Monday Morning GM: 2021 Broncos Draft
Thinking Orange on the Clock
The exercise is as follows:
Pick a player at each point in the draft that the Broncos made a selection. Either stay with the pick that Elway and co. made, select from among players that have not already been drafted, or arrange a trade. Trades are allowed only when the Broncos offer strictly better terms on a deal that a team actually accepted during the draft. Players can't be taken later than they went in the actual draft.
With those ground rules in place, here is how I would have drafted for the Broncos.
The problem with this first pick has nothing to do with who Patrick Surtain II is as a prospect. He looks legitimately great, and has a chance to be one of the league's top CBs for years to come. The issue is that even if Surtain II hits his ceiling he won't meaningfully increase the Broncos' chances of winning a Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, there was QB with Super Bowl upside on the board for the taking. Justin Fields may not turn into an elite player, but if he does he would vault whatever team he's on into championship contention.
The Broncos came into the draft with a complete roster at every position except for QB. And they finished it in precisely the same place: a QB short of contention.
Chase the upside. Try again next year if it doesn't work out. The bottom line is that teams without a franchise QB can't afford to pass on opportunities to get one.
Javonte Williams is my favorite RB in this class. Some players simply know how to break tackles, and Williams is absolutely one of those guys. He runs with physicality and elite contact balance. He pass blocks, and is competent as a receiver out of the backfield. But I would not have traded up to select him in round 2.
Finding RB production is easy enough that it's hard to justify spending second round capital at the position, even for a player that I think is very talented. I would have selected one of the premier defenders that were still on the board—Asante Samuel Jr., Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, or Azeez Ojulari.
It makes sense to draft insurance at interior offensive line because as predicted, Lloyd Cushenberry was very bad in his rookie season. As a D-III prospect Quinn Meinerz is far from a sure thing, but a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl provides plenty of reason for optimism. Meinerz also offers positional versatility and should be able to back up all three interior o-line spots.
With both Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell set to become unrestricted free agents in 2022, it was unsurprising that Elway and company used an early pick on a linebacker. But while I like the process, I don't like the player. My primary concern with Browning is that despite possessing incredible athleticism, he was never a difference maker on the field.
Cam McGrone, on the other hand, was fantastic in 2019 and is a similarly explosive athlete. McGrone's stock dropped when he played injured through a COVID-shortened 2020 season, but I would rather bet on a player that has demonstrated high-end, NFL-caliber skills.
Caden Sterns is a compelling prospect at a position of need; he receives my full endorsement.
My only reservation about Caden Sterns was that Jamar Johnson was still on the board. I first noticed Jamar Johnson while watching Justin Fields play Indiana. Johnson was a nightmare for Fields—he moved all over the field and seemed to always be where Fields least expected, finishing the game with two interceptions and a sack. Tackling is the weakest part of Johnson's game, but his strengths (intelligence, instincts in space, ball skills) are a good fit for the modern NFL. Finding two promising safety prospects in the fifth round is an absolute win.
Seth Williams put some exciting moments on tape, but ultimately I don't think he's a good enough separator to stick in the NFL. His film against South Carolina watches like a Jaycee Horn (CB) hype tape—which is not a good look for a WR.
The direction I would have gone with this pick is RB. There are always very talented backs available in the later rounds of the draft, and this year is no different. Kylin Hill has a dynamic skillset: he's good on contact, elusive in space, and big enough to run between the tackles, but he truly excels as a pass-catcher. He opted out of the 2020 season after rushing for 1350 yard in 2019.
Spending draft capital on CBs is generally advisable, but in this instance I would have gone in a different direction. Justin Hilliard was Baron Browning's teammate at Ohio St., and ultimately outperformed Browning in 2020. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise, as Hilliard arrived at Ohio St. as a highly touted five star recruit. His college career didn't match those lofty expectations because Hilliard tore his biceps in back to back seasons. But despite the setbacks he worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt senior and finished his college career as the highest graded Ohio St. LB.
Hilliard is a leader, his teammates love him, and (perhaps most importantly to the Broncos) he's a special teams ace. I think he has as good a chance as Browning at developing into an NFL starter, and comes with a higher floor because of his special teams experience.
Jonathon Cooper is a fantastic late round selection. On tape he looks like just a borderline NFL athlete but he's turned in excellent performances against high quality competition, including a dominant showing against Clemson in 2020. There are clearly skills that may translate—speed to power, heavy hands, and a good motor.
Five feet 11 inches, 263 pounds. FBS-leading 48 yards per punt as a senior. Eighteen punts inside the 20 with just three touchbacks. Winner of the Ray Guy award for nation's best punter. Drafting punters is not usually a winning strategy, but this is the tenth to last pick in the draft—essentially a priority UDFA—and Harvin III is about as exciting as a punter can get.
We will probably never know exactly why GM George Paton passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones. Reports have indicated that Paton thought they were just good but not great prospects, and that he felt a duty to give Drew Lock one more shot at the starting job. Perhaps acquiring Teddy Bridgewater before the draft gave him a sense of security about the position—made him feel that the QB room was full.
Whatever the reason, this draft will be defined by the decision to pass on Fields and Jones. I think that both represented a chance to upgrade at QB, and that our commitments to Lock and Bridgewater were minimal enough that we should have pounced on one of them.
Despite adding a bunch of high quality prospects it's hard not to feel like the Broncos failed where it matters most.