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Broncos' Payton & Paton discuss draft vision, offseason approach

In third round, Broncos must 'tune out noise, trust what you see, what you measure, what you value'
Broncos Wilson Football
Posted at 5:09 PM, Apr 20, 2023

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As a brisk wind swirled Thursday morning, workers scrubbed the UCHealth signage from the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse. An offseason of seismic change includes a new name for the training facility. That will be revealed soon.

The free space on the building's side panels also symbolized the upcoming draft that runs Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29. It offers another blank slate, same as free agency, to add reinforcements to a team that has missed the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons — the second longest active drought in the NFL.

Via a Zoom at high noon, coach Sean Payton and general manager George Paton discussed draft philosophy, offseason workouts and Jerry Jeudy's future — "He's going to be here," Paton insisted — among other topics in a 50-minute press conference with more than 40 local and national reporters.

The Broncos sit in an interesting spot. Their first selection, barring a trade, is not on the clock until the 67th and 68th picks in the third round. How do you view that spot, I asked both executives? When drafting in the first and second rounds, there is an expectation those rookies will be starters sooner rather than later.

But third rounders? That requires reframed expectations.

"We have a clear vision for where these players are in their first year, second year, third year and throughout their career. We discuss that. Every time we read an evaluation on a player, we discuss that. Now, it is very hard to get an impact player in the third round," Paton said. "But we'll have an idea how he fits with our team (in his) first year, second year, third year — potential starter, marginal starter, solid starter, maybe a special teams player in Year 1 and eventual starter in Year 2. We have classifications for each player we evaluate no matter what the round is.”

The key is staying true to the work, not straying from where the data takes you.

"I'm always kind of charging our coaches and everyone involved like, "Hey, tune out the noise outside." It's easy for us to hear discussions about players. Pay attention to what you see. Pay attention to what you measure. Pay attention to all the things that you value," Payton said.

"When we select the player, what's the vision in Year 1? With some players, it may be earlier into the lineup. We certainly don't want to not take a player who we've got a high grade on because maybe Year 1 of the vision is as a backup and he plays special teams, but we feel like he can develop into a really good pro football player. Everyone's got a taste. You have to trust your work, the amount of work, and then kind of tune out a little bit of the white noise.”

Not surprisingly, the Broncos did not pin themselves in regarding a pick. The heavy lifting in free agency allows for an open mind. Many national mocks believe Denver will tilt towards defense — they could use an edge rusher and strong safety. But running back could be in play with Javonte Williams' (torn ACL vs. Raiders on Oct. 2) return date uncertain.

"Javonte is doing really well in his rehab. We don’t have a date, but we feel good. We feel good that he’ll be back this season. We’re not entirely sure when. He’s progressing very well. Like all of the positions, and like we just talked about with the O-lineman, if there’s a runner there — no matter what point of the draft — and he’s the best player on our board, we’ll take a running back, that’s for sure," Paton said. "Like I said earlier with free agency, we addressed enough needs where we can take the best players throughout the draft. We do not need to reach.”

Added Payton, “I think that was one of the pluses with Samaje (Perine) being available in free agency. We felt like there’s flexibility there."

Speculation has engulfed Jeudy and Courtland Sutton this offseason. At times, it appeared they might go to the Browns, Patriots or Ravens. Denver held firm on wanting a first-rounder for Jeudy and a second for Sutton, so nothing materialized. Jeudy emerged as a No. 1 receiver over the last five weeks, and the Broncos must decide by May 2 whether to pick up his fifth-year option.

"I spoke at the owner’s meetings. We’re high — really high — on Jerry. We don’t anticipate doing anything with Jerry. Jerry finished the season strong — the last five games, he had over 500 (receiving) yards. He was one of the top receivers in the league," Paton said, not specifically addressing the fifth year. "We like Jerry, and he’s going to be here.”

This spring sits in juxtaposition to last April. The Broncos seemed to lead the league in social media posts and press conferences. This year, they have gone silent by design. Coach Payton said players will be made available to the media in Phase 2 in a few weeks, and discussed what is currently going on at the soon-to-be-renamed facility, while taking a jab at Russell Wilson's recent golf course tumble into a bunker.

"There are no meetings. When I say that— honestly, there’s no football meetings right now. Phase 2 begins in three more weeks. We’ll begin to introduce the offense, defense and the kicking game. We’ll do the Phase 2 activities that we can do. I felt like I learned this from (Hall of Fame coach) Bill (Parcells). This month is lifting and running," Payton explained.

"If there’s a question, it’s, "How are the weights going?" We see these guys running in the morning when we’re coming in here for draft meetings. We’re not in a meeting room setting. I don’t want the players to feel like they’re pulling into the parking lot coming to football practice in April. That’s just not happening. It’s great to see these guys around. Hopefully we can keep the golf carts upright. No meetings, just weight room and running.”