ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the course of two days, the Broncos filled hole after hole as General Manager George Paton and Co. continued to fortify the roster of a presumed AFC contender.
Despite tradingaway the ninth- and 40th-overall pick in this year's draft for Russell Wilson, Paton managed to acquire nine players — and a 2023 third-round pick — to bolster his team.
Not every need was met over the course of the draft, but the Broncos repeatedly added players to positions where their depth could stand to be stronger.
Outside linebacker. Tight end. Cornerback. Defensive line. Punt and kick returner. All five of those needs were addressed, and several were attacked multiple times in the draft.
With his nine picks, Paton seemed to marry need, skill and potential.
In Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto, Paton drafted a player who finished first in pass rush win rate in 2020 and has an ability to bend that is not dissimilar from Von Miller's. UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich provides another downfield threat with his mix of speed and receiving ability. The darts didn't stop flying on Day 3 — and Denver added another slew of contributors.
They didn't fill every need, as Paton noted the board didn't fall the right way for the Broncos to add an offensive tackle or inside linebacker. Still, Denver filled a number of holes and plans to address the remainder via the addition of 10 to 11 college free agents.
"We wanted to add depth at a number of positions, it just didn't fall at those positions," Paton said. "It fell at nine others. You can't fill them all. We had nine picks. … We like the players we have, we feel like we helped our depth. I like where we're going with the college free agency. I think we'll help ourselves there. Our scouts, they're still working on it with the coaches, but I think it's going to be a really good group with the CFAs."
Now, for Paton and Hackett, it's time to see how the roster translates from paper to the field.
"It's yet to be seen," Paton said when asked if the team was a contender. "We've got to get these players here. They've got to get to work. I do feel like we've helped our football team. We've helped our depth. But we've got to get them here. They've got to practice, they've got to learn our culture and they've got to get with the coaches, but I do feel like we are a better football team, and we'll see how good come the fall."
Read on for some of the other top takeaways from George Paton and Nathaniel Hackett's press conference following the 2022 NFL Draft:
PASS RUSH TO REMAIN A PRIORITY
Despite adding Bonitto to their outside linebacking corps, the Broncos plan to keep 2021 third-round pick Baron Browning on the edge. Browning played inside linebacker in 2021, but he has experience playing outside from his collegiate career at Ohio State.
"I think Baron, he did great job at outside 'backer this past [voluntary veteran mini]camp, and I think he's going to grow there and I think you can never have enough people to rush the passer," Hackett said. "We talk a lot, it's how the quarterback plays and it's how you affect the quarterback from a defensive perspective. We want to find as many rushers as we possibly can. We want a great competition in that room, and we feel like we're going to be able to get after some of these quarterbacks in this division."
Paton spoke about needing "a wave" of pass rushers, and Browning figures into that equation alongside Bonitto, Bradley Chubb, Randy Gregory, Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper.
A WEAKNESS TO A STRENGTH
The Broncos ranked at or near the bottom of the league in several special teams categories in 2021, and Paton said adding to that unit was a "big priority" on the final day of the draft.
Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis, Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell and Samford wide receiver Montrell Washington are just a few of the players who could make an impact for Denver in 2022.
"Turner-Yell's going to be a really good special teamer," Paton said. "And then Washington, we feel he can be a dual returner for us. He's explosive. Just watch him against Florida, you see how explosive he is. It was a major emphasis. I applaud [Special Teams Coordinator] Dwayne Stukes for the work that he and [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator] Mike Mallory put into their evaluations. I think they're both happy today because I do think we improved our special teams."
Washington posted three return touchdowns in 2021 as he earned first-team All-SoCon honors, and Paton said Stukes believes Washington can be a dual returner for Denver as a rookie.
After the Broncos' special teams hurt its chances in more than a few games, the commitment to improve the unit is evident.
If there's another area where the Broncos struggled in 2021, it was against the run. Too often, opposing teams were able to salt away the clock in the four-minute drill. Paton and Hackett — and defensive leaders like Justin Simmons — have spoken about the need to get better in those situations, and they helped the effort on Saturday.
Denver added the 6-foot-6, 316-pound Eyioma Uwazurike and the 6-foot-3, 289-pound Matt Henningsen on Day 3, and Paton said the picks were spurred by the need to improve against the run.
"We weren't good enough in stopping the run last year, so we wanted to get a little more size up front," Paton said. "He along with Matt, we feel it can help in that area, help our depth up front where we can stop the run when we need to. Last year, we couldn't in four-minute."
Add in the free-agent signing of D.J. Jones, and the Broncos should be in better shape in the trenches.
IN THE MIDDLE
The Broncos added another versatile player to their offensive line in the fifth round as they traded up eight spots with the Packers to grab Washington center Luke Wattenberg. As he joins the Broncos, Hackett said he expects to stress positional versatility for the rookie.
"I think his ability to play center is huge," Hackett said. "You always want to have a lot of centers on your team any time you go into a season. I think that's huge. And then his ability to play guard if we need him to definitely helps. And just his ability to run off the ball is something we really liked, and we were really lucky to get him. We had to trade up to get him. We were all very excited."
Wattenberg joins a crowded group of interior lineman that includes Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti and Dalton Risner.
FUTURE DRAFT CAPITAL
Paton picked up a 2023 third-round pick in a deal with the Colts on Friday, and he hinted that more trade downs for 2023 capital could be on the horizon for Saturday. Despite the Broncos' efforts, that didn't happen. Paton and Co. currently hold five picks in 2023: Two third-round picks, a fourth-rounder, a fifth-rounder and a seventh-rounder.
"We wanted to pick up picks for next year," Paton said. "I didn't know how it would go. I'm happy we got a third. Would've liked to maybe get a few more, but it didn't work out. We were working the phones. And once you get past the fourth round, it's hard to get much value. We're happy with the third. We have five next year. We'll have a lot more than that — I guarantee you — by the time the draft comes around."
POSSIBLE ADDITION AT QUARTERBACK
The Broncos have both Josh Johnson and Brett Rypien under contract behind Russell Wilson, but Paton said the Broncos considered adding a quarterback on Day 3 as a developmental player.
"We looked at everything," Paton said. "There were some quarterbacks, really one in particular who was interesting. It just didn't work out."
Five quarterbacks went on Day 3: Bailey Zappe at No. 137, Sam Howell with the first pick of the fifth round and Chris Oladokun, Skylar Thompson and Brock Purdy in the seventh round.
Teams can often carry four quarterbacks into training camp, so the Broncos may not be done adding at the position on their 90-man roster.