The time has come for this writer’s one and only mock draft of 2021. Yes, mock drafts are a true test of 'too much of a good thing' this time of year as many fans are likely looking at another mock with the same feeling they'd have when looking at a third plate at Thanksgiving.
Still, since it is officially NFL draft week, the time has come to sit down and hash out a full seven-round mock draft for the Denver Broncos.
While draft simulators have gotten better over the years, I've always found them to be too buggy to truly trust the results and use them as a benchmark for creating 'realistic' mock drafts. Instead of using a simulator, in a fool-hearted attempt to project where prospects that fit the Broncos’ biggest needs might hear their names called, I'll be selecting players based on their projected draft slot via Arif Hasan’s Consensus Big Board, Dane Brugler’s “Beast” scouting reports, and Pro Football Focus’ Big Board.
Predicting where players will go in a full mock draft is literally impossible. All it takes is one team to love a guy to see him come off the board earlier than anyone thought, or an injury that teams know about but the media does not that can see a consensus top prospect slide far down the draft. As an exercise, mock drafts are a fun exercise in value, assessing team needs, and fit.
And we know Broncos' GM George Paton and the scouting staff actually read them. Let’s get to it.
Round 1 | Pick 9: Justin Fields | QB | Ohio State
Lay of the Land: The question that has plagued the Broncos for the last quarter of a year; what will this team do with the quarterback position? After making it obvious the Broncos 'like' Drew Lock but not enough to remove any doubt about his standings within the organization, the Broncos have inquired about the likes of Matthew Stafford and Sam Darnold on the trade market.
The Broncos have also done the rounds and attended the Pro Days of most of the big-named QBs this draft cycle. To anyone who states the Broncos are just practicing 'due diligence', I have beachfront property in Colorado to sell you.
Based on the buzz, out of the top QBs in the draft, the one most likely to fall to Denver at pick 9 is Fields. In reality, the Broncos may need to jump up to pick 6 of 7 to obtain the Ohio State product, but mocks are hard enough to predict without trades, so we'll keep it simple here.
Analysis: Fields is not a perfect prospect. Some in the league have questioned his processing ability to decide where to go with the ball and actually following through in a timely manner. He can also be a bit greedy in the pocket, taking unnecessary sacks and hanging onto a read for too long when it probably would have been better to look to another read or tuck the ball down and use his 4.4-second speed. The processing can be sped up by coaching but the tools and traits simply cannot be taught.
Given Fields' volume of high-quality tape against some of the best defenses in the nation, his ample set of tools including arm talent, frame, and athleticism, and some of the best-charted accuracy coming out of college in the last few draft cycles, the disconnect between how I (and much of the media) view Fields seems to differ than that of the NFL.
Fields has a chance to be a special signal-caller and would allow Denver to 'kick the can' of paying a QB down the road another five seasons. A quality QB on a rookie contract is the golden ticket of contention under the current CBA, and so, the Broncos take a swing here.
Lock’s play has been filled with flashes, but the valleys have been too low and numerous to pass on Fields (or a Trey Lance) in this draft cycle if either become available.
Round 2 | Pick 40: Asante Samuel Jr. | CB | Florida State
Lay of the Land: Paton deserves multiple gold stars for how well he navigated the free agency waters in his first official offseason as GM. With the Broncos coming out of the first few waves of free agency with practically zero immediate holes on the roster, Paton can let the board fall to him. Attacking free agency to allow maximum fluidity in the draft is simply an outstanding process and means Denver won’t be backed into a corner when on the clock.
Speaking of corner, while Paton did a phenomenal job landing Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to fortify the wilting position in 2021 — to go with Bryce Callahan and Michael Ojemudia — the Broncos still have an impending need at the position as both Fuller and Callahan are set to be free agents after this season. Denver could be on the market for a starting nickel and boundary corner within a year's time.
Analysis: Enter Samuel — the son of 'Senior', a former NFL cornerback highly decorated. 'Junior' played tenacious football at Tallahassee for a football program that is getting a reputation for consistently under-developing players with great potential. Samuel is somewhat of an exception, though, as he showed solid growth over the last few seasons for the Seminoles.
Samuel will not be a scheme fit for every defense. With a somewhat diminutive frame that lacks the size to add much more weight, he's unlikely to be prioritized by press-heavy defenses. However, that's not a problem for Vic Fangio and his match-quarters defense.
While Samuel does not project well in press coverage due to his relatively diminutive size and length (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), he is perhaps one of the best tacklers in this class at the corner position. Samuel also has 33 passes defended in 32 collegiate games. Denver should be drooling for a corner with that sort of ball production.
