Thanks to the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos got their bye three weeks early while coming off a mini-bye following their Week 4 Thursday night win. This extended period away from football — which will total 17 days between games — is a double-edged sword.
The Broncos lost their real bye and spent their mini-bye week prepping for a game that got postponed, but it allows more time for injured players to come back from their injury. With how beat up the Broncos have been, the depth at certain positions on the roster has been exposed and there are some spots that need obvious help.
Each season, I do a bye-week mock draft, and since it got moved up suddenly, I'm unveiling it now. Before jumping into the mock, here are a few notes.
This isn't made to 'predict' which prospects the Broncos will ultimately select in the 2021 NFL draft. It's about getting information out there about some prospects who could be a fit with the Broncos and why this team might be looking to upgrade a given position post-2020.
As with any mock draft this early, a lot that can change between now and then as records fluctuate, which results in draft position changing, as well as college players improving or declining, seeing their draft stock rise or fall between now and the draft.
The draft order used in this mock is based on what NFL.com released coming out of Week 4, which had Denver picking No. 8 overall.
Denver is set to have nine draft selections in 2021. The Broncso have all of their own picks in each round with two additional seventh-rounders from the Cleveland Browns (Andy Janovich trade) and New York Giants (Isaac Yiadom trade), respectively.
Now, for the mock.
Round 1: Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami
Why Edge: The Broncos suffered a big blow when Von Miller was lost for what is likely to be the entirety of the season. His severe injury has brought his future with the team into question. Right now, Miller has his deal running through 2021, but the future is uncertain considering his age, relative cost, and health status, which emphasizes the edge need tremendously.
There is also the Broncos' past situation that featured an older DeMarcus Ware (about the age Miller is now), with Shane Ray being drafted as his future replacement. It's also clear watching the Broncos that Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu aren't more than depth pieces, so finding a true Miller successor has to be a high priority. Edge rusher is the second-most-important position in football.
Why Rousseau: While there is a lot Rousseau needs to work on, he has some tool to help right away. He has a very effective and deadly push/pull/swim combo move that is similar to the Miller special. There is also tremendous length and athleticism to really work with Rousseau and develop.
Despite being raw, he has more upside than almost any other pass rusher to come out over the last decade with very few exceptions (the Bosa brothers and Chase Young only). Rousseau can also convert speed to power to generate push, but the drive does stall if he doesn't get a win early after doing so.
There will need to be work done on combining different moves as well as developing a clean counter to make his pass rush less predictable. Rousseau is a bit lean and can use some added muscle mass, which would really benefit when it comes to getting off blocks in the running game.
This is a prospect with elite length, burst, and athleticism that can be deadly in the NFL with some development. Getting Rousseau in Vic Fangio's scheme with a year behind Miller on the depth chart could help get him to that elite level.
Round 2: Jalen Twyman, IDL, Pittsburgh
Why IDL: This is one I'm sure will garner the most complaints, but the current state of the Broncos' interior defensive line has many questions. Denver did solve one answer by giving Mike Purcell an extension, but it still has plenty of questions at the position. Jurrell Casey is older, on the wrong side of 30, and is now coming back from a season-ending bicep injury.
Shelby Harris and DeMarcus Walker are free agents after this year, which leaves Denver with only Dre'Mont Jones and McTelvin Agim as pieces to count on besides Purcell. Both Jones and Agim are recent third-round picks but the former is working back from injury and who knows how he will come back while the latter has barely played and hasn't been good when he has.
Even so, you want at least a three-man rotation with your ends in the Fangio front, not including nose tackle Purcell, to help keep the big men fresh to create interior disruption. Denver lost that to injury this year but could lose it for financial reasons in 2021. What better way to help than a cost-controlled rookie?
Why Twyman: Denver still has uncertainty getting interior pressure and Twyman brings that in spades. He can make himself skinny through the hole to split double teams, has excellent quickness, and has some outstanding moves in his arsenal already. His motor runs non-stop as a defender and he is always working to better his positioning against the run or as a rusher.
There are issues with an inconsistent pad level, but when Twyman gets low and stays low, he wins at a high rate. His processing of run plays and the direction they're going needs to speed up as he will often be late to the point of attack. If a team can get him some extra weapons and keep him consistent with his pad level, he could be a very good interior pass rusher.
Pairing him under the coaching of Bill Kollar in Fangio's defensive scheme could really pay dividends for the Broncos, especially if Jones and Agim develop.
Round 3: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
Why OT: Taking an offensive tackle this late might upset some fans, but hear me out. 2021 is projected to have a deep tackle class which means there will be talented tackles that are going to fall. Also pushing this down some in priority is the emergence of Garett Bolles, so far at least, as a great left tackle.
