Five Darkhorse Prospects Few are Talking About for Broncos at Pick 15 Revealed

Chad Jensen

The Denver Broncos are grinding out the home stretch leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft amid a league-wide lockdown. Fortunately, GM John Elway is confident that the majority of the pre-draft evaluation process is done. 

All the Broncos' scouts have turned in their prospect reports, grades, and recommendations, and are now focused on the 2021 class. It remains to be seen exactly how Elway and company will weather draft day but it'll be largely contingent on what the league front office allows. For now, the NFL has barred any executives or team employees from being at official facilities until April 8. 

Meanwhile, the Broncos' IT department has set up a mobile scouting nook for both Elway and head coach Vic Fangio at their respective homes. The two shot-callers can continue their study of the 2020 draft class and break down whatever NFL film they want. 

By this point, most fans are familiar with the names of the prospects viewed externally as the most likely to be drafted by the Broncos at pick 15. The daily presence of mock drafts the league over has done a good job of educating fans on the likely suspects at pick 15. 

But if the draft is anything, it's unpredictable. Just look at how the last two draft hauls unfolded for Denver. No one in Dove Valley saw Bradley Chubb falling to pick No. 5 in 2018 while the first two rounds of the 2019 draft saw Denver execute both a trade-back and a trade-up to net the foundational trio of TE Noah Fant, OL Dalton Risner, and QB Drew Lock. 

Considering the anarchy draft day is sure to spring on the Broncos, who are the darkhorse candidates to hear their name called at pick 15? Assuming Elway doesn't trade up or back. 

I checked with our Nick Kendell, one of Mile High Huddle's top draft analysts, to find out who the five darkhorse candidates at 15 might be. Suffice to say, you might be surprised. 

1. Kristian Fulton, CB | LSU

One of the common refrains fans and readers of MHH and its podcasts have heard from me since the first two waves of free agency ended is that the Broncos need to make at least one more cornerback addition, whether that be via the free-agent market or the draft. 

Fulton would make a lot of sense for the Broncos, simply because he's viewed as one of the top-3 cornerbacks in the class. Here's what our Senior Draft Analyst Erick Trickel said in his Finding Broncos scouting report on Fulton: 

Fulton's play in coverage is very enticing to multiple teams because he does offer up some versatility in coverage schemes. He can be very physical through routes and at the catch point, which teams will love.

Tackling is 'non-negotiable' for Coach Fangio's defensive backs, so that would have to be a focus for improvement if Fulton were the Broncos' pick at 15. Otherwise, he's a tremendously talented and physical young corner. 

2. Xavier McKinney, S | Alabama

Most fans shudder at the notion of the Broncos taking a safety in the first round, but there is a basis for why McKinney would make sense. Firstly, he's widely viewed as the top safety in the class, with LSU's Grant Delpit the opposing contender. 

Secondly, although the Broncos are poised to sign the currently franchise-tagged Justin Simmons to a long-term contract, his safety partner — Kareem Jackson — is entering his age-32 season. Jackson has two years left on his deal, counting 2020, but after this coming season, if he shows a decline in play or struggles to stay healthy, the Broncos can move on relatively pain-free. 

Thirdly, Will Parks' departure to Philadelphia means the Broncos have a real need for that No. 3 safety — a defensive back who is as comfortable in umbrella coverage as he is in the box or in one-on-one assignments. McKinney checks all three of those boxes. Here's what Kendell had to say about it: 

The Broncos used Will Parks the last five games of the season as their primary slot player. McKinney did that and more for Alabama last year. He’s a smart player with a very high floor and can offer leadership, instincts, and versatility to Denver’s defensive backfield.

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3. Derrick Brown, DT | Auburn

The Broncos said goodbye to two familiar D-line faces last month. Derek Wolfe took his talents to Baltimore, while Adam Gotsis languishes on the market as he recovers from a late-season knee surgery. 

The Broncos made a couple of moves to bolster the unit; namely, acquiring Jurrell Casey via trade and re-signing Shelby Harris to a one-year deal. But work still needs to be done to fully hedge against the future. Here's what Kendell said. 

Once considered a lock for the top-10, Brown has been slipping down board since the Combine. While not a perfect fit for every scheme, this power player can win in ways that Fangio would find useful and give Denver another potential blue-chip player along its defensive front. 

 4. Jeff Gladney, CB | TCU

Again, the Broncos need reinforcements at cornerback after saying goodbye to Chris Harris, Jr. A.J. Bouye helps mitigate the sting of Harris' loss, but beyond him, the Broncos are relying on two corners coming off serious injuries to serve as the No. 2 and 3. 