Whether it be on the boundary or nickel, Samuel will compete for starting reps in Year 1 and with some positional flexibility, he'd give Denver an answer for a corner spot 2022 and beyond.
Round 3 | Pick 71: Baron Browning | LB | Ohio State
Lay of the Land: The second level of the Broncos’ defense desperately needs an athletic shot in the arm. While Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell performed admirably last season and the team could definitely survive with the reliable duo (and perhaps an emerging Justin Strand) for the 2021 season, the Broncos should also look to take advantage of this deep and talented linebacker class, specifically in the two to four round range.
Analysis: Browning can answer that call. Testing as an absolute freak at Ohio State’s Pro Day, he never lived up to his athletic promise in college. Whether that be due to asking him to wear too many hats from a schematic standpoint or simply being a late bloomer, given his size and movement skills and flashes on tape, one would have hoped those splash plays would have become more consistent.
At the Senior Bowl, Browning showed solid ability to line up over a receiving option and play man coverage. Fangio does like to flex out his linebackers into space against running backs, so his fluidity in coverage is good for his projection.
However, more often than not in Denver, Browning would be playing more drop zones. With his frame to play between the tackles and length, he has a great mix of size, speed, and twitch to be maximized. His anticipation and ability to read his keys will need to improve, but it’s impossible to ignore the traits.
If Browning does not ‘stick’ at off-ball linebacker, he very well may have a future as a SAM in Fangio’s scheme given how explosive he looked in his edge-rushing reps both on tape and at the Senior Bowl. Browning is a projection based on his tools and given his inconsistency at Ohio State, but with Denver having two high-floor starters already in place, the team shouldn’t be afraid to take a swing on a high-ceiling athlete at linebacker at this juncture.
Round 4 | Pick 115: Tommy Doyle | OT | Miami (OH)
Lay of the Land: The Broncos have a very likely impending need at the right tackle position long-term, as well as an immediate need for a swing tackle in the 2021 season. With the departure of Elijah Wilkinson in free agency and the unknown that is Calvin Anderson (especially at right tackle), the Broncos will be looking for a prospect early in the draft. In this mock, the value didn’t line up to take one in the top-100, but Denver should be excited to nab a tackle that actually possesses the wanted frame to stick at tackle in the NFL.
Analysis: In a draft cycle with so many tackles coming in under the wanted 34-inch arm length threshold (and even some coming in sub 33 inches), Doyle stands out at 6-foot-8, 320 pounds with 35-1/8-inch arm length. He isn't a special athlete, but in today’s NFL, with so many quick-pass offenses, his length and mass mean he is going to be more difficult to move around and get to the QB in time — even if he is relinquishing the athletic battle to edge rushers on many occasions.
Doyle has started at both left and right tackle and has had quality reps against NFL-caliber college edge rushers, handling length and power pretty well. At his height, he sometimes struggles to play with leverage and bend his knees in pass sets. He will likely need to work hard in the league to improve his balance and work towards more stalemate reps as opposed to losing and winding up on his butt.
Doyle’s floor is a solid swing tackle in the NFL, but he has the frame and tools to develop into an adequate starting right tackle in a gap-centric blocking scheme. He's a perfect combination of need, fit, and value for the Broncos to kick off Day 3.
Round 5 | Pick 153: Bobby Brown III | IDL | Texas A&M
Lay of the Land: The Broncos do not have an immediate need along the interior defensive line, but the position is one where teams should look to continually invest in prospects with the athletic traits and frame to project as a future starter after a few seasons in the NFL. Paton probably understands the importance of development and depth along the D-line after the Minnesota Vikings’ D-tackles essentially suffered the same injury implosion that the Broncos faced in 2020 at cornerback.
Analysis: Possessing some of the strongest hands in this entire class, Brown looked to finally be cobbling together his combination of size, length, burst, and power this past season for the Aggies. A former four-star recruit, he measured in at 6-foot-4, 321 pounds with 34-1/2-inch arm length.
Brown will need to work better at anchoring at the point of attack to stick as a potential nose in the NFL and he'll need to improve in the mental side of the game to understand how to properly engage with blockers without leaving himself and the defense vulnerable. Brown also has shown an inconsistent motor, but he appeared to play more consistently this past season.
Brown, who is not even 21 years old yet, will need to play with more intensity if he is to reach his ceiling, but he has every tool a team could desire in a development interior D-lineman that could play the 0 or 1 technique. While Denver just recently gave nose tackle Mike Purcell a short-term contract extension, his injury and age (30 years old) mean the Broncos could look for a developmental option to groom as his replacement a few years down the road.
Round 6 | Pick 192: Damar Hamlin | S | Pittsburgh
Lay of the Land: It’s hard to say what sorcery Paton pulled off this offseason was more impressive. Was it landing Fuller from the Bears or releasing and then re-signing Kareem Jackson to a deal at half the price?
