We took a closer look at our AFC West mates to see how they fared in the 2020 draft. Here we put the Denver Broncos draft class under the microscope.
We’re past the point in John Elway‘s regime as a general manager where we wonder if his time in the front office could permanently mar his legacy as a player. In fact, many of us outside of Denver often muse if he would still even be in his position if his name was not John Elway. One would think that a player so great would have a decent vision for what he wants in a player (especially one who plays the same position he played years ago), but Elway has consistently whiffed in this task.
Since trading for Peyton Manning in 2012, Elway is 0-5 on assessing the quarterback market, setting his franchise back almost a decade with the likes of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, and Joe Flacco.
In the second round of the 2019 draft, Elway staked his reputation on the career of Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Based on the results of the 2020 draft, we can safely say that Elway is pulling out all the stops to make sure his newest quarterback has every tool available to him. He is clearly in self-preservation panic mode, and one pick in particular all but proves it.
The catch-22 is that, by drafting not one but two high-profile receivers as well as a mid-round tight end with a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, there are no excuses left. If Lock flops, it doesn’t matter if the general manager is a Hall of Fame quarterback; Elway should be shown the door.
Let’s get to the picks.
1 (15). Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
2 (46). KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State
3 (77). Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
3 (83). Lloyd Cushenberry III, C, LSU
3 (95). McTelvin Agim, DT, Arkansas
4 (118). Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
5 (178). Justin Strnad, LB, Wake Forest
6 (181). Netane Muti, G, Fresno State
7 (252). Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Florida
7 (254). Derrek Tuszka, DE, North Dakota State
Jerry Jeudy is a great start here, and while almost everyone projected Denver to take an elite receiver with their top pick, the Broncos got a big boost by securing the rights to their receiver of choice (Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb was still on the board) without having to trade up. The 6’1″, 193-lb. Jeudy was one of the top three receivers in an extremely rich 2020 crop, and he should step in as a Day One starter opposite third-year pro Courtland Sutton to form an excellent tandem on the outside.
The K.J. Hamler pick is the one that unveiled Elway’s insecurity to the rest of the NFL world. By passing up bigger needs like offensive tackle (Josh Jones and Ezra Cleveland were available) or defensive back (Kristian Fulton, Jaylon Johnson, Trevon Diggs, Jeremy Chinn were all still there) in order to double-dip at receiver, it became evident that the Broncos’ GM is more interested in supplying Lock with every tool possible, rather than putting 22 players on the field in an attempt to win football games.
Point blank: the Broncos had bigger needs in round two. Even Broncos faithful were nothing short of baffled by the Hamler pick. Nothing against the Penn State rookie, who couldn’t run at the Combine because he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Hamler says he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash, and we believe it. He is an undersized waterbug that will help take the top off of opposing defenses with his elite speed.
Even if you accept the decision to take a receiver at that pick, why go with Hamler when Baylor wideout Denzel Mims was still on the board? The 6’3″ Mims would settle in nicely opposite Sutton and allow Jeudy to play the slot, where he lined up the majority of his time at Alabama.
Skipping cornerback in the second round meant the Broncos had to reach a little in the third round for Iowa corner Michael Ojemudia, a zone prospect who may have to start opposite newcomer A.J. Bouye in 2020. Clearly, Vic Fangio sees something in Ojemudia to take him this high, but the rookie may struggle against faster receivers, of which there are a few we can name in the AFC West.
Six picks later, LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III fills a big need for the Broncos and will probably start at center. Without much time to work together this spring, the center/quarterback exchange will be something watch early in Denver. Arkansas DT McTelvin Agim has good size in a compact stance, and his frame reminds of Breeland Speaks. He fills a need as a depth piece on the Broncos’ rotation up front.
With their first pick in Day Three, the Broncos plucked Lock’s college teammate, Missouri tight end Albert Okuwuegbunam in the fourth round. “Albert O” raised eyebrows with his smoking 4.49 40-time at the Combine in March, but doesn’t have the in-line blocking skills to allow second-year starter Noah Fant to move out to the slot. He’ll serve as a backup and won’t be expected to unseat last year’s top pick.
Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad will be a good project for Fangio. The fifth rounder has very good reaction skills and will be a good coverage ‘backer from the day he steps into the facility. If Fangio and his staff can coach him into being an NFL-caliber tackler, they will have a decent role player in Strnad.
Sixth round guard Netane Muti is yoked. The 315-pounder from Fresno State benched a whopping 44 reps at 225 pounds at the Combine, and would have been a much higher pick if not for his injury history. If he’s on the field, Muti is a freight train in the running game, and will add some serious muscle to the Broncos’ front line. It is important that we tell you that Muti has eaten the 10×10 at In-N-Out Burger.
The seventh round addition of Tyrie Cleveland from Florida is puzzling. At that point in the draft, I’m sure Cleveland felt happy to get selected, but there’s no doubt he was probably discouraged when he saw that he was the fourth pass-catcher the Broncos took in the draft. Cleveland has good size for a wideout and will have to contribute in special teams in order to make the roster. Fan favorite Derrek Tuszka, a defensive end from North Dakota State, rounds out the Broncos draft.
Best pick: It seems too easy to go with Jeudy, an elite player who was both a great value and also filled a strong need in Denver. But it looks like the best value the Broncos may have added in this draft while trying to revamp their offense. If I can’t take Jeudy as the best pick, then I’ll say it’s Muti, the guard in the sixth round. If he can just stay on the field, he’ll be a starter one day.
Worst pick: Can you guess? It’s Hamler. There were just so many other directions the Broncos could have gone here. Adding Jones or Cleveland would have put matador left tackle Garrett Bolles where he belongs, on the bench. That would have helped the second-year quarterback more than another receiver. And, as noted above, even if Elway was committed to taking another pass catcher, there were other more balanced wideouts available that Elway missed out on.
Overall how they improved: This draft reeks of little brother syndrome. The Broncos are trying really hard to play catch-up with the Chiefs, but it won’t work. You can’t manufacture the kind of synergy the Chiefs have with head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. After that, factor in the lack of continuity in having so many new parts at receiver, cornerback, and the offensive line, and the Broncos are still a year away from contention in the AFC West.