The 2019 NFL Draft is a wrap and the Denver Broncos added six players to their roster they hope can make various levels of impact. After each draft, analysts will look at the class and grade what a team did.
There are some who shout from the rooftops “you can’t grade a draft class until they start playing!” While that may be true in a certain sense, as nobody knows what the future holds for these prospects, you most certainly can grade a draft based on where players were taken compared to where they were rated before the draft.
It’s time for me to break out the red pen and grade what the Broncos have done. Overall, this team had one of the best drafts in the entire league – so expect the grades to be kind. After all, the Broncos did get four of my top 50 players in this draft in the first three rounds. The picks after that are pretty good, too.
Here’s a look at the picks the Broncos made in the 2019 NFL Draft, with a letter grade attached.
Noah Fant | TE | Iowa (Round 1, No. 20 overall)
The Broncos got much-needed help at the tight end position when they selected Noah Fant out of Iowa. New starting quarterback Joe Flacco has a long history of going to the tight end early and often, so the Broncos knew they had to improve the talent at the position.
Instead of making a pick at No. 10 overall, the Broncos moved back 10 spots and added Fant.
Fant is known as an “F” tight end. Unlike your traditional “Y” tight ends, an F is primarily a super-sized receiver on the field, whereas Y’s are in-line blockers and decent receivers. Fant is a weapon, and he’s quite dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Fant believes a tight end can be an eraser for the quarterback. “It means that if the quarterback misses any type of read or is struggling or anything and needs to bail out, he gets it to the tight end. That’s where I come into the factor, trying to be a dynamic tight end where maybe those mistakes can turn into touchdowns. That’s something that’s very important and something that I hopefully look to do for the Denver Broncos.”
I call Fant a “seam ripper” because of his ability to work the deep middle of the field. He can get by defenders in a hurry and should make for an interesting deep target for a big armed quarterback like Flacco.
The Broncos needed more weapons on offense and they got one of the most dangerous ones in the 2019 NFL Draft with Fant.
Dalton Risner | OL | Kansas State (Round 2, No. 41)
The Broncos were given a gift in the second round. I thought there was little chance that Kansas State right tackle Dalton Risner would be on the board when the Broncos selected at No. 41 overall. But he was available and the Broncos were quick to scoop him up.
He’s likely to be a starter for the Broncos when the season opens up. Finding a spot for him in the starting lineup will likely require moving him inside to guard. In terms of aggression, I believe Risner is the closest thing we have to last year’s top guard Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis Colts, No. 6 overall pick). The Wiggins, Colo. product is country strong and certainly brings attitude to the field every time he plays.
Risner is ready for the move to guard. “I worked guard through all five years at Kansas State. I also played right tackle. With my size and the type of player that I am, playing guard is a good position for me. I think it’s going to work out really good. If I get down there and they say they need me at tackle, I’ll play tackle.”
The talented and aggressive rookie will begin his pro career at guard, but he can move out to tackle if need be. I had him graded as a right tackle, and one of the best at the position in this draft class.
Risner is strong and understands how to manipulate angles to win. He started 13 games at center and 37 games at right tackle for the Wildcats, so experience is not a question mark whatsoever.
Guard or tackle, I’m just glad Risner is with the Broncos.
Drew Lock | QB | Missouri (Round 2, No. 42)
John Elway has liked Drew Lock for quite some time. Dating back to last football season and even earlier this year at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the connection between the two is well established.
Some thought the Broncos would take Lock in the first round, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the Broncos moved up from pick 52 overall to get No. 42 from the Cincinnati Bengals in order to grab Lock.
This removes almost all the pressure from everyone involved here. The Broncos and Elway don’t have any pressure if Lock does not turn into a quality starter. Lock does not have much pressure on him as a second-round pick, he’ll be seen as a backup and developmental player.
Lock is not a finished product – not even close.
He does have things to work on in order to be the best player he can be in the pros. He needs to improve his footwork first and foremost. This alone would help improve his accuracy when on the run. Lock also mentioned in his introductory press conference that Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello pointed out a problem the young quarterback has when rolling out to his left.