Also with Justin Simmons signing a long-term extension to stay in Denver, the Broncos’ safety duo will offer much-needed continuity to a defensive scheme that demands cohesion and communication. With Jackson returning, the Broncos do not have an immediate need at safety, but long-term, this team has a need at safety opposite Simmons and this team still doesn't have a Will Parks replacement on the roster. A safety that can play split field zone and drop down to play some slot reps is very much on the menu for the Broncos.
Analysis: After being out-hyped by teammate Paris Ford with his splashier play and ball production, Hamlin has been mostly slept on over the draft process. Possessing a slighter frame than ideal for most safeties, Fangio historically does not implement a box safety in his scheme, thus mostly negating Hamiln’s size concerns.
Hamiln has a good nose for the ball both in the run and pass game. A team captain and noted emotional and intelligent leader, he has jack-of-all-trades that could be a great long-term replacement to Jackson as a safety in a cornerback’s body; something that does not matter to Fangio.
If Hamlin does not wind up in Denver as a nearly perfect scheme fit, keep an eye out on the Chargers who now are deploying Fangio’s match-quarters defense under coordinator Ronaldo Hill — Denver's secondary coach last year who also recruited and coached Hamlin while he was the DBs coach for Pittsburgh from 2015-17.
Round 7 | Pick 238: Gerrid Doaks | RB | Cincinnati
Lay of the Land: If anyone has followed my work for any length of time, you probably know I hold one thing to be true; running backs don’t matter. While this saying is meant to be tongue-in-cheek as of course running backs do have value, the harsh reality is they're far down the totem pole in terms of impact on the game of football.
With an exceedingly short shelf-life that extends only the length of a back’s rookie contract typically, it's a position that is found on Day 3 of the draft and via the college free-agent ranks every single year. The running back position is one I simply wouldn't invest early capital in most scenarios. However, running backs still have value and are needed on the field.
Analysis: Looking for scheme fits to match the Broncos' need for an inside zone runner and the team’s gap-centric blocking scheme, Doaks is a good sleeper fit for the Broncos. Ironically, a backup early on in his career to new Broncos’ running back Mike Boone, Doaks re-earned his starting role in 2020 after battling injury in 2018 and 2019.
At 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, Doaks is a load to bring down with a surprisingly solid burst between the tackles which is needed for this team to spell Boone and push Royce Freeman. Furthermore, Doaks is an underrated pass catcher and a really solid pass protector. He's exactly the type of back that has value for a team, especially late in Day 3 of the draft.
Round 7 | Pick 240: Avery Williams | CB | Boise State
Lay of the Land: The Broncos’ special teams have been anything but special over the last few seasons. Of course, the special teams struggles are indicative of the Broncos’ overall lack of quality depth. But the unit does appear to have better depth this upcoming season than it has had in years past.
Analysis: Williams might never become a starting corner in the NFL at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, but that's okay. Not every player selected needs to become a starter to provide value. After earning the Mountain West Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2019 and 2020, he provides value in areas the Broncos have been sorely lacking over recent seasons.
With nine special teams touchdowns in his collegiate career, Williams is the exact kind of player at team with three seventh-round picks should be targeting to round out the bottom of its roster and strengthen its third phase on Sundays.
Round 7 | Pick 255: Josh Imatorbhebhe | WR | Illinois
Lay of the Land: With Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick both playing on the final year of their contracts in 2021, Denver taking a late-round flyer on a development receiver with traits is a smart move.
Analysis: It wouldn’t be a Broncos’ draft without selecting a player with a difficult-to-pronounce last name. Imatorbhebhe (ee-MAT-or-bay-bay) gives the Broncos a lottery ticket at the X-receiver position. Entering college football as a four-star receiver, he chose USC only to miss a majority of his time and development period for the Trojans as he fought off a couple of lower-body injuries.
Imatorbhebhe transferred to Illinois where he put up impressive numbers despite extremely shotty QB play. He will likely need a season on the practice squad to make the NFL leap and will need to work on his drops that littered his college tape, but Imatorbhebhe has some pretty impressive traits.
Not the fastest and not the best route runner, Imatorbhebhe’s alpha trait is his ability to play above the rim at the catch point. One of the more impressive jump-ball receivers in this class, he possesses a 79-3/8-inch wingspan (83rd percentile) and 'bunnies' (as the kids call it) sporting a 46-1/2-inch vertical jump (99th percentile), and 134-inch broad jump (97th percentile). Even if the numbers are spiked due to being Pro Day results, Imatorbhebhe jumped out of the gym.
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