Enter Gladney as a real option for this team at pick 15. Trickel has gone on record in saying that Gladney is an ideal fit for Fangio's scheme. That's a crucial necessity. Here's what Kendell said about Gladney: 

The Broncos have concerns at corner. While the likes of Bouye, Bryce Callahan, and De'Vante Bausby offer upside, there is no such thing as too many good cover players. Gladney is a dog, has inside-outside versatility, and could easily end up one of the best players in this class. 

 5. Denzel Mims, WR | Baylor

If the Broncos are unable to land one of the 'Blue-Chip 3' wideouts in this class, the team could look to the Baylor product as a legit consolation prize. Mims brings 4.38 speed to the table and at 6-foot-3, his size-speed combo could be just what the Broncos' offense needs to complement Courtland Sutton and give Drew Lock another dangerous weapon to throw to outside the numbers. 

Here's what Trickel said in his Finding Broncos scouting report on Mims: 

Mims' ability to attack every level of the field would bring a lot of versatility to a Broncos offense that is lacking that versatility (mainly in the receiving corps). He has good speed to challenge deep, which is something the Broncos are in desperate need of. 

The Takeaway

It will be interesting to see how the first round unfolds on April 23. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Elway maneuver in round one, whether that be to trade up or back. 

If the Broncos came away with any one of these five darkhorse prospects, it would present a serious upgrade to the roster. Only time will tell how it all shakes out. 

As always, we want to hear your thoughts on the issue. Sound off in the comment section below with what your preferred first-round haul looks like for the Broncos. 

Follow Erick and Nick on Twitter @ErickTrickel and @NickKendellMHH. 

Comments (32)
No. 1-20
BeGoodBroncos
BeGoodBroncos

sitting at 15 :)

Brew77
Brew77

Most of these picks won’t make sense at 15 Fulton is good but CJ Henderson is the popular pick as far as the first CB off the board. McKinney makes no sense for the reasons you pointed out the Broncos are looking to sign Simmons long term and Jackson solidified himself last year and has two years left on his contract. The Broncos are looking for more of a safety to fill the Will Parks role not a starter which McKinney clearly is. Brown will be long gone by 15 so I won’t waste time with him Gladney is a second rounder picking him at 15 would be a complete reach and makes no sense. Mims is only a consideration if the top 3 receivers are gone and the Broncos just want a receiver but Mims would also be a reach at 15. If the top 3 receivers are gone the best bet for the Broncos is to trade down somewhere between 21 and 25 then you could add a multitude of players that wouldn’t necessarily be reaches. Mims Reagor Shenault Murray Queen Diggs are just a few of the names that could be taken in that range but the 5 that are on this list would be reaches at 15.

CUBuffinTX
CUBuffinTX

With the exception of Brown I would move down if those other 4 are the best options available. Also it would not necessarily have to be for additional picks in this draft. If they were offered and let’s be simple for an example 2nd in 2021 to move down to the late teens early 20’s or a 3rd this year push it down the road. They have enough picks this year and cheap rookie deals and more of them is great but better spread out

Andynonymous
Andynonymous

I'd take either McKinney or Brown with that pick and not look back. It's strengthening a strength in either case, and I don't mind that a bit. That would be one fearsome D line if Brown, and a helluva a back end if McKinney. Plus, if he plays the slot, he's basically giving what Henderson would anyway, but he can tackle.

Mims is only a reach if he doesn't perform. No one remembers reaches that excel.

But last year was genius, turning two starters into three, so I wouldn't be opposed to something like that either. I predict we trade up for Ruggs, and maybe even pick Hamler in the second. Ok, I fantasize, but that's about the same, right?

0range Crush
0range Crush

It wasn't a popular opinion back when I started pining for Mims at 15 (if the Top 3 are already gone), so its a welcomed relief seeing that become more acceptable now. Man, I really want so badly for Lock and Shurmur to have their speed threat, and it feels so important the we do it now, and give Lock every chance to blow minds his first full season, and resurrect the fan base to that winning spirit we've lost. I don't think Mims is a reach either from what I'm seeing on video- Amazing hands...Contested catches..speed.....the guy is a stud!

Ldwilliams
Ldwilliams

Dude Coach Fangio said tackling is not an option. CJ Henderson can cover but is scared to tackle. He reminds me of Rodgers- Cromartie in that Super Bowl when Seattle ran right at him because they knew he was scared to tackle. I want either Fulton, Gladney or McKinney with the 15 pick if no one else is there on their board before the 15th pick.

