Ahhhhh… Mock draft season. With mocks populating and propagating social media like rabbits this time of year, they can sometimes feel superfluous.
Whether it be a novice filling out a mock without knowing half the players, to experts who spend their entire year getting to know the prospects and listening to insider sources to best match players with scheme fits and value, the end results happen to be the same: a hodgepodge of mostly incorrect picks.
While, of course, everyone wants to forecast their own mock drafts and have them be correct, mocks for myself are much more about projecting players that fit need, value, and scheme at approximately the correct draft slot.
There will always be some players that go earlier than anyone saw coming, because it only takes one team to love a guy to have them go off the board earlier than anyone saw coming (see Clellin Ferrell going to the Raiders at No. 4 overall last year). Sometimes there is background information, such as character flags or injury concerns, that the media is not privy to that can totally alter the draft landscape.
In the end, mocks are one guy’s best guess within the realm of possibility at the time and meant to be an introduction to players and possibilities. They are meant to be fun and in the good nature of the hope and optimism that spring eternal in the offseason.
With the free agency, NFL Combine, pro days, and private workouts all set to take place over the next few months (on top of more work grinding tape and evaluating players), things will change. So take this mock, and every mock, with a grain of salt and understand what they are at their core; a chance to discuss possibilities and a deeper understanding of the team’s needs and the players that will soon be entering the league.
With that said… The Denver Broncos are now on the clock with the 15th overall pick...
Round 1: Tristan Wirfs, OL, Iowa
Surprise, surprise. With needs across the roster at wide receiver, the offensive line, the interior defensive line, and at cornerback, the Broncos end up selecting another offensive player from the University of Iowa in the first round for the second year in a row. Wirfs, who mainly played right tackle while at Iowa, appears to be one of the ‘big four’ offensive tackles that are emerging at this point in the draft process along with Louisville's Mekhi Becton, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Jr., and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas (do not sleep on Houston’s Josh Jones either).
It is possible that Wirfs will not make it to 15 overall given the premium on tackle talent and the number of offensive line hungry teams in front of Denver this year, but it appears that some, such as NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, believe Wirfs will be better at guard than tackle early in the NFL. While this may be a turnoff for some teams desperate for tackle, this is great news for the Broncos.
With GM John Elway all but saying Garett Bolles will be the starting left tackle in 2020, and Ja’Wuan James penciled in as the right tackle opposite him given his contract, the easiest way for any first-round offensive lineman to find his way to Denver is if that player projects as able to play guard in year one with tackle upside, which might as well describe Wirfs.
With his 6-foot-5, 320-pound body, incredible strength to play a power scheme, and the movement scheme to get into space, Wirfs is a scheme-transcendent talent. Given the top-heavy nature of the tackle class this season, if Denver wants one they probably need to shoot for one sooner than later. Wirfs would be a dream selection and for this mock, falls to Denver and gives the offensive line another stalwart blue chip talent for Mike Munchak to develop.
Round 2: Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Stop if you have heard me state it before: the Broncos are desperate for speed. Many know of Alabama's Henry Ruggs III and his speed, but the next best thing in this draft class is Reagor.
An absolute lightning bolt on the field with a very solid frame at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds with a projected 4.34-second 40 time, I had a hard time convincing myself that Reagor could be a possibility here for the Broncos in the middle of the second round. However, seeing many with connections to the draft having Reagor falling in the tier with Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, Reagor isn’t that much of a stretch to mock to Denver here.
That is, until the Combine. While the 2020 draft class is flush with talent, truly game-changing speed doesn’t seem to be as readily available. In a league hungry for dynamic speed such as the Chiefs with Tyreek Hill, Reagor could put on a show at the Combine to have his stock rocket up boards. There are concerns though on tape that put him within the range of possibility.
Showing a limited route tree at Texas Christian, a massive drop off in production his junior season (thanks in large part due to horrific quarterback play), and inconsistency in his hands, Reagor isn’t a perfect player for every team. However, he is a really good fit for the Broncos.
With Pat Shurmur coming to Denver and bringing his heavier usage of 11 personnel (3 WR sets), the more a need for a player that can play Z or slot similar to Minnesota Vikings' Stefon Diggs to complement Courtland Sutton makes sense.
Denver may have to be aggressive to land Reagor and move up, but before the Combine it’s within the realm of possibility he is there round two. As Elway has stated, this team needs to get better more explosive options at wide receiver if they ever wish to play catchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Also, I have wanted this since September 1st, so let’s roll with it.
Round 3: Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
Another pick, another major need knocked off the board. The Broncos are in major need of cornerback help, but specifically, one that can play boundary. With Bryce Callahan having the ability to play inside and outside, and Kareem Jackson playing safety and nickel, getting a player who has some length and size to go up against X receivers is an area of need.
