On the Clock: Denver Broncos
Vic Fangio’s second season with Denver ended with a 5-11 record, placing them last in the AFC West. Nothing went as planned for the Broncos. It all started with a Von Miller season-ending injury before the season even got underway. It continued as Denver dealt with their fair share of injuries on both sides of the ball. They were even forced to play a game with a practice-squad wide receiver starting under center when all their quarterbacks were stuck in quarantine.
Even with all the bumps in the road, the 2020 season did reveal that Denver has some key pieces in place. There is some firepower on the offensive side of the ball, With better quarterback play and a revamped defense, Denver could make strides next season. And it all starts with the 2021 NFL Draft.
Some quick draft history. The following are the Broncos’ last five years’ worth of first-round draft picks:
2020: Jerry Jeudy (WR)
2019: Noah Fant (TE)
2018: Bradley Chubb (DE)
2017: Garett Bolles (T)
2016: Paxton Lynch (QB)
Denver holds the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft -- their first year since 2018 back inside the top 10. Four of the Broncos’ last five first-round selections have been offensive players.
The following players could possibly be on the move, either through trade or being cut due to their 2021 cap hit. Their ages are in parentheses.
A.J. Bouye (28, already released)
Jeff Driskel (28)
Nick Vannett (28)
Kareem Jackson (33)
Jurrell Casey (32)
Von Miller (32)
The Broncos currently have $36.46 million in cap space without making any of the suggested moves above.
Competing in the same division as quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, Denver needs to turn its attention to the defensive side of the ball. Getting pressure on these quarterbacks, while holding it down on the back end, will be their recipe for success in the years to come. Addressing these areas should be the top priority in the draft.
Possibility #1: Penn State LB Micah Parsons
2019 stat line: 13 games, 109 tackles (59 solo), 14 TFLs, 5 sacks, 5 PDs, 4 FFs; 2020 Opt Out
Why: The linebacker position hasn’t been a true area of strength for the Broncos for the last few seasons in terms of depth. If Miller is on the move, Parsons could step in and take over his role.
Parsons is a raw talent, but has unique athleticism at the linebacker position. He is highly regarded as the best linebacker of this year’s draft. His versatility should also be appealing to Denver, as he can play inside or outside. Parsons has some serious upside, especially as a pass-rusher. With some coaching, Parsons could become someone that drops back into coverage on tight ends -- his athletic ability makes this a possibility. With Travis Kelce and
Darren Waller as division opponents, playing more coverage could be a role that Parsons develops.
Possibility #2: Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
2020 stats: 13 games, 37 total tackles, 22 solo tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 9 PDs, 1 INT, 1 TD
Why: As previously touched on, Denver has to compete in a division with two of the league’s best young talents at the quarterback position. Having a lockdown secondary will be key in the years to come. The Broncos were 16th in the league last season in terms of passing yards/game allowed. With A.J. Bouye already on the move and cornerback Kareem Jackson as another possible cut candidate, Denver should look to target a cornerback in the draft.
Surtain comes from a football family - his father played cornerback from 1998-2008, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl three times. Surtain has great size for the cornerback position, as he is listed at 6-2, 202 pounds. During his time in Alabama, Surtain displayed the ability to play well in a variety of different defensive coverages. Surtain would give the Broncos’ secondary an immediate boost in 2021.
Possibility #3: Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
2020 stats: 4 games, 16 total tackles, 12 solo tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks
Why: The Denver defense will likely look a lot different in 2021. As mentioned above, pass-rusher Von Miller is a possible cut candidate. If the Broncos cut Miller, they will save $18 million in 2021 cap dollars. With this in mind, the Broncos will be in need of a player like Paye who can come in and get after opposing quarterbacks.
Paye’s stats at Michigan don’t quite do him justice. Denver would be adding a playmaker that can line up on both the inside and outside and get home. His instincts and intelligence make him a tough prospect to pass on, especially for a team like Denver that’s in major need of a defensive lift.
Possibility #4 Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater
37 career games started; 2020 Opt Out
Why: Not one of Denver’s 2020 draft selections played the offensive tackle position. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James will be back in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season. There is no moving on from James in 2021 even if Denver wanted to, as his dead cap hit for 2021 is $19 million. But as we saw in the 2020 Super Bowl, there is no such thing as having too much offensive line depth.
Denver’s unit up front has slowly been coming together, but Slater would only enhance the line in the coming seasons. Many scouts project Slater as possessing the ability to play all five positions on the line at the pro level. Slater’s upside is intriguing. With a turnover-prone quarterback, keeping a clean pocket becomes that much more important. While going after a defensive player with their first-round pick should be Denver’s number one priority, selecting an offensive talent like Slater could be a possibility if their favorite defensive options are already taken.
SEE ALSO: On the Clock archive
Sources: Over the Cap, Pro-Football-Reference, Sports-Reference