NFL Insider Sheds Conflicting Light on Broncos' WR Priorities in the Draft
The worst-kept secret in the NFL this spring has been the Denver Broncos' pursuit of a speed-demon wide receiver. If that is, in fact, the truth, and you're GM John Elway, you've got a problem.
Unless you're sitting with the No. 1 overall pick, it's not good from a football espionage perspective, to have what your team views as its No. 1 need internally known across the NFL landscape. Add to that the common knowledge of the Broncos' purported infatuation with Alabama's Henry Ruggs III coming out of the NFL Combine, and Elway's transparency is even more problematic.
One way to perhaps throw everyone off the scent and muddy the water would be to 'leak' some new information into the market. That sets the stage for an interesting remark by KUSA's Mike Klis late last week while doing a radio hit on 104.3 The FAN's 'Stokley and Zac'.
By 'mocksters', Klis is referring (fondly, I'm sure) to the draftnik community, including those of us here at Mile High Huddle, who publish mock drafts with the best, most educated guess on what the Broncos will do. The Broncos currently hold the No. 15 overall pick with four additional selections in the top-100 and Elway wants to do everything he can ahead of time to strengthen his position.
Let's take Ruggs as the quintessential example. If Elway wants to hedge against any other team trying to get in front of the Broncos to take Ruggs, wouldn't it be wise to put it out on the grapevine that Elway's wide receiver big board isn't what people assume it is? Absolutely.
However, Sitting at pick 15, the truth is, there are several teams ahead of the Broncos who can be viewed as WR-needy, including Jacksonville (9), New York Jets (11), Las Vegas (12) and San Francisco (13). If the majority of outside teams share the Broncos' view that Ruggs is WR1 in this class, there's almost zero chance he'll fall to 15.
Elway would have to trade up in order to guarantee Ruggs, which would require the Broncos' willingness to package a couple of those day-two draft picks for the privilege. Perhaps that's why Klis also mentioned cornerback as a round-one option and spent a lot of time talking about round-two-caliber WRs in that same conversation with Stokley and Zac.
"You've got all this depth [at WR] and they need one. They do need a No. 2 receiver. I would say we're looking at cornerback—and they need a third corner, especially with [Bryce] Callahan. They better pick up another corner," Klis told The FAN. "If you really like a guy, and he's your kind of guy—he's got the speed, he's got everything you look for—take him in the first. Here's three guys that make sense to me for the Broncos. Jalen Reagor from TCU, Brandon Aiyuk from Arizona State, and KJ Hamler from Penn State. And the reason why those three guys make sense to me is, out of the top-10, top-12 receivers everyone mentions, those three returned. They returned [kicks and punts] quite a bit in college and they were effective returners and that seems to be what the Broncos have been looking for five, six, or seven years. Those guys would be second-round guys, I think, for the most part."
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It is the lying season. So who the heck knows what Elway really plans to do?
However, since arriving as the Broncos' front-office czar in 2011, Elway has quite consistently telegraphed his first-round intentions. Everyone knew the Broncos wanted a defensive tackle in 2013 and Sylvester Williams was the pick out of North Carolina.
Two years later, everyone knew that Elway liked Mizzou's Shane Ray as a long-term successor for DeMarcus Ware, who was getting up there in age. The Broncos traded up to draft Ray as he plummeted through the first round.
The next year, with Peyton Manning having retired and Brock Osweiler defecting to Houston, everyone knew Elway was hell-bent on taking a quarterback. The Broncos traded up to pick 26 from pick 32, just two months removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, to draft Paxton Lynch out of Memphis.
Garett Bolles was an obvious choice in 2017 as the Broncos were tackle-needy after letting their starting left tackle from the year prior — Russell Okung — walk. In 2018 and 2019, however, it's fair to say that all bets were off when it came to Elway's pre-draft rumblings coming out in the wash with perfect accuracy.
Part of that is because almost no one expected Bradley Chubb to slip to pick No. 5. But he did and Elway didn't hesitate to take him. The next year, Elway's interest in Drew Lock was known far and wide, but the GM threw everyone a curveball by trading back in round one and taking Noah Fant at pick 20.
Elway still landed Lock in the second round, though he absolutely risked losing out on him. Thank the goodness and tender mercies of the Football Gods for that particular situation working out in Denver's favor.
My point is this; the Broncos might be trying to obfuscate their first-round intentions but the effort is in vain. When the final gun sounds on the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the odds remain high that the Broncos will have a shiny new WR to pair with Courtland Sutton.
It's a solid bet that Ruggs will be that WR. But if Elway gets out-maneuvered in the Ruggs sweepstakes, either of Alabama's Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb would be one heck of a consolation prize.
Of course, I could be completely wrong and the Broncos might end up taking a cornerback at pick 15. That's not an eventuality I would place a wager on, though.