Broncos Given Fourth-Best Odds of Landing No. 1 Overall Pick in 2021 Draft

Nick Kendell

The 2020 NFL season feels like it's just kicked off. With no ramp-up to the regular season via a normal training camp or preseason games, the 2020 season has felt a bit abrupt for many. 

However, just as quickly as the season started, the Denver Broncos’ odds of securing a playoff berth seem to have faded.

Obviously, the 2020 season is not over, and the story of this iteration of the Broncos is yet to be fully written, but the first chapter will no doubt start with the rash of injuries this squad has suffered. With such projected starters as Courtland Sutton, Von Miller, Drew Lock, A.J. Bouye, and Phillip Lindsay (among many more, not counting opted-out Ja’Wuan James) already missing time or being out for the season, what many fans expected to be a competitive football team in 2020 is a shell of what it could have been.

Injuries are a part of the game and there is a large portion of randomness or simply dumb luck that goes into which teams suffer a rash of injuries. There are always the usual suspects where questions must arise surrounding a team’s medical and training staff (*cough* Chargers and Washington *cough*).

But for the most part there, it's random twists of fate that see teams suffer injuries and why. The 2020 Broncos are snake-bitten on the injury front without a doubt.

That doesn’t mean the season is over. Far from it. Yes, the Broncos are down 0-2 with Tom Brady and the Tampa Buccaneers coming to town Week 3 but a win in Denver for the home squad is far from improbable. 

It would be easy for a team to lie down after the rash of injuries they suffered, but down 26-16 following a special teams safety, the Broncos stormed back in Pittsburgh last week, hung tough, and made it a respectable 26-21 loss. With a solid and disciplined defense led by Vic Fangio and an offense that can’t be much worse than what Broncos Country has suffered over the last few seasons, Denver is not ready to tank away 2020 just two weeks into the season.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, though, current models conducted by Football Outsiders via their DVOA Odds Report give Denver long odds to make the playoffs this season. However, the Broncos have become one of the odds-on favorites to land a top-5 selection in the 2021 draft and are in the running as one of the most likely teams to ‘earn’ the first overall pick.

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The Broncos currently have the fourth-best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft via Football Outsiders at 10.3%. The Broncos are behind the Miami Dolphins (12.1%), the Cincinnati Bengals (12.6%), and the Carolina Panthers (16.5%) with the New York Jets (8.5%) rounding out the top-5. 

Denver is also scheduled to play three of the four of these teams; playing at New York in Week 4, vs. Miami in Week 6, and at Carolina in Week 14.

Denver may not end up with the first overall pick and given how early it is in the season, a lot can and will change. However, Denver’s odds for securing a top-5 pick are extremely high, with current DVOA Odds having the team selecting in the top-5 in 40% of their models.

It is a bit sad and disappointing to be talking about the 2021 draft only two games into the 2020 season, but alas, this Broncos team has dealt with such a magnitude of injuries that these discussions were inevitable as the team limped out to an 0-2 start. What would a top-5 overall selection mean for the Broncos? 

Could that mean the end of Vic Fangio in Denver? Would GM John Elway be ushered out of the team’s front office? Would that mean the end of Von Miller’s time in the Orange and Blue?

Perhaps even more interesting, what would that mean for quarterback Drew Lock? Would the Broncos entertain selecting a quarterback such as North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence? 

With a potential rookie first-rounder having five years of a cost-controlled contract vs. Lock having just two seasons left, on top of Lock now suffering injuries in back-to-back seasons to start his career, there are practical reasons why the Broncos would look hard at their options with a top-5 pick on the table. Fortunately, all these questions will be answered and with a bit of nuance, decisions will be made.

The Broncos’ 2020 season is not over. Not by a long shot. What this team will do is still in the hands of the coaches and players. However, after suffering such a stupefying number of injuries to impact players and significant contributors, many believe this Broncos team is destined for a difficult season and angling towards a top draft selection.

If the Broncos don’t like the fact that they're standing at 0-2 and currently have some of the highest odds for a top pick in the 2021 draft, they have two options; they can either make excuses and continue to lose, or they can buckle down and find a way to win. 

If Denver does indeed bottom out this season and earn a top selection in 2021, these hypothetical questions will become real-life problems the team will have to face, but until that time comes, they're in fact just hypotheticals.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH and @MileHighHuddle.

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Comments (19)
No. 1-14
Thetortoise
Thetortoise

If the Broncos can't draft Lawrence this year, they might look at trading down and taking a decent tackle. The odds of them salvaging their offensive line issues this year or next are slim, except through the draft.

