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Broncos Film Room: Breaking down the best undrafted signings of 2019

Andre Simone Avatar
May 15, 2019

The Denver Broncos have a history of finding gems among their undrafted free agents, a trend that repeated itself once again last year, with Phillip Lindsay’s ascension into stardom.

This year promises to be another fun crop of undrafted players, with the Broncos signing two prospects in our top-200much like last year with Lindsay and Jeff Holland. Those two are Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, one of the most intriguing developmental arms in 2019, and Nevada’s pass-rushing phenom Malik Reed.

Beyond those two, there were plenty of other interesting signings.

After going back to the tape, here are Denver’s nine most exciting UDFA additions.

Can Brett Rypien be Scangarello’s latest undrafted gem?

We’d already covered Brett Rypien in our quarterback preview as one of the more intriguing young arms in this class. What makes the Boise State gun-slinger stand out is his arm talent, especially his arm strength on vertical throws and his experience taking snaps under center in a more pro-style scheme.

Mark Rypien’s nephew possesses a big arm and plays with a fearlessness which can be both his curse and his blessing, as he’ll make amazing deep throws but will also be overly confident in his arm and force things.

When at his best, Rypien’s arm stands out particularly on throws where his feet aren’t really set, or his footwork is backloaded, though again, this will get him in trouble as his lower-body mechanics must be more consistent. Rypien possesses one of the nicest deep balls in the 2019 class with a great combination of touch and power.

He’s also a strong athlete with the ability to run and won’t shy away from contact to gain extra yards. The Boise State star throws it well on the move, too, and is a decisive passer who can unleash bullets in full stride.

With his pro pedigree, he’s already shown promising skills to go through his progressions and manipulate coverages with his eyes, add that to his developing footwork and experience in a more pro-style offense and you’ve got an intriguing prospect.

The Mountain West offensive player of the year has promising ball placement to all fields, flashing the ability to lead receivers perfectly. Rypien can be fearless and super aggressive. He’ll attack one-on-one matchups outside every chance he has and can be lethal attacking the sideline deep, especially off his first read.

The former four-star recruit stands tough in the pocket, sometimes to a fault, and can deliver lasers right as he’s getting hit.

He’s most accurate over the middle of the field where he’s made impressive throws by threading the needle in tight windows.

Of course, having gone undrafted, Rypien still has work to do on several aspects of his game and has to eliminate some bad habits. One such bad habit is that his footwork can be inconsistent and too backloaded. He trusts his arm strength too much and will force throws with bad mechanics, which can get him in trouble. He can also hold onto the ball too long and needs to learn when to get rid of the ball and survive another day. The talented QB doesn’t always do a good job of reading blitzes pre-snap and needs to be better at throwing to his hot read.

The biggest concern with Rypien is his inconsistent accuracy, as he’ll sail throws or can leave passes towards the sideline behind his target, which can lead to major turnovers. He’ll need to speed up his processing and be more consistent throwing with timing and anticipation in the short to intermediate game. The same could be said about his footwork, which needs to be more crisp.

If Rypien’s on, he’s outstanding, but he can also be inconsistent and fall apart mechanically. He remains raw and is undoubtedly a developmental piece with incredibly enticing raw skills. What’s more exciting is that he has made impressive strides in his development from 2017 to 2018, taking his game to a whole new level.

More edge depth

Nevada’s Malik Reed is an undersized edge rusher much like Holland or even Shane Ray. His pro-day numbers were middle of the road for his size outside of an outstanding 6.89 three-cone drill, a testament to his bend off the edge which absolutely stands out on tape.

Because of his agility and bend, Reed was one of the more disruptive edge rushers in the country, producing 25.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks in his final two seasons. At 6-foot-1 and just under 240 pounds, Reed is undersized with short arms too, and even played some inside linebacker in college.

He’s an instinctive pass rusher with quick-twitch traits that make him hard to block. He stands out for his motor in pursuit and has some versatility to his game with his ability to play off-ball.

Reed has also shown a knack to break through as a blitzer when lined up as an inside linebacker, using his size to his advantage to slip blocks up the middle. Once he gets into opposing backfields, he’s a phenomenal finisher.

