Bronco Draft Thoughts

The Broncos off season started well, ended weird, and left the team with a number of holes still to address in the draft. Taken collectively, Jurrell Casey, AJ Bouye and Graham Glasgow are upgrades, but they’re replacing quality players who cost the team less in 2019, so this is really closer to a push. Resigning Justin Simmons and reclaiming Shelby Harris at a discount were exceptionally good moves. Harris is younger and healthier than Derek Wolfe and he was more productive than Wolfe last year. 

The Melvin Gordon signing was disappointing on several fronts. Paying a running back top six money is a poor allocation of resources in a vacuum, but particularly so when the RB in question is far from the sixth best back in the league. Gordon is a volume guy who has only been really impressive one season out of his five in the NFL. Blaming the Chargers offensive line for his pedestrian rushing averages doesn’t really work when you look at what the far more efficient Austin Ekeler did behind the same blockers.

Gordon’s an old 26 and he’s already logged over 2,000 touches counting his days @ Wisconsin. He catches a lot of passes, but he also has pretty shaky hands. He led the Chargers in drop rate and fumbling became an issue again last season. He lost the ball at the goal line in the final seconds against Tennessee, his second fumble of the day, and he lost four in only 162 carries last season. Voiding a fifth round comp pick and minimizing the more efficient Phillip Lindsay’s role, are a couple more reasons I dislike this move.

I think, more than anything, what bugs me is we could have acquired a back in this draft who added a real dimension to the passing game, such as JK Dobbins, Clyde Edwards Helaire or Antonio Gibson, and that’s out the window now.

Incinerating another comp pick, albeit a likely 7th rounder, for our 19th Big Ten tight end also made me stare off into the distance for a long moment. 

I’ll leave whether going through with the NFL Draft in April is a good idea or not to a later discussion, but the 15th pick is not a bad place to be situated if you’re the Denver Broncos. I’m mainly going to talk about our options in round one with a focus on the players who might be available. My strong preference is to leave with one of the top three WR or the top four OT. I would also endorse a fairly aggressive posture if Jeffrey Okudah somehow dropped into trade up range. He is light years ahead of the rest of his class. I don’t necessarily hate the next tier of cornerbacks this year, but I think the extreme need for every NFL team to have several good ones will drive these corners up the board past better players. 

I go back and forth on who I think is the WR1 in this class. Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb are loaded with #1 receiver qualities and neither one has a serious flaw or anything resembling a red flag. Jeudy is one of the best route runners to enter the league in years. He went along with Calvin Ridley on a recruiting trip to Bama as a 10th grader and spent a lot of time working out with him in South Florida. This early instruction from a certified route technician served Jeudy well as the student has already surpassed the master, making laser cuts and working leverage with the nuance of Ridley, but doing everything just a little faster and crisper. Jeudy also has better hands, although concentration drops still occur periodically.  

One strange side note. Jeudy posted a brutal 20 yard shuttle time that made absolutely zero sense based on his extensive film. He wasn’t the only athlete who underperformed in the shuttle and I think a lot of players fared worse in various events due to the late start to accommodate a prime time audience.

Jeudy played sparingly as a true freshman and he has been elite the last two years. He doesn’t shrink in big moments. His numbers would be even more impressive if he wasn’t sharing looks with Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, who may all wind up as NFL first rounders. Jeudy wins at all levels of the field, stressing defenses both vertically and laterally. He is equally adept @ X and Z and from the slot. People have questioned whether he can beat press coverage consistently because he didn’t see it much. The reason he wasn’t pressed often is he destroyed teams who tried him that way. He is very sudden and elusive off the snap. This doesn’t necessarily mean NFL cornerbacks won’t be able to muscle him. Jeudy is on the slender side. Jeudy is battle tested against elite competition and this might be the one thing that elevates him above the thoroughly impressive Cedarian Lamb in my eyes. Seven of the top 32 cornerbacks drafted in 2019 came from the SEC, including four in the top two rounds. By contrast, only a pair of late day three corners were picked from Big 12 schools. Lamb ran unmolested through a lot of overmatched zone defenses. 