Mike138
Mike138

A trade back scenario that lands Denver Josh Jones, Denzel Mims, Cesar Ruiz or Cushinberry and Kyle Dugger with the top 4 picks would be nice.

jammy4041
jammy4041

With the draft you have to look at the entire state of the roster, and developing needs over the course of their four or five year rookie contract; needs aren't just for this year, and it's my personal belief that it is better to have a future replacement on the roster before making a roster cut. The aim is to build a superbowl contender right around the time the Chiefs have to pay Mahomes his big contract, and while Drew Lock is still on his rookie deal.

It's only fair to be talking about some of these dark-horse prospects.

That means that there will have to be some difficult decisions to be made, maybe not this year, but certainly with some vets on the roster: Kareem Jackson was brilliant in 2019, but he will be 32 years in this season. With the way his contract is structured, he is due for a cap hit of $14m in 2020; that's only sustainable when a large amount of the Broncos' core is young and on their cheap rookie deals. When Simmons gets paid, I suspect he'll get a relatively large signing bonus, to keep his cap hit low, but it will probably increase significantly in 2021. It's worth pointing out that cutting Kareem Jackson in 2021 would free up $10m.

Furthermore, Fangio has said he intends to use more packages with six defenders, and a key part of a dime package is those three safety looks. McKinney's main calling cards are his football intelligence and versatility especially in those subpackage looks, and he can be groomed to be a full time replacement for K-Jax if/when the Broncos move on from him. He absolutely should be in play at #15.

Disagree about Henderson. There's a disconnect in the media and what coaches will ultimately expect a player to do. His size and athleticism is great, his off-man coverage ability is very good, his ball skills are good, but he's atrocious at tackling, he's a work-in-progress as a zone defender, and he doesn't have the technique, patience or the strength to be effective at this stage in press coverage. That's not to say Henderson is a bad prospect, but he ultimately has less value to the Broncos than he does in other schemes. Some coaches will probably believe in their ability to 'coach him up' when it comes to tackling, and while he's still pretty new to the cornerback position, I'm not so sure that it's a good bet. Tackling is a non-negotiable factor for Fangio.

I wouldn't say Fulton is a banger, but he shows more willingness to tackle and was good in coverage. However, I do have a few more concerns. He has a lack of length and he had a two year suspension because he interfered with a drug test (was later reduced to one year).

The corner I like best is Jeff Gladney, who I still think would be worth it even at 15. He's slight smaller, but he has adequate length. Shows much more willingness to tackle and plays bigger than his size. Scheme versatile, can press, recognise route combinations in zone, but it's in off man that he truly shines with his fluid hips. He's always around the football, though needs to turn PBUs into INTs more often. I'm not going to read too much into his combine because it looked like he put on a bit too much weight too soon a bit like Reagor, and because every prospect's 3-cone time was affected by the move to prime time. Would have been fascinating to see what he could do if he had a pro-day. He played most of 2019 with a torn meniscus that he's having surgery for. He can be boxed out by bigger receivers, which is a concern, but between Bouye, Bausby, Callahan and Gladney, that would shape up to be a good receiving corps. His floor is likely #25 with Minnesota because he matches up so well with what they do. He's my personal CB2 for what it's worth. I'd probably still prefer if the Broncos signed Amukamara which would lessen that need at cornerback but Gladney, McKinney, Mims are probably the players I'd still consider most at 15 if the big 3 receivers and the big 4 OTs are gone at #15.

There's no certainties when it comes to the draft, and if there's a blue-chip prospect who could fall to #15, one has to feel like it would be Derrick Brown. His tape is too good to pass up, but his athletic profile is below average, and maybe there's enough of a concern that he drops. Personally, I don't see it with the Cardinals and Jags probably being his floor, but they could go in a different direction and address different needs.

If we're looking at Mims at #15, it's probably because the top 3 receivers are all gone; that's not something that's too far-fetched. If the Broncos want to trade down and still land Mims, they might not be able to trade down too far. Miami pick at #18, pending trades and have needs at receiver and tackle, if they take a quarterback early. Cowboys could do with a complement to Cooper, Eagles could be aggressive and trade up from #21; Minnesota would have capital to trade up from #22 if they needed to. Thinking a prospect might fall and trading out when that talent is on the board, is dangerous, and in any case, the Broncos would have to find a suitor to trade up. There's some depth to the wide receiver class, but there's still a drop off from the tier 1 trio of Lamb/Jeudy/Ruggs who have top 15 grades, to the tier 2 trio of Mims/Reagor/Jefferson who have more top 35 grades. Those receivers aren't players who are likely to be there at #46, and there's a drop off to the tier 3 or even tier 4 guys who are likely to be available at #46. No certainties, but some receivers would fit what the Broncos do better than others.

