Draft Reflections Part II: Final Analysis and Report Card
Updated: Jul 14, 2020
While the previous post offered my picks for the Broncos' draft, those selections were far from the only path to a successful draft. This article explores how the draft might have turned out if the Broncos had taken a different approach.
Alternative Draft Lines
The 2020 draft class was strong and deep at wide receiver, offensive tackle, and defensive back—all of which happen to be areas of need for the Broncos. Elway and company put together a very strong draft, but this once in a blue moon alignment of available talent with positions of need created an opportunity to even further improve the roster.
Most years, a home run roster-transforming type of draft would require lots of draft day maneuvering—trading back to acquire picks, moving up when necessary to secure a key player—the sort of wheeling and dealing that is really tricky to pull off on draft day. But this year none of that was necessary. The board fell in such a way that by staying put and simply making a few changes to his selections, Elway could have turned an excellent draft into a truly extraordinary one. The players were there for the taking.
To accomplish this, all Elway would have had to do was really lean in to the strengths of the class (OT, DB, and WR). Here's what prioritizing each of these positions might have looked like.
It's clear that prior to the draft Broncos brass decided that finding replacements for Garrett Bolles and Ja'Wuan James was not a priority. Heading into the season with those two as starters seems acceptable, but each presents enough uncertainty that exploring other long-term options for the position would have been wise.
As stated in the previous post, my preferred outcome would have been to trade for Trent Williams. But offensive tackle was a clear strength of this draft class, and the Broncos could have found starter-caliber players (especially given a year to develop) all the way into the fourth round. Here's what the draft might have looked like if the Broncos had prioritized finding a tackle.
Prioritizing Tackle Scenario 1: A Starter in Round 2
Houston OT Josh Jones was right there for the taking in round 2. Jones was outright dominant in 2019, posting a class-best 93.2 PFF grade. His technique isn't perfect, but he projects as an immediate upgrade on Bolles.
Of course, taking Jones in round 2 would have meant passing on KJ Hamler. Luckily, the draft is chock-full of awesome receivers. With four picks in the third and fourth rounds, Denver could have selected any one (or two) of Bryan Edwards, Devin Duvernay, Antonio Gandy-Golden, or Tyler Johnson—not to mention talented players like Darnell Mooney and James Proche in later rounds.
The table below provides an example of what this strategy could look like in practice. Key differences from the Broncos' actual draft are in bold.
Prioritizing Tackle Sample Draft: A Starter in Round 2
Prioritizing Tackle Scenario 2: A Developmental Prospect in Round 3 or 4
Alternatively, to avoid losing out on KJ Hamler, the Broncos could have selected a developmental tackle with one of their three 3rd round picks. Matt Peart, Lucas Niang, Ben Bartch, and Jack Driscoll are all promising players that could take on a starting role in 2021, after Bolles plays out his contract. Missing out on these players (not to mention Trent Williams) was a mistake. It will likely cost a lot more capital in future drafts to find a player with similar talent.
Prioritizing Tackle Sample Draft: A Mid-Round Developmental Prospect
Prioritizing Defensive Back
Prioritizing DB Scenario 1: A Starter in Round 2
There were a ton of awesome DBs available when the Broncos came on the clock in the second round. Trevon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, Jaylon Johnson, and Ashtyn Davis all have first round talent. Even with nine DBs coming off the board ahead of the Broncos' pick at 2.46, there was simply more supply than demand at the position.
As with selecting a tackle in round 2, the Broncos could have taken one of these premier DBs and then used mid-round picks to make up for the loss of KJ Hamler.
Prioritizing Defensive Back Sample Draft: A Starter in Round 2
Prioritizing DB Scenario 2: Adding Depth in the Middle Rounds
All of those players were gone by the time Denver came on the clock again in the third round. But there were still plenty of excellent options available, including Swiss Army knife Terrell Burgess and lights out cover man Amik Robertson. Both would have been more valuable selections than either McTelvin Agim or Albert Okwuegbunam. Going after a DB in these middle rounds would have been my preferred approach.
Even with Michael Ojemudia in the fold, the roster would be stronger with additional DB depth. Bryce Callahan and De'Vante Bausby are exciting players, but both present injury risks. And as noted in the previous post, there is little depth behind starters Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons (Trey Marshall, Kahani Smith, PJ Locke III, and Douglas Coleman III). Fourth, fifth, and even sixth DBs tend to see the field a fair amount over the course of a season. With strong options available throughout the draft, I would have liked to see the Broncos do more to take advantage.
Prioritizing Defensive Back Sample Draft: A Mid-Round Picks
Prioritizing Wide Receiver
Starting the draft with back to back wide receivers in a historically loaded wide receiver class felt excellent. But even after adding both Jeudy and Hamler to the roster, I would have liked to see the Broncos take one more receiver—and Tyrie Cleveland doesn't count (he is not part of what makes this class special).
In any other year players like Bryan Edwards, Devin Duvernay, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Tyler Johnson, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah Hodgins, James Proche, ect. would have gone one or even two rounds above where they wound up being selected. I would have liked the Broncos to take advantage of this rare bargain opportunity to take another high quality wideout.
