Stand Pat, Trade Down, Trade Up: Revealing Broncos' Best Option
The NFL Draft is tonight and the guesswork and leaks from sources is at its high. Joe Burrow is set to pull off the first prospect trifecta since Cam Newton, winning the Heisman Trophy, winning the National Championship, and going first overall in the draft to the Cincinnati Bengals (projected).
The second pick is extremely likely to be Ohio State edge-rusher stud Chase Young to the Washington Redskins. After that, at the Detroit Lions’ third overall selection, the fun begins.
The draft in itself is an incredible spectacle of speculation. Who will go where? Despite the thousands (upon thousands) of mock drafts, no one ever gets it 100% correct. The NFL teams themselves don’t get it ‘right’ in evaluating and selecting prospects as often as one would think given that they are professionals.
Denver Broncos' GM John Elway is no exception. Entering his 10th draft in Denver's front office, Elway has had his fair share of swings and misses. Such is the nature of the job.
Despite the volatility of many draft classes under the direction of Elway, the Broncos have done quite well over the past two drafts. Hitting on such difference makers as Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, and Drew Lock with their first and second-round picks over the last two years, the Broncos have assembled a solid trove of young core players.
Can Elway pull in another solid haul this year? Much of that will be answered with how the Broncos utilize their first pick currently at No. 15 overall.
Will the Broncos hold fast and stick at 15? Will Elway be influenced by last the hits of last year and look to trade down again and make more late round-one and early round-two picks?
Will the Broncos get aggressive and move up for a specific player? All are possible and could feasibly happen tomorrow. Let's take a look at the three most likely scenarios to unfold tonight.
Standing Pat: Broncos Stay at 15
The Broncos are in a relatively solid position entering the draft at 15. As previously noted, there is an apparent Terrific 12 (perhaps 13 if one includes Florida’s CJ Henderson) that seemingly make up every draft scenario for the Broncos if they indeed do not move from their current first-round selection.
What is the most likely scenario for the Broncos standing at 15? Given the latest buzz around the NFL that offensive tackles should come off the board like hot cakes in the top-11, along with many of the top defensive studs, it only seems logical that one of the ‘Big Three’ wide receivers slides into Denver’s lap at 15.
A multitude of rumors have the Broncos potentially even moving up for WR, so this would be good news.
Many rank the top trio of WRs in Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III in any sort of assortment. In the end, having any ranking is like asking what the best flavor of ice cream is; it depends on the individual’s flavor preference.
Some may argue that LSU's Justin Jefferson also has an argument to be included with the previously listed three and indeed, he could be an option for the Broncos if the OT market has dried up for them.
There is always a chance that all three of the top WRs are gone, but that just means that some other blue-chip player of significant talent, such as one of the top interior defensive linemen like Auburn’s Derrick Brown or South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, will be there. It seems more likely that one of the top WRs is there for Denver than one of those defensive hog mollies to further enhance a strong D-line.
The only way in which one of these WRs (or a phenomenal defensive piece) is not there for Denver at 15 is if one of the QBs fall. In that case, a new opportunity likely presents itself to Elway and the Broncos.
Trade Down: Mimic 2019’s Success
If for some reason the board falls and there are no players that really fit what Denver wants or needs at 15, that likely means that one of Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa tumbled down the board.
It’s also possible another team will be tempted to jump the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys to secure a defensive prospect that Denver may not value as much. If that is the case, Elway should be working the phones to trade back and add a late first and additional Day 2 capital.
Just like the 2019 draft where the Broncos traded back from pick 10 to 20, adding pick 52 and a 2020 third-rounder (which ended up being the 83rd overall pick). The Broncos nabbed Fant at 20 and Risner at 41, only to then use picks 52, 125, and 182 to move up to 42 and select Lock.
It’s too soon to say for sure but the early returns on last year's trades appear to have been a massive success for the Broncos. So it is not far-fetched to predict Denver potentially doing something similar in 2020. Of course, it takes a team looking to move up to secure a trade back, but if a QB is available, it feels like the odds increase dramatically.
If the Broncos do indeed move back, it would likely be securing them a selection somewhere in the 20s. In that range, Denver could secure a solid player at a number of positions.
Of the OTs, Houston’s Josh Jones, USC’s Austin Jackson, and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland all would make sense in the 20s, as would a center like Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz. A number of WRs have been projected as possible in that range such as TCU’s Jalen Reagor, Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, or perhaps even Colorado’s own Laviska Shenault, Jr.