The team captain and first-team All-Mountain West selection is a solid but unspectacular sideline-to-sideline athlete who needs to become stronger in wrapping up tackles in the open field.

While he definitely has experience playing as a conventional linebacker, he’s best around the line of scrimmage where his pass-rushing skills can be highlighted. That’s especially true in Denver, where the slippery pass rusher won’t have any extra attention dedicated to him and can simply focus on winning one-on-one matchups.

Reed is a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside backer with the ability to drop in coverage, get after the quarterback and a high motor to relentlessly get after the ball to boot. Size limitations might force him to be on the outside looking in with Justin Hollins, Dekoda Watson, and Jeff Holland already ahead of him on the depth chart, but don’t count out the ultra-productive stud rusher who led the Mountain West with 57 pressures last season. 

You can never have enough depth at corner

The one other notable big-school signee was Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder, a long and lanky defender ideally suited to play in Denver’s new defensive scheme.

Holder is a physical press cornerback who does a nice job flying downhill and will be aggressive in run support. The reason the Stanford cornerback is best suited in the Broncos more zone-oriented defense is that he lacks fluidity to turn and run with receivers at the highest level.

He can play too soft in off coverage and isn’t the most instinctive, an area he’ll need to work on to stick in the pros. However, he is quick and ran an extraordinary three-cone drill, allowing him to pounce on short throws and make plays on the ball when the action is in front of him.

If he can avoid playing too physical, he has the tools as a long-press cornerback who could add depth to the Broncos unit. Holder is a smart, five-year collegian who, if nothing else, can bring competition to Denver’s cornerback group with more length than most of the projected starters. 

Adding to the offensive firepower

After drafting their quarterback of the future, one of the best receiving tight ends to come out in years and a high-upside wideout in day three, the Broncos weren’t done adding offensive skill players to their roster.

Among the notable undrafted additions were two small-school receivers, a scatback, and a fullback with some enticing production. Here’s a breakdown on all four. 

Kelvin McKnight, WR, Samford

McKnight is easily the most intriguing player of this group due to his speed and eye-popping tape against top competition, as he surpassed the century mark against both Mississippi State in 2016 and Florida State in 2018.

In his two-touchdown performance off of 215 receiving yards against the Seminoles, McKnight’s ability to separate deep was clear to see, as he possesses electric feet and is very competent in creating angles for himself to wall off defenders at the catch point. He also showed soft hands and a real talent for tracking and hauling in passes over his shoulder.

Used both outside and in the slot, McKnight is a dangerous YAC threat as well, who has the quickness to get open at the top of his route.

The Samford star is a crafty route runner with a knack for finding holes in coverage and showed strong hands with a couple of eye-popping one-handed grabs. Despite his diminutive 5-foot-8 and 186-pound frame, he has the tools to make an impact at receiver.

His skillset profiles perfectly as a punt returner and slot receiver who brings a different dimension to Denver’s roster with his ability to take the top off a defense and intriguing playmaking ability.

Trinity Benson, WR, East Central (Oklahoma)

Coming from the Division-II ranks, Benson is a standout special teamer who couldn’t be covered deep against the lower level competition ECU faced.

Benson’s skill set is particularly enticing for his run after the catch ability paired with solid 6-foot height, as he just couldn’t be stopped at East Central. In fact, he was more impressive taking direct handoffs on reverses or jet sweeps than as a true receiver, as his quickness and elusive running style make him a real weapon with the ball in his hands.

Benson is still very raw as a route runner where he’ll have to quickly gain ground if he’s to be more than just a special-teams contributor. If he can improve as a route runner and become more consistent, his quickness could make him a lethal weapon in the slot.

Benson’s also shown the ability to go high-point throws and is a natural athlete with smooth hands who can make mid-air adjustments to the ball. His lack of production as a receiver at a lower level is especially concerning and limits his utility, as he’s currently more of a special teams and gadget-play weapon.

Despite his unimpressive DII production, he did receive a slightly bigger signing bonus than McKnight, and could have a better shot at making the roster due to his special teams’ prowess, not just as a potential returner but as a gunner as well.

