It seems like it was just yesterday. Peyton Manning had joined the Denver Broncos, with weapons such as Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Eric Decker to his disposal. Still in his prime at the beginning of his tenure, Manning dropped 4,500+ yards in three consecutive seasons, which included a peak 2013 campaign where he captured his fifth MVP award. The Broncos were the highlight of football, and Manning was still ripping it at an elite level.
Then 2015 rolled around. Before we knew it, Manning’s performance and physical state had deteriorated, but that didn’t stop the Broncos defense from riding that shaky play to a Super Bowl ring in Manning’s final season.
It took just one year for the Broncos quarterback situation to completely dissolve. Manning hung up the cleats after one of the most prestigious careers in sports history, and the shiny Brock Osweiler jetted for a big payday with the Houston Texans, although he has since returned to Denver in a backup role.
Following Manning and Osweiler, the Broncos’ quarterback competition in 2016 included 1st round project Paxton Lynch, and former 7th rounder Trevor Siemian. The latter would go on to start 24 games over the next two seasons, compiling a 13-11 record. Meanwhile, Lynch has been utilized sparingly and hasn’t really shown much progression from where he was at during his time in Memphis.
Fast forward to March. Free agency has just kicked off, and already the Broncos have a deal in place with top prize, Kirk Cousins. Consider your search for a new quarterback over. While I don’t think Cousins is an elite QB by any means, he is a substantial upgrade to what Denver had, and he immediately puts this team in contention for an AFC wildcard. But the Broncos must continue to build on this momentum with a strong draft. Let’s take a look at what I would do in Denver’s war room.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 28, 2018
Round 1, Pick 5: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
As tempted as I was to select Roquan Smith here, it was even harder to pass on the best offensive linemen I have ever evaluated. As it currently stands, Quenton Nelson sits as the #1 prospect on my big board (look for that to drop within the next week).
It’s not hard to recognize Nelson’s pure talent and skill on film, but the only question that lies, how early are teams willing to draft a guard? A team like the Denver Broncos seem like a perfect fit. They have a butt load of picks, just spent some heavy dough on a quarterback, and could use an upgrade on the interior. Offensive tackle is probably the more pressing need, but we’re assuming they bring in a stopgap at that right tackle spot through free agency.
Regardless of where he’s drafted, Nelson will be an All Pro caliber player for at least the next decade, and when we look back ten years from now, I think he’ll be well worth the capital invested.
DJ Moore Moment 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻 https://t.co/dlO6hvwYCf
— NFL Draft Videos (@NFLDraftVideos) February 3, 2018
Round 2, Pick 40: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Perhaps the trendiest player right now on #DraftTwitter, D.J. Moore’s draft stock seems to be on the rise. I don’t think it’s totally out of the question to even put him up there in the same breath as Calvin Ridley when discussing the top receivers in this year’s draft class.
With a Kirk Cousins signing, Emmanuel Sanders fears his roster spot could be in jeopardy. This would then make wide receiver perhaps the biggest need for the Denver Broncos to address. D.J. Moore is an explosive athlete who wins time and time again in contested situations. But the question there lies, can he be a consistent separator at the next level?
Regardless, Moore is a tremendous talent who can come in and produce from day one. I really like a wide receiving corps consisting of the savvy vet on the outside in Demaryius Thomas, along with Moore, plus the energetic slot man in Carlos Henderson who should see an increased role during his sophomore campaign.
2017 Highlights🔷🔶🔷🔶 pic.twitter.com/FfaUuv03xR
— Leighton Vander Esch (@VanderEsch38) February 2, 2018
Round 3, Pick 71: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
One of the most underrated players in all of football remains to be Denver’s Brandon Marshall. We saw what that linebacking corps was capable of when they had the Marshall-Danny Trevathan duo, which even helped lead them to a Super Bowl championship. However, the Broncos have received shaky play alongside Marshall since Trevathan departed for Chicago.
One of the more intriguing linebackers this year comes from the Mountain West Conference in Leighton Vander Esch. The Thad Castle look-alike brings energetic leadership and a team first vibe. His skill and upside is apparent as he primarily manned the weakside slot for Boise State. Vander Esch excels at shooting gaps and working through trash, which is ever apparent in the clinic he put up against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl to end the 2017 season.
The Broncos need to get help next to Marshall in the middle of that defense, especially if Todd Davis isn’t retained. I’m still having trouble projecting Vander Esch’s role at the next level, but I think he would fit quite nicely in the middle of Denver’s 3-4 scheme. He has a very high ceiling compared to most LB prospects in this year’s class.
This was Rashaad Penny’s first big run of the game. Ian Thomas does a good job on the wham block and the rest of the line does their job. Overall I’m not Penny’s biggest fan, but I like his ability as a one cut runner. Also nice to see Trayvon Henderson get in there on the stop. pic.twitter.com/1UcN6CG1Zu
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) January 30, 2018
Round 3, Pick 100: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
The fate of cap casualties may see C.J. Anderson hit the free agent market. In that case, the Broncos will likely be looking to address running back early on as neither Devontae Booker nor DeAngelo Henderson are fit to assume the premier role out of Denver’s backfield, although they bring some nice traits to the table.
