The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Denver Broncos 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (9)
Round 2 (40)
Round 3 (71)
Round 4 (114)
Round 5 (152)
Round 6 (191)
Round 7 (237)
Round 7 (239)
Round 7 (253)
Denver Broncos Offense
By Rich Hribar
After a 4-1 record with Drew Lock under center to close 2019, Denver gave Lock the opportunity in 2020 to prove that he can be the future of the franchise under center. The Broncos went 4-9 in Lock’s 13 starts while Lock’s completion rate (57.3%), touchdown rate (3.6%), and interception rate (3.4%) were all worse in his second season than his small sample as a rookie.
Lock’s adjusted completion percentage of 68.7% was the lowest in the league among all 29 quarterbacks to play at least 50% of the team snaps in 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Per Next Gen Stats, Lock’s -3.9% completion rate below expected rate was higher than only Carson Wentz and Dwayne Haskins last season.
Factoring in the time that both Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien also played, the Denver quarterbacks combined for a 68.8% catchable target rate, the lowest rate in the league.
Denver could give Lock another full season to prove himself, but since Lock was a second-round pick in 2019 and not a top-10 selection, Denver is not really on the hook contractually to dig in and force the issue with him if they are presented an opportunity to add a quarterback at pick No. 9 should a top passer fall. Lock is under contract for the next two seasons, but only carries cap hits of $1.9M and $2.2M. Even if a top passer is unavailable in the first round, Denver could still add a secondary tier passer to compete with Lock this season or even a veteran after the draft.
Driskel’s contract will expire after this season while the team holds restricted rights on Rypien after 2021.
Denver was 25th in the expected points added via rushing in 2020 while they had a 43% success rate on rushing plays, which was tied for the lowest rate in the league.
Melvin Gordon turned 247 touches into 1,144 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos, but had a wide range of splits when sharing the backfield or not. In seven games where Phillip Lindsay missed or exited early, Gordon averaged 20.1 touches as opposed to 13.3 touches with Lindsay active. Gordon will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Lindsay was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason while Denver added Mike Boone on a two-year contract. Boone has flashed for 5.3 yards per carry in the NFL, but only has a 71-carry sample playing third wheel in Minnesota over his rookie contract.
Boone and Damarea Crockett are the only backs here signed beyond this season while Denver has exclusive free agent rights on both Levante Bellamy and Jeremy Cox.
Denver has enough at the position for 2021 to not force a running back selection, but does not have a long-term back on the roster. Jeudy received the second-most targets among all rookie wideouts last year (113) while he led the team in receiving yards (856) and yards per catch (16.5).
From a depth perspective, Denver has one of the deepest pools of young talent at wide receiver if they can find a passer to accurately get them the football. In 2020, just 63.7% of the Denver wide receiver targets were deemed catchable per Pro Football Focus, the lowest rate in the league.
Last season, Denver added to their wide receiving unit by selecting Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler at picks 15 and 46 overall.
Courtland Sutton was lost for the season in Week 2 to an ACL injury. Sutton has shown Kenny Golladay-like upside as a boundary playmaker. He enters the final season of his rookie contract with some question marks, but still a lot of upside. In 2019, Sutton was fourth among all wideouts in yards per team passing attempt (2.21) playing with three quarterbacks.
Both DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick are also in the final seasons of their rookie contracts. Patrick was a bright spot last season, catching 51-of-79 targets for 742 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. Patrick was an older prospect that will turn 28 years old during the season, but is arguably one the league’s best WR4 options entering the season.
Denver does not have an immediate need here, but with so many expiring contracts and the likelihood that Denver will not allocate extensions to both Sutton and Patrick, Denver should still add another rookie contract to the fold here as depth on day three.
Denver also is stocked with young talent at tight end. 2019 first-round draft pick Noah Fant jumped from 2.5 catches for 35.1 yards per game as a rookie up to 4.1 receptions for 44.9 yards per game in his second season as he led the team with 62 receptions in 2020.
Albert Okwuegbunam only appeared in four games as a rookie, but he did catch 11 passes in those games while receiving five end zone targets in that small sample.
Both top tight ends have multiple seasons remaining on their rookie deals while both Andrew Beck and Austin Fort will be restricted free agents after the season.
LT: Garett Bolles/Calvin Anderson
LG: Dalton Risner/Austin Schlottmann
C: Lloyd Cushenberry/Patrick Morris
RG: Graham Glasgow/Netane Muti
RT: Ja’Wuan James/ Quinn Bailey
Denver had a plethora of struggles across the offensive line a year ago. First, they entered the season with their left guard, center, and right guard all having zero experience playing together as new additions last offseason. To compound matters, starters Graham Glasgow (three games) and Garrett Bolles (one game) missed time in-season while starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out for the season due to COVID concerns.