Prioritizing Wide Receiver Sample Draft
Comparing Alternative Approaches
Here is a table showing the various draft strategies I've discussed side-by-side, along with the Broncos' actual picks, as well as my own. Players in bold represent significant deviations from the Broncos' actual selections.
There are two areas of the draft that represent key decision points for the Broncos. The first of these is round two. Instead of selecting KJ Hamler, the Broncos could have attacked another area of need—DB or OT—and then used their 3rd and 4th round picks to take advantage of the crazy depth at WR to make up for the loss of KJ Hamler at the top of the draft.
While I think this would have returned excellent results, I prefer the second option: stick with Hamler in round two, and use the middle picks to more aggressively target OTs, DBs, and WRs.
While the above examples show strategies that emphasize a single position, a combined approach would have been equally, if not more, successful (my own picks represent a combined approach). Simply prioritizing these position groups in nearly any combination would have landed better prospects at more valuable positions—an unsurprising result given the distribution of talent in this draft class.
Final Thoughts on the Broncos' 2020 Draft
This is easy. Landing Jerry Jeudy at no. 15 was an absolute coup for the Broncos. He's a rare prospect at a position that we desperately needed to fill, and adding him to the team immediately made the draft a win.
But more than that, I love that Elway doubled down and went straight back to the receiver well with his second selection. The Broncos' third wide receiver will see the field enough to be considered a starter, so there is nothing wrong with taking back-to-back players at the same position when there is a need on the roster and a talented player on the board.
Taken together, these first two picks are my favorites of the draft. Adding Jeudy and Hamler not only transforms a weak position group into a strength, it also provides a critical course correction for the organization as a whole. Mission #1 for the upcoming season is to find out whether Drew Lock is our QB of the future. That's an impossible task if he doesn't have adequate weapons around him. Now, with Jeudy and Hamler in the fold, the Broncos should be able to get a good sense of whether it makes sense to move forward with Lock, or start looking for other options.
Outside of these top two picks, I also love how the Broncos approached the back half of the draft. With the notable exception of Tyrie Cleveland, each pick they made from the 5th round on comes with a high ceiling. This is the correct approach to drafting on day three. Swing for the fences, because every prospect that is available at that point comes with significant question marks.
There is no one that this is more true of than 6th round pick Netane Muti. His injury history may prevent him from making an impact, but if he's able to recover he has the talent to be one of the best guards in the league. That sort of gamble is well worth it in the 6th round, and Muti is another of my favorite picks.
Least Favorite Picks
The Broncos mismanaged their mid-round picks. Specifically, the McTelvin Agim and Albert Okwuegbunam selections represent squandered opportunities. These weren't disastrous errors, as Agim and Okwuegbunam are both quality prospects. But the middle rounds presented a chance to take players that would likely have had a much bigger impact. The Broncos could have used these picks to:
Find an offensive tackle. There will be a time in the near future when one (or even both) of Ja'Wuan James and Garrett Bolles are unavailable. Whether it's because of injury (James) or poor performance (Bolles), the Broncos cannot count on them to bookend the line moving forward. This draft was exceptionally deep at tackle, and presented a golden opportunity to find a potential starter at bargain price. There were at least four players the Broncos could have taken in the middle rounds that would have been worthwhile investments—and that's not to mention the missed opportunity to trade mere nickels for Trent Williams. Agim and Okwuegbunam are both fine prospects, but they are not better than what was available at tackle. And the chance that they make as great an impact as finding a long-term starting OT is slim.
Solidify the defensive backfield. Even assuming Michael Ojemudia turns into a starting caliber player (which is a big if), the Broncos would still benefit from adding depth to the defensive backfield. AJ Bouye will be 29 at the start of the season. Callahan will turn 29 before week 6 and is an injury risk. De'Vante Bausby will be 28 and is coming off a scary neck injury. Kareem Jackson is 32, and there is no one proven behind him and Simmons. Elway could have addressed this need in the draft, as there were still exceptionally talented players on the board at both safety and corner in rounds three and four. Taking them would have provided important insurance against injury for this year, and much-needed youth going forward.
Build a terrifying receiver group. Even after double-dipping at wide receiver to open the draft, it would have been smart to continue taking advantage of the absurd talent available in this year's class. Adding a player like Antonio Gandy-Golden or Tyler Johnson would have pushed the Broncos' pass catchers into truly frightening territory.
Outside of these missed opportunities, the Tyrie Cleveland pick is my other least favorite selection. However, the opportunity cost was far less at that point in the draft. So even though Agim and Okwuegbunam are good prospects, I dislike those picks most because they left the most value on the board.
It's hard to overstate how important landing Jerry Jeudy will be for the Broncos. Following that home run pick by acquiring three additional likely contributors in KJ Hamler, Michael Ojemudia, and Lloyd Cushenberry puts this draft class firmly in the "A" range. All in all, deft selections at the beginning and end of the draft outweigh missed opportunities in the middle rounds and the Tyrie Cleveland head-scratcher in round 7. The Broncos exited the draft a much better team.