The Denver Broncos did not have the season they had hoped for coming into the 2020-21 season. They finished the year 5-11 and at the bottom of the AFC West. This was the second year under coach Vic Fangio. This was “good” enough to get them the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The Broncos finished the season ranked 25th in team defense, giving up 349.2 yards per game and 28th in team offense racking up 335.6 yards per game. They gave up 27.9 points per game and only scored 20.2 points per game. It is clear to see why the Broncos struggled last season.
On the Defensive side of the ball the team ranked 25th against the run and 17th against the pass. On the Offensive side of the ball they ranked 26th in passing attack but were actually decent running the ball coming in ranked 13th. Their rushing attack was improved last year with the addition of Melvin Gordon, who ran for 986 yards on 215 carries and had 9 touchdowns. Phillip Lindsay had a decent season as a number two running for 502 yards on 118 carries. Denver has other good offensive weapons in Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and Noah Fant but they continue to struggle at the QB position with Drew Lock coming into his 3rd season. There was a lot of room for improvement coming into the 2021 off-season.
Denver did not make many changes to their staff this offseason. Vic Fangio is coming into his 3rd season as the head coach of the Broncos. Denver’s DC is going into his 3rd season and the OC is going into his 2nd season. The DC is Ed Donatell and the OC is Pat Shurmur. This will be a big year for Vic Fangio, if there are not improvements on both sides of the ball look for him to be on the hot-seat. The one major change that the Broncos had in the off-season was the addition of George Paton as the general manager. Elway has decided to step away from the day-to-day operations of the team and hand that over to Paton. Paton is coming from the Vikings where he was the vice president of player personnel and the assistant GM.
CAP Space: $23.21 million (3rd most in the NFL)
Key Free Agent Losses: Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB), Joe Jones (LB), Will Parks (S), DeMarcus Walker (DE), Elijah Wilkinson (OL), Sylvester Williams (DL), Phillip Lindsay (RB)
Key Free Agent/Offseason Additions: Ronald Darby (CB), Mike Boone (RB), Kyle Fuller (CB), Shamar Stephen (DL), Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Justin Simmons (S)
With Denver sitting at 9 in the draft it was clear they would give Drew Lock every opportunity to succeed by not taking a QB. Denver did go out and get Teddy Bridgewater to be their backup and potential stop gap. This was a great short term solution for them if Drew Lock continues to look how he has to this point in his career. The Broncos kicked off the free-agency period by picking up Von Miller’s option, using the franchise tag on Justin Simmons, and agreeing to a three-year deal with Shelby Harris. They also went out and signed a few big name free-agents in Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller to bolster their secondary. In addition, signed a few depth guys in RB Mike Boone and DL Shamar Stephen. There are still some needs that could be filled this offseason in free-agency and they have the cap space to do it. Look out for the remainder of the off-season!
Draft (10 picks)
Round 1 Pick 9: Patrick Surtain II (CB, Alabama)
This pick is all about trying to bolster that passing defense to try and stop Mahomes. With the offseason additions of Darby and Fuller this pick should lock in the starting secondary. Fuller and Surtain are both versatile enough to play on the outside as well as in the slot. This defense was in their nickel and dime packages 70% of the time last season. Last season Surtain ended with 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 9 passes defended. He was a 2020 All-American and was also named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. For his career he recorded 117 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 27 pass breakups. Surtain was graded out at a 92 and was the 10th ranked prospect overall. Denver got a strong player here at 9 that will come in and contribute right away. As long as he lives up to his potential the Broncos will have a good secondary for the next few years. I wanted Denver to go with Micah Parsons here but I will settle for Surtain.
Round 2 Pick 35: Javonte Williams (RB, UNC)
With the loss of Lindsay in free-agency, the Broncos had to pick up a RB who can be a 1b to Melvin Gordon, as well as the RB of the future. Denver originally had the 40th pick in the second round but they traded up to 35 to get Williams. In the trade the Broncos got the 35th pick and a 2022 6th rounder and gave up their 40th pick and this years 4th rounder (114). Williams graded out at 88 and was ranked the 35th overall pick and the 3rd RB in the draft. Some thought the gap between Williams and the 2 running backs ranked higher than him, was extremely small. Williams ended his career at UNC with 2297 yards and 29 TDs. Last season he also had 25 receptions for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns. Williams comes in at 5’10” and 212 lbs. He ran a 4.57 40 and did 22 reps on the bench. Williams will be a beast in the running game and was considered to be the most physical back in the draft. This is a great pick for the Broncos and will fill an immediate need!
