DENVER — The NFL draft is where fantasy intertwines with reality. Or where the SEC, ACC, etc., blends with the fanatics of Broncos Country.
The NFL's annual selection process began Thursday night. It was chaotic. Eight teams did not have a first round pick, including the Broncos. Five defenders went in the first five picks for the first time since six in 1991 (Russell Maryland, Eric Turner, Bruce Pickens, Mike Croel, Todd Lyght and Eric Swann).
In March, Denver traded the ninth overall pick — and four others and three players — for Russell Wilson. Thank goodness. This was not the draft to land a sure-fire franchise quarterback. Kenny Pickett was the first to go, landing with the Steelers at No. 20. It marked the latest into a draft the first quarterback was taken since 1997 when San Francisco took Jim Druckenmiller 26th overall. Malik Willis remains on the board, and could be targeted by Seattle, Atlanta or Detroit.
GM George Paton spent part of Thursday watching Wilson highlights. If possible, he's exceeded expectations. He is a nine-time Pro Bowler who practices like he's trying to make the team. He sprints from drill-to-drill as if he's being timed. It has elevated all of those around him, blending well with new coach Nathaniel Hackett's energy and his ability to connect with players.
But the Broncos are not a finished product. They need more impact guys to flip a 7-10 record to 10-7 or 11-6.
But the truth is, the Broncos did not trade away their entire future. They boast nine picks, including three in the top 96. The draft remains in Paton's wheelhouse. He landed six impact players in his first crack as the Broncos' shot caller last April, among them cornerback Pat Surtain II, running back Javote Williams and seventh-round edge rusher Jonathon Cooper.
"I think we’re in a really good spot. I think there’s going to be value in those rounds where we can upgrade our team, upgrade our depth, and upgrade our speed which is everything we need to do. We’re fortunate that in free agency, we filled a lot of needs and throughout the offseason. We don’t need to reach for players. We’re going to have flexibility," Paton said Friday. "Again, I talk about flexibility all the time. We can take the best player, we can move up, and we can move down. I really think we’re in a good spot heading into the draft."
So here it goes, my first attempt at predicting the Broncos' picks in rounds 2-7. Listen, this amounts to throwing darts with educated guesses, and I updated Friday after the first round.
Enjoy. Complain. Join in:
BRONCOS SEVEN ROUND MOCK DRAFT:
64. Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma, EDGE, 6-3, 248
I originally had Wyoming's Chad Muma in this spot. I don't think he will be available, and it's unlikely the Broncos trade up for him after watching Jonas Griffith in minicamp. Griffith can pair with Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton, providing depth, if not pushing to start over Singleton. Originally, I figured Bonitto would be around in the third round. I doubt it now. So if the Broncos stay put, they get an much-needed edge rusher given the injury issues with Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory. Bonitto has great feet and hands, two things desired in pass rushers. Can spin past tackles. But he is not physical, leaving it difficult to set the edge. Would provide immediate rotational depth along with Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper from the jump. If they don't go edge, Auburn corner Roger McCreary could be in play.
Names to Consider: Auburn CB Roger McCreary, Colorado State TE Trey McBride, Wyoming LB Chad Muma, Cincinnati CB Coby Bryant, Connecticut DT Travis Jones, Alabama LB Christian Harris, South Carolina Edge Kingsley Enagbare, Montana State LB Troy Andersen, Central Michigan OT/G Bernhard Raimann
75. Coby Bryant, Cincinnati, CB, 6-1, 193
Named after NBA legend Kobe Bryant, Bryant brings quick hands and extreme confidence. With Ronald Darby possibly gone after this season and only five corners on the roster, the Broncos fill a need with a future potential starter. It wouldn't surprise me if Broncos go corner at 64, but the value might not be there.
Names to Consider: Montana State LB Troy Anderson, Washington State OT Abraham Lucas.
96. Luke Fortner, Kentucky, C, 6-4, 307
Fornter is smart versatile player who projects as a starting center, especially in a zone scheme. Can also play guard.
Names to Consider: Mississippi State CB Martin Emerson, BYU RB Tyler Allgeier, Fayetteville State CB Joshua Williams.
115. Tyler Allgeier, BYU, RB, 5-10, 224
Big-bodied back with quick feet who scored 36 touchdowns in his final two college seasons. This would be a luxury pick now that Melvin Gordon has returned to pair with Javonte Williams. But Gordon is on a one-year deal, and Allgeier brings a no-nonsense attitude, physicality and soft hands in the passing game.
Names to Consider: Alabama RB Brian Robinson, Georgia RB James Cook, LSU G Chasen Hines, Arizona State RB Rachaad White.
116. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State, TE, 6-5, 252
Ruckert would have to fall to be available. But he’s a willing, aggressive blocker and has athleticism that suggests his best football is ahead of him. Broncos need trusted depth.
Names to Consider: UCF DT Kalia Davis, Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez, Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar, Cincinnati DE Myjai Sanders.
152. Smoke Monday, Auburn, S, 6-1, 207
Sounds like a character in Spaghetti Western. the best name – it’s actually Quindarious -- has game. He plays fast, likes contact, but is inconsistent and needs to add weight. Could help on special teams right away. Yusef Corker could make more sense, though.
Names to Consider: Kentucky S Yusuf Corker, LSU CB Cordale Flott, Miami S Bubba Bolden, Arizona State RB Rachaad White, Tennessee CB/S Alontae Taylor.
206. Braxton Jones, Southern Utah, OT, 6-5, 310
Broncos need a long-term answer at right tackle. Jones is projectable, coachable and could benefit from a season as a swing player before challenging for time in year two.
Names to Consider: Nevada TE Cole Turner, Miami S Bubba Bolden, Brown QB E.J. Perry, Mississippi WR Braylon Sanders.
232. Isaac Taylor-Stuart, USC, CB, 6-1, 204
Has remarkable tools and length. Fundamentals are questionable. But if he puts it all together could be quite a find near the end of the draft.
Names to Consider: Iowa S Dane Belton, Rutgers RB Isaih Pacheco.
234. Tyquan Thornton, Baylor, WR, 6-2, 181
Thornton blazed a 4.28 40. He is small, but explosive. Provides future protection as a slot receiver if K.J. Hamler remains dogged by injuries.
Names to Consider: Coastal Carolina RB Shermari Jones, Colorado LB Nate Landman.