The NFL Draft is almost here and the Denver Broncos are splicing Russell Wilson highlights together to enjoy the first round. Thanks to the trade for the future Hall of Famer, George Paton doesn’t have a single pick until the last selection of the second round. In a normal year it would be hard to predict who will be available by No. 64, but in a class where there is no true consensus, it seems impossible. For that reason, I thought I’d take a different approach to my final mock draft of the 2022 cycle: instead of a “who I believe the Broncos will pick” or a “who I’d pick,” I thought it made sense to look at each of Denver’s picks and share my thoughts on who could (and wouldn’t) make sense.
Let’s get to it.
Second round (No. 64)
I’ve written at length about who could make sense for the Broncos at 64, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on a couple prospects who could slide that I would love.
Let’s start with Houston’s Logan Hall, a 6’6”, 285 lb. 5-tech and interior rusher who looks like the perfect fit for what I believe the Broncos need to add to their defensive line to replace Shelby Harris. It’s worth noting that there’s a decent chance Hall is long gone by 64, but if he starts to slide he’s one of the few prospects I hope Paton considers trading up for.
Linebacker is in a weird spot because we don’t really know the Broncos’ plans for Baron Browning, or if there really is a plan. Reports surfaced about a month ago that the new coaching staff planned to move him outside and Nathaniel Hackett confirmed it at the owner’s meetings. It’s hard to say if that’s his new position, an idea for some sub package looks, or simply offseason tinkering. If Browning is now a backup Edge, I see a need for a starting linebacker and few prospects in this LB class intrigue me more than Wyoming’s Chad Muma. Questions about his ability to shed blocks could cause him to slide a little, but he has the instincts, athleticism, and upside to outperform this draft spot. He’s also a locker room leader with the skillset to be a standout on special teams, which means he offers a decent floor.
Third round (No. 75)
If you look at the various consensus boards there’s actually a noticeable drop-off at a few positions between 64 and 75, so I’d argue Paton should make his second round pick with the top of the third in mind. It certainly looks like the Broncos will need to strike earlier than this if they want an offensive or defensive tackle who can contribute meaningful snaps in year one. It also looks like a noticeable gap between the top and bottom of the DB class here.
It’s entirely possible USC’s Drake Jackson is long gone before here. If not, he’s a “sprint the card in” pick at 75. The Trojan edge rusher would be a fantastic fit for the Broncos’ scheme with his ability to bend the edge and drop in space. If he can grow stronger as he adds to his rush repertoire, he’s got Pro Bowl potential. Should Paton prefer an edge who offers a bit more polish against the run, Kentucky’s Josh Paschal could make sense.
One unpopular move that could make sense at this point with the strength of the class is wide receiver. Neither Jerry Jeudy or K.J. Hamler have proven so much Paton has a reason to be sold just yet, and surprisingly, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick’s contracts are still moveable after June first. Alabama’s John Metchie is a “boring” slot option if he’s back from the injury he suffered in the Tide’s playoff run. Cincinnati's Alec Pierce is an intriguing size/speed prospect who could blossom as a downfield threat for Russell Wilson.
This does look like it’ll be the Broncos’ last chance to draft Montana State’s Troy Andersen if they’re committed to moving Browning away from linebacker. Andersen was Mr. Do-it-All for the Bobcats and combines rare athleticism with an instinctive feel for the game. Still, he will need to get stronger and improve vs. blocks if he’s going to be anything more than an exciting special teamer in the league.
75 looks like a sweet spot if Paton is determined to draft an interior offensive lineman this year. Right now both Memphis’ Dylan Parham and Chattanooga’s Cole Strange look like they’ll go in the early third, and while Cam Jurgens’ average draft position (ADP) on the consensus boards is lower, analysts like the Athletics’ Dane Brugler and NFL media’s Lance Zierlein believe he’s a 2nd or 3rd round type of prospect. Any of the three could serve as immediate competition for Lloyd Cushenberry II.
