The Broncos’ closest ally in the NFL draft should be the Cardinals.
If the Denver Broncos prefer to select one of the top three wide receivers, they must move from their position at 15 to the Cardinals’ spot at No. 8. Then John Elway could pick from among Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III. The Broncos Boss would be assured of getting one.
The Broncos can hope that Jeudy, Lamb or Ruggs falls to 15, but hope cannot be strategy. Why not make certain?
Elway obviously is extremely intrigued by the trio. The Broncos held formal interviews with each at the NFL combine, and they would have summoned them to Dove Valley if the league hadn’t forbidden prospect visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But it is known that the Broncos have held multiple video conferences with Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs. The league allows personal computer-and-call connection contacts between coaches, administrators and scouts with the players up to three times a week, with an hour maximum during every interaction. The sides can discuss schemes, philosophies and personal information.
The Broncos have created more communication than they would have if the team attended the receivers’ Pro Days and brought them to Denver headquarters.
Curiously, only the Cardinals and the Bills interviewed all three at the combine, although a variety of teams, including the Packers and the Patriots, met with one. Surely, many of the other teams have reached out to Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs during the stay-at-home investigations.
That trio is anticipated to be gone by the time the Broncos draft April 23. The opening round’s early picks will be top-heavy with quarterbacks (Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert), offensive tackles, defensive linemen/linebackers and a cornerback.
Then, wide receivers will go, possibly three in a row, to the Jets at 11, the Raiders at 12 and the 49ers at 13, or maybe to the Bucs, for Tom Brady, at 14. The Broncos would be shut out.
Overall, this could be the best wide receivers corps since 2014 when five were selected in the first round, a dozen through two rounds and 34 in the entire draft.
In the Broncos history, a first-round wide receiver has not been a priority. Elway hasn’t drafted one. He did choose Courtland Sutton in the 2018 second round. The last first-rounder was Demaryius Thomas, who was grabbed by Josh McDaniels at 22 in 2010. The only other first-round wide receivers were Ricky Nattiel (1987), Broncos bust Marcus Nash (1998) and Ashley Lelie (2002).
The best of the bunch, other than D.T., were rookie and veteran free agents and lower draft choices — Rod Smith, Emmanuel Sanders, Ed McCaffrey, Brandon Marshall and Rick Upchurch.
Even with Elway and Peyton Manning at quarterback for 20 seasons, the Broncos weren’t blessed with a stable of wide receivers.
It would be appropriate for Elway to pair Sutton with another eventual Pro Bowl aspirant.
Jeudy and Ruggs, from Alabama, and Lamb, of Oklahoma, are candidates. Yet, Elway never has been a true enthusiast of players from either school. As I’ve pointed out, the Exec VP of football operations never drafted a Crimson Tide player in nine seasons, and he has picked only three Sooners — two in his first year (Quinton Carter and Jeremy Beal) and a third in the final round of 2014 (Corey Nelson). They combined to start 16 games.
But Elway could break the matrix in this draft.
Jeudy, only 20, produced 24 touchdowns in his last 28 college games. The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the combine, Lamb (6-1½, 198) 4.50 and Ruggs (5-11, 188) a wow-em 4.27.
The Cardinals undeniably would have been all over one of the three before trading with the Texans for DeAndre Hopkins, one of the game’s premier receivers, and they still possess Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona wants Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who might still be available at 15.
The Broncos could trade their spot and the 46th selection to the Cardinals, who surrendered their second-rounder in the Hopkins deal, for No. 8 overall and another pick in the fourth round. Then they could deal with their three third-round picks to get back into the second round.
And the Cardinals would become the Broncos’ BFF.