In addition to footwork improvement, Lock needs to make his release point more consistent. He can use alternative arm angles to get rid of the football, which can be a good thing, but Lock does so seemingly randomly at times. Having a more consistent release point will lead to fewer batted passes at the line of scrimmage.
Lock has plenty of skill to be excited about. He has a rocket arm that can stretch the field vertically like few can in the pros. Even if he throws off his back foot, Lock has the arm talent to just flick the ball out there quickly.
He can fit the ball into tight windows, and Lock does not shy away from trying to hit the smallest targets because of his arm strength. That’s a good and a bad thing. He will too often think he can make the impossible throw when perhaps it’s best to check the ball down and keep the chains moving.
Lock has been painted as the quarterback of the future for the Broncos. While that’s very possible, it’s not a guarantee. Lock will get to develop behind Joe Flacco and must show the team he’s good enough for them to pass on a much better quarterback class in 2020 and 2021.
Based on his skill set and where they acquired him, this is a good move for the Broncos.
Dre’Mont Jones | DT | Ohio State (Round 3, No. 71)
Some players have to wait to get the opportunity to prove themselves. That’s exactly what happened with Ohio State Dre’Mont Jones.
He worked as a defensive end for most of his career with the Buckeyes and didn’t have much production. In 2018, Jones moved inside to defensive tackle and put up the best stats of his career.
Jones had 43 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble, five passes defensed and one interception last season. In fact, Jones became the only defensive lineman in Buckeyes history to score two touchdowns (interception return, fumble return) in the same season.
Some in the scouting community compare Jones to former Lions first-round pick Nick Fairley because of his quickness at the snap and ability to penetrate as an interior pass rusher. Jones, weighing in at 282 pounds, can actually get skinny when getting after the quarterback. He will knife through the line with ease and has good reach when the quarterback is near his grasp.
Jones is not your classic run-stuffing defensive tackle. He’s not going to take on double teams and eat up space in the middle of the line. Instead, Jones could at least come in on passing downs and put extra pressure on the quarterback.
The best quarterbacks can slide, climb or escape edge pressure – or just get rid of the ball before a defender can get around the edge. Interior pressure, like what Jones brings to the table, can make even the best quarterbacks seem mortal.
Justin Hollins | EDGE | Oregon (Round 5, No. 156)
The pick of Justin Hollins was one of the more interesting selection the Broncos made in the draft. The first note I have next to Hollins name in my scouting report is “twitchy.”
Hollins is most certainly twitchy when it comes to getting off the line of scrimmage or closing on the ball carrier. That quickness allows him to make plays on the other side of the line as a run defender, but it also greatly helps him when it comes to playing in coverage.
In a way, Hollins reminds me a bit of Shaq Barrett when he came out of Colorado State. Like Barrett, Hollins is a forced-fumble specialist. During the last two years, Hollins had eight forced fumbles and that is incredibly disruptive to opponents.
Hollins used his quickness to get around the edge as a pass rusher and played on the outside in college. Elway thinks Hollins can play inside linebacker, and they’ll certainly give him the chance to do just that.
It will be interesting to see if Hollins makes the transition smoothly and learns better technique (he relied mainly on his length, athleticism and quickness in college) from Vic Fangio.
Juwann Winfree | WR | Colorado (Round 6, No. 187)
I honestly thought Colorado wide receiver Juwann Winfree would be available as a priority free agent after the draft. A high ankle sprain limited him during his final season with the Buffs, but he must’ve impressed the Broncos at their local pro day a couple of weeks ago.
Winfree is incredibly athletic and dangerous with the ball in his hands when healthy. In addition to being used as a receiver, perhaps mainly as a downfield threat, Winfree could also contribute on special teams as a return man.
The Broncos are set at the top of the depth chart with Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders, but behind them a pecking order will need to be established.
DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick should be third and fourth on the depth chart, respectively, but there might be a spot or two left after the top four. Winfree will compete with players like River Cracraft and converted cornerback Brendan Langley to round out the wide receiving corps.
There are some who think Winfree could be this year’s version of Phillip Lindsay. Wouldn’t it be great if that happens?
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