Devontae Jackson, RB, West Georgia

Another Division-II product, Jackson is electric when you put on the tape, and had to be given his slender 5-foot-7 and 175-pound frame.

His foot quickness really stands out as does his ability to make jump cuts and completely undress defenders in the open field. He’s an accomplished runner in pressing the line and then exploding as he turns the corner.

His vision and size are a concern in the NFL, but he’s another YAC weapon who could contribute in the return game. His long speed is good but not elite, as he’s quicker than fast.

He should get a shot to contribute on special teams and could be a nice little weapon as a receiver out the backfield and backup to Phillip Lindsay.

In San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan’s offense utilized an array of different speedy runners like Jackson, new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello just got another weapon to replicate that rotation. 

George Aston, FB, Pittsburgh

Aston is a bit heavier than current fullback Andy Janovich and was brought in to give Jano some real competition.

Coming from one of the more run-oriented pro systems in the college game, Aston is a big 6-foot, 250-pound runner with a true football player’s neck and strong production, especially as a receiver in short-yardage situations.

He’s a deceptively nimble runner for his size, with decent lateral quickness to make defenders miss and gain extra yards.

Where Janovich separates himself is in his ability to play special teams at a high level, run with better pad level and especially as a blocker, where Aston missed a few too many blocks at the second level.

The former Pitt battering ram will bring competition in an offense that should feature quite a few two-back sets. While it’ll be hard for him to beat out Jano, the consensus top-five fullback in the 2019 class is the only player on this list who just has to beat out one guy to have a significant role in Denver.

Any staying power among the linebackers?

The most interesting group the Broncos added to was at inside linebacker, the biggest remaining area of need that wasn’t addressed in the draft.

With the additions of Kansas’ Joel Dineen and  Colorado State’s Josh Watson, the Broncos found depth and solid contributors from the college ranks. However, neither seems to really fit what Denver’s looking for at the position.

Dineen is feisty, sifts through trash, and plays with an excellent motor. He was also extremely productive and is a sound tackler who can be a thumper coming downhill, particularly on blitzes.

Watson might have a bit more cover skills to turn and run with tight ends but is another physical linebacker who can wreak havoc coming downhill, especially on the blitz.

Problem is, neither shows great lateral mobility sideline-to-sideline, and both lack the type of range Fangio covets out of his backers in coverage. So while both are leaders who can bring grittiness to the team as two-down backers, both will be on the outside looking in as far as making Denver’s roster.

What does this mean for the roster as a whole?

There’s a lot to unpack with all these new additions, as Denver now has another valuable developmental quarterback and an additional edge rusher with some positional versatility.

Rypien and his big signing bonus should pose a big challenge for Kevin Hogan as the third quarterback on the depth chart, while Reed could be a valuable rotational edge rusher with some positional versatility.

The array of potential returners added to the roster will be very interesting to follow throughout the preseason, as one could emerge to be a quality special teamer with the ability to contribute right away.

It was interesting to see the Broncos didn’t add an athletic linebacker who would fit Vic Fangio’s scheme better. That could suggest the old defensive coach feels better about his linebackers than initially thought.

While Watson and Dineen had fine collegiate careers, the free agent additions seem to be a strong endorsement of Josey Jewell and Todd Davis, and even reserves like Keishawn Bierria, Joseph Jones, and A.J. Johnson. The battle at inside linebacker sets up to be one of, if not the, most fascinating to follow throughout camp and the preseason.

Sticking with linebackers, the fact that the Broncos added Reed, and traded for another edge rusher in Dekoda Watson, seems to be an indication that fifth-rounder Justin Hollins will be used inside more so than as a rotational edge rusher.

Hollins certainly has the athleticism and football IQ for the position, how the Oregon standout will be used will be among the most fascinating things to follow all offseason as we try to better understand Fangio’s defensive plan. 

It might not be as star-studded a free agent crop as 2018, but there are plenty of potential contributors in 2019, with at least a handful who could make a real push for a roster spot in the near future. 

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