The Broncos will get Ja'Wuan James back in 2021, and my assumption is the team will end up keeping Bolles around, so the bookend tackles for next year are in place. The depth is the issue and has been for the last two seasons, which is highlighted by the unreliability of James.
The Elijah Wilkinson experiment should be over, but he is also an unrestricted free agent after this season, as is Demar Dotson. While offensive tackle is a need, right now, it doesn't seem like a major one to justify reaching in Rounds 1 or 2 with how talented the class is. A good tackle fall into Denver's lap.
Why Faalele: You don't find many 6-foot-9, 400-pound tackles working out in the NFL, and even fewer with the light and nimble feet of Faalele. The power he displays absolutely radiates off of him. In one game, I watched him toss a 320-pound defensive tackle with ease.
Faalele is big, powerful, and also very athletic. My concern was always with his feet, but he is a dancing bear with the feet you want from a left tackle. Watching him smoothly climb to the second level as a run blocker is beautiful. There is also enough power to take on two blocks with one hand each and drive them to a standstill.
There needs to be a lot of technical refinement, which comes from Faalele's limited exposure. With his height, he has to really watch his bend and pad level. In college, he can get away with lapses there, but the NFL will make him pay.
There is enough there for Faalele to play right away, if needed, but he is best suited for coming in learning for a year which is why Denver would be such a great fit. He fits the scheme perfectly and could really clamp down the left side, but with James likely gone after 2021, the Broncos can give Faalele the year to grow with Mike Munchak before stepping in as a starter.
Of course, that assumes James plays a full season, which is a big 'if'. Again, though, Faalele could play right away if needed and the experience— if James does go down or is unable to play a full season — could do wonders for his development.
Round 4: Trevon Moehrig, Safety, TCU
Why Safety: Justin Simmons is a free agent again after this year and isn't playing his best football. While it sounds like the Broncos will keep him, they need to figure out a way to pay him. This is where Kareem Jackson and his uncertain future comes into play.
Denver could let Jackson go after 2020 and free up money to help pay Simmons, but then the team needs a replacement. If the Broncos do manage to keep both, then finding a safety to be the No. 3 guy becomes paramount in 2021 and can replace Jackson in 2022. No matter what happens with Simmons and Jackson, the need for safety is high on the list.
Why Moehrig: Denver and Fangio love versatility in the secondary and Moehrig brings a lot of it. He can be a centerfielder, play the slot, in the box, wide, or in a cover two. Whatever the case is, you just want him executing zone coverage and not man, as he clearly struggles when tasked with man coverage.
There are also concerns about Moehrig's tackling, but watching him, he reminds me a lot of Jackson's tackling throughout his NFL career. Moehrig will give a big hit when there, but he often goes low for those ankle tackles and attempts to slow down the ball-carrier as help arrives. This is due to a lack of play strength that can be worked on.
Whatever happens with Simmons and Jackson, Moehrig is a great scheme fit who would offer up even more secondary versatility with Denver's alignments and coverages. With Moehrig's range on the backend and ball skills, he could help bring some turnovers as well, which Denver has been struggling with.
Round 5: Olaijah Griffin, CB, USC
Why CB: Others in media have ranked the Broncos' need for a cornerback much higher than I, and understandably so. To me, though, Michael Ojemudia has played very well with the exception of the Pittsburgh game. De'Vante Bausby has put the team's concerns, which kept him from making the roster out of camp, to rest.
Bryce Callahan showed well when moved to the slot and undrafted rookie Essang Bassey has shown the promise to develop as the future nickel corner. So the Broncos have some potential for the future as well as some talent now and for 2021.
A.J. Bouye is the big question, but he should be back soon to help provide more answers for the secondary. For that reason, corner is just a bit lower of a need for me but that could change between now and the end of the season.
Why Griffin: Ojemudia was a perfect scheme fit for Fangio, and Griffin is nearly as perfect. The only thing keeping Griffin from being as perfect as Ojemudia is the fact that Griffin is a little thin, so he needs to bulk up, and that brings about play-strength issues. However, he is exceptionally fluid to play in the off-zone coverage Fangio runs and does a great job keeping plays in front of him.
You hardly ever see Griffin out of position and he is tough as nails when it comes to contesting at the catch point. Despite his tackling issues, he will come up and deliver a hit. The issues come from when he is a bit more passive as a tackler, but he looks to slow down the ball-carrier in hopes of help coming.
The best way to put his playstyle is it's very Bausby like with the click-and-close and even the tackling. Bausby and Griffin also have similar builds at about 6-feet and 170-180 pounds. Lean with tremendous ability and ball skills.
