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What we learned from George Paton's pre-draft press conference

Zac Stevens Avatar
April 22, 2021

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first time in a decade, the Denver Broncos will have a new man leading them in the draft.

With former general manager John Elway by his side, new general manager George Paton will lead Denver’s draft efforts beginning on April 22.

On Thursday, one week before the draft kicks off, Paton spoke to the media about the upcoming draft and the state of the team. Here’s what we learned from the first-time general manager.

THERE WILL BE A MOVE AT QB

For months, Paton has stated the Broncos will bring in competition for Drew Lock at quarterback. Yet, one week before the draft, not a single move has been made in the quarterback room.

“I understand (the confusion and frustration),” Paton said on Thursday, when asked about many fans reaction to Denver not making a move at quarterback so far. “We do like Drew Lock. What we don’t want to do is force it and bring a guy in and overpay a guy to come in and maybe he’s not as good as the guy we have. Maybe he’s not good enough to compete. We want to get the right guy and we still have time.”

Earlier in the offseason, Denver was in talks with the Detroit Lions about potentially trading for Matthew Stafford and then reportedly spoke to the Carolina Panthers about Teddy Bridgewater. Neither of those panned out. But the draft isn’t the only option remaining for Denver to add to their quarterback room.

“There’s a trade market. We have the draft. The landscape may change after the draft — a team drafts one, maybe that quarterback is on the market,” Paton explained. “So we’re going to be patient, not force it, but we do realize we do want competition and I’ve said that since I got here and that hasn’t changed.”

Bringing in competition for Lock may result in a new starter in town come the regular season. When asked if Lock can help the Broncos win games, specifically in Week 1, Paton said, “I don’t know about Week 1.”

“We’re really high on Drew,” he continued, after not committing to him being the starter. “He’s trending in the right direction. As you know, he has a lot of talent. I think he’s becoming a better pro. But we’re going to still look at the quarterback position. I’ve said since I got here, we want to bring in competition and that’s the goal. And we plan on doing that.”

In the words of Aaron Rodgers, Broncos Country needs to R-E-L-A-X, Paton and the Broncos are going to make a move at quarterback. What type of move remains to be seen.

REALLY GOOD QB CLASS

One avenue Denver could add to their quarterback room is in the first round of the draft. After months of evaluating the group, Paton loves what he sees from the first-round signal callers.

“I think it’s very strong,” Paton said about the draft’s quarterback class, specifically the potential first rounders. “It just kind of depends what flavor you want. But I do think it’s a strong class. There could be five or maybe six drafted in the first round. That’s always really strong. It’s a really good class.”

It’s all but certain Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft with Zach Wilson going second to the New York Jets. The uncertainty begins with the San Francisco 49ers at pick No. 3. Mac Jones, Trey Lance and Justin Fields could all be the pick for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Since the 49ers jumped to No. 3, there has been the most buzz surrounding Jones as the potential pick.

If that happens, Lance and Fields would both still be available at No. 4.

“Both elite athletes. Both really strong arms. Both really talented, smart,” Paton said on Thursday about Lance and Fields. “They have all of the intangibles that you want in quarterbacks and in football players. They’re raw a little bit. But really high ceilings for both players.”

Paton attended Lance and Fields’ first Pro Days, while the Broncos sent Pat Shurmur to each of their second Pro Days. Publicly, the Broncos have done more research and homework on those two quarterbacks of any first-round prospect.

TRADING UP, TRADING DOWN

During Paton’s long tenure with Minnesota, the Vikings never traded up in the draft from their original first-round pick. But that doesn’t mean he’s against doing that.

“If we feel a player is good enough to go up and get (we will trade up),” Paton stated. “There may be players in this draft that are worthy of that.”

Based on information that has floated out, the two players mentioned above, Lance and Fields, could be atop of that list of potential players worth trading up for.

However, don’t expect the Broncos to trade up before the draft begins.

“This is a draft-day trade because you don’t know if that player is going to be there,” Paton said about potentially moving up. “Typically these happen when their on the clock. Obviously, we had a few trades early, but (the 49ers) knew they were going to get one of their players. If we were to move up, we’re not sure the player we’re moving up for would be there.”

Reportedly, the Atlanta Falcons are open to trading back if a team wants the No. 4 pick. A jump from No. 9 to No. 4 would likely cost Denver at least a first-round pick.

While Paton stated he hasn’t made any calls yet to move up, he did drop that he spoke with Miami Dolphins’ general manager Chris Griere on Wednesday. The two worked together in Miami from 2001-06. The Dolphins have the No. 6 pick in the draft. A jump from No. 9 to No. 6 likely wouldn’t cost Denver an additional first-round pick.

Instead of moving up, there’s also the chance Denver moves back.

“We haven’t made any calls yet to move up. We received calls to move back,” Paton admitted. “Being a first-year general manager doesn’t impact whether we would move up or not. If we feel a player could help us — could upgrade us — and we feel he’s worth going to get, we’re going to go get.”

