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How a franchise QB could fall into the Broncos lap on draft day

(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

This offseason, the Broncos have tried to upgrade at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, they’ve failed to do so, watching as other teams make bold moves.

George Paton saw the Rams outbid him for Matthew Stafford. Denver’s new general manager wasn’t in on Carson Wentz, who went to the Colts. And he missed out on Andy Dalton, Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Darnold and other quarterbacks looking for a fresh start in a new town.

It wasn’t just veteran QBs that he missed out on, however. Seemingly, the Broncos have been left standing when the music stops during the NFL Draft, as well.

The 49ers jumped from the 12th-overall pick to No. 3, leapfrogging Denver and putting themselves in position to draft a quarterback. And some other team will likely do the same, as the Falcons are actively shopping the fourth-overall selection, looking to grab a signal caller.

Paton has been passive. He hasn’t pushed his chips into the middle of the table. And the organization has been quick to remind Broncos Country that the GM said from the get-go that he wasn’t going to “force it.”

Normally, that strategy would backfire. After all, fortunate favors the bold. Typically.

The Bills traded up to grab Josh Allen. The Chiefs did the same to get Patrick Mahomes.

The Broncos gave Peyton Manning a five-year, $96-million deal despite the fact that he was coming off four neck surgeries and missed an entire season. The Bucs gambled that Tom Brady wasn’t done at the age of 43.

Every once in a while, however, lightning strikes. A team wins the lottery. Lady luck turns her eye toward a franchise.

It happened in the 1984 NBA Draft when the Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie with the No. 2 overall pick. That allowed a guard from North Carolina to fall to the Bulls, who quickly grabbed Michael Jordan with the third selection.

According to some recent mock drafts, the same thing could happen to the Broncos in 2021. Without having to do a single thing, a franchise quarterback could fall into their laps.

How? Peter Schrager’s latest mock draft on NFL.com maps it out.

As expected, he has the Jaguars taking Trevor Lawrence with the first pick. The Jets pick Zach Wilson at No. 2. These choices are essentially set in stone.

The third pick is a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows that the 49ers traded up for a quarterback. They just don’t know which one. Schrager has San Francisco taking Mac Jones, who is now the betting favorite to go off the board at No. 3.

This is where it gets interesting. The Patriots have been the most-active team in the league this offseason, spending in excess of $200 million during free agency. Schrager has their bold moves continuing, with New England trading up to No. 4 and selecting Ohio State quarterback Justin Field.

Four picks. Four quarterbacks. That doesn’t seem good for Denver, with four picks still to go before they select at No. 9 and only one big-time QB left on the board.

The next two teams on the clock picked franchise quarterbacks last year, however. So this time around, they’re adding help for their young signal callers. Schrager has the Bengals adding LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase to give Joe Burrow a new target, while the Dolphins give Tua Tagovailoa some protection with Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater.

The Lions added Jared Goff during the offseason, so they parlay the No. 7 pick into multiple selections, trading down. Schrager projects that the Cardinals move up to select Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, a transcendent talent to give Kyler Murray yet another weapon.

That leaves the Panthers at No. 8. They’ve been connected to nearly every quarterback on the market, much like the Broncos. But they made a move, trading for Darnold. That means they could go in another direction, which is what Schrager projects. He has Carolina taking Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell.

The Broncos are on the clock. What does Paton do?

Not a single defensive player has come off the board. He could add the top cornerback or middle linebacker to Vic Fangio’s talent-laden defense.

But he could also solve the team’s five-year quarterback riddle. Sitting there for him to take is North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, one of the most-intriguing prospects in the draft.

“The QB carousel goes round and round, and it appears Denver still doesn’t have a new one. Lance could go as high as No. 3 or remain available until the middle of Round 1. I think Denver makes a whole lot of sense if he’s available here.”

It’s a gamble. Lance is from a small school. And he’s only played one game since the 2019 season, as COVID postponed the Bison’s 2020 campaign after one game.

But in his last full season, Lance was fantastic. He threw for 2,786 yards, completing nearly 67 percent of his passes, and tossed 28 touchdowns, while throwing zero interceptions. That’s right, zero. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 more scores.

At 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, he’s the prototypical quarterback for the modern NFL. He beat teams with both his arm and his legs.

And the 20-year-old quarterback could fall into the Broncos lap. Without giving up a thing, without making a move, without being the least bit bold, George Paton could land a franchise QB.

It all makes sense. Stranger things have happened.