Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver Broncos Community!

Dark horse options for the Broncos in round one

Andre Simone Avatar
April 17, 2020

You’ve heard it before: there’s a dream scenario for the Denver Broncos with their 15th pick in round one of the 2020 NFL Draft, a scenario in which one of the top-four offensive tackles or the three-best receivers drops to them.

Those targets are a reason why there’s been buzz throughout the process regarding Denver’s interest to move up in the draft to guarantee themselves one of those seven blue-chip prospects on the offensive side of the ball.

There’s also a very real chance things don’t go the Broncos way, whether that’s one of the seven not fitting what they’re looking for or all seven simply being gone by 15. That second scenario could set the Broncos up for an unexpected first-round selection much like Noah Fant was in 2019.

Here are some under the radar picks Denver could be considering at 15 or as potential trade-down targets.

That final defensive piece

Given how things have gone for the Broncos on offense since before Peyton Manning hung up his cleats, most of the focus on who John Elway and Co. will select in round one has centered around the offensive prospects in a strong 2020 crop.

However, with key additions like A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey, there is a feeling that with just one more key addition on the line or in the back seven, Vic Fangio could turn this defense into the best ‘D’ in the league. With that in mind, here are a few first-round targets who could fit the bill and take the defense to new heights.

C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

Outside of the big four defensive prospects—Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons and Derrick Brown—the Gators’ shutdown cornerback is the first option that’s brought up for the Broncos at 15 overall, with more buzz picking up that Henderson could even be gone by the time Denver’s on the clock.

After a couple of years of high-end play in the SEC and a fine showing at the Combine, clocking a 4.39 40-yard dash, Henderson carries those coveted traits that get corners drafted very high. On top of that speed, he possesses smooth hips and good length at 6-foot-1, making him a perfect man cornerback.

Henderson is versatile too, with the ability to line up in the slot or outside, in press or off, zone or man, all valuable skills for anyone’s defense, especially Vic Fangio’s.

The big question for Henderson’s fit in Denver is how his physicality and playmaking, or lack thereof, is seen by Fangio, as those are the most glaring issues in his game right now. In general, will the old ball coach sign off on taking a prospect who still gives up too many big plays despite his special traits?

A pick by the Broncos would be a pretty significant endorsement of the 21-year-old and feel like a bit of a gamble on potential, something Elway has shied away from the past two seasons. Though, maybe Henderson could be seen as the defensive version of Noah Fant.

A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa

Epenesa has been lost in the shuffle this past season but as an overly productive pass rusher (36 TFLs and 26.5 sacks) with length, power and stout run defense, he won’t last long in the draft.

Epenesa might not be twitched up or play with his hair on fire but he presents tons of value for his ability to rush the passer from the interior. His fit is much more natural in a 3-4 defense as an end and eventual nickel defensive tacklewith some added weightthan as a pure 4-3 defensive end as he played in Iowa.

In fact, his profile is quite similar to other hybrid linemen the Broncos have targeted in Elway’s time as a GM; Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis and DeMarcus Walker.

In some ways, the former All-American has a more clear cut role in Denver’s defense than top-interior linemen like Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw.

Added to a rotation that already includes Casey, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and talented young interior pass rusher Dre’Mont Jones, Epenesa’s addition could take the unit to another level entirely.

Don’t sleep on him even if his position has made him fall by the wayside in most mocks.

Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Murray plays with his hair on fire and was the leader and tone-setter for the Sooners defense the past two seasons. Coming downhill with ferocity and making plays all over the field, Murray can get reckless but is mostly an efficient playmaker against the run who was allowed to freelance and made a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage.

His impact in coverage was almost non-existent as that’s not what he was asked to do at Oklahoma, but a 4.52 40-yard dash and some flashes to cover up running backs and tight ends with ease, make that part of his game very intriguing.

Used in a Jamie Collins-like role, Murray could be very effective with all the traits to be a high-impact three-down backer long-term.

