The Denver Broncos have a stacked roster but haven’t put together a playoff season since winning Super Bowl 50. Vic Fangio is in his third year as the team’s head coach and hasn’t even produced an 8-8 season yet. Expectations for Fangio and Drew Lock are playoffs or bust this year. Failure to capitalize on their nine draft selections and produce a satisfying campaign could result in pink slips for Fangio’s staff and their young quarterback.
Denver added cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in the offseason while successfully reaching a four-year extension with Justin Simmons. The Broncos plan on battling Kansas City for the AFC West division title this season, but quarterback play could crush Denver’s championship aspirations.
With Lock facing serious questions, the Broncos could contemplate drafting a quarterback with the ninth overall pick.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Round 1 (No. 9): Micah Parsons, LB Penn St.
The Broncos got reliable production out of middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson over the past two years. However, neither starter is very dynamic. On the other hand, Parsons is a playmaker that amassed 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, and four forced fumbles during his sophomore year at Penn St. He’s by far the best linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft.
At 6-3, 246 lbs., Parsons is an athletic monster. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day, and that speed easily translates to his game in the form of sideline-to-sideline range. Parsons is twitchy and springs through gaps for violent tackles. However, his true versatility comes as a blitzer and edge rusher. Imagine Bradley Chubb, Von Miller, and Parsons all charging the quarterback together.
While Parsons gains depth quickly in coverage, we don’t have too much tape of his capabilities in that area. He’ll rely purely on his athleticism to survive in man coverage initially before developing more advanced techniques. Parsons has the instincts and range to succeed in zone coverage.
I would’ve taken Justin Fields in a heartbeat if he fell to nine. Unfortunately, the former Buckeye and Trey Lance both heard their names called in the first eight selections. Mac Jones was still on the board, but there’s so much uncertainty surrounding his ceiling and floor as a prospect. Parsons provides a guaranteed upgrade, whereas Jones is just another gamble.
Ideal pick: Justin Fields, QB Ohio St. OR Trey Lance, QB North Dakota St.
Round 2 (No. 40): Dillon Radunz, OT North Dakota St.
Denver has options at right tackle. The team signed Ja’Wuan James to a four-year deal in 2019, but he missed most of that season with an injury and opted out last year. There’s an out in James’ contract after 2021 that would cost the Broncos roughly six million in dead cap but save them from paying James $14 million in 2022.
James has only played in at least nine games three times despite entering the NFL in 2014. The Broncos should accept that they invested poorly and look for his replacement. Radunz played with Trey Lance in the FCS instead of the FBS, so the high-level competition might initially surprise him. Denver could slowly acclimate Radunz to the pro game by having him split time with James early in the year.
Ideal pick: Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
Round 3 (No. 71): Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB Syracuse
The Broncos spent a lot of money on their secondary this offseason. Fangio brought in Darby on a three-year deal and reunited with Fuller on a one-year contract. Denver already has Bryce Callahan under contract and drafted Michael Ojemudia in the third-round last year. Why add Melifonwu to the mix? Well, Callahan and Fuller are free agents next year, and they’ll command lucrative deals.
Drafting Melifonwu heads off future cornerback depth issues for Denver while gift-wrapping a talented secondary another contributor. The Syracuse product is 6-2 with 32-inch arms and weighs 205 lbs. He’s an athletic star that recorded three interceptions and 13 passes defensed over the last two years.
Melifonwu excelled at taking away underneath routes at Syracuse, but his off-man coverage raised some concerns. The Broncos could get the most out of Melifonwu by using him in press and zone coverages.
There’s a good chance Melifonwu doesn’t even get out of the second-round.
Ideal pick: Melifonwu
Round 4 (No. 114): Alim McNeill, IDL N.C. State
McNeill projects as a nose tackle in the NFL. The squat 6-1, 317 lb. lineman had consistent production over the past three years, totaling 77 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and ten sacks. While that sack production jumps out compared to how other nose tackle prospects in this class performed, analysts don’t expect McNeill to contribute as a pass rusher in the NFL.
