What moves will the Denver Broncos make when the NFL draft rolls around Thursday night? All the speculation comes to an end soon but that time has not quite come.
Today, I'm laying out five predictions for the Broncos come draft day.
Don't Expect an Aggressive Trade-Up for a QB
Let’s go ahead and address the most talked-about position for the Broncos throughout this offseason — quarterback.
The media has formed a strong narrative in recent weeks around the Broncos targeting a QB in round one. In a recent article, I discussed the potential cost for the Broncos to move up to the picks 4 or 5 range if they wanted to make an aggressive move to get 'their guy.'
But if you block out all of the recent chatter and focus solely on the comments made by GM George Paton in the previous weeks, you can start to see a trend. And that trend is that the team’s plan all offseason has been to stay put at No. 9 and see how the board falls to them.
Now, if a QB the Broncos love happens to fall to their original pick, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. The big question right now is — which QB are they in love with?
Barring a huge shocker, you'd assume Clemson'sTrevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson will go picks 1-2 to start the draft. Then you have another going at No. 3 to the Niners, which at this point appears to be either North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Alabama's Mac Jones.
The general feeling is that Paton is leaning towards the same two guys as San Francisco. I know a lot of Broncos fans are high on Ohio State's Justin Fields, but there haven’t really been a lot of signals from the team that they are overly interested in him. But it could very well be a massive smokescreen.
If the Niners do end up going Jones at No. 3, Denver might choose to move up to the picks 6 or 7 range (if the price isn’t too steep) to draft Lance. I just don’t see Denver doing the same for either Fields or Jones.
I know this probably won’t sit well with a lot of fans, but I could also see a scenario where Fields falls to No. 9 and the Broncos choose to trade out of the pick instead of putting his name down on their own draft card.
Talk about a bold move in your first year as a new GM.
Linebacker Will Finally Be Addressed in the Early Rounds
This will be Vic Fangio’s third season as the Broncos' head coach and the team has done little to address the inside linebacker position during his tenure.
That’s not to say Denver hasn't tried, though. In the previous two seasons, John Elway has taken a hard look at acquiring top free-agent linebackers such as C.J. Mosley, Kwon Alexander, Joe Schobert, and Cory Littleton. The Broncos also had their eyes on certain rookies in the draft such as Devin White, Patrick Queen, and Isaiah Simmons.
Denver has certainly tried to set itself up to improve this position, but guys they have targeted have either been out of reach or too costly to acquire.
But this might be the year that changes.
Penn State's Micah Parsons sits atop this draft class as the clear-cut best inside linebacker. There is a scenario where he is the best available on the Broncos' board at No. 9 and they choose to take him.
That said, I’m not 100% convinced Parsons is the best pick for Denver. A scenario where Paton moves back in round one and drafts Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be a more shrewd move for a team lacking coverage ability at the position.
Even if Denver does not draft inside linebacker in round one, there is a strong chance they address the position on Day 2 of the draft. Guys like LSU's Jabril Cox and Kentucky's Jamin Davis could make a lot of sense given their upside in coverage.
After this season, both incumbent starters at the position (Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell) will become unrestricted free agents. It would be prudent to get ahead of this by adding an impact player in this year’s draft and avoid Justin Strnad being the only inside backer under contract going into next season.
More Than One Selection Will be in the Secondary
On paper, the Broncos have one of the strongest, if not the strongest, secondaries in the NFL. However, only two out of the five nickel starters are under contract past this season — Justin Simmons and Ronald Darby.
Sure, the Broncos can fall back on Michael Ojemudia in Year 2. And yes, it is possible to re-sign guys like Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, and Kareem Jackson. But banking either scenario causes Paton to potentially lose a lot of his negotiating leverage.
It’s also worth noting that the team is already investing considerable cap space to just Simmons and Darby beyond this season. Denver may choose not to spend more market value in the secondary to avoid this position eating up too much of the overall cap.
With that in mind, it would be wise to sprinkle in some cheap rookie deals around these vets to keep the cost controllable in the secondary for the foreseeable future.
This also goes without saying, Denver's depth at safety is currently a concern going into this season. Trey Marshall is really the only viable option behind Jackson and Simmons. If one of those three guys were to go down to injury (*knock on wood*), defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have a real issue on his hands.
So this goes without saying — it is almost a certainty that safety gets addressed at some point in this draft. And I do not think Paton will stop there and ends up adding two or three total safeties/corners by the time the draft is over.
Running Back Will Take Some Priority
Similar to the secondary, the Broncos also have a very thin running back group under contract beyond this season. As it currently sits, the newly acquired Mike Boone is the only player with multiple years remaining on his deal.
When the Broncos allowed Phillip Lindsay to walk earlier this offseason, it signaled the team’s desire to make Melvin Gordon the bell-cow back they envisioned him as when they signed him. But does that mean he’ll be around past this season?
That remains to be seen. But it has now been three years since this team has drafted a running back (Royce Freeman and David Williams in 2018). That’s largely because the team hasn’t had a major need at the position until it let Lindsay walk.
Smart money would be on Denver making at least one move at this position. The team loves Gordon and is high on Boone’s upside, but adding more competition for those two and for Freeman would prove to be an invaluable investment.
I would also not at all be surprised if the Broncos use an early Day 2 pick on Najee Harris or Travis Etienne — the two top backs in this class.
Broncos Will Target Offensive Tackle
After playing just 63 snaps in two seasons, Ja’Wuan James appears to be ready to earn his fourth highest-paid right tackle contract this season. But putting all of your eggs into that basket might be a risky endeavor.
For one, who is to say James will return to top form when he’s gone nearly two seasons now without playing in a game? And beyond that, you still have to worry about the depth at the tackle position.
Calvin Anderson is the current projected swing tackle. The coaching staff has appeared to be very high on Anderson, but do you honestly feel comfortable rolling him out as a starter if either Garett Bolles or James were to miss time?
And even beyond all of that, is Paton okay paying $35 million in cap space to the two starting tackles next season? On top of the $12 million that will be due to guard Graham Glasgow?
Smart team building would have the Broncos drafting a tackle prospect this year that has the potential to start as soon as next season. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Broncos have to make a move for Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater at the top of the draft but it also wouldn’t shock me if either of those were the move in round one.
More likely, O-line coach Mike Munchak has a few guys he really likes on day two or three that he feels he can coach up and groom to be the future right tackle. But make no mistake, right tackle is a much bigger need for this draft than it appears on the surface.
Follow Trevor on Twitter: @TrevorJudge.
Follow Mile High Huddle on Twitter: @MileHighHuddle.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!