Third-round rookie Lloyd Cushenberry did start all 16 games at center, but had a rough time, coming out of the season as the 54th graded center out of 55 players per Pro Football Focus. Cushenberry was credited for 29 pressures allowed, the fourth-most of all centers in the league.
Through all of the 2020 struggles, Denver still does have their complete offensive line in order and under contract for multiple seasons. All five projected starters are locked up through at least the 2022 season with Bolles (2024), Glasgow (2023), and Cushenberry (2023) signed beyond. Staying healthy and gaining experience together, Denver’s offensive line should be better in 2021, but adding depth here is always an option.
Denver Broncos Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Dre’Mont Jones developed in his second year as a third-round pick. Jones played 51.5% of the defensive snaps and added pass rush ability as a smaller interior lineman. Jone shad a top-30 pressure rate among interior defenders, per Sports Info Solutions, and added 11 quarterback hits with seven tackles for loss. Shelby Harris was also a top interior pass rusher with a top-20 pressure rate and 11 quarterback hits of his own.
Denver still ranked 29th in ESPN’s Run Block Win Rate as a team so in an attempt to sure up the run defense, the Broncos signed Shamar Stephen. Stephen is more of a space sucker than an impact player in the middle but that’s a role the Broncos didn’t really have with many sub-300-pound interior defenders.
The rest of the line is still fairly deep with pass rush potential, such as DeShawn Williams, who made his way onto the field in the regular season for the first time since 2016 after years of bouncing around practice squads. The 28-year-old played 40% of the snaps and ranked 26th in pressure rate among defensive tackles in 2020.
Von Miller missed all of last season with a dislocated ankle tendon, an injury suffered in the lead-up to Week 1. That derailed a Broncos pass rush that wasn’t particularly deep without the top option. Denver ranked 24th in Pass Rush Win rate as a team, though 17th in pressure rate per SIS.
Bradley Chubb was the lone producer as he ranked ninth among edge rushers in pressure rate. Malik Reed played 72% of the defensive snaps, but ranked 70th among edge rushers in pressure rate.
There is hope around the organization that Miller returns to form, but he just turned 32 years old and there was some discussion over if his 2021 option would be picked up by the team. With little depth and a murky future at the position, it would not be surprising to see the Broncos attack and edge rusher on Day 2 when the talent and need more closely align.
The most surprising part of the 2020 Denver defense might have been what they got out of the off-bball linebackers. Alexander Johnson played 97.2% of the defensive snaps and Josey Jewell played 92.9%. Jewell got his first run as a full-time starter after being a fourth-round pick in 2018. Johnson was 16th among linebackers in the rate of tackles that were short of a first down. Jewell ranked 22nd.
In coverage, Johnson was 22nd in yards allowed per target among 95 linebackers with at least 10 charted targets in coverage, per SIS. Jewell ranked 28th.
There’s not much depth behind those two and few teams relied on having multiple linebackers on the field more than the Broncos. Denver had the ninth-highest rate of nickel personnel (65%) and spent around 25% of the defensive snaps in base personnel. Both Johnson and Jewell are also in the final years of their contracts.
Denver completely reworked its cornerback depth chart with a few moves in free agency. The first one was to bring in Ronald Darby. Darby had a bit of a bounce-back season with Washington after years of inconsistency with the Eagles. The biggest addition came almost by accident when the Chicago Bears released Kyle Fuller and he reunited with Vic Fangio about 15 minutes later. Fuller was 49th among cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
Those two add to returning talent that was already impressive last season. Bryce Callahan, who reunited with Fangio after playing with him in Chicago, ranked third in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. He’s been one of the league’s best slot corners over multiple seasons. Undrafted rookie Essag Bassey played 35% of the snaps and ranked 12th in AYA/CS. 2020 third-round pick Michael Ojemudia played nearly 80% of the defensive snaps, but struggled as rookie corners typically do.
There were questions surrounding the returns of both Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, but both will return. Simmons got a long-term contract and Jackson re-signed for a one-year deal. Simmons played 100% of the defensive snaps last season and Jackson played 99.5%.
Like the edge and linebacker positions, that’s great when they’re both on the field, but there is not much depth behind them. With Jackson’s age and contract, adding another safety could (and possibly should) be in the cards.