There’s two DBs I’m intrigued by that could make sense at 75, if only because they’re unlikely to fall all the way to 96. Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant won the Jim Thorpe award in 2022 playing across from Sauce Gardner and offers the size, reactive athleticism, and ball skills to develop into a long-term partner on the boundary for Patrick Surtain II. Houston’s Marcus Jones is an extremely dynamic returner who is probably limited to slot duties in the league because he’s 5’8” and a couple of gas station burritos below 180 lbs. If he was bigger he’d probably threaten the first round.
Third round (No. 96)
Consensus boards suggest the Broncos will probably find trait-based developmental starters or merely role-players at positions like edge rusher, cornerback, and tackle this far down the board. What’s left of the defensive line are pure run-stuffers or projects. Positions like linebacker, running back, and the interior offensive line should still have some prospects who could carve out a real niche early.
Washington State’s Abraham Lucas could go higher than this because of the dearth of tackle talent after the obvious first round prospects, though it’s hard to say because he’s all over big boards. He started 42 games at right tackle for the Cougars’ pass-happy attack and fits what Nathaniel Hackett is set to install on offense. A year behind Calvin Anderson, Tom Compton, and Billy Turner could give him time to improve as a run blocker and refine his hands.
I know Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders’ ADP has been floating above 96 and yet this is about as early as I’d like drafting him. He measured in at 6’5” and 228 lbs. at the NFL Combine and carries questions about his play strength. I do wonder about how putting on weight would impact his athleticism, though I’ll admit I’m a big fan of his game.
If Paton is concerned about Hamler’s injury history it could make sense to draft Boise State’s Khalil Shakir here. He’s a more natural hands catcher than the Broncos’ current WR4 and should be a tough cover with his route running and separation quickness. He could also compete for return duties.
Generally speaking, I do not believe the Broncos’ need at running back is so great that it warrants a day two investment. Now that Melvin Gordon is back in orange and blue there’s really no reason to burn a day two pick on a back. That said, Georgia’s James Cook is a dynamic satellite back who could potentially flex out and create mismatches against bigger bodies as a receiver.
While there isn’t a first round prospect in this tight end class, there are a slew of players who could become key contributors on the Broncos. McBride is the headliner and is getting a ton of hype as a local product, but a glut of similarly graded prospects makes the third/fourth round become a great time to consider the position. Personally, I’d be excited about Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert, Washington’s Cade Otton, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar, Virginia’s Jelani Woods, or UCLA’s Greg Dulcich at this point. Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely testing may knock him down the board, though he could also make sense.
explosive run rate in college is the best predictor of rushing success in the NFL. here's the explosive rate this year:— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) April 27, 2022
1. james cook, 8.1%
2. kenneth walker, 8.0%
3. breece hall, 6.8%
4. jerome ford, 6.5%
5. isaiah spiller, 5.8%
6. rachaad white, 5.3%
7. dameon pierce, 5.1%
Fourth round (No. 115 & 116)
By and large, day three is littered with role-players and projects. Fans often overlook the importance of special teams’ value this far down the board because it isn’t sexy, but it often serves as the prospect’s best hope to stick to a roster in year one. Given the Broncos’ dearth of draft capital in 2023, Paton could take some big swings on traits or even a prospect with “character character” on day three in hopes that some seasoning unearths a gem or two.
Given the Minnesota Vikings’ draft history during Paton’s tenure, I expect the Broncos to draft a linebacker on day three and this year’s crop is pretty good, so there should still be some really intriguing options in front of him. I’m a fan of Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers, who is sort of a poor man’s Leo Chenal and fits into the Alexander Johnson role on a Denver defense that will look similar to the Fangio years. Paton may have to draft Georgia’s Channing Tindall or Penn State’s Brandon Smith earlier than this because of their traits, but I’d be stoked about them here. Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez also makes sense, even if it could be a wee bit early. Assuming the Broncos’ medical staff checks off on him following spinal fusion surgery, LSU’s Damone Clark also makes some sense as a draft and stash option.
