ENGLEWOOD — The draft buzz centers on the first round hugs and the high-profile names. However, rosters are built in the later rounds, providing important depth and creating financial flexibility as young players assume important roles that allow for the pursuit of high-priced free agents.
The Broncos began adding competition at thin positions in Day 3 of the draft, selecting Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis with the 115th pick and Iowa State defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike at No. 116. General manager George Paton finished his second draft with six defensive players, three offensive players, and a third-round pick in 2023.
Denver is thin at corner behind starters Pat Surtain II, Ronald Darby and Nickelback K'Waun Williams. Mathis joins the room with Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey. Mathis brings incredible athleticism — a 43.5 vertical leap — and physicality to the position.
"Well, I had a really good Zoom with the Broncos leading up to the draft. But I just got that call out of nowhere and it kind of scared me," Mathis said. "I am just ready to get there and get to work."
Mathis spent five years at Pitt, redshirting in 2020 after hurting his shoulder while boxing. He showed resolve in his return, producing 11 pass breakups in his final season and producing a pick six with his 4.39 40-speed. While he must improve his technique, he profiles as someone who can play zone and man coverage. And he doesn't lack confidence.
"I really don’t emulate anyone. I try to pattern my games after myself," Mathis said.
Eyioma Uwazurike — pronounced E-yoh-mah Ooh-WHA-zah-REE-kay — started four years at Iowa State. He lived in the backfield last season, producing nine sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He brings size and strength, listed at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds.
“I didn’t know I was on the Broncos’ list. It was shocking to see. When I got that call from Denver, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing," Uwazurike, who goes by Enyi. "I’m not a one-trick pony when it comes to pass rushing. I can do a lot of different things.”
With their first pick in the fifth found at No. 152, the Broncos took Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell. He features cornerback size and speed — 5-10, 197, 4.47 40 — that will appeal to new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Turner-Yell was a three-year starter at Oklahoma, making second-team All-Big 12 last season.
"I take huge pride in my ability to tackling. I think it plays a huge part in my game, and special teams, I have huge respect for it," Turner-Yell said. "To be able to go on one of those units and contribute would be huge."
The Broncos stayed put at 162 in the fifth round, selecting receiver/returner Montrell Washington from Samford. He was projected to go anywhere from the fifth to undrafted. He brings 4.45 speed and versatility. He led the FCS with 1,938 all-purpose yards — 813 receiving, 742 kick return, 242 punt and 140 yards rushing.
He said during college that he doesn't fair catch.
"I will fair catch if I have to. You just say stuff in college," said Washington, fighting back his emotions because he did not expect to get drafted. "I can't wait to get out there and work."
Denver chose to trade up at the end of the fifth, acquiring No. 171 and giving up the 234th pick. They chose Washington offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg, who played guard and center for the Huskies. He logged six years at Washington, earning honorable mention Pac-12 honors his past two seasons. Has reputation playing tough, which will be necessary to squeeze out a roster spot.
In the sixth round, the Broncos made the smart decision with defensive end Matt Henningsen, who has a 4.0 in Wisconsin's master's program. He was compared by one scout in The Athletic to Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting."
"I agree with that," Henningsen, who majored in electrical and computer engineering, said with a laugh.
He is thrilled to be joining a team with fellow Badger Russell Wilson.
"I grew up watching Russ lead us to a Rose Bowl (at Wisconsin). I can't wait to get to Denver. I am super excited to go Denver," he said.
Paton finished off Saturday by selecting Wisconsin corner Faion Hicks, who will fight to stick on the roster based on his special teams acumen.
2022 DRAFT CLASS
2. Nik Bonitto, EDGE, 6-3, 248 Oklahoma
3. Greg Dulcich, TE, 6-4, 243 UCLA
4. Damarri Mathis, CB, 5-10, 196 Pittsburgh
4. Eyioma Uwazurike, DE, 6-6, 316 Iowa State
5. Delarrin Turner-Yell, S, 5-10, 197 Oklahoma
5. Montrell Washington, WR, 5-8, 181 Samford
5. Luke Wattenberg, C/G, 6-4, 299 Washington
6. Matt Henningsen, DE 6-3, 289 Wisconsin
7. Faion Hicks, CB 5-10, 192 Wisconsin