Mock draft season has begun, and analysts have started to pair a slew of different players with the Broncos, who hold the ninth-overall selection in this year's NFL Draft. But as the next crop of NFL hopefuls begin their path to the league at the Senior Bowl this week, we're taking a look back at Denver's 2020 draft class.
Despite an unprecedented offseason in which the rookies lost out on potentially thousands of reps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the team's draft picks still made significant impacts in their first season.
All but one of Denver's 10 draft picks saw action — Justin Strnad was placed on injured reserve before the season — and many found a way to contribute in near instant fashion.
We conclude with a look at the Broncos' top two picks in 2020:
WR JERRY JEUDY:
During the pre-draft process, analysts across the country lauded Jerry Jeudy for his route-running ability. Broncos fans saw plenty of that talent on display in 2020 after Denver selected Jeudy with the 15th-overall pick. Despite playing without the benefit of Courtland Sutton attracting defenses' attention, Jeudy routinely gained separation and turned route-running into a highlight-worthy endeavor. Jeudy recorded at least 50 receiving yards in each of his first four games, and his first career touchdown was an acrobatic catch in which he reached back and Mossed a defender in prime time. Jeudy finished the season with 52 catches for 856 yards and three scores, which left him fifth among rookies in receiving yardage. Only Eddie Royal posted more catches or yards as a rookie in franchise history. Yet, for as impressive as Jeudy was at times, his season was also defined by the plays he did not make. Untimely drops hurt Denver's chances to win several games and his own stat line. The rookie, though, managed to end the season on a high note as he posted a strong stat line in a 31-point output vs. the Raiders.
16 games, 14 starts, 52 receptions, 113 targets, 856 yards, three touchdowns
Game to remember:
Jeudy's first 100-yard game came in Week 9 in Atlanta, and his touchdown catch against the Jets was an instant classic. He saved his best overall performance for last. After a tough second half of the season, Jeudy caught five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown — and added a two-point conversion reception — to put the Broncos up late against Las Vegas. The 92-yard score was the longest by a Broncos player since 2008 and was the longest pass play from scrimmage in the NFL last season. Perhaps most importantly, Lock and Jeudy were more efficient than they'd been most of the season. Jeudy was targeted the second-most times of any rookie receiver, but he managed just the eighth-most receptions and had a catch rate of 46 percent.
Area for improvement:
With talent and a high draft slot come high expectations. For everything that Jeudy did well, he'll aim to clean up a series of drops that plagued him at times throughout the year. In Week 1 against the Titans, Week 9 against the Falcons and Week 16 against the Chargers, Jeudy had opportunities to make game-changing catches that could have — and likely would have — led to Broncos wins. Jeudy will also aim to continue to build chemistry with whoever leads the team at quarterback to improve his catch rate. He'll also need to avoid stretches in which he does not impact games. Over a three-week stretch late in the year — and four weeks if you include a game Denver played without a quarterback — Jeudy caught just four passes for 66 yards. In 2021, with Sutton back on the field, Jeudy should see less attention from defenses, which should allow him to flourish even more in the Broncos' offense.
WR KJ HAMLER
When the Broncos selected Jeudy in the first round, it seemed like a natural choice to add talent to a passing game that needed help. But when Denver doubled down in the second round to add a player with reported sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash speed, it was a clear signal that the Broncos' offense was building a giant. And despite an injury-plagued start to his rookie season, Hamler proved valuable in several facets of the Broncos' offensive attack. In addition to testing safeties with his speed, he made contested catches underneath, challenged cornerbacks with his pre-snap motions, amplified the team's running game and took advantage of deep ball opportunities. Despite missing the better part of four games, Hamler ranked 14th among rookies in receiving yards and ninth in touchdowns during his rookie campaign. Plus, his game-winning touchdown catch with no time remaining may have been the Broncos' highlight of the season.
13 games, 4 starts, 56 targets, 30 receptions, 381 yards, three touchdowns
Game to remember:
Hamler's most productive game came in Week 9 against the Falcons, as he caught six passes for 75 yards and ran for another 15 yards. His biggest highlight came in Week 8, as he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Broncos' 21-point comeback over the Chargers. His signature performance, though, came in Denver's Week 14 win over the Panthers as Hamler caught a pair of passes for 86 yards and two scores. On both plays, Hamler used his rare speed to provide a deep threat for the Broncos' offense, and he hauled in scores of 37 and 49 yards.
Area for improvement:
Hamler failed to haul in a key third-down pass against the Chiefs in Week 13 that would've given the Broncos a first down in Kansas City territory late in the fourth quarter, but his challenge in 2021 will be to remain available. Hamler missed much of training camp and Week 1 with a hamstring injury, reaggravated the issue in Week 4 and then suffered a concussion early in Week 16. At 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, Hamler is a blur in the open field. Denver must hope he can remain on the field despite his slight build.