With the 2021 regular season officially in the books, the Denver Broncos have missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season. Broncos Country begrudgingly turns its eye towards another offseason of hoping the team can improve and return to the promised land of postseason relevance.
Fortunately for all fans, hope does spring eternal in the offseason. From pie-in-the-sky trade scenarios resulting in Denver walking away with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson to the heaps of possible free-agent additions and mock drafts, the avenues for GM George Paton to improve this team are variable.
An area of much debate going forward this offseason will be the Broncos' best usage with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Having earned a top-10 pick in four of the last five seasons, patience is beginning to run thin in the Mile High City.
As Broncos fans are quickly finding out, a top-10 pick is no guarantee of greatness, and a team can add all the great players in the world to a roster — but until the quarterback position is filled by a franchise-caliber player, it’s a tough go competing in the NFL.
While the 2022 quarterback class is widely viewed as one of the most underwhelming at the top of the draft in many years, the Broncos still may feel obligated to take a swing on one with pick No. 9. Sure, Denver could really use a right tackle or an edge rusher but neither would move the needle in the same way that hitting on a quarterback would.
In this class, though, good luck picking which (if any) quarterback is the one worth betting a top draft pick on this cycle. Alas, as the media sees it, the Broncos are ripe to take a swing on a quarterback early in the draft this cycle.
One way to get a bead on how the draft will fall is by staying on top of the latest media mocks. One source that compiles mocks across the internet and tabulates the results is Mock Draft Database.
For the 2021 mocks, the site found that the player that was mocked to Denver the most last offseason was none other than the player Paton actually selected in Patrick Surtain II (17.9% of mocks last year). While this doesn’t capture how mocks and selections changed after the free agency period, it is a good way to take the temperature of the direction the NFL world thinks the Broncos should go.
For those scared off by the top of this quarterback class being viewed as thin, it’s probably best to look away as currently two of the three top-mocked prospects to Denver at this point are quarterbacks.
- Matt Corral | QB | Ole Miss
- Nakobe Dean | LB | Georgia
- Desmond Ridder | QB | Cincinnati
Knowing the Prospects
Corral: He's the current top-mocked prospect to the Broncos so far this offseason in 14.5% of mocks according to the Mock Draft Database. The quarterback led Ole Miss to a Sugar Bowl appearance this season leading a high-flying offense.
Corral is a twitchy quarterback who ran a heavy RPO-centric passing offense under Lane Kiffin. Corral doesn’t have an incredible arm, but it is far from weak. He does a great job with his ball placement that not only protects the football but also allows his playmakers to gain yards after catch.
Corral also showed growth this offseason, dropping his interceptions from 13 in 2020 to just five in 2021 while minimizing his turnover-worthy plays from 16 to 10. Corral’s turnovers dropped, but so did his big-time throws (from 7.0% in 2020 to 4.3% in 2021).
There are questions surrounding Corral, though. Transitioning from what he ran under Kiffin to the NFL might be difficult for Corral given how simple his reads were for Mississippi.
Corral also was a large part of the offense using his legs, rushing the ball an eye-popping 152 times this year. With Corral possessing a slender frame (specifically in his base) at a listed 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, rushing that much, as aggressively as he carries the rock, might be a concern.
The durability misgivings come out in the wash as Corral’s play dropped off substantially from the first half of the season to the second half. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in Ole Miss’ Sugar Bowl but hopefully, that will not result in anything but a minor setback this offseason as the draft draws closer.
Of note, out of the 'Big Six' quarterbacks currently being discussed as possible first-round selections, Corral is the only prospect that will not be attending the Senior Bowl in Mobile in a few weeks.
Dean: The second most-mocked player to the Broncos is Georgia’s off-ball linebacker. Given the devaluation of linebackers in comparison to the defensive-front and defensive-back players in today’s NFL, using a top -0 selection on a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker who could be a tad scheme-dependent might not be the best usage of resources for the Broncos.
However, watching Dean play for Georgia, it’s easy to see why many would mock him high. He's a fiend on the field. Tenacious with a rocket strapped to his rear, Dean flies sideline-to-sideline for the Bulldogs.
Dean is still a work in progress when it comes to his dropback coverage ability but his ability to close space after the catch and limit yards-after-catch for opposing receivers is valuable.
He simply closes space unlike many linebackers. Dean’s size however may make him a tad limited in terms of his true schematic fits.
Any team asking Dean to come downhill into the box in run fits, taking on, scraping through, and getting off blocks from opposing offensive linemen might not have the best return on investment. He also played behind one of the single best defensive lines in college football history this season further drawing into question how Dean can play when opposing offenses scheme to block him out of plays when reaching him on a more consistent basis.
For a team that is playing with lighter box numbers relying on its linebackers to make plays and take on blockers, such as New England’s style of defense or even that of Vic Fangio, Dean may not be a great fit. However, for a defense that asks for more sideline-to-sideline chase-and-tackle traits from its linebacker, and one that can also protect them better with a more classic four-down linemen look, Dean may be worthy of a top-20 selection.
A 4.0 student and a tenacious player and leader for the Georgia defense, Dean will find a home even if the off-ball linebacker position has never been more devalued in today’s NFL.
Ridder: Mocked to Denver in 9.1% of current mocks is Ridder out of Cincinnati. He had an illustrious college career for the Bearcats, leading the first non-power-five team to the playoffs in college football history. Ridder has played a substantial 3,108 snaps throughout his college career with four seasons starting for Cincinnati.
Ridder needs to add some to his base, though, entering the NFL but possesses a stronger frame at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. He won’t make anyone forget Lamar Jackson as an athlete at quarterback, but Ridder is a capable runner with a solid arm.
Ridder is also considered by some to be one of the better post-snap processors in this draft class. When he is confident and in rhythm, he can be a fun point for an offense using his arm and legs to make plays.
Ridder does have a tendency to hold onto the ball too long and take some bad sacks. This tends to be more of a pre-snap issue on tape as he seems to struggle to move off and adjust when defenses are showing rather obvious blitz signs.
Perhaps most concerning for Ridder is the inconsistency in his touch and placement with the football. A lot of his accuracy numbers are artificially inflated by screen passes.
Much like the Broncos under Drew Lock, Ridder’s general accuracy give his receivers a chance to make a play but at the same time, it greatly limits the pass-catcher to create explosive plays after the catch. If a team believes it can improve Ridder’s pre-snap processor and clean up his mechanics to improve his accuracy, he could be a quality starting quarterback in this league.
However, the NFL graveyard is littered with coaches and general managers who took a swing on quarterbacks with tools that 'could be fixed', resulting in that decision-maker getting fired down the line.
Predicting which prospect the Broncos ultimately take in the draft will be widely debated by fans from now until the team is officially on the clock. What is the correct decision for that selection?
Will Denver even keep its first overall pick? With 2021 now in the rear-view, the annual tradition of offseason speculation may now commence.
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