Round 6: Cordell Volson, OT, North Dakota State
Why OT: As stated earlier, I did this mock with the assumption Bolles is retained due to rumors that are swirling around. James will be back next year, and Calvin Anderson has the love of the coaches.
There are still questions about the future of the tackle position, even with Faalele in the mock fold, and the depth of the position. Another tackle, this time a late-round option, would give the Broncos a developmental prospect that can learn a lot under Coach Munchak.
Why Volson: Faalele was the future at right tackle, but Denver can still better its depth. Volson would come in and compete for the backup swing tackle job. Many overlook him because of Trey Lance or Dillon Radunz on that Bison roster, but Volson has legit NFL ability on the right side as a starter, or left side backup, with development.
Denver would be a good situation with the coaching from Munchak and tackles there to keep pressure off of him as he gets developed. There is good athleticism and power, but sometimes his feet can be heavy and just can be a cumbersome mover — all of which are traits that can be coached out.
Round 7 (NYG): Reggie Roberson, WR, SMU
Why WR: There really isn't a major need for a wide receiver. Courtland Sutton was emerging as a star before his season-ending injury and the Broncos made a first- and second-round investment in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler as well.
Tim Patrick has emerged in Sutton's absence, so Denver should have five capable receivers next season. However, DaeSean Hamilton can be upgraded and Tyrie Cleveland is still unknown. The reason for this selection is more so the value with Roberson being third-round caliber, if he didn't have the medical red flags.
Why Roberson: Roberson works really well from the boundary and is able to attack all levels of the field. He has a lot of big-play potential with a combination of good routes and good speed. His size isn't the greatest, and it does hinder him when it comes to jump balls, but he gives each catch his all.
Roberson has good, natural hands. One of his best routes is a quick slant where he has such a sudden jab step on his cut that creates immediate separation with hands to pluck the ball. It's concerning that back-to-back years saw him finish with season-ending injuries, which is what sees him fall this late.
This would be a draft selection similar to Netane Muti — high upside but value later with medical red flags. Roberson, when healthy, is an immediate upgrade over Hamilton.
Round 7: K.J. Costello, QB, Mississippi State
Why QB: I recently published a video about how Denver has to take a quarterback at some point in the draft because Drew Lock has suffered another time-costing injury. I also stated that when the Broncos take a QB would be determined by how well Lock plays when he comes back.
Since that question still unanswered, I'm going with a later pick and one to challenge for the backup job more than the starter, but this is something that could change dramatically if Lock fails when he comes back. After all, until you know you have a franchise quarterback, the need remains, and the jury is still out on Lock.
Why Costello: Looking at a later QB, you want one that can fit the scheme in case he is called upon. While playing in the Air Raid system as Mississippi State, Costello is showing he can do well with the defense spread out, which is something Pat Shurmur looks to do, though in a different way than what you see from the Bulldogs' offense.
Costello has solid technique, but has a bad habit of resorting to sidearm throws when pressure is mounting. His penchant for bad decisions will need to be ironed out, but it is something that has shown improvement with him working from the Air Raid offense with defenses so spread out.
It would be a good battle for the backup job, provided Lock proves to be the guy. If Lock doesn't, a quarterback will be selected a lot earlier than this in all likelihood.
Round 7 (CLE): Anthony Hines III, ILB, Texas A&M
Why ILB: Josey Jewell is still largely unknown and while he had a great game vs. the Jets, we don't know whether it was a flash in the pan yet. Alexander Johnson will be 29 years old in December and has only started 16 games up to this point. So both of current starting linebackers have questions about their future in Denver.
2020 fifth-rounder Justin Strnad is a complete mystery recovering on IR, Mark Barron has been a no-show as a replacement for Strnad, and Josh Watson isn't a cover guy. There is obvious need for coverage help and Denver can't bet on just Strnad after the injury.
Why Hines: I'll admit I'm cheating here with this one. Come draft time, I doubt Hines makes it out of Round 4. I'm taking him here, though, until draftniks catch up on his play. Denver drafted Strnad for what he can do in coverage and Hines is another shot at a similar player.
Hines is, right now, the best cover linebacker I have scouted for 2021 and that includes the top two off-ball linebackers of Micah Parsons and Dylan Moses. Granted, I have only scouted about 10 off-ball linebackers at the time of writing this. Hines' play in coverage is great with excellent awareness, positioning, and feel. He can be trusted in man or zone coverage.
The issue with Hines is, he has a long way to go before he is more than an off-ball coverage specialist. His run defense leaves a lot to be desired and while he does give full effort, he just gets caught up on blocks. There is also a question about whether he can really contribute on special teams for the same reason.
Teams will love his coverage ability as teams are struggling more and more with their coverage from linebackers and they'll work to develop his run defense.