects to trade all the way up to the first round, which is why I shared my first round board yesterday.
What follows is my second round Big Board catered around 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 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.
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.
- Bernhard Raimann - Central Michigan
- Tyler Smith - Tulsa
Tyler Smith shows his ability to handle two different types of rushers.— Damian Parson (@DP_NFL) February 27, 2022
David Anenih & Logan Hall. Anenih wins with speed and bends around the end. While Hall is a powerful bull rusher.
Smith stonewalls both of Houston’s defenders on b2b snaps!pic.twitter.com/46rNW7CRhA
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 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.
- Arnold Ebiketie - Penn State
- David Ojabo - Michigan
- George Karlaftis - Purdue
- Boye Mafe - Minnesota
- Nik Bonitto - Oklahoma
If Arnold Ebiketie somehow slides to 64 the Broncos should sprint the card in. https://t.co/aOdOLA75JU— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) March 24, 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 a 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.
- Jalen Pitre - Baylor
- Roger McCreary - Auburn
- Kaiir Elam - Florida
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 each will have to play multiple alignments on the line in different sub packages and fronts. The Broncos will play most of their snaps in nickel and so the linemen below are broken down into how they fit a 4-2-5 front, but the roster looks like it could use a player who can log snaps as 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 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 to free up teammates. Typically these players will slide inside in sub packages and play as an interior rusher.
- Logan Hall - Houston
- DeMarvin Leal - Texas A&M
- Perrion Winfrey - Oklahoma
- Travis Jones - UConn
- Phidarian Mathis - Alabama
Love me some Logan Hall. Versatile pass rusher than can play as a base end or in a 5t in 34. Great functional strength with a superb first-step and upside. Early Rd 2 grade on my board for the Houston DE. #NFLDraft— Jared Feinberg (@JRodNFLDraft) April 12, 2022
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 backers ability to take on blocks or read keys to acquire them.
- Nakobe Dean - Georgia
- Quay Walker - Georgia
- Chad Muma - Wyoming
- Christian Harris - Alabama
Chad Muma held with the option, but shows his range. Not going to post these all day. Ton of range. pic.twitter.com/wxPwkj0CsT— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) April 3, 2022
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.
- Jahan Dotson - Penn State
- Skyy Moore - Western Michigan
- George Pickens - Georgia
Skyy Moore - WR— Matt Lane (@Matty_KCSN) April 14, 2022
One of the most under appreciated route runners in the class whether out wide, in the slot, vs press, vs off-man, or vs zone.
His a ability to attack leverage, space, and a defender is great. Throw amazing ball skills and the ability to win on 3 levels? pic.twitter.com/WjLhofOrOd
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.
- Dax Hill - Michigan
- Lewis Cine - Georgia
- Jaquan Brisker - Penn State
Dax Hill is going to make an NFL DC very happy - I'd call him a coverage weapon— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) April 6, 2022
Explosive acceleration, fluid, huge wingspan to disrupt the catch point, excellent eyes when reading QBs+routes
Can handle bigger slot targets but has true free safety traits as well pic.twitter.com/yGFYTdywbE
Interior Offensive Line
On the surface this does not appear to be a position where there is an urgent need for a rookie. If they’re back to peak form Graham Glasgow, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Quinn Meinerz look set to compete for three open spots on the interior. What’s murkier 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.
- Zion Johnson - Boston College
- Kenyon Green - Texas A&M
Kenyon Green is an immovable object against bullrushes. He quickly drops his anchor and becomes a brick wall. He did this against some of the best competition in the SEC over the past two years such as Christian Barmore. pic.twitter.com/N4OEpHDI2v— Mike (@bengals_sans) March 31, 2022
Tight End/ H-Back
There are questions about the room from TE1 on down following Noah Fant’s trade to the Seattle Seahawks. Albert Okwuegbunam is the presumptive starter and Eric Tomlinson was signed to serve as the blocking tight end. Shaun Beyer and Andrew Beck fill out the room, though neither made much (if any) impact on offense in 2021. Last year the Green Bay Packers used multiple tight end sets on 33% of their snaps, which is the least of Nathaniel Hackett’s three year run in Wisconsin.
NFL History shows tight ends are unequivocally low impact players during their first season because prospects have to learn how to play two positions at an NFL level: receiver and offensive line. Given the current state of the room and Okwuegbunam’s injury history, the Broncos look to have a bigger need for a player who can flex out and play as an H-back. Even still, Russell Wilson’s playing style raises questions about how often he’d be utilized in the passing game.
- Trey McBride - Colorado State
Trey McBride can handle the Y-TE duties vs DEs that outweigh him by 20lbs…— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 19, 2022
Russell Wilson solves the conundrum that’s plagued the Broncos since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset. There’s some long term uncertainty behind him with soon-to-be 36-year-old Josh Johnson set to compete with Brett Rypien for the backup job. In a general sense, I disagree with drafting a backup before day three. With that said, Paton may see an opportunity to grab a sliding prospect he believes can start one day. What follows are the prospects that feasibly fit that mold who look like fits into a Hackett offense tailored around Wilson. Putting it as simply as possible: Work ethic, decision making, and accuracy are critical to survive in the league as a QB2.
- Desmond Ridder - Cincinnati
- Malik Willis - Liberty
Two Desmond Ridder throws to Blaze Out routes to the field.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) April 12, 2022
Both thrown on time and in rhythm. First clip he lines the throw in, showing off plenty of zip.
Second clip he layers the throw over the underneath defender. Ball comes out early so it gives his WR room to work with. pic.twitter.com/kx9FicschN
Javonte Williams is the Broncos RB1 for the foreseeable future and Mike Boone will count for about $2 million against the ‘22 cap, which suggests he’s the top backup. The wear and tear a back takes over a 17-game schedule means it’d make a ton of sense to add another player to the rotation. The zone/duo run game Hackett looks set to run means a player’s vision, decision making, and acceleration are critical to their success. In the modern NFL a back won’t play much if he can’t be trusted to block on passing downs.