It’ll be hard to get Fangio’s stamp of approval for any interior linebacker but the raw talent could be that rare type. The bigger concern in Denver is if he and Alexander Johnson, who also strives plugging holes and blitzing on third down could co-exist.

Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

Queen, on the other hand, is much more reminiscent of Roquan Smith, an athletic cover linebacker who was selected in the top-10 by Fangio’s Bears and was famously lauded by Denver’s head coach as being a better prospect than both Devin White and Devin Bush in 2019.

Like Smith, Queen flies around sideline-to-sideline and shows fairly unique fluidity and range in coverage with comparable undersized frames.

Still just 20, Queen only started 15 games in his LSU career locking down his role as a starter just a few weeks into the 2019 season.

He’s raw and can be reckless but his appeal as a cover backer in Denver is particularly appealing. Like Murray, he’d be a much better value if the Broncos were to select him after trading down from the 15th pick but his fit is obvious even though he’d need refinement.

Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

Gladney doesn’t check off all the boxes that Henderson does, lacking those high-end—for NFL standards—length and speed. What separates Gladney is his physicality, how competitive he is in all areas, especially in coverage and when challenging 50-50 balls, with strong ball skills.

He’s still raw and could be in trouble if put on an island early in his NFL career but would play well in zone with the ability to turn and run behind top targets without being a complete liability. He’d be a reach in the top 15 but could be a worthwhile target in a trade-down scenario.

The second-tier of WRs and OTs

Before you dismiss the names below, realize that in a typical year all five of these prospects could be the first receiver or tackle taken off the board. In a loaded class with the big seven, it’s a different situation.

Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

Jefferson might not be a true burner or a super-quick route runner but he consistently gets open and finds ways to buy himself space when the ball is in the air.

Lining up primarily in the slot but with the size and speed to play outside, Jefferson is versatile and will be particularly appealing for teams like the Broncos that already have an outside receiver they like. He has the ball skills to be very effective outside or in the red zone and was stellar at LSU dominating plenty of NFL talents at cornerback in a tough Tiger schedule.

His fit in Pat Shurmur’s offense would make him very intriguing giving Denver two a-typical options out the slot in Jefferson and Noah Fant for the veteran OC to hunt matchups.

Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor

Mims is much rawer but checks off every box for a round-one receiver with track speed, a wiry, long frame, physical disposition as a blocker and some of the best acrobatic high-level of difficulty catching ability in the class.

Mims is already dangerous stretching the field vertically, a YAC threat on quick throws and a red zone weapon due to his length and leaping ability. He’s also mastered the toe drag towards the sideline. What he needs to work on is eliminating concentration drops and getting open consistently in the short to intermediate areas as he rounds out his route tree. Adding a more physical element to his game especially as a receiver over the middle will be the final missing piece of the puzzle. 

His tools are worth gambling on, which is why he’s an option here and has been interviewed by the Broncos already but with the depth at receiver in 2020, reaching on Mims in the top-15 seems like a misuse of resources.

Josh Jones, OT, Houston

While the receivers are the sexier options here, a run on tackles in the top 14 could prompt the Broncos to get a head start and pick their top choice from a loaded second tier at the position, many of which have as much if not more upside than the top four.

Jones is an experienced left tackle with lots of immediate value in pass protection. While his ceiling might not be immense and he doesn’t possess elite size or power, his value protecting Drew Lock long term makes him at least worth a having a conversation in round one.

Austin Jackson, LT, USC

Jackson is much more of a high-upside play with the size and flashes of power to play either right or left tackle. A two-year starter on the left side at USC, Jackson has length for days and is an outstanding athlete.

A pick in the top-15 is undoubtedly too high for a raw prospect with still lots of inconsistencies in his game but Jackson will be in the mix in round one.

Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State

Cleveland would be a similar upside play to Jackson who wouldn’t be worth a top-15 pick but could factor in the first round plans if Denver traded down.

The appeal for the Boise State tackle over others is his unique athleticism which gives him an incredibly high ceiling in pass protection and a bit of a nasty streak.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?