Arnette has been somewhat slept on during the past college season due to the massive amount of talent at cornerback at Ohio State in Jeffrey Okudah (No. 1 cornerback in the 2020 draft) and Shaun Wade (has a chance to be CB1 in the 2021 class), Arnette quietly put together one of his best seasons to date and really improved from his junior to senior season.
The question will be which cornerback falls to Denver in round three, if any? I debated going corner in round two to guarantee my corner of choice, but in the end, this offseason is about ‘building the nest’ and finding talent to put around Drew Lock. So instead, risking no corner falling of value was the route.
Perhaps it isn’t Arnette in the end but rather Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Virginia’s Bryce Hall, or Texas Christian’s Jeff Gladney. After Okudah, the rankings for cornerback are a hodgepodge, but here’s to hoping one slips to Denver here and Ed Donatell can turn around the team’s recent misfortune of misses at corner in round three.
Round 3: (via PIT) Terrell Burgess, S/NB, Utah
One thing that is obvious about watching Vic Fangio’s defenses, he likes defensive backs that can be versatile in their alignment and usage. They must also possess the ability to tackle in space and be disciplined when isolated. Insert perhaps one of the most slept on defensive backs in the country in Burgess.
After having a phenomenal week at the Senior Bowl, Burgess showed off his ability to not only play the safety position, but come down and play zone or man coverage in the slot as a nickelback. He isn’t an elite athlete, but he processes angles and plays very well and is rarely out of position while being good at setting the edge, breaking down in space against ball carriers, and overall a good physical defender.
Burgess didn’t really have a large role until this season for Utah outside of being a standout on special teams, but appeared to be one of the best players on that talent-heavy defense this past season. With the ability to play as a deep player in two deep safety looks, or the ability to come up and play shallow zone or man in the slot against receivers, tight ends, and running backs alike, Burgess is an amazing fit for the defense and is an easy projection in the Will Parks role on the defense with more upside.
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Round 3 (via SF) Leki Fotu, DT, Utah
The Broncos are in bigger need for a 5 technique that can play base packages than anything else on the defensive line. With Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, and Adam Gotsis (the team’s main base 3-4 defensive ends last season) the team is currently left with the base nose tackle in Mike Purcell and more sub-package-dependent interior pass rushers such as DeMarcus Walker and Dre’Mont Jones on the roster.
However, if the Broncos do not use the pick 15 on a player who can project at 5 technique (such as South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw or Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa), then they likely aren’t getting a starting base 3-4 defensive end. It takes time for defensive linemen to develop. Denver will probably need to plug this hole in free agency if they want impact for 2020.
Instead, with this pick, the Broncos land an absolute unit in Fotu. Listed at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, Fotu projects as a nose that can play the Eddie Goldman role for Fangio’s defense. While Purcell showed to be serviceable at nose last year, Fotu has much more upside as a player with more size and juice as a pass rusher.
Fotu has really surprising burst for a man his size and is often one of the first players firing off the ball on the defensive line. He will need to add to his pass rush repertoire as right now he is rather dependent on his power to simply bull rush blockers. Fotu will also need to work on playing lower as he tends to pop up too vertically out of his stance, losing the leverage battle too often.
Fotu isn’t a fit on every defense, but for one as dependent on power and two gapping from the nose, but still needing some ability to collapse the pocket from the defensive front, Fotu is a perfect fit for this defense and projects as a long-term starter.
Round 4: Keith Ismael, C, San Diego State
Another Senior Bowl standout, Ismael was arguably the third-best center prospect coming out of Mobile this past week behind the likes of LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry and Temple’s Matt Hennessey. While Ismael does not have incredible athletic tools, he has shown the versatility to play any of the three interior alignments on the offensive line with solid technique.
One of the few players who was able to stay in front of Kinlaw in one-on-ones, Ismael has NFL-starter upside and drops a bit thanks to a really solid center class in the 2020 draft class. He isn’t the biggest player and may need some help from time to time in pass protection as is the case for many centers, he is balanced in pass sets and moves well when asked to reach block.
With the Broncos seemingly set to move on from Connor McGovern, and Patrick Morris and Austin Schlottmann implicated as two options for center (along with impending free agent B.J. Finney who Denver has been linked with) landing a versatile center with starter upside is a smart move for a team looking to continually improve along the offensive line.
Round 4: (via SF) John Hightower, WR, Boise State
Doubling down on explosive speed? No, doubling down on explosive speed. With the selections of Reagor and now Hightower, the Broncos go from one of the slowest receiving corps in the NFL to a chance in having one of the more explosive units. Hightower is a vertical upside speed receiver that is still a bit raw in some of the nuances of the game and some concerning deficiencies, but the upside is there to be a top-three receiver for a team.
