I’ve commented very little on the incoming college talent in the 2016 NFL Draft. That’s because, I’ve expressed here before, I’m not good at breaking down film in order to be an acceptable judge of talent. Thus, I’ve come to rely on those who are good at it to help me figure out how the Broncos and other teams end up doing after draft weekend is over.
The one site that I’ve found the most helpful since 2004 is The Huddle Report. Unless you’ve seen me mention it in comments here, you probably haven’t heard of it. It’s not a fancy site, in either style or substance. But in 13 draft seasons, I’ve found that it’s helped put me on the right track more often than the wrong track.
The key concept of THR is that it works with two boards. The first is a value board run by Rob Esch that attempts to project where a player will be drafted. The second is a talent board run by Drew Boylhart that attempts to project where a player should be drafted.
It’s the talent board that is more notable, due to Boylhart’s quite unique form of profiling. He tries to inject some humor in profiles, and is also a notoriously bad speller due to his self-admitted battle with dyslexia. But what I’ve found most useful about Boylhart is that he provides a contrarian force to the consensus that forms around the draft, a consensus that can sometimes devolve into groupthink.
Limiting this to the Broncos for now, Boylhart has had a pretty impressive string of discovering underrated talent in the draft, including Chris Myers, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Peyton Hillis, Demaryius Thomas, Zane Beadles, Eric Decker, Derek Wolfe, and Malik Jackson. He also foresaw some terrible misses the Broncos made, such as Maurice Clarett, Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, and Rahim Moore. (He was also cautiously pessimistic on Brock Osweiler, but the jury’s still out on him.) Of course, no one is infallible, and Boylhart has had his own misses (for one in each direction: hello, Von Miller and Tim Tebow).
Of course, just because you think a certain player is worthy of a first round pick doesn’t mean you should use a first round pick on him if you think he can be had much later. That’s where Esch’s value board comes in to balance things out. Ideally, the object is that you should be getting players with talent rated much higher than where it’s likely they’ll still be available. Of course, this is an exercise in divination as well, as all it takes is for one team to disagree when it takes a player higher than expected. But that’s a flaw inherent in the system, as there’s no way for a team to know what its 31 competitors are planning to doing.
So, in this THR-influenced mock draft, I will attempt to use both its value and talent boards to put together a slate of players that it suggests could be good for the Broncos. Of course, I have to use more than just that: I will also use my opinion of what are the most needed positions, as well as using some intuition on what type of players are the most suited for what the Broncos do.
A couple caveats before I begin:
- I will not select a player that the value board does not project will be available for the Broncos at their respective picks. So all players in the top 30 are off limits, anyone in the top 62 can only be taken with the first round pick, and so on.
- I will also not project trades up or down as it just makes things too complicated; however, in real life this should never preclude such moves, and you have to be prepared for your draft board to get jumbled. For example, if Paxton Lynch falls far enough to a place in which trading up is feasible, then you have to pounce on him. And if someone like Jarran Reed somehow falls to #31, as Peter King projects, then taking him instead would be quite wise.
So here we go:
#31: Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
#63: Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois
Wait, so we’re going to fill the Malik Jackson hole with both the 1st and 2nd round picks? Well, for starters it is the biggest hole that was made on an all time great defense that most Broncos fans want to rely upon now, and while it was patched up by signing Jared Crick, the depth at that position is uncertain with Vance Walker entering his contract year, and Kenny Anunike and even Crick being unknowns. Bullard is the second best player on the talent board that’s available on the value board at #31 (I’ll get the best one later), and at #63 the top of the talent board is dominated by safeties (there are others later) and defensive linemen. So I’m just going to stay cool and select Ward, and if this works the defensive end position is solved for multiple years.
I see Jonathan having the same impact for the team that selects him as Fletcher Cox of the Eagles and Cameron Jordan of the Saints. […] In 2012 I rated Fletcher as the 4th best player in that draft and in 2011 I rated Cameron as a top ten player on my talent board. I see Jonathan having the same kind of impact for the team that selects him as those two players, but right now on Rob’s board, Jonathan is barely making it into the first round.