Chilly303
Chilly303

4 of the 5 have their future at QB, in some way. Would the Bengals take Lawrence with Burrow there? No. After drafting Tua, do the Dolphins continue the carousel before he even has an opportunity? Maybe, but they'd likely trade Tua and not get a high 1st round pick in return. The Jets have Darnold, and a lot of holes to fill. They probably would draft Lawrence, trade Darnold for a 2nd or 3rd rounder, and start over again. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos took him. There's 2 options: draft Lawrence and trade Lock to a team like the Saints or Bucs for what would likely be a 2nd or 3rd round pick, or, keep Lock and trade the top pick out for multiple 1st rounders, a 2nd and a 3rd (i.e.: Miami has 2-1sts, 2-2nds and a 3rd.... the 2 in round 1 could be top 10). It could return a haul to rebuild certain positions and set the Broncos up with a better overall team for several seasons. Carolina, of course, wouldn't consider anything but Lawrence. This speculation rests on the top 5 being these 5 teams.

3 Replies

jammy4041
jammy4041

Have to feel the Bengals and the Dolphins would be the only teams in the NFL likely to get a #1 pick that wouldn't take Lawrence.

It's five years of team control vs 2 for the Jets and Broncos. Don't expect the Broncos to get #1 overall, but if they do, the Broncos would be foolish. No team is trading that #1 pick with Lawrence on the board. It would be like the Colts trading out of #1 in 2012 with Luck on the board. (although they ruined his career by not building around him effectively.) Panthers, Broncos and Jets would be foolish to not pick Lawrence. Jets didn't build around Darnold, but if the Broncos could prise him from NYJ (Gase surely can't stay around if they get the #1 pick, and the Broncos could win enough games to pick in the 7-15 range), it would be a very intriguing option. Elway loved Darnold as a prospect too, and tried to change up.

I also talked about a trade for Matthew Stafford if the Lions get in range of a Justin Fields etc. and the Broncos are again in that weird 7-15 draft range and still in QB purgatory. At least they'd have a known veteran quality starter again.

Like, Lock is good. But is he great? I fear he's in that Andy Dalton sort of range, where there's not enough years of team control before they have to pay him, or move on from him. Need more of a sample size to really feel whether he's 'a guy' or 'the guy,' though I am still bullish about Lock and love his intangibles.

But moot point if they are in position to get Lawrence or even Fields.

Even further with the Dalton comparison (though Lock has a much better arm) though...there were questions about the Bengals' ability to win with him once they paid him, yet alone because of him. Even in Las Vegas, does Derek Carr feel more like the answer or a placeholder? That fifth year option is very important, and the NFL is all about unpaid production. Bengals ownership are so cheap, but they invest in the QB position because having an excellent QB on a rookie deal is an easy way to compete.

Chilly303
Chilly303

I don't see much of a chance the Broncos trade for Darnold. Stafford either. He's on his 12th season and wouldn't be a long term solution. Moreover, his cap hit in 2021 is $34,950,000. Not a chance!

jammy4041
jammy4041

That's the headline figure, but the structure is quite important. Now, you do see teams flip from one extreme to the other, and we did see this with the Broncos in moving from the high draft pick in Paxton Lynch to significant trade investment in Case Keenum to the veteran trade option in Joe Flacco.

A trade is pretty advantageous for the Broncos for a few reasons. For one, the Broncos' current window is built to be competitive in 2021, and 2022. Matthew Stafford improves that window. Second, in any trade, the team that owns him, is on the hook for cap purposes for any money that has been already paid. The Lions have already paid out a significant part of Matthew Stafford's contract....to trade him, they'd have to eat $24,850,000 in dead cap, though there are roster bonuses that are due to be paid on the fifth day of the 2021 and 2022 league years, and $500,000 workout bonuses. The actual cap hit would be equal to the cash flow: the Broncos would have to pay are $20,000,000 in 2021 and $23,000,000, which honestly, isn't that bad for a contract. They would represent his age 34 and age 35 seasons, though it might be possible they extend him having had the opportunity to have him in the building, and play; they could have the opportunity to find other QBs in subsequent drafts, and Lock could still be part of that plan too.

The big thing is that while Matthew Stafford loves Detroit and is settled there, is guessing what happens if they get another top 5 pick and they're cleaning house. New coaching staff, new GM wouldn't have any connection to him though, and they are cap-strapped as well.

I'm thinking what happens if the Jets get another top 3 pick...Gase should be gone and Elway loved Darnold as a prospect, to such an extent that it was Darnold, Mayfield, Bradley Chubb or a trade down. The Broncos did the work on Darnold and loved him; tried to trade up but the cost was too high.

The Jets wasted the immense benefits of a cost controlled, rookie QB contract with such a talent. Darnold has so much talent and they didn't build around him. In much the same way that a new first round QB would 'reset the rebuild clock,' it's five years vs two years.

Now, the thing is with cost controlled QBs, is that teams will usually get more unpaid production with a first round prospect with that fifth year option, because they are more likely to be a good or even great QB in the NFL. Lock could easily get in that Andy Dalton, Derek Carr zone where he's solid enough, but then when he has to be paid after year 4, he's not good enough for the team to be able to win with him, yet alone because of him. That's why it's imperative that the Broncos are able to find out whether Lock is 'a guy' or 'the guy' in the rest of the season.