Round 3 Pick 98: Quinn Meinerz (G, Wisconsin-Whitewater)
The Broncos came into the draft with the 71st pick in the 3rd round. After 2 trade downs the Broncos ended up with the 98th pick in the 3rd, the 105th pick in the 3rd round, and the 164th pick in the 5th round. The Broncos then went on to fill another need drafting Meinerz. This was a great value pick for the Broncos. He came into the draft with a grade of 80, the 3rd ranked guard and the 61st overall ranked prospect. He did not get to play in 2020 due to their school canceling football season. He had a very good senior bowl showing that he had improved his footwork. He plays with a nasty attitude that you love your offensive lineman to have. He will be a great developmental backup for their offensive line playing either guard or center. I liked this pick and everything that the Broncos did here with the trades.
Round 3 Pick 105: Baron Browning (LB, OSU)
rowning was the 105th ranked prospect overall. This dude is a freak of an athlete. He comes in at 6’3” and 245 lbs. He ran a 4.56 40, had a 40-inch vertical, and his three cone was 6.78 seconds. He struggled to produce at OSU and this is what caused him to not go higher in the draft. This pick does meet a need for the Broncos as they needed depth at LB. If the coaching staff can get Browning to turn that athleticism into production they will have made a great pick here.
Round 5 Pick 152: Caden Sterns (S, Texas)
Sterns is another great athlete. He ran a 4.41 40 and had a 42-inch vertical. He comes in at 6’ and 202 lbs. The Broncos were in desperate need of help on special teams and potentially got it here. He struggled as a safety with open field tackles. The Broncos staff will be looking to plug him in on special teams and take advantage of his gifts and at the same time improve his tackling skills.
Round 5 Pick 164: Jamar Johnson (S, IU)
Following their pick of a safety at 152, they came back and took another safety in Johnson. The Broncos got good value in this pick. There were several scouts who thought that Johnson had the potential to go early in day 2. Johnson has better skills at the safety position than Sterns does. He was selected first-team All Big Ten last season. He ended the season with 4 interceptions and is an aggressive tackler. He will be a depth guy at safety for the Broncos and look for him to contribute on special teams right away.
Round 6 Pick 219: Seth Williams (WR, Auburn)
Williams is 6’3” and 211 lbs and could turn into a redzone threat for the Broncos. He had a decent career at Auburn finishing with 2124 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. Last season he had 47 receptions and 760 yards. He does lack top end speed and struggles to separate. There were concerns of his inconsistent production. This is not a bad pick for the Broncos here and he will be competing to make the roster coming out of camp.
Round 7 Pick 237: Kary Vincent Jr (CB, LSU)
Vincent did not play in 2020. He had 4 interceptions on the national title team in 2019. This dude can flat out fly. He is very raw at the corner position. He was also a college track star. Vincent fits a common theme for the Broncos in the late rounds, speed for special teams. He will be competing to make the roster playing on special teams.
Round 7 Pick 239: Jonathon Cooper (DE, OSU)
Cooper struggled to produce on a deep defensive line for OSU. He was their captain his last two years there. He did earn the third-team All Big Ten in his senior season. He has good height and strength for the defensive line but lacks the edge quickness and pass-rushing skills. Denver will need to decide if they will play him at defensive end or if they will move him to outside linebacker. He is 6’3” and 253 lbs.
Round 7 Pick 253: Marquiss Spencer (DE, Mississippi State)
Spencer comes in at 6’4” and 301 lbs. He will be a developmental defensive tackle for the Broncos. He missed a lot of the 2018 season due to injury. Last season he finished with 30 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. He played 51 games in his career at Mississippi State. He is another very strong player and is known for being explosive. It is also worth noting that scouts were concerned with his ability to shed blocks, which could be a big issue in the NFL.
Draft Grade: B-
Note: I would love to have ranked this draft higher but the Broncos missed some opportunities in this draft class. Missing out on Parsons in the first was a mistake. They also missed opportunities to add some real depth on the defensive line by not drafting a defensive lineman until the 7th round.