Fletch Cox was drafted in the 1st round as the 12th pick in the 2012 Draft. If I’m looking for a complete defensive lineman, I would not hesitate to draft Jihad at the same point in this draft. […] Tell me, if you had the chance to draft a clone of Fletcher Cox how long would it take you to select him? Well now’s your chance. Jihad Ward is a clone of Fletcher Cox.
Boylhart, of course, was quite high on Cox, and he has turned out into an excellent defensive linemen with the Eagles. In 2012 Cox was the player I wanted the most but also knew the Broncos had no shot of getting–but Wolfe and Jackson were two excellent consolation prizes. If Denver can’t get someone like Reed, I’d be consoled fine with Bullard and Ward.
#94: Max Tuerk, C/G, USC
I’ll be brief here, as this should be music to the ears of a zone blocking scheme:
Max is an athletic offensive center who has played more than one position on the offensive line at a high level. He shows excellent leadership skills and is a tremendous pass blocker, using his athlete talent and leverage to defeat his opponent. He has the agility of a fullback when asked to block on the run or used as a pulling center or guard and, when going out to the second level to make a block on a linebacker, Max is one of the best in this draft. Max shows solid lateral agility as a center easily making that first step sideways to double team and help out less athletic guards.
It could be fun to have two Maxes flanking Matt Paradis. Boylhart also compares him to another Max (Unger), and considering that the Seahawks are still suffering from trading him away, if Boylhart is right about Tuerk I’d be afraid that Seattle would take him before Denver could.
#98: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame (if you’re feeling lucky) or Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona (if you’re not)
Esch has Smith squarely ranked at #98 on his board, so I put him here as a symbolic gesture in hopes that using the last 3rd round compensatory pick turns out much, much better than it did last time. Boylhart rarely downgrades players for injuries, even if they are significant like Smith’s, and as such he’s the highest available player for the Broncos when the value and talent boards are merged. If you think that Smith will only miss 2016 and return back to form in 2017, then here’s your possible Danny Trevathan replacement and/or insurance against Brandon Marshall walking. But if you want to be risk averse, then Wright would be an alternative.
#136: Justin Simmons, S, Boston College
Here’s your possible David Bruton replacement, and perhaps even more:
Justin is very talented, smart and could be used as a safety, a cover safety, a red zone corner, a punt returner, a member of the punt coverage team or as a slot receiver on offense. I think that might be a pretty good player to have on your team…don’t you?
Playing offense is too much to ask, but once you start to enter this part of the draft special teams contributions become more important, and it would be nice to have something more solid at returner while being groomed for his position.
#144: Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
There are quite a few receiving options that Esch thinks could be available here, but there’s one sentence of Boylhart’s profile on Garrett that is quite eye-catching as a Broncos fan:
The only way to match up against Keyarris is to use a player on him like Defensive End Demarcus Ware because that’s the type of talent and size that you would need to stop this kid.
It’s a good thing that the Broncos are the ones that have Ware, right?
#157: Take your choice of Jake Coker, QB, Alabama; Cody Kessler, QB, USC; or Jeff Driskel, QB, Louisiana Tech
We have to wait this long for the Broncos to address the QB position? I’m afraid we do. Lynch is likely out of the reach of the Broncos, Boylhart is bearish on Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg, and while he’s more positive on Dak Prescott (who could be had at the end of the 3rd according to Esch), I can’t escape the feeling that he reminds me of Tim Tebow, who Boylhart missed on. Esch thinks all three of these quarterbacks will be available here, and Boylhart thinks that each of Coker, Kessler, and Driskel has 2nd round talent, so here we are.
#219: Anthony Brown, CB, Purdue
At this point, I’m just looking for players that fail to make Esch’s top 200 on the value board, but Boylhart thinks highly of. This year, Brown is the only player that qualifies.
#228 and #253: beyond the ability of THR
THR typically doesn’t go much further beyond 200 on the value board and 100+ on the talent board, instead preferring to focus limited time and resources on the players that they believe matter. Obviously, the Broncos and other teams will do far, far more work, so I’ll let the 7th round fall to them. But in doing this exercise, of the positions I’ve identified as needs only punter, fullback, and running back depth went unanswered, and I think these are needs that can easily be addressed in the 7th round and/or in undrafted free agency.