We're less than four weeks from the 2021 NFL Draft, and the rumors and takes are starting to fly around the NFL community.
In today's mailbag, we're taking a look at Denver's potential options in the draft, with a focus on the quarterback position. Recent trades and anonymous quotes have only clouded how the top quarterbacks will come off the board in a few weeks, but there may be options beyond the ninth-overall pick for the Broncos.
We'll also take a look at the state of the offense, a rehabbing player and other areas of the draft.
If you'd like to leave a question for a future mailbag, click here — and thanks for reading.
Do you still think that an actual competitor for the starting QB spot will be brought in? - Bob J.
I certainly wouldn't rule it out, Bob. It's clear that Paton is doing his due diligence on this year's prospects by attending pro days featuring the top quarterbacks. Paton has attended pro days at North Dakota State (Trey Lance), BYU (Zach Wilson) and Ohio State (Justin Fields), and the Broncos also had representatives at Alabama's pro day, where Mac Jones put on a throwing session. Paton has been at other pro days, too, so there's no guarantee that a quarterback is on the Broncos' mind. Paton said in mid-March that the position is in play with the ninth-overall pick, but Denver may need to trade up if they want to assure the opportunity to select one of the top quarterbacks.
At the moment, the job belongs to Drew Lock, and we know that Paton believes in the third-year player. There's still plenty of time to add competition via the draft or via a free agent after the draft process isn't complete. If Paton's early moves have indicated anything, it's that he isn't going to make a move just for the sake of making a move. The Broncos' new general manager will weigh the team's options and move forward with his aggressive — but not reckless — approach.
In case of picking a QB at mid-draft, which would you see as an option for Denver? - Oscar J.
Lots of mock drafts have focused on the possibility that the Broncos will use the ninth-overall pick — and perhaps a package of other selections if they need to trade up — to find their next quarterback. But if they decide to wait until the second round or beyond, as they did in 2019 when they selected Lock, there are plenty of other options. Florida's Kyle Trask, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond and Wake Forest's Jamie Newman are among the quarterbacks projected as mid-round picks and could give the Broncos another option in their quarterback room. Mond may have the most potential of that group, and Newman may be the toughest to evaluate, as he opted out of the 2020 season. Perhaps the most intriguing mid-round prospect is Stanford's Davis Mills, who played well in in limited action in 2020 despite missing part of the season due to COVID-19 protocols. The biggest question mark with Mills comes from his lack of experience, as he started just 11 games at Stanford. He has talent, though, and the buzz around Mills has grown in recent weeks. One evaluator has compared Mills to Jared Goff, which could make him an interesting addition to Denver's QB room.
How much better can this offense be this year healed up and another year in the same system? - Brady F.
Brady, I don't see how the offense couldn't be better in 2021 for those two reasons precisely. Every player will have another year to dive into Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system, Shurmur will be able to tailor the offense after a year's look at his personnel and the team will regain several key players, including Courtland Sutton. The offense should also benefit from the return of preseason games and the potential return of in-person offseason workouts. Ultimately, the offense's 2021 success will depend on the quarterback position. If Drew Lock is the starter and plays like he did against the Panthers or in games late in the season vs. LA and Las Vegas, the Broncos' offense should be ready to take the next step.
What can we expect for Albert O. and his recovery? [Are we] looking for a tight end in the draft again? - @jayduarte7
Jay, when I spoke with Albert Okwuegbunam in mid-February, he was a little more than three months removed from his ACL injury that he suffered against the Falcons last season. He had started to run on an anti-gravity treadmill, and he was poised to start jogging without the assistance of the machine in the days to come. Okwuegbunam told me he expect to be back by training camp with "no issues." I'd expect him to take a step forward in 2021 after a promising rookie season, and I'm excited to see what he and Noah Fant can accomplish together.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Broncos draft a tight end that can provide muscle in the running game. The team released Nick Vannett, and Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli both became unrestricted free agents when the new league year began. Austin Fort remains under contract, but he profiles as a receiving tight end in the mold of Fant and Okwuegbunam. Where the Broncos select a tight end could reflect whether the team believes Andrew Beck can fill the role on his own. I would think the team would add depth at some point, whether it's via a mid-to-late-round pick, a college free agent or a veteran ahead of the season.
Are we focused on offense or defense this time? I miss the defense with Von Miller and Derek Wolfe just putting QBs on their backs. - @lordxbamm
Paton filled critical holes during free agency, which means the Broncos won't be boxed into a corner when the draft begins. I could foresee Denver taking a quarterback, linebacker, cornerback, edge rusher or tackle if the team stands pat with the ninth-overall pick. If the Broncos trade back, that list of positions could grow to include safety, running back and defensive line. Paton has given the Broncos crucial flexibility, which is all a team can ask for heading into the draft. When an organization can select the best player across a wide array of positions rather than be pigeonholed into a pick, it can only help the roster. As a whole, I would expect the Broncos' nine picks would lean toward the defensive side of the ball to help infuse some youth into a unit that features several veteran players entering the last year of their contract.
Should Denver trade their first-round pick to gain more picks in later rounds? - @Whyyoutrippin48
It all depends on how the board falls, as I don't think there's a blanket answer. If there's a surplus of impact players at No. 9, it's absolutely worth trading down a few spots to pick up an extra second- or third-round pick and add quality young players to the roster. If there's a gap on the Broncos' draft board between a player that's available at No. 9 and the next group of players, then it makes more sense to stand pat and select that player. Ultimately, it comes down to Paton and Co.'s ability to evaluate talent. We've seen teams make a habit of trading down and find great success — and we've also seen teams hoard picks and fail to turn those selections into wins.
Paton has previously called the draft the "lifeblood" of the organization and has spoken about his desire to build draft capital. Given that sentiment, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if Paton trades down at some point in the draft to accrue more picks. Whether that comes at the ninth-overall pick would all depend on the perceived value.