I can’t blame Lamb for the level of competition he faced, or the good fortune to be a key component of Lincoln Riley’s Heisman Finalist Factory. I can tell you that to a man, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts know exactly how much Lamb contributed to their considerable success @ OU. The only real question about Lamb was his straight line speed and that was answered with his 4.5 Combine 40. His 1.46 time @ the 10 yard split was in the 99th percentile. Hands, YAC, body control and releases are all elite. I saw a couple people say he needed to work on his route running and this is a weird take. He has a well developed understanding of leverage and a nuanced array of moves and fakes. He routinely created separation and was a consistent game changer at all three levels. He is extremely confident and his love for the game is obvious. Will lift up the whole team with his fearlessness and creativity after the catch. Much stronger than his wiry build suggests and does not get bullied. I think Lamb and Jeudy are polished beyond their years and either one would be the best choice over anyone else in this draft to help Drew Lock and the rest of this young offense immediately.

Henry Ruggs III is a polarizing player among Bronco fans. And if you’re buying the Ted Ginn, Jr comps, I appreciate the trepidation. I think he’s a lot more than that, though. I’m not sure any speedster comp does him justice, to be honest. Ruggs is a very solidly built 5’11, 190 and he sports very soft, 10 1/8 inch pie plates for hands. His high school basketball tape displays electric agility and leaping ability. He had a 42″ vertical and he broad jumped 10’11”, so there is plenty of explosion to go along with the blazing speed. Ruggs is a threat to take any slant to the house and any smart team will give him the ball on jet sweeps. He adds pages to your playbook by requiring constant safety surveillance. Unfortunately, for the ultimate deep threat, he wasn’t that successful converting deep downfield. He was no DeSean Jackson – the other, better, but still flawed comp – when it came to tracking and hauling in long bombs. Hopefully he improves this aspect of his game, but even if he only gets slightly better, it won’t lessen his impact that much.

I don’t like any other WR @ 15, although Denzel Mims most likely has the highest ceiling of anybody else in this incredibly deep group. I also like Brandon Aiyuk and Justin Jefferson among others, but none of them would be good value @ 15, IMO. I will talk about these guys and others at more length in another installment. The 2021 WR class already looks like another stellar group as well. Ja’Marr Chase would have probably been WR1 this year had he been eligible. 

The Broncos seemingly sudden overconfidence over their offensive tackle situation scares me more than anything else about this team right now. Management tends to get tunnel vision about some things and you can see it happening. Garett Bolles has shown improvement, but he’s still a penalty magnet and he allowed just one fewer pressure than Elijah Wilkinson last season. I also think he’s a guy who will always screw you at the worst possible moment, either with a penalty or a whiff. Ju’wuan James made a point of telling everybody he tore ligaments in his knee last year and the Broncos rushed him back. Now, technically, a knee sprain is a torn ligament, but James chose the more dramatic phrasing. This does not fill me with confidence. James has always been excessively injury prone and slow to heal. I have no idea why the team is so confident that will magically change coming off another lost season. It’s a concern that they seem pretty blasé about the best OT class in years. I hope they’re sandbagging.

My OT rankings do not comply with the status quo, although I do have the same top four as most. I also like Matthew Peart and Lucas Niang more than the presumptive fifth OT off the board, Josh Jones, although Jones has way more promise than the OT7 will in most drafts. I know there are Ezra Cleveland fans wondering what’s up, but the lack of physicality in his play is a turnoff. He is an outstanding technician who can really move, though, and he avoids penalties. Sort of Garret Bolles done right. Just like with the WR class, I think a 2021 prospect, namely Penei Sewell, would be the top OT off the board if he were eligible this year.