On defense, the Broncos have even more options but a back-seven selection seems to make the most sense. The linebacker duo of LSU’s Patrick Queen and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray could be a selection (or perhaps the versatile Zack Baun from Wisconsin). However, it would seem most likely a defensive back pick would bring the most value.
From the safeties in Alabama’s Xavier McKinney and Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn who could play a number of alignments at safety to the plethora of CBs in Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, and Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene. With some jostling, Elway could easily again pull off three picks in that late round-one to early round-two range given capital Denver would have after a slight trade back from 15.
My personal favorite trio in trading back and securing three picks in the 20-50 range? Fulton, Reagor, and Shenault. With how 2019 played out, if the board doesn’t fall like Elway likes early round one it should be zero-percent surprising to see him return to the trade back and once again dip into that well.
Trade Up: Elway Shocks the World
The Broncos already have five picks in the top-100 of the draft. Those picks are valuable and the Broncos could definitely use them to their advantage to help add needed youth and depth to the defense and better surround Lock with talent.
However, sometimes the board falls in such a way that makes one throw caution into the wind to move up in the first round of the draft and select ‘your guy’.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Broncos trade up for an OT. Even if Denver was interested in moving up for Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, or Louisville’s Mekhi Becton it doesn’t seem like any truly ‘slip’ to a range worth moving up for on Thursday.
Further, while it may be tempting to move up for a WR, it probably is not best practice to sacrifice that excess draft capital to pick a wide receiver when Denver already has Sutton and this is a very deep and talented wide receiver class. If the Broncos do move up from 15 for a specific wide receiver then cool… they got ‘their guy’. But it does seem like excess risk that they should avoid and hold fast at 15 if at all possible.
However, if there is one player that seems to be slipping that should entice Elway and the Broncos to move up if he indeed does slide to within striking range it is Clemson’s defensive stud Isaiah Simmons. Despite his incredible athletic tools, multiplicity, and upside there seems to be a growing sentiment that Simmons could be an unexpected faller on Thursday night.
There seems to be the opinion that many teams simply do not understand what role Simmons (my personal No. 3 overall player behind Young and Okudah) would play in the NFL. Slotting him at linebacker when he did not take on much contact at Clemson seems like it might be a tougher transition than fans seem to believe given the amount of contact he would face that he simply has not seen.
Further, while he has some great reps at safety (see the Semi-Championship versus Ohio State this year), he did not play there often. To some defensive coordinators, a player such as Simmons who wears so many hats is not what they want. Simmons is a projection and some talk is that he may be ‘too multiple’ for many of their stringent prototypes for a position on their defense.
Where some defensive coordinators may not know how to maximize Simmons, it seems unlikely that Fangio and DC Ed Donatell would bake that mistake. Instead of playing linebacker replacing one of Alexander Johnson or Todd Davis, Simmons offers versatility that Fangio would likely crave for his match quarters defense.
Given how many hats a Fangio safety must play, from heavy usage in the box, in slot, or playing two-deep safety, Simmons is a plug-and-play back seven defensive weapon to be utilized in a multitude of ways in Denver’s nickel and sub packages (insert fifth defensive back piece).
Simmons is considered by many to be one of the best prospects in the entire draft but given he doesn’t have a clean ‘fit’ to many defenses in the league could be someone who slips. If Simmons does indeed fall to Cleveland at ten, a pick the Broncos have strongly been connected with in a trade with the Browns, then perhaps Elway and the Broncos could stop the slide and come away with one of the more unique defensive pieces in the entire NFL Draft.
From being ESPN’s Jeff Legwold’s No. 1 overall player to just recently being mocked to the Broncos in a trade-up by The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak, this once seemingly impossible situation of Simmons sliding in the d seems more probable each minute the draft gets closer… crazier things have happened (and will happen) in the draft.
If there is any defensive coordinator smart enough to utilize Isaiah Simmons like a bigger, faster, stronger back seven stud such as the Chargers’ Derwin James, it’s 100% Fangio.
All the postulating and guesses will all come to an end as the NFL Draft will officially begin Thursday at 8pm EST. What Elway and the Broncos will do is anyone's best guess, but either way, the Broncos are going to get better with each passing day.
Merry Draftsmas, everyone. It’s here, and everyone gets gifts.