This is a really strong edge class and it presents itself in the day three depth. If Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone falls here I hope the Broncos scoop him up. He’s a dynamic speed rusher who could become a mismatch weapon. Outside of that, at this point in the draft it’s probably unrealistic to expect a rookie to come in with a complete game, so Paton’s probably choosing between one-dimensional, toolsy, or limited prospects. UAB’s Alex Wright and Virginia Tech’s Amare Barno are exciting developmental starters if they can grow stronger and improve their run defense.
If Kentucky’s Luke Fortner slips this far he stands out as a strong fit and one of the last prospects who could emerge as an early competitor for the center job. Penn State’s Rasheed Walker has starting upside and positional versatility in the Broncos’ offense. He’ll need to clean up his hands and set points in the league to hold up in pass pro, but offers an enticing blend of athleticism, competitive toughness, and play strength. If Paton is looking at tackles in the fourth, UTSA’s Spencer Burford and Louisiana’s Max Mitchell also fit the Hackett system.
One back that stands out as a potential fit is BYU’s Tyler Allgeier. He offers the vision, contact balance, and third down skillset to make me forgive his lack of dynamic athleticism.
Fifth round (No. 145)
Arizona State’s Dohnovan West and Kellen Diesch are a couple of the developmental OL prospects I like at this point. West may be able to fight for a starting job right out of the gate with what he should bring to a zone run game. It’s possible Diesch’s lack of length knocks him off the Broncos’ tackle board altogether, but his athleticism and use of hands make him a sleeper to keep an eye on.
If the Broncos are looking to replace Andrew Beck at fullback this is right around where Maryland’s Chigoziem Okonkwo is expected to get drafted. His combines vision with athletic ability to make plays after the catch, which means he could punish defenses for forgetting about him as a tertiary receiver. He offers upside as both a blocker and receiver, and should find a role on the kick coverage units. Denver did host him on one of their official visits, so don’t sleep on it.
It’s hard to peg down Derion Kendrick’s draft stock because there’s some big questions hanging over him. He was a very promising cornerback for the Clemson Tigers before multiple suspensions eventually turned into a dismissal and also had an arrest expunged from his record. All that combined with woeful workout numbers could mean he sticks around until late on day three. His game does project nicely into the Broncos’ scheme as a starting nickel.
Auburn’s Smoke Monday, Iowa’s Dane Belton, and Oregon’s Mikael Wright are other DB prospects who look like fits around the fifth round. Two defensive line prospects who intrigue around this spot on the board is Iowa State’s Eyioma Uwazurike and Stanford’s Thomas Booker. Lastly, this may serve as Paton’s last chance to draft the “Punt God” from San Diego State, Matt Araiza.
Not sure if it's been up or is new but just noticed @CaesarsSports has a Matt Araiza draft position over/under!— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) April 26, 2022
Sixth round and Seventh round ((No. 207, 233, & 235)
NFL history shows prospects from the last two rounds of the draft rarely provide more return on investment than a college free agent. For every Terrell Davis there are 100 or so Trenton Cannon’s. It’s easy to hold up Tom Brady as the exception the rule, but teams will rarely turn up more than backups and special teamers here.
It’s around this spot in the draft where it’d pay to throw a pick at a developmental quarterback such as Notre Dame’s Jack Coan or Western Michigan’s Kaleb Eleby. LSU’s Cordale Flott is currently projected for the sixth round, and he’d make sense as a backup nickel who may eventually develop into a replacement for K’Waun Williams. Virginia Tech’s Jermaine Waller is a toolsy boundary corner prospect that could be available. Utah’s Nephi Sewell’s play strength hurts his chances at a fulltime linebacker role, but he’s good in space and should help special teams wherever he lands. Questions about Mike Purcell mean it could pay to add another nose tackle type, and Idaho’s Noah Elliss looks like a fit.
What’s the Broncos need in the 2022 draft?
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