In the latest episode of the Broncos' behind-the-scenes docuseries about George Paton's first offseason in Denver, the team's new general manager detailed how the team's moves in free agency could impact the upcoming NFL Draft.
"We did a good job in free agency filling needs, so now we can just grab the best player available," Paton said in the episode. "That was the goal from the very beginning: try to fill as many needs as we can on our football team so when we get in the draft, we draft the best player."
When the Broncos filled those needs, they gained options for when the draft begins in just over two weeks. Ahead of the start of the draft, we'll take a look on DenverBroncos.com at the various choices that will await Paton on draft night or in the days before the start of the draft.
Without one obvious need, the Broncos could presumably trade up, stand pat at No. 9 or trade back to pick up additional picks. There's a case to be made for each of those routes — and we'll make each one in the coming days.
We begin with our argument for why Denver should hold on to the ninth-overall pick.
When the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft begins on April 29 and George Paton prepares to make his first selection as the Broncos' general manager, he will face considerable temptation to move away from the ninth-overall slot.
In the early minutes of the draft, it may be alluring to trade up with Atlanta to acquire the fourth-overall pick or with Miami to snag the sixth-overall selection. If Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones are indeed the first three players selected, it could put pressure on Paton to move up for Justin Fields or Trey Lance. The more prudent move, though, would be to remain at nine.
Drew Lock has admittedly struggled with turnovers in his first 18 games as a starter, but he may have turned a corner late in the year. Over the final four games of the season, Lock posted a 7-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and played some of his best football in games against the Panthers and Raiders.
Less than a week before the 2019 NFL Draft, NFL.com's Chad Reuter projected Lock would be taken with the second-overall pick. That's the type of talent the Missouri player has, and he could be on the precipice of taking the next step. If Fields or Lance falls to the ninth-overall pick — more on that in a moment — we'd consider taking one of those signal callers. But the Broncos are a team with holes still to fill, and the defense could use an infusion of youth. Giving up a future first-round pick — and likely more — to select another uncertain commodity may not be in the best interest of the franchise.
For weeks, Paton has said that team likes Lock — and in early March, he said Lock has "all the traits you look for in a quarterback." If Paton believes in Lock, there's no reason to mortgage the future to acquire one of the remaining quarterbacks.
When Paton wisely passes on a costly trade up and the ninth-overall pick arrives, the team will still have a wealth of options.
If one of the top quarterbacks drops to No. 9, then it's time to strongly consider using the pick to acquire one of them. It's far more reasonable to take a chance on Lance, Fields or Jones by using the ninth selection than it is to sacrifice more picks to move up. Without the added cost, the upside of Lance, Fields or Jones could be too good to pass up.
Should all five of the top quarterbacks be off the board by the time the Broncos are on the clock at nine, Denver will still be the beneficiary. Many mocks suggest that tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith could all be picked in the top 10. If that's the case, Denver would have the choice of shoring up its offensive line or adding an impact defensive player. The Broncos would likely have their pick from a group of players that includes offensive tackles Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater, cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn and linebacker Micah Parsons.
Each of those players could be a high-impact player in Year 1, and it's even possible that Sewell, Slater or Parsons could be a Day 1 starter.
The surplus of talented players, though, could also tempt the Broncos into trading back. It's not a bad strategy in theory, but I'd be hesitant to make the move. The Broncos need to add elite young players to their roster — ones that complement Justin Simmons, Courtland Sutton, Bradley Chubb and Co. If the Broncos trade too far back, it's possible they could miss out on the top defensive players in the draft. It's also a near certainty that if the Broncos trade down more than a few picks, they'd lose the chance to add Sewell or Slater.
The next best crop of players is still talented, and the Broncos would add additional picks by trading down — but the deal would have to be sweet to make it worth it. The Broncos were fortunate in 2019 that they were able to trade down 10 picks and still pick up a talented tight end in Fant while also adding second- and third-round picks. It seems too risky to try to replicate that strategy in 2021.
If Denver has the chance to add the best cornerback, linebacker or tackle in the draft, the Broncos must pursue that method. They shouldn't settle for the second- or third-best player at one of those spots. It's rare that a team picking at nine gets to add the top defensive option. Denver also should hope it's rare that the team is picking in the top 10. The Broncos cannot waste either of those two opportunities.
In 2011, John Elway took Von Miller with his first draft pick. In the process, he added a player who has become arguably the best defensive player in franchise history. Paton would surely love to add a defensive star that even approaches Miller's impact on the field.
By picking at No. 9, he'll give himself the best chance of doing just that.