After playing two seasons at the JUCO level, Hightower transferred to Boise State and became one of the more explosive receivers in the country. Projected to run a 4.45-second 40, Hightower has the burners to take short passes deep or burn defensive backs deep.
He will likely need to work on his frame at the next level, listed 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, he will have a hard time beating press coverage and fighting off defensive backs at the catch point at his current size. Furthermore, Hightower can have a case of the dropsies as was on display at the Shrine Bowl this year where there were instances of Hightower absolutely dusting a defensive back, only to not make the catch.
As the Athletic’s draft analyst Dane Brugler put it earlier this season, Hightower is a poor man’s Will Fuller. His vertical speed can help open up everything for everyone else by creating space and helping dictate coverages, but he will have some frustrating drops as well. Still, he would help add another explosive playmaker to an offense desperate to find difference makers that can help create and take advantage of space.
Round 5: (comp pick) Joseph Charlton, P, South Carolina
Simply put, Colby Wadman has not gotten it done in Denver. While his inconsistencies in punting have been disappointing considering the Broncos play half of their games at altitude that should benefit any punter, the team’s disinterest to bring in competition, let alone a replacement, for Wadman has been questionable at best. With the Broncos projected to have 12 picks in the 2020 draft, they can afford to nab a punter.
Perhaps no punter stood out at the Senior Bowl quite like Charlton. Reportedly booming balls over 60 yards on average with hangtime and the ball sounding like dynamite off his foot, he has a massive leg that will only be showcased better playing at Denver. In what is reportedly a good punter draft class, Charlton has a leg up on the rest as the best prospect of the bunch. Denver needs to quit losing the third phase of football every week and landing a top-notch punter can help them take a step towards accomplishing that goal.
Round 6: (via WAS) Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington
The Broncos already have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, but this is a team that is in need of reinforcements at running back. It seemed early on that the running backs class was going to have some real talent to pick from rounds two through five, but with the likes of Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Oklahoma State’s Chubba Hubbard, Alabama’s Najee Harris, and Oklahoma’s Trey Sermon all electing to return to school, the depth and talent while still good took a step back and the value isn’t quite as good in those mid-rounds.
Instead, a page was taken out of the book from the San Francisco 49ers' stable of running backs. While many will push for a thunder and lightning combination in the backfield, the Niners have discovered a way to create more explosive plays in the run game by doubling and tripling down on speed at running back. Insert Ahmed.
Ahmed was a backup for much of his career at Washington behind Myles Gaskin, but should he have been? Having run a confirmed 4.32-second 40 at 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, Ahmed has a chance to go the distance on any run. Not only does he possess speed, but he has shown to be nimble in the open field as well.
He has not been a high volume receiving option but was schemed to be given the ball in space in the quick pass game netting 331 yards on 50 receptions for his career. He may never be a full-time bell cow, but as an explosive option in a running back by committee he can provide tremendous value and upside.
Round 7: (via NE) Dele Harding, Jr., LB, Illinois
Perhaps a player that could see his stock move up the board the closer the draft becomes, Harding was an absolute monster for Illinois this past season. At just over 6-foot-0, 232 pounds, Harding isn’t a massive player but he is a magnet to the ball.
Wracking up 153 tackles this past season, 14.5 for loss, and a turnover machine to boot forcing three fumbles, three interceptions (two of which he returned for a touchdown) Harding is an intriguing talent not getting enough buzz currently.
Harding may not have great size or speed for the position, but the production he put up in college on top of instincts displayed in the run and pass game should not be ignored. An instant special teamer and someone who can provide depth to the linebacker corps is about all anyone could ask for round seven.
Round 7: (comp) Jake Benzinger, OT, Wake Forest
An invitee to the Shrine Bowl, Jake Benzinger is a developmental tackle prospect that has both the movement skills and frame (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) to be developed into a tackle at the next level.
He has shown some issues with speed and is going to take time to transition moving from the spread that was utilized at Wake Forest to a pro style scheme, but with a seventh round comp pick this is a lottery ticket. The Broncos need tackle depth either way.
Round 7: (comp) Jacob Knipp, QB, Northern Colorado
One of the more slept on quarterback prospects in the 2020 draft class, Knipp has intriguing tools that are worth a late-round flyer for the Broncos. The local product was the starter ahead of Kyle Sloter for Northern Colorado in 2016 before he suffered what would be the first of many injuries.
Now having had 13 shoulder screws and a few surgeries later, Knipp’s six year college career is over. Knipp has an NFL Frame at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, a live arm, and solid mobility. This is undoubtedly a lottery ticket with long odds, but given local connections and upside, one worth taking with what is projected the second to last pick in the NFL Draft.