I have Andrew Thomas as the clear cut OT1. Nothing about this season or his fine, though overshadowed, Combine performance did anything to shake that opinion. No non-quarterback in this draft has been more overscouted. Probably because no OT in this draft has nearly as much tape against elite competition. Thomas started @ RT as a true freshman and graded well. He moved to left tackle as a sophomore and he’s been the highest graded OT in college football the last two years. Lost in the freak show his peers put on in Indy, Thomas graded well in everything, exhibiting terrific explosion and change of direction skills for a 315 pound man. His 5.22 40 put him the 65th percentile. 

Really, who cares about any lineman’s 40? Anytime an offensive lineman has to run 40 yards, something bad just happened. The only time I can remember a Bronco offensive lineman running 40 yards, he wound up careening into Terrell Davis and destroying his career. 

The things Thomas showed @ Indy aren’t going to diminish with age, either. Those 36 1/8 inch telephone poles and 10 1/4 inch mitts are going to be just as valuable attributes in his tenth season as they are now. Thomas is an enthusiastic run blocker who finds and erases linebackers at the second level. He will over set and be vulnerable to an inside counter occasionally, but overall his awareness is stellar and stunts are noticed quickly and accounted for smoothly. Best OT prospect to enter the league since Ronnie Stanley, IMO. Until Sewell blows everyone away next year.

Jedrick Wills had the most impressive Combine performance ever by an offensive lineman, for like five minutes, then Tristan Wirfs stole the show. We’re talking serious freaks of nature here. Google Wirfs Combine Performance and it’s almost surreal. He’s not some lean converted tight end putting up these crazy speed, explosion and COD skills, he’s a tree-trunk thick 320 pounder. People question his feet, but it’s his situational awareness that needs work. Unlike Wills, who quickly diagnoses and smoothly redirects stunting linemen, Wirfs will sometimes develop tunnel vision and react too late to spare his quarterback some punishment. I read that Wills is a film junkie who knows his opponents better than they know themselves and he’s often a step ahead of defenses. You love that in a young player, but I love Wirfs unwavering commitment to making himself a dominant physical specimen, too. I would be very happy with either of these guys. 

I suppose some team will jump on Mekhi Becton in the top five. The reason he seemed to drop out of the sky this year is because Louisville did him no favors and really hampered his development his first two seasons, by constantly flipping him from RT to LT, often in the same drive. He stayed at LT all season in 2019 and obliterated people. His potential is prodigious, but he might have the lowest floor of the top four guys, maybe lower than Peart’s as well. He did the mic drop 40, leaving everyone to project what kind of explosion and COD skills he might possess. Maybe that was a good strategy. He’s 6’7″, so he’s going to have leverage issues and possibly durability concerns. The list of 370 pound OT’s in NFL history is a short one. A guy who is carrying that weight @ not quite 21 years old, might have problems maintaining a good playing weight, not to mention the strain on his joints. I think he will have to prove himself as a run blocker against a higher level of competition. That move where he grabs a defender by the shoulder and heaves him is not going to be as easily replicated against grown men in the NFL as it was against kids from the ACC.

I think, very similar to Orlando Brown, scheme fit will be important. If he goes somewhere like Baltimore that uses a lot of screens, play action and rollouts, anything that allows the O lineman to latch on to a defender quickly, he’s going to dominate. If he winds up someplace that makes him block in space a lot, he’s probably going to have some issues with speed. In a paltry 73 true pass sets @ Louisville, he allowed nine pressures. I’m leery about a guy with this much boom or bust in the top half of round one. And there’s no reason to swing for the fences this year with comparable, but safer talents around him.

As previously mentioned, Okudah would be worth a move up if he fell a bit. His feet and balance are upper echelon. Isaiah Simmons would be loads of fun, too, provided we fully exploited his versatility and used him to erase different offensive players each week.

