NFL Draft 2019: First-round options and sleepers for Broncos' semi-rebuild in 2019
The Broncos need to find a franchise quarterback and help out Von Miller, Bradley Chubb on defense
They decided to go with Bradley Chubb -- who's been tremendous thus far -- over one of the prized quarterbacks in the first round of the 2018 Draft, and although the 2019 crop of signal-callers isn't nearly as deep, there are some passers with franchise-quarterback abilities.
Let's pinpoint first-round pick candidates for the Broncos as they start a semi (full blown?) rebuild in 2019 with plans to jump back to the top of the division, where they were from 2011 to 2015.
Potential first-round picks
At this juncture, it makes the most sense to assume the 3-6 Broncos will ultimately land somewhere between pick No. 8 and No. 12, as that's where teams in the 5-11 to 7-9 range have selected in the last two drafts. So I'll be analyzing prospects who should be available there.
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Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
If Herbert decides to declare for 2019 NFL Draft, he'll probably be the first quarterback selected. At 6-foot-6 with a strong, NFL-caliber arm and impressive athleticism, it's easy to see why scouts and GMs are excited about Herbert's prospects.
The 20-year-old signal-caller built on a respectable debut season in 2016 by increasing his completion percentage and yards-per-attempt average in 2017, yet the junior's completion rate has sunk under 60 this year, and his yards-per-attempt average is between the 2016 and 2017 figures.
His accuracy is typically not an issue, and he throws well on the run, but both of those usual strengths of his game have been relative weaknesses of late. He does have the natural ability to drift away from pressure in the pocket, and he doesn't instantly become a runner if he's flushed out. He's just been off throwing the football with proper ball-placement recently. If the Broncos are interested in a full scale rebuild, Herbert would be an ideal candidate to sit behind Case Keenum for a season, or at least part of a season, before taking over.
Ryan Finley, QB, NC State
Here's the skinny on Finley ... he's a sixth-year senior (redshirt and transfer) who will likely be the most polished quarterback prospect in this class but lacks the cannon of an arm NFL decision-makers seemingly look for first in a signal-caller. Despite that, to me, he has upside because arm strength can come at the professional ranks. Throwing with pinpoint accuracy and anticipation almost never does. Accuracy and anticipation are not issues for Finley.
He certainly is a passer first but can create with his legs if need be and usually is very patient in the pocket as he reads the entire field. At times -- and this is my biggest gripe with Finley's game -- he's overly anxious inside the pocket when he's starting to feel pressure and either vacates prematurely or drifts backwards, and the latter saps any quarterback of the ability to put zip on the ball. That's not to say he never steps up in the pocket or shifts laterally away from pressure. It's just that he probably should be a little more refined managing the pocket after more than 1,200 throws in college.
Finley's more ready to start Day One than Herbert, but some may believe his good, not great arm will hinder him from ever being a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Tannehill.
Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
Bradley Roby picked a bad time to have a down year, as the former first-round pick is playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal and is set to be a free agent in March. That, coupled with Chris Harris turning 30 next June, and there you have it ... the Broncos need to fortify the future of the cornerback position, especially in a division with Patrick Mahomes.
Baker is a mirroring wizard, seemingly running routes for receivers every Saturday. And he plays the ball well in the air too. Despite quarterbacks typically throwing away from him, Baker has 17 pass breakups and five interceptions since the start of 2017. At 5-11, Baker is likely to slip outside of the top 5 and could land in the Broncos' lap. He can match up with slot receivers on occasion but is ready to be an outside, man-to-man specialist at the next level.
This wouldn't be a flashy first-round pick for the Broncos. It might be a necessary one. Jared Veldheer has been a flop of a free-agent addition at right tackle, and he's playing on a one-year deal. Garett Bolles has been adequate at best early in his career on the left side. Fortunately for Denver, the interior is a brick wall, and re-signing (now injured) center Matt Paradis should be an offseason priority for GM John Elway.
The right tackle position has become just as important as left tackle in today's NFL, and Risner is the premier right tackle prospect in the 2019 class. After a season as as full-time starter at center in 2015, he's locked down the right side for going on three full seasons now and has done it with an awesome mix of foot quickness, balance, anchoring ability, and the perseverance needed to recover after being hit with a counter move. No, Risner isn't an athletic freak. He's a refined technician who's surprisingly nimble for being a tall, relatively thin right tackle. With a little more weight, he can be a consistent people-mover on the right side in Denver.
Justin Simmons has proven to be a reliable albeit unspectacular safety in the NFL, and he's under contract through the 2019 season. Former shrewd free-agent acquisition Darian Stewart will be 31 next year. If he's released, he'd represent a $2.8 million dead cap hit but save the team $3.6 million, per OverTheCap.com. Quietly, safety is a position the Broncos need to rebuild in the offseason.
Thompson has looked like the top safety prospect in the upcoming class, an explosive athlete with quick anticipation and blazing speed to the football, both in the air and when he's trying to corral a running back. He has the skills to be a true difference-maker for the Broncos on the back end of their defense.
Potential non-Round 1 sleepers
Daniel Jones, QB, Duke -- A tall, experienced pocket quarterback with a good arm, quick release and above-average pocket management who's been coached by David Cutcliffe ... expect Jones to be well-liked by most GMs and offensive coordinators. He can be sloppy with his footwork at times and throw off-balance inside the pocket, but he's put a handful of big-time throws on film this season (mostly deep downfield) and has requisite athleticism for the position. With a strong end to the season, Jones could fly up boards into the first round but seems like a second-round prospect right now.
Kris Boyd, CB, Texas -- Boyd is a no-nonsense ball-hawk who can match up with bigger receivers on the outside given his size (6-0, 195 pounds). He plays with dynamic plant-and-drive ability and is aggressive while playing the ball in the air. He had 15 pass breakups a season ago and already has 12 this year. He's a likely Day Two selection who could open the 2019 season as one of Denver's starting outside corners.
Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma -- Evans seemed more comfortable and more punishing on the right side last season than he has in his new spot at left tackle this season. While he has NFL size at 6-5 and 301 pounds, he's not your typical gargantuan, overwhelming Oklahoma offensive lineman. He has light feet but packs a powerful punch. He'd be a logical replacement for Veldheer at right tackle.
Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming -- Heading to the Mountain West for this sleeper. Wingard has loaded the stat sheet since the moment he stepped on the field in Laramie, with three-straight 100-tackle campaigns leading into 2018. His production has dipped a bit this season after a five-interception 2017 that also featured eight tackles for loss, but this safety is quick to reads his keys and has the twitchiness to get the ball in a hurry.
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