I hold hope for McNeill’s sack production translating, but his lack of length and a go-to move could hinder the N.C. State product. McNeill plays with an ideal pad level and fires off the snap. He has powerful hands and holds his ground against double teams. His redirection skills add extra value in pursuit.
The Broncos have several options at nose tackle on their roster. DeShawn Williams got significant starting time last year when Mike Purcell went on IR. Denver also reached a deal with defensive tackle Shamar Stephen this offseason. McNeill doesn’t immediately separate himself from the pack, but he adds youth to an aging defensive front.
Ideal pick: Deonte Brown, IOL Alabama
Round 5 (No. 152): Elerson Smith, EDGE Northern Iowa
Smith built himself into an NFL prospect at UNI. After a decent 2018 campaign, Smith totaled 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, and five forced fumbles in his final collegiate season. At Northern Iowa’s pro day, measurements had Smith at 6-6, 262 lbs. He ran a 4.69 40-yard dash, jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical, and leaped 127 inches in the broad.
Smith’s pro day and stint at the Senior Bowl earlier this year sold teams on his athletic talent. However, the UNI standout doesn’t have much muscle in his lower half and could get flattened by offensive linemen. Smith must fill out his frame and add more muscle to hold his ground at the point of attack. He’s an athletic project the Broncos can rotate in for snaps.
Ideal pick: Shaun Wade, CB/S Ohio St.
Round 6 (No. 191): Jack Anderson, IOL Texas Tech
Anderson has good size for a guard. According to Texas Tech’s pro day numbers, he’s 6-5 and weighs 314 lbs. Anderson has sub-32-inch arms, which could become a limiting factor against NFL competition. He can play out of control sometimes and lacks redirection skills due to below-average athleticism.
Despite his athletic ceiling, Anderson could enter the NFL as a high-end backup with the chance to see starting time because of injuries. He’s a hard worker that loves battling with defenders. Anderson has strong hands and a sturdy anchor, which make him a well-rounded blocker. Sometimes he gets over-aggressive, which creates openings for defenders.
Ideal pick: Javian Hawkins, RB Louisville
Round 7 (No. 237): Trevon Grimes, WR Florida
Grimes is a massive wide receiver that attracts teams with his physical profile more than his collegiate production. The former Gator only had one season with over 500 yards during his college career. However, he’s 6-4 and weighs 220 lbs. He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at Florida’s pro day and jumped 35 inches in the vertical.
While Grimes isn’t explosive, he has soft, plucky hands and rumbles after the catch. He also uses that 220 lb. frame as an effective blocking machine. Unfortunately, Grimes has a slow play speed and struggles to create separation. He must take full advantage of his frame in vertical and jump-ball scenarios if he wants to stick with the Broncos.
Ideal pick: Josh Ball, OT Marshall
Round 7 (No. 239): Feleipe Franks, QB Arkansas
Franks posted some impressive numbers at Arkansas’ pro day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and measured in at 6-7, 234 lbs. Franks completed 68.5% of his passes (by far a career-high) for 2,107 yards, 17 touchdowns, and four interceptions in 2021. He’s got a cannon for an arm and puts good touch on his deep throws.
Unfortunately, Franks stares down targets and doesn’t show great anticipation. His pocket presence needs to improve, and the Florida transfer needs to get through his progressions quicker.
Overall, Franks is a nice third quarterback option or practice squad player with the physical traits to eventually carve out a role in the NFL. The Broncos already have several NFL-caliber backup quarterbacks, but Franks offers an intriguing ceiling.
Ideal pick: Franks
Round 7 (No. 253): Jamar Watson, EDGE Kentucky
Watson is a developmental Day 3 prospect that might never see the field during a regular season game. However, the 241 lb. edge rusher produced 76 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles over his final 23 appearances with the Wildcats. That’s solid production against SEC competition.
Watson lined up across from the slot several times at Kentucky. That makes him a good value selection if he can continue flexing out like that in the NFL.
According to draftscout.com, Watson registered sub-33-inch arms at Kentucky’s pro day.
Ideal pick: Tony Poljan, TE Virginia