The Heisman contender was among the top breakout players this season as Rashaad Penny finally received a full sample size to show off his talent, with Donnel Pumphrey now in the NFL. Penny made the most in his lone season as the starter as he averaged 7.8 yards per rush and led the nation in rushing yards with 2,248 on the year.
While I view Penny as more of a day three talent, his monster production surely could help weasel his way into the end of day two. Penny has that workhorse body and shows durability to take on 20 carries a game at the next level. A stable of Penny, Booker and Henderson wouldn’t be too shabby for the Broncos entering the 2018 season, although they may not be the most elegant in flash.
Duke Ejiofor is one of my favorite DE’s in this class. He plays with violent, quick hands and is able to get underneath offensive tackles to create pressure, and uses an arsenal of moves to make up for his lack of athleticism and quickness off the edge. pic.twitter.com/b6OrxNs6oo
— Gavino Borquez (@Gavino_Fitness) January 30, 2018
Round 4, Pick 108: Duke Ejiofor, EDGE, Wake Forest
While Von Miller and Shaq Barrett make one of the NFL’s best, and most underrated pass rushing tandems, they need that #3 who can come in off the bench and eat in a situational pass rushing role. The league is evolving, and good teams have at least three players who can get to the quarterback.
There’s little depth to be found on day three when it comes to pass rushers, but Duke Ejiofor is an intriguing guy who should be available early on during the final day of the draft. While I like him a bit better with his hand in the dirt, he’s certainly more suited to man the edge than DeMarcus Walker.
Round 4, Pick 111: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah
The Broncos could certainly use a tune up to their defensive line, and that all starts with adding youth. While Lowell Lotulelei didn’t quite live up to the expectations paved by his brother, who now stars in the NFL, the second coming of the Lotulelei draws intrigue on day three of the draft.
Even with a guy like Derek Wolfe, the Broncos need some new blood up front. Lotulelei still has a lot to prove, but his upside is worth taking at this juncture of the draft. Of course we’ve seen what his brother is capable of, but I think Lotuleli could have a similar career path to a guy like current Bronco, Domato Peko.
Anticipating this is going to be a fun matchup. Isaac Yiadom plays man coverage here as textbook as you could. Hip to hip, rides Harmon towards the sideline, and then plays the ball according to the WR's body language. pic.twitter.com/xlPwFn1u6M
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 26, 2018
Round 5, Pick 144: Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College
Heading into Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Isaac Yiadom was a name I wasn’t familiar with, but that quickly changed. On consecutive reps Yiadom displayed the ability to win against the highly touted Michael Gallup in 1-on-1 drills which caught the eyes of many. He is sound technically, and use his length to his advantage.
With Aqib Talib seemingly on the chipping block, the Broncos will want to address cornerback and add more youth, if they didn’t already do so via free agency. Yiadom is strikingly similar to Brendan Langley, Denver’s 5th round pick from last year. Having two developmental corners with size isn’t a bad spot to be in.
Round 5, Pick 165: Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State
One of my favorite tight ends in the class is none other than Florida State’s Ryan Izzo. The New Jersey native is as balanced as they come, and if utilized more often in Tallahassee, I think he’d be garnering a bit more buzz in a weak tight end class. Izzo is a solid athlete and was equally effective as both a blocker and pass catcher.
With Virgil Green likely headed off to free agency, the Broncos will likely look to add more competition in the later rounds. I’m a big fan of Jake Butt, and even a guy like Jeff Huermann could bid for playing time. However, you can’t be satisfied with that group. Izzo will provide competition and at the very least ends up on the practice squad, but he’s one of my top sleepers in this year’s class.
Army OT Brett Toth adds Jets and Giants to teams he has spoken to. According to some draft boards/experts he could be going as high as 2nd or 3rd round if it was not for the military service commitment. DoD/USMA have a decision to make on rescinding previous decision.
— Barstool Army (@ArmyBarstool) January 25, 2018
Round 6, Pick 185: Brett Toth, OT, Army
It’s hard to project where Army’s Brett Toth exactly lands on draft day, if at all. But I think he’s shown enough to where teams would be willing to take a chance on him in the 6th or 7th round. The Broncos surely have the draft capital where they can stash a guy like Toth.
Perhaps the Alejandro Villanueva impact will have teams ranking Toth higher, but this seems to be the sweet spot for him. Playing out of the triple option his entire college career, Toth expectedly has a ways to go when it comes to pass protection. However, assuming the Broncos retain Donald Stephenson, or target another stopgap in free agency, they can wait it out and go for the lottery ticket.
For what it’s worth, I observed a meeting between Toth and a Broncos representative after practice during Senior Bowl week.
Round 7, Pick 222: Davon Grayson, WR, East Carolina
Another wide receiver brought in to provide competition, and hopefully some spark. While Cousins isn’t prone to cutting it loose on the deep ball, I feel every team needs a weapon who can stretch the field, even if it’s just in a situational role.
You likely haven’t heard Davon Grayson’s name mentioned even once during the early stages of the draft process. But if you’re looking for a deep threat this late in the draft, he’s your guy. Grayson can beat you over the top, but he’s shown some savvy working against press and ability to make guys miss in the open field. This is the type of high ceiling pick you’ll see teams take this late in the draft.