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Grading Broncos' 2022 NFL Draft Class

It's time to grade Denver's 2022 draft haul.

The 2022 NFL draft is officially in the books. Before the dust even settles from the event in Las Vegas, the way-too-soon evaluations from the hoards of fans and analysts across the league have begun to pour in. 

Of course, dubbing winners and losers before a single rookie steps foot on the field for their new team will always be a faulty process, but conversely, there's no fun in simply waiting and seeing how it all plays out without offering up some analysis. 

The Denver Broncos didn’t pick until selection 64 in the draft, so after trading away ample draft and player capital in their acquisition of star quarterback Russell Wilson, the odds were always pretty high that GM George Paton would struggle to replicate his award-winning success from last year's draft. 

While it’s next to impossible to avoid falling into the echo chamber that is NFL draft media, there is typically value to be found in crowd-sourcing when it comes to ranking and evaluating draft prospects, and in conjunction, where teams drafted players relative to a consensus big board (such as the one compiled by The Athletic’s Arif Hasan

In the end, teams need to trust their general managers, coaches, and scouts to create the draft board and select the prospects that best fit the scheme, identity, and culture at the appropriate time that is commensurate with the prospect’s talent. 

Following last year's draft, the Broncos were commended for the value they walked away with outside of the criticism that the team still didn’t have a solution at quarterback. The Broncos did find their quarterback this offseason, but this time around, the opinions on Denver’s draft haul are not as glowing. 

According to Warren Sharp and his football analytics, the Broncos walked away with the draft class resulting in the highest collection of prospects over-drafted in comparison to their consensus ranking, with Denver drafting players a combined +60 selections over where they were believed to be ranked this season.

Of course, this could mean little if one places little or no weight on the consensus big board, but history has shown that they typically finish about middle of the pack in terms of their evaluation of prospects compared to the NFL and that teams that draft well against the consensus draft board in the negative margins tend to have poorer draft classes in reality.

A big reason why the Broncos came out so poorly in this grading system was not simply because Denver had one of the biggest “reaches” in the draft, selecting returner Montrell Washington in the fifth round at pick 162 (considered the third-largest reach in the draft), but Denver didn't receive any surplus value in the draft by taking players who were pretty consistently ranked about where Paton and the Broncos picked them.

The Broncos did fine selecting tweener edge rusher Nik Bonitto out of Oklahoma at 64 and receiving tight end Greg Dulcich at selection 80.

While Bonitto should help the Broncos’ defense tremendously in Rushing the quarterback, his long-term projection as a starter on all three downs will come down to his usage against the run. Dulcich is a big-play tight end who tested solidly for a tight end of his stature. 

Dulcich didn’t test like a truly dynamic athlete for the position and could improve his blocking but his smoothness as a receiver on tape, as well as his draft slot, indicate he should be competing for the starting tight end slot this season. The Broncos also traded back a few times to accumulate later draft capital, including a 2023 third-rounder from Indianapolis.

Day 3 saw the Broncos start with a bang by selecting two players back-to-back at selections 115 and 116. With pick 115, the Broncos’ picked defensive back Damarri Mathis from Pittsburgh and then interior defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike from Iowa State at 116. 

Both players are versatile in roles and tested as unique height/weight/speed athletes at the NFL Combine and their pro days. Mathis is long, physical, and has shown good ball skills while at Pitt but needs to work on trusting his technique. 

Uwazurike struggles with pad level given his height, but shows great explosiveness and power combined with tremendous length. He very well could be starting for the Broncos in place of Shelby Harris, who was traded to Seattle, this season.

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The Broncos did very well Round 4.

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Round 5 saw the Broncos make three selections in defensive back Delarrin Turner-Yell from Oklahoma at pick 152, the aforementioned reach returner Montrell Washington from Samford at pick 162, and interior offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg from Washington at pick 171 (sending picks 179 and 243 with Green Bay to move up for the center). 

Turner-Yell is small in height and weight but has solid length at 31-¾-inch arm length and ran well at 4.47-second 40-yard dash. He is physical as a tackler but has had issues with durability. Washington was surprising and very much seemed like a pick Paton let special teams coach Dwayne Stukes make.

Washington is small, did not test well, and hasn’t played against good competition often in his career. He did have one great game vs. Florida but a small sample size should always draw questions about how replicable a performance is. 

Finally, Wattenberg is an interesting prospect who tested well with great length. He needs to work a lot on his ability to anchor and drive defenders, both indicators of less-than-ideal strength, but has the tools to potentially develop into a starter. If not, he's a versatile backup offensive lineman who can play all three interior spots, which isn't a bad get this late in the draft.

With the last two picks in the draft, the Broncos selected interior defensive linemen Matt Henningsen from Wisconsin at pick 206 and defensive back Faion Hicks also from Wisconsin at pick 232. Henningsen is a brilliant academic student (already possessing a master's degree in engineering) and tested well at Wisconsin’s pro day. Hicks ran fine at the same pro day and projects as a possible future slot in the league with some special teams upside.

Overall, the Broncos had an okay draft class on the surface with a lot of day-one contributors selected well into the event, and players with special teams upside. The Broncos will not receive a lot of praise given they did not select many, if any, “value” selections in the entire class compared to the consensus big boards. 

That doesn’t mean this will be a bad draft class for Denver by any means. Perhaps when some of these rookies take the field, those in the draft media panning the Broncos' 2022 class will be sent back to the film to see what they missed when evaluating the group.

However, given the very specific niche players the Broncos selected, many of whom have questionable projectable long-term starter traits, the reality of the rumors that the team had other desires with their first pick in the draft and not walking away with as much 2023 draft capital as Paton said he'd hoped for, it’s hard to not feel slightly underwhelmed coming out of the 2022 draft on the whole.

Is this because expectations following a superb 2021 draft class were impossible to match? That Denver didn’t walk away with any proclaimed “bargains” or “steals” like the Ravens, Chiefs, Jets, and a few other teams did? 

Or that the Broncos’ front office is just so much smarter and better evaluating prospects than the consensus and other teams? Time will tell, but in the end, this looks like a solid yet somewhat forgettable haul from the 2022 draft this year. 

Denver was dealing with less premium capital, but an underwhelming class is still hard to swallow. It’s up to these coaches and players to prove any “doubters” wrong.

A ho-hum Day 2, a great Round 4, some head-scratchers in Round 5, and some depth in Rounds 6 and 7. All in all, the Broncos did ‘okay’. 

Being able to trade back twice and especially the one with the Colts that netted a 2023 third-rounder helps a bit. What grade does the Broncos' 2023 draft class get from yours truly? 

Grade: C+

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