Mims would be a slight reach, but it's one of those where he's probably gone five spots later. He improved as a catcher, has an insane catch radius, is a good blocker and is a height/weight/speed freak who can be effective at X, Z or even big slot.

The team has a lot of needs, but if they like the right prospect they shouldn't be afraid of trading up for them. Personally, I would trade up to secure Ruggs, because of the upgrade he could provide to the receiving corps and because he does more than the other receivers without the ball in his hands to effect the defensive coverage, and because the Broncos have quite a lot of capital to do if they wish.

Trade back should be a very last resort, and even then, I hope the Broncos would be more aggressive in trading up in subsequent rounds. The Broncos would be on 77 on the off-season roster if the they cut Heuerman and Wadman, so that's room for only 13 draftees and UDFAs; and not all of them will make the roster.

Kebby77
Kebby77

G

Kebby77
Kebby77

Gotta check both need and best available if possible. If Mims is that guy with speed ,size and hands then is say go for it. Just because these analysts say these WR blue chip guys are the best doesn't mean there aren't other studs out there just as good. Alabama prospects always get recognition and some of them turn out to be 1st round busts or dont live up. We nabbed Court in the 2nd. I'm sure there's more than a few surprise picks coming.

broncofan55555
broncofan55555

Trade up, remain at 15, or trade down, that is the question. If Ruggs is the guy, trading up most likely will be needful because I don't think he gets past the Raidtards and certainly not SF if they stay in place. Other teams also might jump ahead of the Broncos to secure him. I have no doubt that Elway WANTS one of the big 3 WRs, but how much is he willing to expend and will he be able to move up? If the price is astronomical, he may have to pass. I have a feeling though it will be very costly in terms of draft capital and maybe some players as well, securing Ruggs' speed and sure hands will tempt Elway to make the sacrifice. Or will the availability of Mims if one of the big three doesn't fall cause Elway to remain in place? We will soon know the answer to this question. One way or another, Elway takes a WR I am sure in round one. I don't think he will go anywhere else though there certainly are other tempting targets.

Mr. Pioneer
Mr. Pioneer

All of this is more reason not to trade up. We could even trade back a few spots and pick up Mims...not a bad life for a team with so many needs.

broncobuckeyenomad
broncobuckeyenomad

Wouldn’t love the corner pick at 15 but otherwise they’d all be great selections. I could see a move back but only of 5 spots or less.

CUBuffinTX
CUBuffinTX

If a reach works your a genius. The problem is the ones that work always get talked about the ones that don’t are cussed. I will gladly eat crow if I am wrong but they are not taking Mims at 15 or Reagor, or Gladney. Those are not slight reaches any of them would be a flat reach. If one of the 3 is the target the will move down. Make no mistake reaches are not bold or gutsy, they are stupidity. I see people point out what About player X and the answer is sure it works sometimes the problem is for everyone that work there are 20 that don’t. What is being described is picking for need. If you are 1 player away it’s different then 7-9 this team has to many holes to need pick. Take the best football player when you pick, period

Brew77
Brew77

How come no one is talking about Brandon Auyik to the Broncos? He is really becoming the lost guy in the first round all this talk about Mims and Reagor I think Auyik would be a great pick.

Jefffrey55
Jefffrey55

Mims Reagor and Jefferson over Jeudy in my opinion. Luckily Seattle loves him and I like Jackson at 21 and Queen at 24. Third trade to get last of top 7 receivers. Aiyuk is my least fav then Reagor Jefferson Mims, but I like Reagor for us and maybe available at 46. If 3 of the 4 are taken before though we have to trade up.

Dahorseman
Dahorseman

Logical to trade down, similar to last yr. Can still possibly acquire McKinley at CB, plus multiple 2nd & 3rd round picks. get starters! sleepers Chase Claypool and Quez Watkins at WR. Ceaser Ruiz at Center, Leki Foto Dl. should be considered.

Heeted
Heeted

Trade back, can get great value players in the late first and second round

BKL67
BKL67

All in on Xavier McKinney. Simmons & McKinney would be like bringing back the days of Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater.

Dick Hanky
Dick Hanky

I'm assuming the top 3 are gone. They're bent on a WR in the 1st or 2nd. I think Mims will go around 20. No reason to trade back unless you can work something with Phins, which would be weird. Just take him. I think he would handle NFL press coverage better than the others, still a vertical threat.


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