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Which rookie Broncos will make a big impact in 2022?

On this weeks Cover 2 Broncos AJ Schulte and Joe Rowles dive deep into the George Paton’s second draft class and what it means for the roster.

Now that the NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror, the Denver Broncos have officially reached what I like to call the “dead season,” that time of year where fans and media talk about rookies signing their rookie contracts, quotes are analyzed to death, and we anxiously await the schedule release despite already knowing every opponent on the Broncos’ schedule.

With the bulk of the real offseason behind us, AJ Schulte and I thought it the perfect time to dig into the Broncos’ draft to sus out what the new additions mean for George Paton’s roster on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos. We also had our grades to debate. One of us gave Denver a B+ while the other gave them a C. What follows is a brief overview of the topics we discussed along with a few of my notes. I hope you’ll listen to the podcast to hear Schulte and my discussion at length.

What did you think of the Broncos draft?

Did you include Wilson in your grade?

I did not because on March 16th the Broncos traded eight players and picks, not just a first and not just 2022 selections. They sent three 2022 draft picks as well as Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, and a 2023 first and second round pick for Wilson.

Any thoughts on the trade now that Seattle’s begun to use their picks?

Thanks to the trade the Broncos will enter the 2022 season with a franchise quarterback, while the Seahawks have five new players via the deal: Lock, Fant, Harris, Charles Cross, Boye Mafe.

What were your thoughts on Paton trading the 96th overall pick for a 2022 fifth round pick and a future third from the Indianapolis Colts?

I loved it. Unless the Colts win the Superbowl it will be a higher pick in the 2023 draft, and the Broncos cap situation in 2023 means there won’t be as many stopgap veterans, so that rookie could be pretty important. At present Denver is projected to have $16,193,815 in 2023 cap space, but that does not include the rookies.

A look at the Broncos draft and their average draft position (ADP) according the Athletic’s top 300 consensus board. Joe and AJ discussed the value of ADP at length on Cover 2 Broncos.

2 (64) ED Nik Bonitto - ADP: 58

I wanted: OT Bernhard Raimann, DL Travis Jones, LB Chad Muma

2022 expectation: Designated pass rusher unless/until Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb miss time, then he might become a starter whether he’s ready or not.

Long term expectation: Starter if he can become stronger, refine his hands, and become a better edge setter.

3 (80) TE Greg Dulcich - ADP: 73

I wanted: OT Bernhard Raimann (Indy got him after Broncos traded down from 75), CB Marcus Jones, DL Perrion Winfrey, LB Leo Chenal, QB Malik Willis (on upside)

2022 expectation: Backup to Albert Okwuegbunam with some snaps as a splash threat.

Long term expectation: Starting tight end.

4 (115) CB Damarri Mathis - ADP: 145

I wanted: OT Spencer Burford, CB Zyon McCollum

2022 expectation: Backup cornerback and competition for slot snaps.

Long term expectation: Starting slot corner.

4 (116) DL Eyioma Uwazurike - ADP: 171

I wanted: OT Spencer Burford, CB Zyon McCollum

2022 expectation: Rotational defensive lineman and competitor for the “starting” DE spot in Broncos 3-4.

Long term expectation: “starting” DE in Broncos 3-4. Best case scenario he’s the starting 1T as well.

5 (152) DB Delarrin Turner-Yell - ADP: 232

I wanted: CB Zyon McCollum, LB Damone Clark, LB Darrian Beavers, ED Amare Barno

2022 expectation: Special teamer

Long term expectation: Special teamer

5 (162) PR Montrell Washington - ADP: NA (outside top 300)

I wanted: CB Zyon McCollum, LB Damone Clark, LB Darrian Beavers, ED Amare Barno

2022 expectation: Returner

Long term expectation: Returner

5 (171) OC Luke Wattenberg - ADP: 254

I wanted: By this point I stopped focusing on my own BPA because it was clear Paton had other plans.

2022 expectation: Competing for a roster spot as an iOL.

Long term expectation: Backup C if he can improve his play strength and anchor while he polishes the rest of his game.

6 (206) DL Matt Henningsen - ADP: 263

2022 expectation: Competing for a roster spot as part of DL rotation.

Long term expectation: Rotational DL, best case scenario is starting interior rusher if he can polish his rush repertoire and adjusts to the speed of the NFL.

7 (232) CB Faion Hicks - ADP: NA (outside top 300)

2022: Competing for a roster spot as a special teamer and backup DB.

Long term expectation: Competing for a roster spot as a special teamer and backup DB. Best case scenario he develops into a starting slot CB, but he’ll need to refine his feel for zone spacing, eyes, ball skills, and run support.

The UDFA signings - Did they impact your draft grade?

No, they didn’t because they weren’t drafted.

Any that stand out as having a particularly good chance at making the roster?

AJ and Joe discussed five at length.

1. WR Jalen Virgil, App State (Source)

  • Broncos need a kick returner and Paton doesn’t seem to mind devoting a roster spot to a specialist. He received a $12,500 signing bonus and $30 thousand guaranteed. At 6’ 210 lbs. he’s an intriguing speed/size prospect who is an dynamic kick returner.

2. CB Ja’Quan McMillian, East Carolina (Source)

  • Broncos secondary depth is pretty shaky and McMillian was given a $15 thousand signing bonus and $60 thousand salary guarantee. I suspect he’s earmarked for a spot on the practice squad at the very least.

3. EDGE Chris Allen, Alabama (Source)

The injury questions about Chubb and Gregory combined with Chubb and Reed’s contracts expiring in 2023, Allen makes sense as a developmental player and the Broncos gave him a $30 thousand signing bonus and $150 thousand salary guarantee. Paton paid him to make the practice squad if nothing else. He missed all of 2018 with a knee injury and all but one game of 2021 because of a foot injury. If he’s completely healthy, he could put some outshine some of the backup edge rushers in camp and the preseason.

4. LB Kadofi Wright, Buffalo (Source)

5. LB Kana’i Mauga, USC (Source)

  • If the new coaching staff is determined to play Browning at edge the linebacker depth is pretty shaky. Wright or Mauga beating Strnad could be a “surprise” in camp. Paton outbid the Atlanta Falcons to sign Mauga, giving him a $10 thousand signing bonus and $60 thousand salary guarantee.

With the offseason behind us and Denver’s roster mostly set.

What stands out to as strong position groups?

Which ones are concerning?

What looks like the biggest 2023 need?

Do any of the rookies actually impact the position battles?

  1. I think when it’s all said and done Damarri Mathis and Nik Bonitto will have the most playing time of the rookie class this year. Both are in position groups with significant durability concerns ahead of them on the depth chart.
  2. If he’s as good a run stuffer as hoped, Enyioma Uwazurike could earn some starts as a base 5T in the Broncos 3-4. Even if he doesn’t, I believe he’ll find a role in the Broncos DL rotation when they’re in heavier sets because he doesn’t have many teammates with the length and girth he has at 6’6 316.
  3. Montrell Washington has a good chance to get the first crack at the primary punt return job. It could (EMPHASIS ON COULD) put K.J. Hamler on the roster bubble if he doesn’t do enough at WR.
  4. If Albert Okwuegbunam misses time to injury I suspect Greg Dulcich is the replacement. Beyond that I believe he’ll back a backup.