Not one of the Broncos’ draft picks will be a starter this year.
Unless George Paton chooses a quarterback or an inside linebacker in the first round, or major injuries to veterans occur in training camp.
Ostensibly, no new starters (with an exception at one position) is an encouraging sign for a franchise down in the dumps of football for four agonizing losing seasons.
The 22-25 Broncos’ starters are established. All those veterans previously started in Denver or elsewhere.
But the Broncos certainly need rookies for depth at running back, tight end, offensive guard, offensive tackle, center, defensive end, nose tackle, inside and outside linebackers, cornerback and safety.
If the Broncos don’t explode their draft to acquire a higher pick for a quarterback, they can utilize their current nine picks (including three in the final round) to fill backup apertures.
In his first, and only, pre-draft media conference Thursday, Paton did indicate that the Broncos would choose an offensive tackle or guard in the first thee rounds, although he said quality linemen would be available in the fourth-sixth round.
It was the G-Man’s only revelation about potential positions other than quarterback. He also said that the draft philosophy of his previous team, the Vikings, was to end up with 10 or more picks because “the more darts you have’’ the more chances of “hitting targets.’’
No matter what happens to the Broncos early, we certainly can presume that Paton will trade back at least a couple of times to accumulate one or two more selections. His predecessor, John Elway, managed 10 picks in 2018 — although only five remain on the roster — and 10 more last year, with everyone still with the team.
A forecast today of the 2021 offensive starters, depending on the set, would include: running back Melvin Gordon, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler, tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, tackles Garett Bolles and Ju’Wuan James, guards Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow, center Lloyd Cushenberry III and, yes, quarterback Drew Lock.
The defensive starters would be ends Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones, nose tackle Mike Purcell, edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, inside backers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell, cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan and Ronald Darby and safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson.
On offense Lock is the most vulnerable depending on what the Broncos do and the competition at QB. Paton didn’t promise Thursday that Drew would be the starter in the opening game. Paton noted that James, who opted out of 2020 after being injured most of 2019, has appeared regularly at Broncos headquarters and will be the starter at right tackle.
On defense Josey Jewell seems to be the only starter who would be pushed if the Broncos draft Penn State’s Micah Parsons or Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the top 20. Otherwise, Jewell is safe. If the Broncos pick a cornerback in the first or second round, the rookie likely will play as a sixth man behind Michael Ojemudia.
Of the potential 259 picks in this year’s draft, 250 players have been interviewed by the Broncos on Zoom conference calls, Paton said. He believes that those hour-long conversations were an advantage over the considerably fewer 15-minute meetings before at NFL Combines, which he referred to as “speed dating.’’
The Broncos are running light in the offensive line with only 11, at tight end with four and, also, four inexperienced running backs behind Gordon and Royce Freeman. They certainly will draft at least five offensive players.
Paton definitely must reach out for a safety, two linebackers and possibly a defensive lineman (although the group is the weakest in quite a while).
I like tackles Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg or BYU’s Brady Christensen in the fourth round, either safety Trevon Moehrig of TCU or Jevon Holland of Oregon in the second round, Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell in the third, tight end Tommy Tremble of Notre Dame in the fifth, inside linebacker K.J. Britt of Auburn in the sixth and Stanford center Drew Dalman, Florida State outside linebacker Janarius Robinson and Seminoles defensive tackle Marvin Wilson in the seventh round.
Yet, if the Broncos were to trade up for a quarterback, their draft schematic next week will be revised radically.