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What the Broncos' draft class brings to the team

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Nearly 44 hours after the 2019 NFL Draft began, the Broncos' wheeling and dealing came to a halt Saturday after a fourth draft-weekend trade set up their sixth and final choice.

The deals were part of a record 39 swaps during the draft. For President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway, the flood of trades was about maximizing the value of this year's draft and picking where the prospect pool was deepest.

"A lot of it, I think, is the depth," Elway said Saturday. "This draft, in my opinion, was thick in the middle, and it was not real deep on the back end. So, therefore, when you have that, you kind of run out of players that you really, really like, and if there are some that you really like, you try to move around to get them."

From start to finish, Elway did that. Here's how the Broncos' draft class will fit.


T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant? Over the last few months, a debate raged over the two talented Hawkeyes tight ends, both of whom went off the board in the first 20 picks Thursday.

But a common theme emerged from conversations with people who had paid close attention to Big Ten and Iowa football in recent years: Hockenson might be a better overall tight end right away, but in two or three years, Fant might possess the upper hand as he grows to reach his potential.

The Broncos have invested in the tight end room in recent years, selecting Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 drafts, respectively. But none of them bring the skill set that Fant offers, particularly with 4.5 speed that would have put him in the middle of the pack of this year's wide-receiver crop at the Combine.

"We just thought that what he brings to us in that situation, he can play three downs for us," Elway said. "Ultimately, you know he really can run. To have a guy that big and that size and really stretch the field, it really helps us."

Those wide receivers who ran in Indianapolis weighed an average of 205 pounds. Fant is 44 pounds heavier. Since 2013, the only tight end at the Combine with a better 40-yard dash time was Mississippi's Evan Engram, who ran a 4.42-second 40 in 2017. Engram, however, weighed 234 pounds and is a "joker" tight end -- effectively a large wide receiver -- in the New York Giants' offense. Fant is 15 pounds heavier, and fits the physical template of a true tight end. While Fant can operate in space and move around as a "move" tight end, he can also block, even though he wasn't asked to do it as often as Hockenson at Iowa.

"He's a competitive blocker also, which is part of his job description being a tight end," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "We don't feel that he's just a 'move' tight end or an off-the-ball tight end. He can play on the line of scrimmage, also."


Risner dominated at Kansas State, allowing just one sack in four seasons as a starter -- three at right tackle and one at center. His power, tenacity, quickness and ability to deliver blocks at the second level should translate to any spot on the offensive line. That versatility helped make him the Broncos' pick. He is a top candidate to work at guard, and if Ron Leary is healthy at left guard, the Broncos should have two powerful flanks to Connor McGovern as he settles in at center.

A student of the game, Risner cites Giants tackle Nate Solder and two retired players -- former Colts and Packers center Jeff Saturday and longtime Browns left tackle Joe Thomas -- as players he's studied.

But now, his focus is on learning more about his teammates. He already knows some of them well. In high school, Risner commuted 79 miles from his northeast Colorado hometown of Wiggins to train at the gym owned by former Broncos offensive lineman Matt McChesney, where he worked alongside Sam Jones, then at Highlands Ranch High School. Risner has also gotten to know Connor McGovern. Garett Bolles came to his draft party on Friday and even helped clean up, Risner noted.

"I'm about to come play for the Denver Broncos, so I'm going to start watching film on Connor McGovern. I'm going to start watching film on Garett, Ron Leary, Ja'Wuan [James], Sam. I want to see what these guys do," Risner said. "I'm not trying to be someone for a different team. I'm with the Broncos and I want to see how I can best help the guys on this offensive line."


If all goes well, someday Lock will assume the starting quarterback job. The open-ended timetable includes some factors within Lock's control. Those include improving his short-to-intermediate accuracy, absorbing the Broncos scheme and speeding up his decision-making as he adjusts to the pace of the NFL.

Yet some factors are out of Lock's hands. For starters, the Broncos need to nurture consistent philosophy and coaching on offense over the years, a factor Elway cited last week. And then there is the presence of Joe Flacco, who remains the clear starter.

If Flacco flourishes and recaptures his early-2010s form, it's possible that Lock could wait years for his shot, similar to how Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre from 2005-07 in Green Bay. But if Flacco suffers an injury and misses games -- which has happened twice in the last four seasons -- Lock could start this year if he can wrest the No. 2 gig from Kevin Hogan.

So if Lock needs to be ready, his 2018 work will help him. Lock's preparation to be a pro accelerated last year, when former Cowboys assistant coach Derek Dooley arrived in Missouri as the Tigers' offensive coordinator. Lock's accuracy improved; in his final seven games at Mizzou, he completed 67.3 percent of his passes. But the most important thing Lock said he learned was how to manage games under pressure.

