Early Thoughts On Navigating The Quarterback Waters Of The 2018 NFL Draft

The Broncos need a quarterback, and one method to get one may be to use the 5th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on one. It’s too early to be too precise with how incoming rookie quarterbacks will be judged by teams as we get closer to late April, and free agency starting in mid-March will help to shape those perceptions.

Still, I think it might be useful to play out a few scenarios as to how likely it would be for the Broncos to get the rookie quarterback they want. It’s important to observe that they may not get that rookie quarterback that they would want.

Let’s start by observing that this is hypothetically a very strong quarterback rookie class. There are five quarterbacks (ordered only alphabetically) that the consensus seems to suggest could be taken near the top: Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen. But it’s highly unlikely that all five of those quarterbacks will be seen as consensus top five picks by late April. However, it does illustrate that even if they were, the Broncos can be guaranteed to get at least one of the five in even the most extreme scenario.

A different fact on the ground is that there is a major gap between the teams in the top six and the next team that could use a rookie quarterback. After the Jets at #6, one has to go all the way down to, at best, the Dolphins at #11, and at least, the Cardinals at #15, to find a team that could hypothetically take a quarterback in the first round. In order for a team out of the top six to leapfrog the Broncos for a quarterback, it would take a very high level of compensation that may not likely be worth it for Denver to try to match.

So let’s take a look at those teams in the top six:

The Cleveland Browns are in as enviable of a position as one could reasonably ask for after going 0-16. They hold the 1st and 4th overall picks resulting with their trade with the Texans last year involving Deshaun Watson. This gives the Browns several paths to take in their quest to improve the position:

  1. The simplest path is to just take the quarterback they think is the pick of the litter with the 1st overall pick.
  2. However, if the Browns believe there is not much of a difference between the top three quarterbacks, they could address a different position altogether at 1st overall, and then use the 4th overall pick on who they deem the best quarterback available.
  3. Then there’s the case of the Browns definitively solving the quarterback position in free agency (by, say, signing Kirk Cousins). This now gives them great flexibility to utilize both the 1st and 4th overall picks.

Scenarios 1 and 3 both make the 4th overall pick useful for a trade down to a team that may want a quarterback. Keep this in mind as we move down the draft order.

The New York Giants have perhaps the least foggy future among the top six. Common sense suggests that they won’t be solving their quarterback situation with a high priced veteran, regardless of whether Eli Manning stays or goes. It seems highly likely that they will take a quarterback with the 2nd overall pick, and all other teams will have to navigate around that likelihood.

The Indianapolis Colts, barring some huge disaster with Andrew Luck’s health that the general public does not know, are very unlikely to spend the 3rd overall pick on a quarterback. However, this does mean that it makes that pick useful to them to trade down to a quarterback needy team if they either can’t get the player they wanted (one example: Saquon Barkley goes 1st overall to the Browns), or they can be guaranteed to get one of a small group of players they want (one example: Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson and Bradley Chubb are all still on the board, allowing the Colts to move down as many as three spots and still assure getting one of them).

With the 4th overall pick addressed above, this brings us to the Denver Broncos at 5th, and right behind them the New York Jets at 6th.  These two teams could be in stiff competition with each other for a rookie quarterback if neither team definitively solves the position in free agency.

The Broncos could likely be staring at a position in which within the four picks ahead of them, two quarterbacks are already off the board (perhaps at 1st and 2nd overall) with two other picks (perhaps 3rd and 4th overall) in which the Jets could leapfrog Denver for the third quarterback off the board.

This is a problem for the Broncos if they believe that only three quarterbacks are worthy of using a top five pick on. Thus, they may have to obviate this problem by trading up themselves to the Colts’ spot at 3rd overall–or, even executing the dreaded one spot trade up with the Browns at 4th overall if there’s credible evidence to suggest the Jets want to deal with the Browns. And while this is a problem for the Broncos, it’s an even bigger problem for the Jets who could see three quarterbacks go off the board ahead of them if they don’t make a move.

To summarize how broad the draft’s scenarios could take in the Broncos’ quest for a quarterback, here are the extremes as I see it:

  • In the best case, the Browns and Jets somehow both satisfy their quarterback needs in free agency, leaving the Broncos with only the Giants in their way to get the quarterback they want. I find it hard to imagine a credible scenario in which the Giants do not use the 2nd overall pick on a quarterback, so even here the Broncos should be prepared to have two rookie quarterbacks they like enough to use the 5th overall pick on to avoid a massive trade up with the Browns to 1st overall.
  • In the worst case, the Browns and Giants take quarterbacks 1st and 2nd, the Jets trade up with the Colts to take a quarterback 3rd overall, and a team in the teens, or the Bills with two 2018 first round picks, makes a crazy offer with Cleveland to finish off the unprecedented four quarterbacks taken with the first four picks. That leaves the Broncos with only one of the five quarterbacks listed above, with the likelihood that it’s not the one they want.
  • The medium case, but one that leans toward the worse end, is that the Browns and Giants still take quarterbacks ahead of them, leaving the Broncos with the third choice, and possibly the fourth if the Jets leapfrog them.

Some of these scenarios will be discarded as free agency answers a few questions. But with what we know now, it’s entirely possible that the Broncos may have to trade up to get a rookie quarterback that they want, or resign themselves to the possibility that it may just not be worth it to reach for a lesser quarterback at 5th overall, and to take their chances either in the second round or later, or to use the second rounder as ammunition to try to trade back into the late first round for one. But there’s no guarantee that those offers will be available as well, with so many other teams that could hypothetically use a rookie quarterback even if they have a solid veteran option now.

What all this means is that, just as there’s no guarantee the Broncos can definitely solve their quarterback need in free agency, there’s no guarantee that they can do the same in the draft either. This is why I continue to insist that the Broncos should improve the quarterback position in both free agency and the draft.