After retaining Shelby Harris, Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson along with signing Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency, Paton believes the team is in a favorable position entering the draft where they don’t need to reach on a position, giving them ultimate flexibility.

“We can move up, we can move back,” he stated. “If we stand pat, we think we’ll get an impact player at No. 9.”

JA’WUAN JAMES IS BACK

After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Ja’Wuan James has returned to the UCHealth Training Center.

“He’s been here. He’s been working out. He looks great,” Paton stated. “And the expectation is he starts at right tackle and plays well.”

Since making James the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history in 2019, he has played a total of 63 snaps. In 2019, he dealt with multiple injuries that sidelined him for most of the season. Last year, he opted out.

If the Broncos were to move on from James this year, it would cost them more against the cap than keeping him. James won’t be going anywhere. In fact, Paton plans on him being their starting right tackle.

OFFENSIVE LINE NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED

Speaking of offensive line, Paton is a fan of the wall Elway has built up front on offense.

“I like our offensive line,” he stated. “I think we probably need a little more depth.”

With James as the presumptive starting right tackle, the rest of the line is in place entering training camp. Graham Glasgow will be the starting right guard, Lloyd Cushenberry at center, Dalton Risner at left guard and Garett Bolles holding down the left side.

In the offseason, Denver did let their tackle depth walk in free agency as they did not retain Elijah Wilkinson or Demar Dotson. That leaves Calvin Anderson as their backup swing tackle.

At guard, the Broncos have the very talented Netane Muti, who impressed in his one start last year. If Denver needed to replace Cushenberry at center, Glasgow would slide over to fill that spot and Muti would take Glasgow’s spot at guard. Because of that, the most glaring hole surrounding the depth of the line is at tackle.

“I like the draft at guard and tackle,” Paton said. “I think you’ll be able to get a good offensive lineman in the first three rounds, maybe even four through six. I think our offensive line is — if you had to rank them in the league they’re in the top third. We just need to add depth. We need to add competition. And I think we’ll do that.”

Unlike last year, expect Denver to add an offensive lineman, or two, during the draft.

BRADLEY CHUBB AND COURTLAND SUTTON’S FUTURE

This offseason, the Broncos can begin to make big decisions about the futures of two of their brightest stars.

In May, Denver needs to decide whether or not to exercise the fifth-year option on Bradley Chubb for the 2022 season. After making the Pro Bowl last year and fully recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in 2019, there’s little doubt Denver won’t pick up his option. But the Broncos have still yet to officially make that move.

On the opposite side of the ball, Courtland Sutton is eligible for an extension now that he has three seasons under his belt. Entering the final year of his deal, Denver could look to extend him this offseason, despite the Pro Bowl receiver coming off season-ending ACL surgery.

On Thursday, when asked about their futures, Paton called the two young stars “two of our core guys.”

“And we want them here a long time,” Paton stated with certainty. “But we’re not going to address that until after the draft. We’re strictly focused on the draft. But those are two of our guys.”

Paton had the same conviction when talking about Justin Simmons’ future with the Broncos earlier in the offseason. Weeks later, in March, Paton made Simmons the highest-paid safety in the NFL with a record-breaking deal.

ADDITIONAL TIDBITS

  • The Broncos have held Zooms with around 250 draft prospects. While Denver hasn’t been able to meet with prospects in person due to COVID-19, Paton said the Zooms have actually been an “advantage” to Denver. One of the reasons why they have been “beneficial,” according to the general manager, is the team gets to spend an hour with each prospect instead of the traditional 15 minutes they are allowed in a non-COIVD-19 year.
  • After signing Kyle Fuller in free agency, Paton feels comfortable with his cornerback room for 2021. “We don’t have to force (cornerback) in the draft. We don’t have to reach. We don’t have to take a corner,” he stated.
  • In March, the Broncos declined the team option in Kareem Jackson’s contract, which saved them $10 million in cap space and made the veteran safety a free agent. Later that month, Denver signed Jackson to a one-year, $5 million deal. Paton said the team was “really happy” they were able to bring the hard-hitting safety back. “The whole building wanted Kareem back,” he added.
  • During his time in Minnesota, Paton admitted he and the Vikings “always liked to get to 10, 10-plus” draft picks each year to have “more darts.” The Broncos currently have nine picks.
  • John Elway has played a “great role” in the draft process and helped Paton. “He’s been a great resource for me. I have him watching certain positions. He’s been in this role and I haven’t, so what a sounding board for me to have John right next door. It’s been amazing to have him.”
  • Before the start of voluntary workouts began on Monday, the Broncos players put out a statement saying they would not be participating in in-person workouts to due the lack of COVID-19 protocols in place by the NFL. While roughly 20 players have showed up in person during the first week of workouts, Paton stated the lack of offseason workouts hurts rookies the most. “I do think it hurts the young guys.”

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