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

I don't see the Broncos doing worse than they did last year which was a 7-9 season which placed them in the middle of the pack. I think this is rank pessimism to put them in the top five bottom feeders. I would be shocked if they did that poorly unless the injury train continues to get even worse.

walkd79
walkd79

Please please go 0-16 and draft Trevor Lawrence. If that means tanking by putting guys like Lock, Lindsay, Chubb, Bouye, and anyone with a bruise on full season IR at this point, then do so. Also getting as many trades done to try and rebuild for the future is a must, with guys like Simmons, Gordon, S.Harris, Casey, and maybe more being on the trade block. Even after all this, if the Broncos get the #1 pick and draft Lawrence, the 2013 Denver Broncos offense could look to be reincarneted with Lawrence throwing passes to Fant, Jeudy, Sutton, and Hamler along with Lindsay getting back to 1000+ yards and more pro bowls with all the room to run. The only thing that would keep the Broncos from being this good of an offense are the tackles of course, which would hopefully be solved by the new GM. So lets hope for 0-16, TANK FOR TREVOR, hire Peyton Manning as the GM, and Eric Bienimey as the coach, because if we cannot beat the Chiefs so we better hire someone that knows how they work and see if that works. As for a DC, Wade is probably up for a 3rd run. Go Broncos, but not in 2020.

BuckinBronco
BuckinBronco

I'd be stunned if Denver finishes top 5nin the draft

Rcsodak
Rcsodak

Dump Miller. Get an Ot or 2, a pass rusher, a LB and corner.

jareal333
jareal333

These are tough odds. All of these teams are exceptionally bad. The Broncos are the worst team in their division so they will not win any division games. The question is can they beat any of the teams listed? Dolphins and Jets are in the same division so that will be a battle. Carolina and Cincy have a chance to beat Denver. I think Denver takes it. They will have 1 or 2 wins this year and end up with the first pick. My prediction of 5 wins seems way off now.

DKMI
DKMI

I’ve wanted Lawrence to be a Bronco since I first saw him play in the All American Bowl. He just threw the ball better than one would expect of even a top high school recruit. I’d hate to have them lose so much this year that a number one pick is the result, but Trevor Lawrence is a no brainer. He’s as close to a guaranteed franchise QB as it gets.

Lock is a nice QB prospect, but it’s no guarantee that he’s that good. This fan page was filled with ridiculous expectations this off season. Now it’s evident that Lock is no instant franchise. Might he be? Maybe. But he is far from it right now.

CharlieBeagle
CharlieBeagle

There's always a lot of outrage among Broncos fans when one of these articles comes out. I've always attributed their negative view of our team on a combination of ignorance and laziness on their part. As the only NFL team in an entire time zone
we're in kind of a media void so I don't feel like they look at us very thoroughly to say the least. (Here's an example: Last year Stephen A. Smith loudly proclaimed that the big X-factor in the Chargers game that Sunday would be tight end Hunter Henry. Henry had been placed on injured reserve weeks ago.) This is the kind of Cliff Notes "journalism" that generates a lot of these negative Broncos stories.

I'be been watching the Broncos for 45+years and I know what I see. Lock can play.
As long as he isn't hurt irreparably he can be a good QB here for years. Get a right tackle. A guy that shows up, punches the clock and does a decent job but most of all; shows up. Given time to throw Lock does not need to be Mahomes. He doesn't' need to throw it left-handed between his legs blindfolded or anything like that. Just stop with all this Trevor Lawrence talk. Yes it's provocative, it's content, it's something to talk about but it's like trolling the readers in a way. BTW, this Football Outsiders site is interesting and worth a look. They're not just stats nerds, they're stats nerds with a sense of humor.

Luke  Patterson
Luke Patterson

Nice article Nick. While I don't necessarily want to start the Drew Lock VS Trevor Lawrence debate quite yet, I absolutely expect the Broncos to finish with a top 5 pick in next year's draft. What a freaking mess.

Freds
Freds

Did not expect it 1st pick of the draft conversation after only 2 games but what else is new. Trevor would be good Make sure to order an offensive line to go with him

BeGoodBroncos
BeGoodBroncos

Think they won't be that bad. If we don't start winning soon and the season gets shortened, then maybe.

I'd rather they grab a Brock Purdy type to backup Lock and get whoever is the best player 1st and 2nd. Plenty of places need upgrading, so someone should be available.

DenverDan
DenverDan

The overall number 1 pick is so valuable. We could use it to trade for multiple high picks or a combination of players/ picks. Personally I love the thought of adding Trevor Lawrence. The Broncos have lots of talent this could put us over the top. It all starts this week by losing to the Jets. Do the smart thing Denver

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

I said before that I didn't see the Broncos doing worse than last year, but with the continuing injuries I may have to revise that estimate. It would be wonderful to get Lawrence, but have the Broncos ever in their history picked #1? Lawrence as the franchise QB and Lock as his back up. Wow, that would be incredible.


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