The signing of quarterback Case Keenum as free agency opened took the Denver Broncos’ biggest need off the board. But the two-year contract given to Keenum and the Broncos’ deep interest in quarterbacks at the top of the draft offer a hint that they could be looking at using their first top-15 pick since 2011 on the position.
Denver coached Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl. The Broncos sent massive contingents — including general manager John Elway and head coach Vance Joseph — to the Pro Days of Mayfield and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Elway and senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak watched the bowl games of Allen and USC’s Sam Darnold in person. And the Broncos interviewed the top four quarterbacks at the Combine and had them lined up for pre-draft visits — and, in the case of Darnold, a private workout — in the weeks leading up to the draft.
It might be a smokescreen. But it also appears to be due diligence. After two years being caught woefully short at quarterback in the wake of Peyton Manning’s retirement, the Broncos want to make sure they have all the information necessary before deciding whether to trade up, trade down or stand pat at No. 5 — where there is no guarantee one of those quarterbacks would be available.
Still, the temptation to fill other needs — either by staying put or trading down — could be too much to resist for a team that sees itself as being close to a return to the postseason, despite 2017’s last-place finish. In the wake of last year’s 5-11 record, the Broncos’ roster is riddled with holes. The offensive and defensive lines remain in need of reinforcements. They could use another edge rusher to complement Von Miller, as Shane Ray struggled with injuries last year, which would put North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb on their radar. The trade of Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams makes cornerback a possibility, with Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick as potential selections.
And, of course, if quarterbacks go in the first four picks, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley would be sitting there for the Broncos to take. Running back is far from their biggest need, and with C.J. Anderson still on the roster, the Broncos have a proven 1,000-yard ball-carrier and depth to spare with third-year veteran Devontae Booker behind him. But just as having Keenum might not prevent the Broncos from taking a quarterback and possessing Miller and Ray might not preclude them from drafting an edge rusher, the presence of Anderson and Booker might not keep the Broncos from taking Barkley.
Denver goes into the draft with a viable starting lineup, plus key sub-package players, in the wake of its moves in March and early April. The signings of Keenum and cornerback Tramaine Brock filled needs, and the trades for Jared Veldheer and Su’a Cravens further bolstered the team. Those moves give the Broncos the flexibility to do whatever they want on draft weekend.
Here is a closer look at where the Broncos are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 4th AFC West (5-11)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 324.1 (T17th)
RUSHING: 115.8 (12th)
PASSING: 208.3 (20th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 290.0 (3rd)
RUSHING: 89.4 (5th)
PASSING: (200.6 (4th)
- Right tackle: The trade for Jared Veldheer solidifies the position for the moment, but the Broncos could look for a long-term answer in the draft. Denver cycled through four right tackles last season, and the results were predictable. Another guard is also a possibility.
- Wide receiver: Denver is set at the top two spots for the short term with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but both are now nine-season veterans in their 30s, so the Broncos could look to get younger at the position. Denver needs a true slot receiver, and while there are unproven internal options, Denver could look to find a player with a slot skillset — and perhaps punt-return ability, too.
- Defensive line: Derek Wolfe is expected to be back to full health, but he has struggled with injuries in recent years. Nose tackle Domata Peko is 33 and in the last year of his contract. Third-year veteran Adam Gotsis, who turned in some solid play last year, was arrested in March for an alleged rape from five years ago, and until that matter is resolved, a question mark will linger.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–ILB Todd Davis: Potential UFA; $15M/3 yrs, $6M fully guaranteed/$3M SB.
–G Billy Turner: UFA; $$2M/1 yr, $750K guaranteed/$500K SB.
–CB Tramaine Brock: UFA Vikings; $3M guaranteed/1 yr, $1M SB.
–S Su’a Cravens (traded Redskins).
–QB Case Keenum: UFA Vikings; $36M guaranteed/2 yrs, ($11M injury only at signing, $4M RB).
–P Marquette King: FA Raiders; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
–DT Clinton McDonald: UFA Buccaneers; $7M/2 yrs, $4M guaranteed/$1M RB.
–T Jared Veldheer (trade Cardinals).
–TE Virgil Green: UFA Chargers; $8.6M/3 yrs, $5.9M fully guaranteed/$2.4M SB.
–WR Cody Latimer: UFA Giants; $2.5M/1 yr, $2.47M guaranteed/$1.5M SB.
–LB Corey Nelson: UFA Eagles; $1.6M/1 yr, $600 SB.
–QB Brock Osweiler: UFA Dolphins; $880K/1 yr, $720K guaranteed/$90K SB.
–QB Trevor Siemian (traded Vikings).
–T Donald Stephenson: UFA Browns; $2.5M/1 yr, $1M SB.
–CB Aqib Talib (traded Rams).
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 5 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. John Elway did not win his first Super Bowl as a player until the Broncos complemented his brilliant passing with Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. With Case Keenum signed to start at quarterback and the top three young prospects at that position off the board, Elway may choose to add more horsepower to the Broncos’ stable of runners, a relatively pedestrian including former starters C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker, as well as second-year pro De’Angelo Henderson. Barkley could excel against the wide-open run defenses of the AFC West.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Broncos signed Case Keenum to be the short-term starter, but Mayfield could be the long-term answer. The former Sooner sitting behind a veteran would help his development and maturity.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.