More in the realm of things that are possible, I would be fine with Derrick Brown or possibly Javon Kinlaw @ 15. I think Brown and Andrew Thomas have the highest floors of any players in this draft. That kind of raw power at his age and that high revving motor on a 325 pound man portend really good things for Brown. He gives you just enough pocket collapsing to justify a premium pick and he does tons of unnoticed dirty work to make his teammates look good. He’s a double team magnet, who wrecks the running game and reduces an offense’s options. 

Who doesn’t love Javon Kinlaw? I’ll root for him wherever he winds up. If his knee checks out, I would be fine with him @ 15. His physical attributes promise success at the next level. His get off and long arms make it nearly impossible to square him up and he’s incredibly disruptive to an offense. His pad level does get a little high at times, but he has already penetrated the backfield by then. Still, chronic knee tendinitis already and he carried bad weight in the past. Not a great combination.

Reaching for any of the corners @ 15 would bug me. I think Kristian Fulton is the only one that wouldn’t piss me off. Thoroughly battle tested against elite competition in the biggest games. Scheme diverse and technically sound, he is dominant in man coverage and a mongoose at the catch point. More than erased questions about his straight line speed with a 4.46. Not as physical as you would like and not what you would describe as eager in run defense, but not a liability, either. Off field is a bit on the shady side, but no disqualifying red flags. 

CJ Henderson can mirror as well as anybody in the class, including Okudah, but he’s a major liability against the run. Something like 18 missed tackles in fewer than 90 chances the last two years. Just a galling non-effort against DeeJay Dallas. I get that most corners are less than thrilled to tackle that rugged dude, but you can’t just halfheartedly fling yourself at his ankles with your eyes closed. And against Miami, no less? Unacceptable.  

If a corner @ 15 would bug me, a linebacker there would be maddening. If we ignored a very reasonably priced, durable, three-down playmaker like Cory Littleton only to draft an inferior and unproven linebacker @ 15, I would be salty as hell.

I actually like Kenneth Murray quite a bit. He is a hardnosed downhill linebacker who erases opposing running games from sideline to sideline. He’s also as high character as any kid you could ever draft. Oklahoma asked little from him in coverage and if we never saw him turning and running with backs and tight ends, it’s probably because the coaching staff didn’t see it as a likely win. Just no value in a guy like that this high in today’s game. 

The unforgettable Oakland A’s dynasty from the 70’s had a left fielder named Joe Rudi. He was overshadowed by Reggie Jackson and Charlie O and bloody clubhouse brawls, but he was fine player. Somehow, Joe became known as the Most Underrated Player in Baseball. Now, he finished second in AL MVP voting in 72 and 74 and won three World Series, so how underrated could he really be? Anyway, he was an unassuming guy who looked like Tom Petty and the label stuck. It stuck so well, Joe actually became a little bit overrated. And of course, the Angels made him one of the very first high priced free agents about five seconds before his career went free fallin’. 

I get this underrated until he’s overrated vibe about certain draft prospects every year. When I was doing mock drafts during the season, I would laugh when I saw Denzel Mims and Patrick Queen still available in round six. I would also skip them because it would just invalidate the results. Well, just like Joe Rudi, Mims and Queen caught so much helium, they’re certainly not underrated anymore and either guy might be a stretch @ 15. I could maybe live with Mims there as I think he has top WR in the class ceiling. Queen has lots of qualities I admire, but taking a guy who might always have issues shedding blocks due to his lack of weight and length that high would be uncomfortable. 

Xavier McKinney would certainly surprise the fan base, but if Kareem Jackson is still viable @ cornerback, he wouldn’t be the worst pick @ 15. He’s not an elite athlete or particularly flashy, but he is extremely dependable and versatile. Bama used him interchangeably in the box, the slot and deep and he gave them quality reps consistently.

Really, though, if it’s not a top 3 WR, Top 4 OT, Derrick Brown or maybe Javon Kinlaw, let’s just move back 5-10 picks. My dream scenario is Jeudy, Lamb or Thomas @ 15. Not really in any particular order.