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Will the Broncos find their next QB at the NFL Combine?

Payton and Paton meet media on Tuesday
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Posted at 1:55 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 17:37:58-05

DENVER — The combine represents a mile marker in the NFL offseason, a reminder of how the draft can change an outlook faster than a cup of coffee.

The Broncos, in case you haven’t heard, need reinforcements. They have posted seven consecutive losing seasons – the longest stretch since 1963 to 1972 – and missed the playoffs every year since winning Super Bowl 50.

The draft represents a path to relevancy. And hitting on selections looks like a necessity with owner Greg Penner admitting the team will not be tapping the credit card on the first day of free agency this March. Building through younger players boasts several advantages besides balancing the salary cap. They get coached up. They learn the system. They are more apt to buy in.

Saying the draft is paramount is the easy part. Making the right selections – like holding the car reservation in “Seinfeld” – is the hard part. The Broncos only hold six picks in the upcoming draft. When fans say reboot like the Los Angeles Rams did last season, remember they had 14 picks. However, there is insight to be gleaned. Just as Broncos coach Sean Payton views the 2022-23 Detroit Lions as a model for the 2023-24 Broncos, the Rams’ drafting should be as well.

The Rams chased and won a Super Bowl by giving a middle finger to draft picks. However, after hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL by moving on from Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., the Rams regained their footing with a franchise-altering draft class.

Their 2023 class ranks top five by any measure. What made it special is that the Rams did not pick until the 36th selection. They tabbed Steve Avila, a starting guard. They landed impact players in Byron Young and Kobie Turner. And they chose arguably the NFL’s most productive rookie in fifth-round receiver Puka Nacua.

That’s how you go from a five-win team to returning to the postseason. Payton pulled off something similar in 2017 with Marshawn Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, and Trey Hendrickson.

The aforementioned Saints and the Rams held the advantage of having a cornerstone at quarterback in Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. The position has sunk the Broncos like an anchor as they are staring at their 14th different starter since Peyton Manning.

Is there one that could fit Payton in this draft if they stay at 12 or move up? NFL Network’s draft expert Daniel Jeremiah weighed in on a Thursday conference call.

“(Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and (Oregon’s Bo) Nix would be the two that make a lot of sense if they’re going to stick and pick there,” Jeremiah said. “I think both of those guys (process) really, really well.”

Payton wants a quarterback that can dissect a defense quickly and get the team into the right play. He does not want somebody who colors outside the lines as the basis of his playmaking (See Wilson, Russell). But McCarthy just turned 21, and he sure looked like a game manager in college over the second half of Michigan’s national championship season. While that can be viewed negatively, it might not by Payton.

“McCarthy has a quick mind. He doesn’t get bored with completions,” said Jeremiah.

Keeping an offense on schedule is invaluable. Nix showed he could do that for the Ducks after reviving his career following his failures at Auburn. Is it worth staying put and taking one early?

“If you are going to reach and go get a quarterback because we need one and he’s not the guy you like. I prefer to not be in that situation,” said Hall of Famer Broncos running back Terrell Davis. “I would prefer they say we didn’t get a quarterback because we did not like one. Then you build and get an offensive lineman, get a running back, a defensive end, a playmaker at receiver. You build a roster if there isn’t a quarterback you like. But I personally believe in shooting for a quarterback until you get one.”

It must, though, be one that makes the spider sense tingle. If the Broncos do not feel that way about McCarthy or Nix, an argument can be made to trade back to 20 or so and land a second-round pick. This a team that needs more talent.

Move back and cornerback, edge and offensive line could bring value late in the first and into the second round.

The reality is on the Broncos are on the clock. To return to contention, it begins with their draft selections.