There was buzz toward the end of the 2020 season that head coach Vic Fangio was not only going to be kept but was expected to have a bigger role and say in the NFL draft. Then John Elway stepped down as general manager and the Denver Broncos hired George Paton to succeed him.
Fangio was involved in the Paton hire and in fact, the ex-Minnesota Vikings personnel lieutenant was Fangio's No. 1 candidate to get the job per 9NEWS' Mike Klis. Although technically speaking, both Paton and Fangio still answer to Elway and are considered "side-by-side in the organizational power structure" this year, Paton will ultimately hold a higher spot in the Broncos' hierarchy when push comes to shove. However, the expectation is that Paton and Fangio will be "working partners."
If Fangio is indeed going to have a stronger voice or role in the Broncos' 2021 draft, odds are, it'll result in the old defensive czar filling some gaping holes on the team's increasingly old defense. As Paton moved into the office Elway held as GM for a decade, 9NEWS' Mike Klis reported that Fangio does have a shopping list of sorts for Paton when it comes to the 2021 draft.
The team’s biggest void is at cornerback – if Paton doesn’t go quarterback with his No. 9 overall pick, he almost certainly would have to go corner – but Fangio is also still looking for an inside linebacker who has the foot speed to keep up in the tight end strong AFC West. The two best tight ends in the league are Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and the Raiders’ Darren Waller, each of whom tore up the Denver defense this season.
On the surface, cornerback is a much more dire need than inside linebacker. After all, the Broncos at least have two competent linebackers who played all 16 games together in 2020, while at cornerback, the only guy left standing who began the year with Fangio was rookie Michael Ojemudia.
A.J. Bouye was lost to injury for a big chunk of the season and then suspended, Bryce Callahan landed on injured reserve down the stretch, as well as cornerbacks Essang Bassey, and Kevin Toliver II. The Broncos were absolutely ravaged by the injury bug and at no position was that more obvious than cornerback.
However, Klis' report still holds water because as admirable as Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell were as run defenders last year, their lack of athleticism, twitch, and speed left the Broncos seriously vulnerable to opposing tight ends. In order for Fangio's defensive vision to be fully realized, he needs his Patrick Willis or Roquan Smith.
Maybe that ends up being Penn State's Micah Parsons at pick No. 9 in the draft, or Alabama's Dylan Moses, Tulsa's Zaven Collins, North Carolina's Chazz Surratt, LSU's Jabril Cox, or TCU's Garret Wallow. Surely, other sleepers at inside linebacker will emerge and there will be a prospect or two who rises from relative obscurity to threaten Day 1 consideration.
Undoubtedly, the Broncos need to fill a lot of holes on defense. It starts with cornerback and inside linebacker but there are other positions that could use an upgrade.
Fangio will have a list for Paton but at the end of the day, the draft, and all things personnel/roster, will be the GM's baby. Don't be shocked if an inside linebacker ends up as Paton's first draft pick and Fangio gets his guy to keep up with athletic tight ends.