With the Denver Broncos now on a three-game winning streak and fans getting whiplash from the 'tank for a top pick' to 'playoffs!”' shift, the focus on the future of the team has been replaced by the fans enjoying the present and a competent and competitive football team in the Mile High City.
Finally, and thank goodness.
The Broncos have a shot to continue their winning ways all the way into the playoffs this season. While the games matter more for the coaches and the players, the front office must continue to look ahead and ponder what moves the Broncos must make in order to continue to improve and build on the momentum Sean Payton has brought to the team.
Denver is currently slated to pick in the first round for the first time since 2021, when George Paton selected All-Pro cornerback Patrick Surtain II. The NFL draft in April is still a long way away, and many moves will dictate which direction the Broncos should go in building the roster.
Just like the front office, it’s never too early to start pondering what position Denver may take early in 2024.
Recently, on the Pro Football Focus’ NFL Stock Exchange Podcast, host Trevor Sikkema and guest Brad Spielberger dove into the current construction of the Broncos’ roster and what positions make sense to target in the upcoming draft.
Sikkema: “It felt like a month and a half ago this was the worst team ever… Russell Wilson’s contract, the receivers are bad, the defense isn’t what we thought it was going to be and now… eh? It’s not too shabby. That roster is not looking too bad. So what is the outlook for this team? Where do you see the potential team needs now that the team has played a little better?”
Spielberger: “It’s interesting on both sides of the ball… (cornerback) Demari Mathis was (PFF’s) lowest graded corner through the first eight games of the season. Maybe you go (cornerback). Kareem Jackson might not be there much longer. Justin Simmons was in the trade deadline conversation. Maybe you go (safety)...”
As Sikkema would point out, perhaps Simmons in the trade rumors was directly correlated to Denver losing… but now that the team is winning? Maybe Simmons won’t be shopped to be traded.
Speilberger pivoted to perhaps one of the deepest positions in the 2024 draft class: wide receiver.
Spielberger: “The guys who were the most rumored to get traded… they have been subjected to trade rumors for two years now (in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy). I would love to see Marvin Mims actually get on the football field on offense. I think Sutton and Jeudy, even if they are there in 2024, I don’t see them there in 2025… I think pass catcher or secondary is probably where I would go.”
Despite the recent winning streak, the Broncos still have a ways to go in upgrading the roster and adding talent. After trading away numerous draft selections to acquire Wilson and Payton, the Broncos have devolved into one of the oldest rosters in the NFL.
With the lack of highly drafted, young, cost-controlled players on the roster, Denver has the flexibility to go in a multitude of directions come April. Wide receiver and secondary are on the table, but with uncertainty along the defensive line and the depth at the position, long-term questions at rush linebacker, with Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper set to be on the last year of their contracts next season, and no long-term plan at quarterback behind Wilson, the Broncos can let the board come to them.
Of course, how the Broncos prune their roster before April will be key in determining what positions are the most likely to be targeted in the draft. Wide receivers Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, tackle Garett Bolles, defensive tackle D.J. Jones, and Simmons all have contracts that will likely need to be tweaked for Denver to create cap space.
Some of the names above may be extended and/or restructured, but there is a strong possibility that many of these players will not be Broncos come the start of the 2024 season.
Furthermore, if the Broncos falter down the stretch and Wilson struggles, perhaps the priorities in the draft will shift. The Broncos could be looking for a quarterback regardless, but if they make the brazen move to release Wilson, perhaps the team doesn't target such immediate 'plug and play' positions such as wide receiver and cornerback, and instead opt for longer developing positions on the trenches.
Typically, wide receivers and cornerbacks are really good out of the gate in the NFL if they're going to be anything worthwhile in the league. Offensive tackles, edge rushers, and defensive tackles, on the other hand, tend to take multiple years in the league before settling at the level of play they will show for the majority of their career, especially the trench players who are not top-5 slam-dunk prospects.
Wide receiver and secondary are certainly strong candidates for the Broncos’ largest needs as the team currently stands. However, where the team will be selecting come April and what the roster looks like after free agency will go a long way in determining which specific prospects Broncos Country should get familiar with the first-round options in 2024.
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