In a draft with the second-highest pick that they’ve had in the John Elway era and 10 selections overall, the 2017 NFL Draft will be crucial for the immediate and long-term future of the Denver Broncos. It'll all start at pick No. 20 for Denver in the first round, where the table will be set for the rest of the draft. After free agency gave us some answers as to where the team may decide to go with this pick, and prospects have created more separation amongst themselves with combine and pro day workouts, here are the Broncos most logical options in the first round as we approach the opening round starting on April 27th.
The offense should be the biggest priority as Denver goes into the draft. The defense needs just a few touch-ups, while the offensive attack is in need of an almost total makeover—or at least the insertion of a few high-level talents.
Free agency saw the addition of two new offensive linemen to fix the team's biggest issue, but there’s still a gaping hole at left tackle. In a weak class, the Broncos will have to decide if they’re willing to take a tackle at 20 or go with another player at a lesser area of need but who ranks higher on their board.
Regardless, another player in the tackle competition needs to be added, and in a class that’s also weak in depth, the value won’t get much better in the later rounds. Denver could potentially have all the top players at the position still available to them with Ryan Ramczyk, Garett Bolles, Cam Robinson and Forrest Lamp as the primary first round targets. Ramczyk’s the most sound technique-wise and has the best 2016 tape with some decent upside, though his selection will come down to Steve ‘Greek’ Antonopulos and the rest of the medical staff clearing him. He's the best player in pass protection and the most likely to be able to stay at left tackle.
Bolles and Robinson both have mouth-watering upside but they’ll require some coaching. If Denver’s in a position to force them onto the field immediately, that could stunt their development. Bolles is also an older prospect and Robinson has some off-field question marks that require serious vetting. Lamp might be the safest option of the group, though he lacks the length of an elite tackle in the pros. He’d be a low-risk pick who could compete at left tackle but could always fall back on being a high-level guard if that doesn’t workout. None would be awful selections, but at pick 20 in a really appealing draft for running backs and tight ends, there should be higher ranked players available.
One such player would be local star Christian McCaffrey who’s seeming less and less likely to be around by the time Denver's section comes on the clock. McCaffrey’s versatile skill set and explosiveness would give the offense an added weapon that they lack right now. Dalvin Cook would also be an option, and his electrifying running style in addition to his ability as a receiver out the backfield would make him a great pick. Both would instantly upgrade the Broncos running game while making the offense much harder to defend or predict.
On top of those two runners, the 2017 class offers up some talented receiving tight ends as well, another way to go in adding more weapons to the attack. That group is headlined by O.J. Howard and David Njoku. Howard’s been special in this draft process, standing out in the Senior Bowl and then astonishing at the Combine, so he’s unlikely to be there. If he is, it’s because he didn’t dominate as well as he should have, particularly in red zone situations, but he’s one of the best blockers we’ve seen in a long time with some tremendous physical upside. Njoku is much more of a potential gamble, but his talents are ridiculous as he’s a big play machine at times and already dominant after the catch and in red zone or contested ball situations. Either has enough talent to warrant a pick at 20 and could be a great fit in Denver bringing a legitimate matchup threat forcing opposing defenses to dedicate more numbers to the middle of the field.
While not as logical of a fit as the other playmaking options here, John Ross met with the Broncos at the combine, and he has the speed to open up spaces for Denver's other talented receivers. Ross is blazing fast and undersized, but he's more of an outside deep threat right now than a polished slot receiver. He'd create a dynamic receiving core for the Broncos, but given his injury history and size, he might be a reach in the top 20 picks.
Defensively, the Broncos options are less clear as they’ve already added depth to their biggest need area on the defensive line in free agency. An indie linebacker to push the guys on the roster would be a useful pickup, while more depth at cornerback with Kayvon Webster’s exit and outside linebacker with DeMarcus Ware’s retirement are other possibilities.
At those spots the Broncos would be delighted to have the pair of Alabama defenders drop to them; defensive end Jonathan Allen or inside linebacker Reuben Foster. Neither has done themselves much good at the combine, and their stocks seem to be dropping a bit. It’s doubtful that either of them would fall all the way to 20, but if they do they’d have to be strongly considered as the value would just be too good to pass up.
More realistically, the Broncos will be looking at Malik McDowell on the line, a classic risk-reward type of prospect. His talent is immense, but his on-field inconsistencies and some difficulty getting coached up are puzzling. The Broncos brass has taken flyers on other high-level defensive talents with off-field red flags in the past, could McDowell be next?
As an alternative to Foster at linebacker, we have Haason Reddick who’s more of a pure football player and athlete than a linebacker. Reddick’s played all over at Temple and settled in as a defensive end, but he’s shown the athleticism to play as a backer. Reddick’s ability to cover the entire sideline is impressive, and he’d give Denver a linebacker who could be a pest on blitzes while also being able to contribute as an outside rusher from time to time - something that would help mitigate Ware’s loss.
Jabrill Peppers is another interesting fit who could be a real chess piece in the right defensive mind’s hands. As a safety who can both play up close to the line of scrimmage, tackle to perfection but also cover backs, tight ends and slot receivers, he’s got quite the repertoire. He’s also a dominant returner with rare athletic skills. Peppers might even be a part-time offensive weapon; you know fans would love that.
While certainty is hard to come by before the draft, it does seem most likely that the Broncos will be in a position to go offense at 20, setting themselves up nicely to exploit the depth on defense and at other key offensive positions in the later rounds with their full arsenal of picks.
One of the running backs or tight ends would certainly be exciting choices, giving the Broncos offense an edge and dimension that they haven’t had for a little while.
But with the depth at those positions, it would be understandable and maybe the best course of action if the organization decided to “reach” on a left tackle prospect, getting it out of the way early to focus on everything else later. The cold hard truth is that Denver will be forced to reach on a tackle at some point. If they have their pick of the litter (a scenario that’s not unlikely) the “reach” in the first round wouldn’t be all that great, while also allowing the Broncos to have a player that’s more NFL ready than what they’ll find later on.
Draft value is always the most important thing, if you ignore the board you’re bound to reach and eventually build a team that’s lacking in blue-chip talents because of it. You also need to consider a plan of action for the entire draft and all the picks. Given depth at other positions, the drop off from the top tier tight ends or running backs to a deeper second tier isn’t that steep. If the Broncos want to get the best value out of their picks while also addressing their needs, they’ll have some important decisions to make come day one of the draft. They certainly won’t be lacking in choices.
For a greater look at all the prospects, the Broncos might target at all their need positions as well as in-depth player profiles and interviews check out all our content here.