When the Broncos filled those needs, they gained options for when the draft begins in just over a week. Ahead of the start of the 2021 NFL draft, we'll take a look on DenverBroncos.com at the various choices that will await GM George 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.
After our first installment examining the reasons to remain at No. 9, we continue with our argument for why Denver should trade up from the ninth-overall pick.
The 2021 NFL Draft begins when the San Francisco 49ers go on the clock with the third-overall pick.
By all accounts, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson are locked in as the top two picks. The 49ers' preference remains far murkier, though it seems clear San Francisco will select a quarterback with the third-overall pick.
If, as some rumors suggest, the 49ers take Alabama's Mac Jones with their first-round pick, a pair of intriguing and talented quarterbacks in North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Ohio State's Justin Fields could suddenly be in play for the Broncos.
It's certainly feasible that, should Jones go to the 49ers, either Lance or Fields could fall all the way to the Broncos at No. 9. As we previously argued in this series, that's among the justifications for remaining at No. 9.
Should the Broncos truly believe that Lance or Fields — or Jones, if one of the two other quarterbacks goes third to the Niners — can be the quarterback of the future, they shouldn't risk letting that player fall to the ninth pick. In the NFL, the value of the quarterback position is too great to leave things to chance.
The Broncos currently have a very talented young offense that arguably has at much skill-position talent as any team in the NFL. Denver's offensive line is as solid as it has been in years, and Paton replenished the team's defense with veteran talent. In short, the Broncos are poised for near immediate success — and could be division contenders in the foreseeable future. For that to happen, the team must get improved play from the quarterback position.
While Drew Lock showed improvement late in the season, the upside of players like Fields, Lance and Jones is impossible to ignore. If either player lives up to their billing, Denver could return to division contention and finally push back against the Chiefs, who have won five consecutive division titles.
Fields put together back-to-back dominant seasons in 2019 and 2020 as he led the Buckeyes to consecutive College Football Playoff berths. In eight games in 2020, Fields completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,100 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. The previous season, he threw for more than 3,000 yards as he tossed 41 touchdowns. The back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year saved one of his best career games for the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson last year. He completed 22-of-28 passes for 385 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
Lance started just one full season for the Bison, but he compiled a blemish-free 28-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that season. Lance completed nearly 67 percent of this passes that season and also added 1,100 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. The FCS Offensive Player of the Year, Lance has perhaps the highest ceiling of any prospect — but he also will require the most projecting of any quarterback in the class.
Jones, meanwhile, is a proven commodity after completing 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions as he led Alabama to a national championship last season. The consensus All-American won both the Davey O'Brien Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
All three quarterbacks could be strong options for Denver — and it's possible all three are gone before Denver ever picks at No. 9.
The Broncos found plenty of starters and a few stars during their drafts from 2000 through 2009. (Photos via Broncos photo archive unless noted)
Standing pat at nine will be alluring, with a wealth of defensive prospects certain to be available. A top cornerback, linebacker or edge rusher would certainly add great value to Denver's defense. But that player still wouldn't add nearly the amount of value that a top-notch quarterback could provide for the Broncos. In this league, teams are constantly searching for an elite signal caller. If you don't have one, you're always on the lookout. And if you do have one, you do whatever it takes to keep that player as the leader of your team.
Moving up won't be without a cost, as it could potentially take an additional first-round pick to jump from the ninth spot up to No. 4 to trade places with the Falcons. Of course, if the Falcons and Bengals (at No. 5) each take position players, the Broncos could only have to move up as high as No. 6. That price could be less prohibitive — perhaps an additional second-round pick — and would still allow Denver to secure one of its top quarterback prospects.
Regardless of the cost, the Broncos should make the move if they believe in a quarterback.
Quick: What did the Chiefs give up in 2017 to move up to No. 10 and select Patrick Mahomes?
Couldn't quite remember that it took a pair of first-round picks and a third-rounder to get up to No. 10 from No. 27? Hard to blame you. With a great quarterback comes the ability to weather the loss of another solid player. In 2018, the year that Kansas City didn't have a first-round pick, Mahomes threw 50 touchdown passes and led the Chiefs to an AFC Championship Game appearance in his first season as a starter.
Finding a player like Mahomes is a better-than-best-case scenario; he's already cementing himself as one of the game's all-time greats. It's not a stretch, though, to suggest the Broncos could find a quarterback that could establish himself as a top 10 quarterback in the league. That's the type of player that keeps teams in playoff contention each year.
If the Broncos swing and hit on a quarterback, it will set the franchise up for success in the coming years. And while there's certainly a chance they could trade up, miss and set the team back due to the extra capital that was given up, it may well be time to take that risk after four consecutive losing seasons.
The time to trade up hasn't arrived yet — it may make more sense to wait until San Francisco has picked to plot a path forward — but draft night will be here soon. When the 49ers turn in the pick, Paton and Co. should take a long look at their draft board.
If one of their highly rated quarterbacks remains available, it will be time to go get him.