Mock draft season has been picking up steam over the last week as the 2020 NFL regular season reached its conclusion. ESPN's Todd McShay released his first mock draft of the season and Mile High Huddle's Nick Kendell highlighted the pros and cons of the Denver Broncos picking Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at pick No. 9.
It's easy to see from these early mocks by the leading draftniks that a perceived youth movement is needed on the Broncos' defensive side of the ball after the last few years saw the team focus on the offense in the NFL draft.
On Tuesday, The Athletic's Dane Brugler released a two-round mock, introducing two new prospects for the Broncos to target on the defensive side of the ball. Before we get to Brugler's picks for Denver in Rounds 1 and 2, it's important to note that he did not have any trades in this mock draft.
Brugler noted that there are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the top-10, forcing the quarterbacks to go early in the draft. Another noteworthy point he made is a lack of optimism surrounding the 2022 quarterback draft class based on what he's heard from NFL execs. This could lead to some major fireworks come draft night as teams work to position themselves to land their guy now while they can.
Let's get to Bruglar's first-rounder for the Broncos.
9. Denver Broncos — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
If one of the top four quarterback prospects is still on the board, the Broncos will have an interesting decision to make. But the defense needs upgrades at every level, including at cornerback. Although he is still learning the position, Farley has a Pro Bowl ceiling due to his athleticism, length and natural ball instincts.
Non-quarterbacks off the board at this point were DeVonta Smith, Penei Sewell, Ja’Marr Chase, and Micah Parsons.
Landing Farley would be a home run pick for the Broncos outside of possibly taking one of the quarterbacks. Cornerback is somewhat covered with Bryce Callahan playing lights out this past season (before getting hurt again) and A.J. Bouye set to return after serving what remains on his six-game PED suspension (two games).
When healthy and not suspended, Callahan and Bouey make for a decent pairing. My guess is the Broncos will make the decision to move on from Bouye because of his suspension and average play from this past season relative to his prohibitive cost ($13 million salary). Callahan could be in line for an extension after his phenomenal 2020 campaign, but he still has yet to finish an entire season during his tenure in the NFL.
This adds up to cornerback being a major need for the Broncos. However, Farley would be a bit of a risk for a couple of reasons. The first, he opted out of this past college season. There is talk of the NFL Scouting Combine being canceled (pandemic, what else?) and possibly pro days as well, leaving NFL teams in the dark even more with opt-out players like Farley.
The second, Farley is a bit raw for the position on top of not having a ton of film to really see where he's at in his growth as a corner. As an athlete, it's going to be harder to find a cornerback with better height/weight/speed combination for the position.
The Athletic's Bruce Feldman releases an annual 'Freaks List' and Farley has found his name on the list twice. GPS trackers have clocked Farley's speed at 24 miles per hour and he has been rumored to run a 4.35-second 40 time.
In the AFC West, a cornerback cannot be lacking in athleticism with players like Henry Ruggs III and Tyreek Hill running down the field. Farley might be one of the few that can run step for step with them down the field, though.
Not only can Farley match them in the speed category, but he is actually bigger than them at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. I can only imagine putting a cornerback with those measurables into the hands of Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell. There is no cornerback in this draft that has a higher upside than Farley.
He does have a lower floor than some of the other top names like South Carolina's Jaycee Horn and Alabama's Patrick Surtain II, but with a top-10 pick in the draft, the Broncos will need to be willing to take some risks in order to compete with the rest of the division.
Let's get to Brugler's second-round pick for the Broncos.
Round 2: Jordan Smith, Edge, UAB
Some will scoff at the idea of Denver adding to its edge group with Bradley Chubb, Von Miller, and Malik Reed already in the building. I can understand that argument to a point but the Broncos could be looking at life without Miller heading into this next season. He has a big cap hit and is coming off a serious injury.
The new Broncos' next GM could make the decision that valuable salary cap resources are better spent adding to the rest of the roster instead of bolstering a position of strength. On top of that, Reed only has one year left on his deal (although Denver can slap a restricted free-agent tender on him in 2022).
The Broncos are also going to have to decide what to do with Chubb as he enters the last year of his rookie deal and has not had his fifth-year option exercised yet. Even if the Broncos keep all three edge rushers in 2021, it's always wise to add more talent to the position and keep a strong rotation to get after the opposing quarterbacks.
Getting back to Brugler's pick, you might not be familiar with Smith's name. In fact, if you google his name, he is not the first 'Jordan Smith' that pops up. However, he is one that I would get familiar with very quickly if you're interested in the draft. By the time the draft comes around, it wouldn't surprise me to see him mentioned as a borderline first-round talent.
Smith has not had the straightest of paths up to this point in his career. Some might remember a few years ago at the University of Florida some players got caught up in credit card fraud. Smith was one of those players, unfortunately.
He ended up suspended, and never put on a Florida uniform again. He then transferred to Butler Community College in Kansas where he spent one season and put on quite a show. He ended up with 77 tackles (22.5 for loss), 11 sacks, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble. This led to him getting an offer from the University of Alabama-Burningham in 2019.
Smith's first season at UAB finished with 53 tackles notched (17.5 for loss), 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, and one pass deflection. His 2020 season picked up right where he left off with 22 tackles (nine for loss), 4.5 sacks, one pass deflection, and an interception. UAB only played in eight games in the 2020 season so keep that in mind while looking at his stats.
There are two attributes that teams look for in players who do not play at a power-5 school. The first being, did they dominate the lower level of competition?
Smith answered that question with a resounding yes. The second, do they have the athletic traits that translate well to the NFL? After watching a few of his games, again, the answer to this is yes.
Smith stands at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds. He's long, strong, and has underrated flexibility to get around the edge for someone his size. Smith is very raw as a prospect, but the tools are in place to mold him into a star.
If drafted to Denver, he'd arrive in the perfect place to learn and he wouldn't be dropped into a starting position on day one. If Smith's red flags get some answers and he shows teams he has matured from his mistake a few years ago, this could be an underrated pick for the Broncos and help give the team one of the best edge rusher rooms in football.
At this point in the offseason, it seems the Broncos are either going to go quarterback in round one or focus on improving the defense. Offensive tackle will get some looks, but in the end, the Broncos will lean, as this mock draft shows, towards adding great athletes on the defensive side of the ball.
Brugler's mock draft is high-risk for Denver, but again, the only way the Broncos are going to be able to climb out of the basement of the AFC West is by taking some risks. Fortune favors the bold.