In his newest mock draft, ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. may not have shocked Broncos fans by projecting a wide receiver to Denver at 15th overall.
But having them take former LSU wideout Justin Jefferson when Alabama's Henry Ruggs III was still on the board certainly bucked conventional thinking that Ruggs completes a top trio of receivers, alongside Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.
Instead, Kiper thought Jefferson to be the better fit, writing, "An even 100 of his catches for LSU last season came out of the slot, and that's where he'd fit best for Denver, which has a stud young outside target in Courtland Sutton."
On a conference call with media Wednesday, Kiper detailed in part some of his thinking around why a receiver like Jefferson could make a more immediate impact.
"The slot guys tend to transition pretty quick," Kiper said. "I think you'll see some of these, like Devin Duvernay from Texas, will transition very quickly — KJ Hill from Ohio State. Those slot guys will transition quick. The outside guys with the route tree and pacing routes and being able to be precise with your routes and the timing with the quarterback — coming out of college, that is the tough part. The tough part is for the outside guys, not the inside slot guys. …
"Look at Hunter Renfrow last year, he had a nice rookie season with the Raiders. To me, those are the guys you're looking for to have immediate contributions."
Renfrow, who was a fifth-round pick for the Raiders, caught 49 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie.
Given Jefferson's 2019 collegiate production — 111 total catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns — and his speed (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and size (6-foot-1) compared to Renfrow's (4.59 seconds, 5-foot-10), Jefferson could provide even more of a boost for the Broncos.
Kiper also noted that the Broncos could still find great talent in the second round at wide receiver if a prospect of equal or greater value at another position is available at 15th overall — like former Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas, whom Kiper projects to be drafted one pick earlier.
"If you go with the grade of the first-round tackle as opposed to the second round receiver, I think it's going to be better taking the tackle first and the receiver second," Kiper said. "I think most teams would agree with that, that I've spoken to. … Then come back in the second round and get a guy like Chase Claypool from Notre Dame or a guy like Jalen Reagor from TCU or Devin Duvernay, Texas, or Michael Pittman Jr., USC — some of those receivers in Round 2. KJ Hamler from Penn State would be another [option]."