"I got caught in some bad spots; I put the ball on the ground a couple of times," he said. "But managing games and getting into fourth-quarter games and getting us out of it [was important]."

Mizzou played five one-score games last year after seeing just two in 2017. The Tigers went 2-3; in one of the losses, at South Carolina, Lock led what appeared to be a game-winning field-goal drive before the Gamecocks responded.

"My sophomore and junior year, with the style of offense we ran, we were going to blow you out," Lock said. "We were going to run by you; we were going to score a thousand points, or you're going to have this formula to beat us and we're going to have a tough time putting points on the board. So we didn't end up in a lot of fourth-quarter games, [just] against Kentucky and Arkansas in my junior year.

"This year, we scored 14 points before the fourth quarter against Kentucky. It was a totally different style of ball, and I was happy I had the chance to come back, experience and be a part of [it]."


Fangio's scheme demands versatility from his defensive linemen, with each possessing the ability to play all three spots up front in base formations, along with one of the two defensive-tackle spots in pass-rush sub packages. Ohio State moved Jones around, so this is nothing new to him.

"That's not compared to the NFL, of course. But I have experience doing it," Jones said. "I played zero [technique], I played five [technique], and the majority of my career I played three-tech. So I'm very comfortable doing whatever [Fangio] needs me to do."

But for each player, there is a primary role. For Jones, that initial responsibility will be as a sub-package pass rusher.

"I think initially he's best suited to play in our nickel as a tackle," Fangio said. "But the techniques in there are very similar to our base package also. He'll just be thrown in the mix with the other guys and let the competition play itself out."

Last season, Jones racked up 52 total quarterback pressures, according to the numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus. Among all FBS interior defensive linemen, only No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams had more (55), with Jones ranking just above two first-round selections: Notre Dame's Jerry Tillery (48) and Clemson's Christian Wilkins (47). But Jones was an every-down player and a solid run defender. He might start his NFL career with a focus on pass rushing, but he eventually projects as a player who will contribute regardless of game situation, down and distance.

"I feel like I have the label of being just a pass-rush specialist. You know, I've played the run. I've done a good job playing the run," Jones said. "I think because I've done so good at playing the pass, my run game is overlooked."


Speed is the name of Hollins' game. Just one edge rusher at the Scouting Combine in March ran the 40-yard dash in a faster time than Hollins -- Montez Sweat, who went to Washington with the No. 26 pick in the first round. So if he works at outside linebacker, he possesses elite straight-line speed. The same is true if he moves to inside linebacker; only three prospects at that position had a better Combine 40-yard dash time, and none of them weighed more than 237 pounds -- 11 pounds below Hollins' Combine weight.

Hollins offers the versatility to play inside or outside linebacker. At Oregon, he did both -- and saw some work as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. But he needs time and refinement.

"He's a good athlete. He's got good speed. He's got length and size. So he's a guy that we're hoping that we can develop," Fangio said. "He's not a finished product yet, by any means. We're hoping that he's a guy that we can develop into a productive player in the NFL.

"No guarantees, but he's a guy that's a good clump of clay, and hopefully we can mold something out of it."

Hollins already knows he has work to do -- particularly in lowering his pad level.

"Sometimes I get away from staying low and being fundamentally sound because I learn towards my athletic ability and stuff like that," Hollins said. "But I know that's not going to work at the pro level. That would be it right there.

"I can really get on that mentally and physically, just to become more flexible, bend more and stuff like that while I do drills and while I run. [That can] really help me, so I won't have that issue in the pros."


Denver's decision to trade up for Winfree showed the degree to which the team valued adding him. While he doesn't have the raw straight-line speed and overall statistical production of some other receivers in the draft class, his ability to gain separation through his cuts and changes of direction gives him a chance at long-term success.

In the short term, Winfree will find himself in a fight for a roster spot behind Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and Emmanuel Sanders as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. Winfree's skill set is similar to that of Tim Patrick, who had some flashes of brilliance in the second half of the 2019 season as he saw more work in the wake of Sanders' injury and the trade of Demaryius Thomas to Houston.

Offensive repetitions might be tough to find for Winfree, whose quest to make the roster as a rookie will likely hinge on his special-teams prowess.

"One of the main things I'm going to have to be a force on is special teams," Winfree said. "Being a late-round pick, you have to make the 53 before you can even be a force on offense. To make that 53, you've got to be able to contribute on special teams -- any way possible."

"They just see me as an all-around receiver. [Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzanni asked me if I know [anything] about the roster. I do. I do my research. He knows that I can be a real contributing force in this offense. But one of the main things I'm going to have to be a force on is special teams. Being a late-round pick, you have to make the 53 before you can even be a force on offense. To make that 53, you've got to be able to contribute on special teams -- any way possible."

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